A Touch of Voodoo

If you’ve been following either this blog or my message board posting activity over the last several weeks, then you’re probably well aware of my open disdain for Scott Lobdell‘s Red Hood and the Outsiders due to his less-than-flattering portrayal of Starfire, which was rife with unfortunate implications, (unintentionally) sexist undertones, and generous amounts of character derailment, sentiments echoed by numerous reviewers, fans, and posters all across the Internet. This wasn’t the only one of the New 52 to be singled out for its questionable portrayal of women, though: Judd Winick‘s Catwoman received similar flak for not only portraying Selina Kyle as little more than a series of body parts for the first two pages of its premiere issue but also ending with some hot-‘n’-heavy costumed foreplay between her and Batman in the lead up to an actual sexual encounter.

Given the widespread uproar, it comes as absolutely no surprise that Ron Marz‘s Voodoo didn’t escape similar scrutiny, especially since the opening issue largely took place in a gentlemen’s club and featured an exotic dancer as the female protagonist. Yet, as someone who’s actually read all three comics, while I vehemently agreed with the first group of detractors and could see where the second group of critics were coming from, I found myself strangely undecided when it came to the third. Whatever else it may have done, Voodoo had failed to ruffle my proverbial feathers in the same way that it had those of so many other readers. Which raises the inevitable question: why?

After reviewing Voodoo #1 several times, I believe that I’ve figured out the answer. But rather than state my line of reasoning outright, I’ll be breaking down the book into sections, posting panels as well as the occasional entire page (hopefully without violating the spirit of “fair use” too much in the process), and offering comments, observations, and synopses when necessary. To get the most out of this blog post, though, it would probably be in your best interest to grab a copy so that you can follow along. Go ahead, I’ll wait right here.

Before we get started, let’s get two of the most frequently-observed critiques out of the way:

1. Yes, there’s an awful lot of sexual imagery and (conveniently obscured) nudity in this book. However, since most of the story takes place in a strip club, that’s hardly surprising. It’s not exactly the kind of place you visit in order to watch people run around with their clothes on.

2. For those who disapproves of the choice of venue and the occupation of the main character, I’d like to remind you that, when we were originally introduced to Voodoo in the pages of WildC.A.T.s #1 (August 1992)…

…she was also an exotic dancer – and a rather goofily-dressed one at that – so that aspect of her portrayal has an actual precendent in WildStorm Universe continuity (even if that’s one of the few things about her that carried over during the relaunch).

The Breakdown

The story is told from the perspectives of three different characters: the eponymous (anti-)heroine Voodoo (Priscilla Kitaen) and the two FBI agents, Tyler Evans and Jessica “Jess” Fallon, who have her under surveillance.

Page 1

This splash page – one of two found in this issue – caused quite a stir when it first appeared in previews. While the book’s definitely wandering into metafictional territory here – the target audience of the strip club deejay’s dialogue is either the in-universe clientele or the readers sitting just beyond the fourth wall – there’s no avoiding the fact that what we have is a half-naked woman on all fours, surrounded by money and being ogled by a bunch of men: a less-than-empowering depiction if ever there was one. But, as we’ll later see, looks can be deceiving, and even the nature of this image isn’t quite so cut-and-dried.

In a nice little continuity nod, notice how Voodoo’s sporting the same ridiculous furry leg warmers that she originally wore two decades ago in WildC.A.T.s #1.

Page 2

The deejay’s narration continues as Voodoo begins her act and starts dancing.

Page 3

Our first perspective shift occurs on Page 3, where readers discover that they’ve been watching Voodoo’s act from the point of view of two FBI agents, who conveniently happen to be of different genders (and thus provide equal representation for both halves of the audience).
Based on their friendly exchange, it’s painfully evident that the man, Tyler Evans, is enjoying their “stakeout” more than strictly necessary and isn’t above taking advantage of the situation to enjoy the view. The woman, Jess Fallon, is quick to shoot down every male fantasy that she could possibly be dragged into at this point, neither buying any of the excuses he’s giving to justify his behavior nor entertaining the notion that she might secretly harbor any lesbian tendencies or have the slightest interest in what’s going on onstage. She ultimately takes off in a huff after getting her fill of annoyance and disgust, her feelings likely mirroring those of at least some of the readers who share her gender at this point. So, with the female voice of reason gone, we’re left associating with the male pig. Well, that’s just swell.

Pages 4 and 5

As events continue to unfold from Evans’ viewpoint, the compositional tone of the book shifts dramatically, as if mirroring certain aspects of his established personality: almost every panel on both these pages is either sexually suggestive or involves money in one way or another, with the accompanying “camera angles” seemingly chosen to be as gratuitous and shameless as possible.

Of particular note is the emphasis on the cleavage of the nameless waitress whom Evans strikes up a friendly conversation with, which becomes the focus of no less than four separate panels with increasingly ridiculous vantage points.

See what I mean? To be fair, though, we do get a fair amount of exposition during all this, as Evans manages to charm Voodoo’s first name out of the waitress and we discover that she’s quite popular with the soldiers from the nearby military base (an important plot point which we’ll be picking up on again soon).

Pages 6 to 8

We switch over to Fallon’s perspective as she exits the strip club in a foul mood due to her partner’s immature antics. In the process, she brushes past a group of 17-year-olds attempting to gain illegal entry into the establishment, unintentionally gaining their ire as she knocks the fake ID out of their ringleader’s hand. When the four male teenagers come looking for trouble, she once again has to fend off an unflattering insinuation about her sexual orientation and responds to their leader’s repeated demands for an apology with a counteroffer of her own:
Incidentally, that little cigarette break she’s taking is about as close to sexual innuendo as we get during this entire sequence.

Pages 9 to 11

Our viewpoint shifts to Voodoo as she interacts with the other exotic dancers in the lounge’s dressing room. Naturally, given where we are, there’s a lot of bare skin on display. But, as Page 10 demonstrates, the artwork’s emphasis is markedly different from what it was when we were sharing Evans’ perspective out on the dance floor:
The “camera angles” are more subdued and practical rather than voyeuristic, and the (partial) nudity isn’t being particularly emphasized: it’s simply window dressing. The dialogue not only reflects the behind-the-scenes reality of a strip club – that it’s a business designed to make money by tapping into the fantasies of its clientele and selling the illusion of intimacy and sex rather than the reality – but also portray the strippers as members of an x-rated sorority who watch each others’ backs and help one another out. Moreover, the banter puts decidedly human faces on the dancers, as we discover more about their personal lives and motivations for being there, absolutely none of which have anything to do with sex: one is putting herself through community college; another is trying to earn enough money to open a bar; a single mom named Abby is raising a son named Cody (and trying to find a last minute replacement babysitter); and Voodoo herself is taking advantage of men’s lowered defenses in this seedy environment to learn more about them. (What exactly she means by this will become clear very soon.)

Pages 12 to 15

The first (and last) direct interaction between Voodoo and Evans takes place after the latter specifically requests her for a private dance. And, as the latter returns, so, too, does his narrative point of view: the wacky, sexually exploitative “camera angles” and panels oozing with erotic undertones and innuendo are back with a vengeance, with a hint of bondage thrown in for good measure (a seemingly trivial detail which will prove crucial later on).

As before, in spite of the sexually charged atmosphere, the exposition continues.
It’s at this point that Evans grabs the idiot ball and tries his darndest to score a touchdown by overplaying his hand instead of keeping it close to the vest.
Strangely enough, in spite of his eagerness to call her out on her cover story, a surprising amount of what Voodoo told him is (or may be) technically true: being an alien, she’s most definitely “not from around here” and her original WildStorm Universe incarnation was indeed a “mixed-race kid” (specifically a Daemonite/Kherubim/Human hybrid, though whether this is also the case for her DC Universe counterpart has yet to be determined). As for “her being more than happy to take what (those men stationed at that military base) are offering”, she never explicitly states that it’s their paychecks she’s after rather than the information in their heads; she just phrases things in such a way that normal people who’re not in the know would naturally (and not unreasonably) draw that conclusion.

Page 17

We catch up with Fallon in her hotel room, where she’s knocking back a few drinks and leaves a voicemail message for her partner after he fails to answer his cell phone. While other writers might’ve used this location as a convenient excuse for showing her in a state of undress, there’s none of that to be found here; the only item of clothing she’s removed in the interim is her jacket. Though she’s been portrayed as a hardass up until now, for the first time, we catch a glimpse of her softer side, as it becomes clear from her dialogue that she’s concerned for her partner’s safety and well-being. There’s also a subtle hint that she and Evans might’ve been in a “friends with benefits” type relationship previously (though we won’t get confirmation of this until the beginning of the second issue).

Page 18

Back at the strip club, things take a turn for the worse when Evans violates his engagement orders and threatens Voodoo directly in an attempt to get results, evidently not anticipating how an extraterrestrial telepath might react to the idea of vivisection for some reason:

While all perspective shifts thus far have coincided with the scene transitions between pages, this one takes place in mid-page, as the viewpoint baton is passed from Evans to Voodoo after the latter reads his mind.

Page 19

While the opening page of this book depicted an attractive female character in a submissive cheesecake pose with regard to her male audience, this second and final splash page features a complete reversal of that situation: the male character, Evans, is now in the subordinate position, one hand still bound by the wrist restraint of the chair he’s sitting in, and at the mercy of this boner-killing female example of fan disservice:

Ugh. Those lace panties and heels don’t flatter her at all.

Pages 20 and 21

Horrified by the mental image she picked while reading Evans’ mind, Voodoo lashes out in an act of self-preservation and shreds him like so much lettuce before returning to her default human shape, quitting her job as an exotic dancer, and assuming his form in order to meet up with Fallon.

A Brief Analysis

As mentioned previously, the events of this issue unfold through the eyes of Voodoo, Tyler Evans, and Jessica Fallon. What makes this setup interesting is that there’s a noticeable shift in the emphasis and tone of the artwork depending on which one of the three the reader happens to be following at the time: while Evans’ male viewpoint fully embraces sexism, machismo and the strip club fantasy (as evidenced by the use of gratuitous “camera angles” designed to maximize sexual objectification), Fallon and Voodoo’s female perspectives are grounded in reality and depict women in a more balanced and respectful way, regardless of the inherently provocative atmosphere of the locale and the amount of clothing those women are wearing (or not wearing, as the case may be). Equally noteworthy is the fact that, while the female characters are portrayed as powerful and capable throughout, the male ones appear grossly incompetent by comparison. What’s more, the latter end up being suckered by pretty faces and underestimate the “fairer sex” to to their own detriment: the four teenage would-be clubgoers receive a sound ass-kicking from Fallon while Evans dies at Voodoo’s hands as a result of his stupidity and blatant disregard for the rules.

The most important difference, however, is that, while nudity and sexual imagery is plentiful inΒ  this book, its presence is well integrated into the plot: there’s a reasonable explanation provided for pretty much everything, from Voodoo’s presence at the strip club (reconnaissance and espionage) to the FBI agents being there (surveillance) to Evans’ asking for a private dance (which, while intended to produce results and convince his target to surrender to the authorities, is admittedly flimsy in the reasoning department). Yet, even while pandering to the audience with copious amounts of fanservice, not only are readers provided with information relevant to the plot, but it occurs in a way that is logical both in-universe and to the readers: the exposition is on par with the visuals rather than being incidental, and the backdrop is not just being used as a flimsy excuse to show as much female flesh and cheescake as possible.

To get a better idea of what I mean, compare and contrast the artwork you’ve just seen with the first page of Catwoman #1:

While there’s a decent enough reason for Selina Kyle to be in running around in her underwear – she’s getting dressed in a hurry and trying to make a break for it before some thugs break down her front door and firebomb her apartment – the entire sequence is pretty shameless: while the “unseen face” may be a well-established convention and storytelling technique in visual media, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that this page is 75% cleavage and underwear shots and contains other suggestive elements (such as her putting her gloves on with her teeth). In addition, aside from her spoken dialogue, none of the other text on this entire page is related to the provocative visuals; Selina’s internal monologue, while informative and insightful as far as establishing her personality is concerned, doesn’t really complement the action at hand. From the buttshot as she heads for a nearby window on Page 2…

…to the backflip she makes while breaking through it on Page 3 (which is the first time we actually see her face)…

…to her spread-legged roof-landing stance on Page 4…

…it’s clear that both the main character as well as the tone of the book itself are being set up as sexually mischievous and playful. Even the front cover, where we see a barefoot Catwoman lounging on a rooftop in a reclined, pin-up style pose while suggestively sprinking white diamonds all over her chest…

…makes absolutely no attempt to clothe its fanservice in a cloak of legitimacy. While Voodoo’s orgasmic expression in the front cover of her own book is undeniably sexual innuendo…

…that reptilian-looking hand hints at the fact that there’s more to her than meets the eye, so it’s not completely without merit as we’re still being imparted with important information in the form of a visual cue. The following pages from Red Hood and the Outlaws #1, on the other hand…

…demonstrate a near-complete disconnect between words and images. While Starfire‘s narration and Jason Todd and Roy Harper‘s exchange grant us insight into her personality (or what passes for it following Scott Lobdell’s lobotomy of the character) and history, absolutely none of it is relevant to her beachside frolicking in a bikini: the entire scene could’ve just as easily been set in a shopping mall considering how scenario-unspecific both their dialogue and her internal monologue are. Even the picture-snapping underage voyeur, “boy1211”, could’ve obtained more definitive proof of a Tamaranean’s presence on Earth by photographing a truly alien feature of hers, such as her face with its green, pupilless eyes. In fact, not only are these pin-up-style pages pure fanservice for fanservice’s sake, but certain elements in the artwork, such as ripples of water serving as unconventional panel borders, the awkward placement of the “There is a god.” word bubble, and the frame breaks caused by the full body shot of Starfire from the rear are actually somewhat intrusive and either unnecessarily complicate or disrupt the story’s narrative flow.

In a nutshell, the reason that Ron Marz’s Voodoo works for me is because his writing has some actual substance and doesn’t just cater to the lowest common denominator. While there may be far more sexual imagery and nudity present in his book than there is in Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws combined, not only is there a legitimate reason for its presence, but the exclusive association of its more salacious aspects with a male perspective combined with the negative fallout it has on the individual who holds it make the book more subversive than pandering in nature. Most importantly, however, the comic’s use of sexual imagery doesn’t reflect negatively upon or otherwise diminish the female protagonists, which is always a good thing. Not bad for a writer whose most infamous career moments include Hal Jordan going insane and Major Force murdering Kyle Rayner‘s girlfriend, Alexandra DeWitt, and stuffing her into a refrigerator, the latter of which became the namer for an extremely unfortunate trope. Maybe he’s finally balanced the cosmic scales by introducing the male equivalent of “Women in Refrigerators“: “Men in Stripper Booths”. πŸ˜‰

Unfortunately, while writing this article, I was disappointed to learn that Ron Marz has been pulled from the title and is being replaced by Joshua Williamson starting with the fifth issue. While I have nothing against the latter and wish him well, if this article of mine has piqued your interest, I encourage you to show your support for the former by picking up the remainder of his run and any back issues of the title that you can find. You won’t be disappointed.

UPDATE (2011.12.01): Just a quick disclaimer: while Ron Marz in no way participated in the writing of this article and all opinions expressed herein are purely my own, a brief exchange we had on Twitter in early November inspired its creation. For your support both then as well as in the tweet you made a few hours ago with a link to this blog entry – which was a pleasant (if unexpected) surprise – you have my sincerest thanks, good sir. πŸ™‚

And, while we’re at it, special thanks to my friends Dedicatedfollower467 and Trina Swank for being objective readers. πŸ˜€


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17 Responses to “A Touch of Voodoo”

  1. mbsperez Says:

    Interesting review.

    I have followed Ron Marz’s work in Witchblade, and I can pretty much confirm what you’ve noticed about perspective shifts and imagery. But in addition, Marz has been good at using sexuality in a non-gratuitous way. Moreover, he has made it an effective part of his characters. Case in point, Sara Pezzini. Most issues of Witchblade don’t go by without an intimate moment between her and Patrick Gleason, but none of them ever feel forced. These scenes actually help portray Pezzini as a strong yet vulnerable woman simply longing for human connection after a long day of dueling with demons, wizards, and strange artifacts. It actually makes her grounded.

    Another writer with similar abilities is Greg Rucka and his handling of Batwoman’s sexual orientation. His achievement in respectfully and realistically depicting lesbians there is too understated in the industry, in my opinion.

    However, I did read Catwoman as well. And while I can understand the intial scorn the first issue received, I also read on. To apply your ‘perspective analysis’ to Judd Winnick’s work, I would say that issue one was just ‘Tyler Evans’ all the way — and not every guy is a Tyler Evans. But the latter issues of Catwoman can show that Winnick has started to do what Marz has done masterfully since the start — mesh imagery with character. Issue one may have been a misstep, but the next two issues have begun to lay down the foundations of a Selina Kyle story I want to read.

    And as for Red Hood and the Outlaws, I actually love that book too and I consider it one of the best of the New 52. Sure, the sexualization of Starfire may be a little much, but I’ve always seen her as a highly sexualized character. I was never a big fan of the Titans but when I read some stories I would never take her seriously. And Lobdell, if his interviews and stories are anything to go by, is a writer to be taken seriously at our own expense. His work is energetic, satirical, and fun — and that’s how I tend to take it. He does ‘redeem’ Starfire somewhat in the third issue, but only underscores her alien-ness in both the physical, social, and even moral sense.

    Thanks for writing! It was a good read. πŸ™‚

  2. Lunar Archivist Says:

    No problem, glad you enjoyed it. πŸ™‚

    I’ve neither read Ron Marz’s run on “Witchblade” nor Greg Rucka’s on “Batwoman” – sacrilege, I know! – but I’ll definitely try and look into them now. The problem is that many comic books still adhere to cultural stereotypes about gender and sexuality. Balancing the two is tricky and it’s extremely difficult to have a strong female character display vulnerability without compromising that strength. That’s why I was impressed with the way Jess Fallon was written: she was offended by Tyler Evans’ behavior (and rightfully so), but even while admitting that her behavior was unprofessional in her voicemail message, she never admitted that how she felt was wrong (which it wasn’t).

    As for “Catwoman”, while I didn’t make it clear in my analysis of “Voodoo”, I actually enjoyed it (though I say that as someone who has only a vague grasp of the character’s history). Judd Winick is the poster child for hit or miss: he will either nail something or he’ll completely miss the target. The point I was trying to make with the comparison was not that the first issue of this “Catwoman” was garbage, but that there’s a distinct difference between using sexual imagery as a subtle-but-effective narrative tool (as Marz has done) and throwing in as much fanservice as you can to create an aura of sexual mischievousness around your title (which was Winick’s approach).

    Unfortunately, we’re going to have to agree to disagree on “Red Hood and the Outlaws”. For me, that title’s the comic book equivalent of a Michael Bay movie: loud, violent, filled with sexy women, and low on substance. I’m not saying something like that can’t be enjoyable or fun, but the whole point of the relaunch was to bring in new readers, so you’d think editorial would play it safe by trying to make the book as broadly appealing as possible. When it comes to the characterization of Starfire, the book’s a failure. What everyone can’t seem to agree on is exactly WHAT the nature of that failure is.

    If Scott Lobdell genuinely believes that his characterization of her is consistent with what’s come before, then he’s utterly failed to grasp what she’s all about.

    If he retconned the character’s personality to fit the kind of story he wanted to tell rather than a story that would fit the character – something that’s become a serious problem during Dan DiDio’s regime at DC Comics – then he’s failed to keep his promise to uphold and respect the Teen Titans’ legacy.

    If he sincerely meant to portray her as an empowered woman, then he, as a writer, failed to effectively translate that idea into words and communicate it to the vast majority of readers in an unambiguous way.

    If he was aiming to accentuate how alien and divorced from humanity she is, then he failed to both pick an effective means of doing so and one that had any precedence in continuity, relaunch be damned.

    As for Lobdell himself, my respect for him actually DECREASED with each interview he gave. His “she’s an alien, I don’t have to justify anything, my critics are all just a bunch of moralizing haters” completely failed to address legitimate critiques of his writing. His smug, condescending tone also didn’t win him any brownie points with me or anyone else.

  3. mbsperez Says:

    While I’m more a Nolan and Abrams fan, there are times when I do dig a good Michael Bay movie, warts and all.. πŸ™‚

    Thanks for the response!

  4. Lunar Archivist Says:

    No problem. πŸ™‚

    And just to clarify, I’m not some upper crust snob who thinks he’s above Michael Bay. I though the first live-action “Transformers” film was okay and found both “Bad Boys” movies entertaining, after all. But Bay’s movies aren’t Oscar-worthy material (unless we’re talking special effects) and Scott Lobdell is no Ron Marz. πŸ˜‰

  5. mbsperez Says:

    True that! Lobdell is a different writer from Marz definitely. I do hope you check out Ron’s Witchblade run though! Awesome stuff.

  6. The Dawgboy Says:

    While I appreciate the comments you have made regarding the voodoo character, and the artful way the issue covered perspective, I have to say the backlash has to be considered inside the NuDCU.

    There have been many items that are offensive, besides the two other books you have referenced in this review. For instance, Wonder Woman is now the daughter of Zeus. So, gone now is the history of a character that was truly the product of a woman’s love and the power of prayer to female deities. All of the previous arguments with Zeus, as well as her defiance have now become “daddy issues” dealing with her abandonment. Also, any issues she has with Hera seem to only be with Hera’s issues with the constant reminders of her husbands infidelity. Sure that is a common theme among Greek mythology, but it only further cheapens the characters we are dealing with. It also makes the entire theory of a society of women that live independently of men receive a new idea of dependence.

    Then there is the issue of young, slim, attractive, cleavage bearing Amanda Waller. We take a character that was embraced as a strong, “I am who I am, and I don’t give a damn.” and have turned her into some kind of eye candy.

    Now there is the reintroduction of Batwoman. Kane is a double edged sword, in many ways. On the one hand, she is an empowered go getter, with the ability to do it on her own. On the flip side, she is a female that cannot strike out and embrace her own heroic identity, she must adopt the mantle of a male hero. Add to this the lipstick lesbian angle, that is the most fanservice way of saying “Look at us, we support gay people, as long as they fit into a niche of male sexual fantasy.”

    Then add a pinch of Barbara Gordon’s return to Batgirl thus retiring her more empowering role as Oracle, and thus shoving recently returned from the dead Stephanie Brown out of the way. Now you have to consider that Stephanie was killed for shock value, and Barbara was crippled for shock value, and both are left in limbo (while Bruce gets his broken spine magically healed, so he can return to duty after Knightfall and actually has a story involved in his return from the dead).

    And the last thing to consider is that so many powerful and beloved characters are now non-existant while there is a new book about an alien stripper girl.

    If you consider all these things along with the other two titles you bring up, and the outrage over this book seems only natural. Now, with your review, the blow is softened, but if we are trying to embrace diversity, perhaps having the first image of our newly reintroduced empowered female be the little known of stripper from 20 years ago, while the female version of the Cary Grant style “gentleman thief” from the silver age is now fully embraced in the former prostitute origin (Catwoman), then we have issues.

    This book may go somewhere, but DC has put a nail in the coffin of trying to reach out to new audiences when all it caters to is the aging, desperately single horndogs that were the same audience in the late 70’s early 80’s. It surely did not consider the audience that may have come from the little girls that grew up on Batman TAS, Justice League, and Teen Titans (the animated show).

    So, on its own, from another publisher, at any other moment? Probably a great read with intriguing angles to be considered. Piled in with the new 52 relaunch? Sexist crap.

    If only it could exist in a vacuum.

  7. Lunar Archivist Says:

    Considering the backlash within the context of the new DC Universe isn’t really an issue since I’m firmly in the anti-relaunch camp myself. πŸ˜‰

    I agree with you when it comes to Wonder Woman and Amanda Waller, as both changes were utterly pointless and did nothing to further either character. I’m kind of torn when it comes to Batgirl, though: while I love Gail Simone’s writing of the character and am happy to see justice belatedly served after her shameful treatment in “Batman: The Killing Joke”, but, at the same time, it’s extremely annoying to see two decades’ worth of real character development get flushed right down the toilet and denying disabled people their representation in comics.

    As for homosexuality in comics…that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

    Back in old comics, cartoons, and television shows, in most instances where you had a group of characters, its members would be almost exclusively male with the sole exception of one female whose defining characteristic, with few exceptions, was her gender and the stereotypes associated with it.

    In the present, gay has become the new female: a homosexual character runs the risk of being completely defined by his or her sexuality and the associated stereotypes if written poorly. Creators would be better off focusing on writing a good character that just happens to be gay rather than setting out to create an explicitly gay character and subsequently writing their personality around that trait.

    This makes Batwoman a bit difficult to assess. While I see your point about her being a lipstick lesbian and her identity being derivative of that of a well-established male hero, I don’t view either one of these creative decisions as being necessarily detrimental to her character or as unabashedly shameless as what happened to Starfire. While I’ve admittedly avoided Scott Lobdell’s “Teen Titans” like the plague, I find the character of Bunker more problematical since he seems to embody the “flamboyantly gay” stereotype that I really wish writers would avoid (though, based on what I’ve heard from people who’ve actually read it, it seems to be a relatively balanced and non-offensive portrayal).

    Just to clarify: the point of my review wasn’t really meant to soften any blows, as there are several issues that I didn’t touch upon while writing it. For example, after I posted this blog entry, Laura Sneddon tweeted me about the following article by Haisai Andagii…


    …which touched upon what might best be described as “unfortunate racial undertones” present in “Voodoo”. While I can see merit in some of her points, I don’t agree with her assessment as a whole. But approaching it from that angle wasn’t really the focus of this article. I was simply interested in debunking the widely held belief that Ron Marz’s use of female sexuality and erotic imagery in this title was as superficial, shameless, and shallow as what was seen in “Red Hood and the Outlaws” and “Catwoman”. Not only was this absolutely not the case, but he actually used it as a clever narrative tool, something which I found fascinating enough to devote an article to. In other words, if you absolutely, positively had to write a book about a female alien exotic dancer that took place in a strip club and featured copious amounts of nudity but wasn’t pure fanservice and had some serious substance and depth to it, then Marz is the best man for the job. πŸ˜€

    I’m not sure about Catwoman embracing Frank Miller’s prostitute origin in the New 52, though. When did this happen?

    One mistake you’re making is assuming that DC’s target demographic all want the same thing. This aging, desperately single horndog isn’t all that impressed by the New 52 as a whole and would rather things revert to the more lighthearted era of the DC Universe from 1994 to 2001 when Mark Waid and Peter David were writing for the company, it was still a fun place to be, and humor wasn’t a dirty word. I’ve as tired of the death, cynicism, and pandering to the lowest common denominator as anyone else.

    The New 52 should’ve toned things down and recreated itself as something accessible to all age groups and with a wide variety of different genres. Heck, I would’ve loved to see a superhero/supervillain romantic comedy starring the Atom (Ryan Choi) and Giganta called “Size Matters” or even something completely original, such as “Harleen Quinzel: Supervillain Psychologist”. Hell, they could’ve even revived “Major Bummer” or “Young Heroes in Love” to add some flavor. But they instead chose to focus on the same 18 to 34 white male demographic they were before, which makes the relaunch pointless in many ways.

  8. The Dawgboy Says:

    You got me with the “Young Heroes in Love.” I adore that book. And it seems that we agree on almost every front.

    I will admit, like with what they are seemingly doing with Voodoo, that in the case of Batwoman, it is a situation of, “Well, if we have to do this to show ‘diversity,’ we might as well do it well.”

    I just do not see the idea of The Hot Alien Stripper Hero, no matter how well presented, being reasonably accepted in the storm that has poured forth with the Batgirl/Oracle, thin hot Waller, Wonder Woman Daddy issue, Starfire dehumanization, Catwoman call girl, many interesting characters shoved out the door, but we have room to revamp Voodoo world.

    So, like I stated before, Voodoo or Batwoman would do extremely well in a vaccum, separate from the current state of DC, but as you stated the focus is obviously to attract the same audience (you say 18-34 demographic, but I respectfully disagree and say it is the same guys that wanted the Marvel Pin-up calendars after growing up fantasizing about Scarlet Witch and Jean Grey). Therefore, these books, no matter how well written will get clumped in, and most assuredly not draw new audience to buying actual comic books, will like any measure at all to reap the pre-made audience of little girls the loved the Teen Titans tv show, and would like to meet the real Starfire. Any young lady that heard the “If you ever liked a DC character, well the company is starting anew, and you can jump in without having to worry about years of confusing history, now is the time,” press junket advertising the New 52, will now know to never buy another comic again. They will especially not pick up a new title such as this, or Batwoman, that is actually written decently. Just a huge blown opportunity.

  9. The Dawgboy Says:

    And to further assure that we are on the same page, believe me I was not trying to say you had an agenda in this piece. If anything I read your piece, and was completely shocked to see some of the pages representing the different angles you describe. I agree it seems (and I say seems, as I have not yet read the issue), that it is not what it seems on the surface.

    My point was just when you are presenting the “new” character of alien stripper in the context of all the “new and improved” female characters, then it has little to no chance of hitting home, and even less chance of being taken seriously by anyone that is trying to start or return to comics. It just shows the lack of insight or forethought of the Editors at DC. After all, they are the ones that decided, “Hey let’s make sure to add this book instead of embracing a well liked character that has never worked in the sex industry, and should probably have been given her fair shot at the limelight some time ago. Or even a completely new character that has none of those constraints.”

  10. The Dawgboy Says:

    I still think I am going off on too much of a tangent. You know my arguments, let us just suffice it to say: Even if this is a pearl in the pile of pig crap that is the new 52, the only ones that will be willing to wallow in to find it are the pigs that enjoy the crap to begin with.

    (With all respect to you, as you are professionally reviewing all the works, whether you like it or not.)

  11. Lunar Archivist Says:

    I’m a professional reviewer now? When did THAT happen? ^_^;

    The problem with the “pearl in the pig crap” analogy is that, deserved or not, it ends up undermining your argument because it insults the people who actually enjoy it. Look, I’m not a hardcore women’s rights or political correctness advocate. I can sit back and read an issue of “Maxim” or watch a Michael Bay movie, tune out all the horrendous subtext and sexist crap in it, and just enjoy the ride as much as the next guy. But the New 52 was meant to revitalize DC Comics. It was supposed to be a new jumping on point for readers. It was supposed do away with all the terrible creative decisions, character derailments, and depressing storylines that’ve plagued the company for years. While many disagree with me, by and large, I think it’s failed to do that. Since comics are a dying industry, you’d think the people in charge would want to attract as many new readers as possible from every walk of life. I don’t see how alienating female readers with T and A and sexist stereotypes, targeting a demographic that was largely ignoring you before anyway, and offending your established fanbase by chucking 75 years worth of continuity out the window makes any sense whatsoever.

    (For the record, I use the 18-34 white male demographic because that’s what advertisers generally go for.)

    Actually, I did have an agenda with this article: vindicate Ron Marz, whom I felt was being unfairly maligned due to “guilt by association” (not that a writer of his stature actually needs little old me defending him on an obscure blog). I’ve bashed James Robinson and Scott Lobdell for their questionable creative decisions on this blog, after all, so it was a nice change of pace. πŸ˜‰

    I’m glad you found my dissection of the book informative. As I said in my update, I actually owe the existence of this article to Ron Marz himself. When I noticed that the sexual/sexist imagery was being used to subvert rather than pander, I tweeted him to ask about it:

    “Were you being intentionally subversive in Voodoo #1 about the portrayal of women in comics? Just curious.”

    To which he responded:

    “More intentionally subversive about how men look at women. Pun intended.”

    With my base suspicion confirmed, I decided to flesh out my theory and write this article. At the risk of sounding like I’m tooting my own horn, even I’m surprised at how well the book adhered to the “Tyler Evans Sexist Perspective”/”Voodoo and Jess Fallon Non-Sexist Perspective” dichotomy.

    Haisai Andagii made the same point about you as far as representation is concerned: she questioned the wisdom of having a female minority character (or at least an alien posing as one) working as a stripper being the lead in a book when other heroines of African descent, such as Vixen or Onyx Adams, could’ve gotten a shot at the limelight. And I can see her point. This was a risky decision and I think it would’ve been better if they’d wanted until the second or third wave of new titles before releasing this, especially considering how heavily hyped the relaunch was, all eyes were on DC, and this was their big chance to make a good first impression. “Voodoo” is a good title in my book, but, as you said, people are judging it harshly and undeservedly because of the genuine crap that’s been put out at the same time.

  12. The Dawgboy Says:

    When I say professional, I mean you are handling it in a professional manner. It is a good thing I was linked to your blog, because I really did think Voodoo was going to be more of the same.

    And the crap statements may upset the folks that like it, but I like you, am looking at it from the perspective that it was supposed to be the invite to comics for new fans, and it was supposed to be the opening for new audiences.

    I do not think Marz can be held accountable in any. I feel, like you stated earlier, he was given a project that he could do in a manner that adds class, where it could be a gutter diving mess (Striperella). I also do not believe he had control over when it was to be released. Had he, he probably would have waited until the storm died down on multiple fronts (after all, who is going to pick up a book about a relatively unknown when there are 6 new Bat titles to contend with). On this front, I have to blame DC, for yet another character being washed down the drain due to the New 52. This case, however it seems it was not due to the writing, but the timing for the release for a potentially controversial topic.

  13. Lunar Archivist Says:

    Who linked you to my blog, just out of curiousity? πŸ™‚

    Also, I’m not claiming that he had any input on release dates. When I say “guilt by association”, I mean that he’s writing for DC Comics like Judd Winick and Scott Lobdell. Since the latter two got a lot of flak for what they did, some of it inevitably rubbed off on him as well (something I thought was unfair).

    Alternatively, some people might be jumping to conclusions about him. While I enjoy Ron Marz’s writing a lot, he’s been somewhat stigmatized through no fault of his own: when he took over the writing reins on “Green Lantern” in 1993/1994, Hal Jordan went insane, Kyle Rayner replaced him, and the manner in which the latter’s girlfriend, Alex DeWitt, was murdered and her body discovered served as the “Women in Refrigerators” trope namer. While executive meddling played a not insignificant role in quite a bit of this, comic book readers have long memories.

    Personally, I’d classify “Justice League: Cry for Justice” as a “gutter diving mess” where the writer fully deserves the crap he got for it. πŸ˜›

  14. gerardo Says:

    @ the Dawgboy

    Is pretty unfair to complain about the new Wonder Woman deity, because she was a goddess and people wanted to see her again as that. And if Diana is a godess is only logical to make her the daughter of Zeuz, daddy issues explain a lot of their relationship.

    but to see that “It also makes the entire theory of a society of women that live independently of men receive a new idea of dependence.” is BS, am sorry but It sounds like something out of a Pomo Feminism crap. Yes now Diana has a father, as Simone de Bovuoir and Julia Kristeva had, and not for that she is less interesting.

    And for Batwoman, I thought the same as you until I read the comic (By Rucka). So I will call BS to that as well.

    But as I think you are probably right about Babs and Amanda Walker, then I just say you are half full of BS. And hearing you say “sexist crap” sounds more like an emotional reaction than critical thought. I dont like when people try to pull the sexist argument without good reasons.

    For the argument about little girls I recall a comic in shortpacked, That completly falls of the ground when you think that the “little girls” that saw that and other shows (as young justice) are in highschool or college and run pretty cool blogs with chapter reviews. And Im beign hard to you sir because the easy use of “sexism” is bad for critisism.

    Catwoman is sexist stuff, the story is fine so people should quit looking there and be satisfied (yeah they like to rant) for the sexist images and fanservice. Winnick made a mistake, Catwoman is the sexist remark for wich someone get laughed at (you know, pitty, lame and very pathetic)

    The Outlaws, that is the definition of “Sexist Crap” and goes to another level, just the fact that they link something like that to comics I like piss me off. Is the kind of sexism you say “Oh no he didnt!”, the one that is disturbing. Scott Lobell would never admit the crime, even if he knows what he has done (That is the main reason!)

    Is not the same

  15. Lunar Archivist Says:

    I think that what Dawgboy was getting at was that Wonder Woman was, in many ways, female empowerment in its purest, most distilled form: a woman whose existence was completely undefined by a man. She had no biological father since she was molded from clay by Queen Hippolyta. She was brought to life by the goddess Aphrodite in her 1940s origin story (though George PΓ©rez’s 1980s revision had five goddesses and one god being responsible for animating her). She was raised in a matriarchal bubble on Paradise Island by a tribe of warrior women, the Amazons, with no male influences or father figures involved in her upbringing whatsoever. Now she’s just the illegitimate daughter of Zeus – which is exactly the same original that Cassie “Wonder Girl” Sandsmark had in the old DC Universe – and has daddy issues. That’s a pretty big step down in both originality and subtext. Even John Byrne’s revision of Superman’s backstory – which had Kal-El “born” on Earth instead of Krypton since he was released from his gestation matrix after his rocket ship crashed on Earth – didn’t rock the origin boat that badly.

    As for Barbara Gordon and Amanda Waller, the sexism issues there come from the fact that their revised selves have narrowed the type of female representation in comics significantly. Barbara Gordon was a paraplegic who used her intelligence and computer skills to fight crime while Amanda Waller was a self-made African-American woman whose sheer force of determination and will allowed her to make something of herself and her children after she was widowed and one of her kids killed. The fact that she didn’t adhere to conventional standards of beauty by being both an older woman and visibly overweight was significant. Now both of them are just the same as all the women in the DC Universe: attractive, young, and physically perfect. To many people, this would be the equivalent of restoring Matt Murdock’s ability to see: a Daredevil with 20/20 vision would just be another martial arts expert with enhanced senses running around in spandex fighting crime. Do we really need another one of those?

    Seriously, the only way they could make Amanda Waller worse is by retconning things so that she acquired her position of power by sleeping her way to the top.

  16. The Dawgboy Says:


    I think what we have here is a simple case of missing the forest for the trees. You may or may not agree on a case to case basis, but my point, from the beginning, in response to this blog entry, has been purely that if you take every single one of these things, and release it all in the same month, then you have trouble in River City.

    Sure, if a company releases one thing that could, that from the outside seem controversial in some many or another, but had months to explain how it is not as bad as you think, then there might not be a problem. If a company releases two things that are controversial in separate manners at the same time, then the company is not going to be taken to the may as quickly.

    However, when you have all the stuff listed in my initial response happen at the exact same time, all pertaining to the exact same type of offense (and there are more from the new 52 relaunch available), then paint sticks to the wall.

    It was not my argument that everything coming out of DC is full of “sexist crap,” but that it is easy to see why, from the outside it would seem that way.

    Sure, given a case to case basis, it may work out that none of it was in the least sexist, as Batwoman is not portrayed in that manner, and VooDoo may not be portrayed in that manner. In fact, according to the review, Voodoo is out of the stripper form by the end of the book, and taken on the form of a male agent. She may never again take that form in a 500 issue run, but reality is that this writer was given this assignment at the same time as the folks that gave him that assignment made every single one of those choices that lead to the laundry list that was posted above.

    Given that all those choices were made, and all those issues were presented at the exact same time, what is anyone supposed to think about the company in question, and why should anyone that seriously cares about equal treatment for all give them a chance?

    My answer is simple. It would be thanks to the writer of this blog, and many like him, willing to find the diamond in the rough, after sorting through the rest of the drivel.

    Oh, and to answer your earlier question, Lunar, regarding the “are they using the Catwoman from Batman Year One origin?”

    I really do not know if they are or not,officially. What I do know for sure is that based on the fact that the Batman Year One movie was just released with the Catwoman short that glorified that origin at the same time (relatively) that Catwoman #1 hit the stands, and her behavior in the book versus the behavior of Batman: TAS Catwoman, or Silver Age Catwoman,. the question that is “What origin does it really seem that DC is trying to tie into?”

  17. Lunar Archivist Says:

    There’s a fundamental disconnect between comics as seen by their established fanbase and outsiders, casual fans, or readers who’ve been out of the loop for a decade or three. One good example is looking at how “Identity Crisis” was received by comparing fan reviews with editorial ones. The latter were acting as if this were innovative, groundbreaking storytelling – as if comics had failed to evolve or develop since the 1970s or early 1980s – while fans, split as they may have been on whether or not it was a good story – probably agreed that the violence and mature themes weren’t exactly anything to write home about: that had been part of the comic book landscape since the mid-to-late 1980s at the earliest or the 1990s at latest.

    Since DC was to expand its audience, it would make sense to make it as open and accessible as possible by having material that’s relatively inoffensive (or at least not downright sexist) and might be something that tweens or young teenagers could get into. Instead, they seem to be shooting for the young adult and adult male demographics and skewing their content towards them. That’s a pretty exclusionary mindset. It would’ve been a better idea to have books that had the same tone as Marvel’s “Runaways” or adding other types of comics to their lineup other than superhero, war, and horror. Why not do some romance or gag comics as well? The only truly brilliant move I can say they made was making “I, Vampire” one of the New 52, as this title can ride the vampire craze and potentially draw in some of the “Twilight” crowd.

    Thanks for the clarification on Catwoman’s origin, Dawgboy. I’m not really sure what DC’s going with right now, either, though, as far as I know, her prostitute origin from “Batman: Year One” hasn’t been canonical since “Zero Hour”, at least (though the rest of the story seems to be).

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