With all the controversy surrounding the launch of Marvel Divas, I was hesitant to pick up Gotham City Sirens. Both books launched this month, and I already have Marvel Divas en route to my mailbox (I’ll review it fully in light of my previous post once I get it). Considering my response to the Marvel Divas hype, you might expect me to hate Gotham City Sirens out of principle and cover art alone:
It wasn’t the art alone that caused such an uproar with Marvel Divas. Most female characters have historically been drawn in highly fetishized ways with body suits and outrageous proportions, so even that wasn’t too much of a shock. But taking characters who weren’t introduced to their respective universes as sex symbols and re-crafting them to be such under the guise of “Sex and the City” flavored stories was a little too much to swallow, even for the most forgiving women in comics apologists. DC didn’t do that with Gotham City Sirens (GCS). In fact, the promotional description was remarkably bland in terms of attempts to use buzz words to attract readers:
This all-new series features the bad girls of Gotham City! Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are tired of playing by other people’s rules regardless of which side of the law they’re on. These tough ladies have a new agenda that’s all their own, and they’ll use any means necessary to pursue it. But can they get along and work as a team? And who will get hurt along the way?
So when Jack handed me Gotham City Sirens #1 in the store I hesitated. He raised a point that made perfect sense: If I think Marvel is doing such a dismal job of portraying women, why not compare it to the way DC handles theirs? There was Birds of Prey, but that ship has since sailed, and now GCS is running alongside Marvel Divas, both are ensemble female casts of protagonists, so why not use them as a comparison? And he was right. I decided that reading both all female team comics would be a good comparison and exercise in patience. Wow, am I glad he handed me that book!
The plot seems pretty dry and basic at first, and the “new” upstart villain “Bone Crusher” is painful to read. His use of the slang “beyoches” to refer to the Sirens is … well, it’s just a moment that makes you wince. Really? Nothing better to say? Then again, he proves himself to be a rather inept, though strong, newcomer to the Gotham City underworld, so the corny dialogue from him actually fits rather well. Considering the upheaval in Gotham with Batman dead and Jason Todd running amok, and a new Batman on the scene, I’m sure we can expect any and every petty criminal with a gimmick to come out of the woodwork to try and make his or her name. As long as they aren’t all as cliche and corny as Bone Crusher, it could prove to be an ideal situation for the more experienced, proven villains of Gotham to stand their ground to hold their places at the top.
The art was elongated and exaggerated (there are fight scenes where our “Sirens” are contorted in movements that just aren’t physically possible, but dramatic to look at), and the long lines make the female characters that much more alluring and fluid. The Gotham City Sirens are a combination of walking stereotypical sex fantasies, what else can you expect?
What struck me as I was reading Gotham City Sirens was the possibility of this book to be amazing. While the first issue seemed rather flat, it did something that I could very much appreciate– It called out the points in each of the three female characters that feminists cringe over:
Catwoman: She’s a smart, polished vixen who runs around in a black leather catsuit (literally) and carries a whip. She’s strong enough in character history and plot to carry her own title, but she has a perceived aura in the Gotham world that she only gets away with her schemes because of her “relationship” with Batman. It’s the old “female can’t be successful in her own right without a male to make it easier for her” issue. But right off the bat, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn call her on it, implying that possibly the only reason she’s interested in teaming up is because the Batman she had “wrapped around her paw” was gone, and then so was her protection.
Poison Ivy: She’s a red haired seductress who wears flora and fauna in provocatively placed positions. She is the quintessential gold-digger and maneuvers through money and power by using her feminine “wiles” and her methods of seduction. Sure, she has pretty useful and (at times) powerful abilities, but rather than use her intelligence in a masculine way, she manipulates the men around her, and the men she wants something from, with the hint and promise of affection. She is the ultimate Femme Fatale. But as Catwoman enters Poison Ivy’s apartment and sees the Riddler drugged with plant toxins, she calls out Poison Ivy for giving away all of her money and preying on men in her same old ways.
Harley Quinn: Let’s face it, the seemingly air headed blonde with a penchant for pig tails, school girl outfits, and violence is just begging for you to hate her with every feminist bone in your body. But time and again Harley has moments of shocking clarity and intelligence that makes you wonder whether her typical demeanor is just an act she prefers to play, or whether it really is her. Couple that with her abusive relationship with the Joker–in every sense of the term–and you almost feel sorry for her. She packs a mean punch of her own, but when faced with the possibility of the Joker returning, both Catwoman and Poison Ivy point out the insanity of her attraction to him, and neither encourages her love for the man.
Combined, they bolster each other in those aspects that make us love them as characters, and call out the problems that everyone else sees in their characterization. Together, they seem to balance each other out and play off of those strengths and weaknesses in a way that is far more complex and satisfying than putting them around a coffee table with tea, discussing the problems with their love life. These women aren’t patsies, and they aren’t afterthoughts. They have their own long, ingrained histories that are three dimensional and complex. Putting them together for whatever reason (money, power, defending their own criminal territory, reputations, and place in the underworld hierarchy, etc.) was a stroke of genius.
I’m looking forward to reading Marvel Divas. Maybe they’ll surprise me and be actual competition for GCS. Be sure to watch for a GCS vs. MD post soon!