Friday, May 30, 2014

SOMETIMES HE FEELS LIKE A NUT; OTHER TIMES, HE JUST IS

To David Goyer's suggestion that the She-Hulk was created as an implicit sex-fantasy for all male readers; i.e., " the chick you could fuck if you were Hulk." Stan Lee responded in this Washington Post piece by saying, “Only a nut would even think of that.”

As I detailed in HIGHLIGHTING ANXIETY PT. 2, Goyer's actual comment is lame and smacks of facile attention-whoring-- a verb I find appropriate, given how free Goyer and Craig Mazin with their use of the term "slut." That said, though the specific accusations are all but worthless, they do raise the spectre of unfair sexual representation once more. Note this passage from the "Comic Riffs" section:

So, how about She-Hulk’s tremendous physique, Stan the Man? “As for her looking beautiful and curvy,” Lee tells Comic Riffs, “show me the superheroine who isn’t.”

From a hardcore ultraliberal standpoint, this light-hearted statement would confirm the Goyer allegation that She-Hulk was designed as a "wank fantasy." I don't think Stan Lee would ever admit to having written "wank fantasies," nor that he would ever fully understand modern objections to them. But though I've argued earlier than SHE-HULK was not poised as an especially "sexy" comics feature, there can be no doubt that Stan Lee has edited and created many comic books that fit that bill.

I've previously cited this MY FRIEND IRMA panel as one of the few overt boob-jokes I've found in a commercial comic book of the period.



And of course prior to the Marvel era Stan edited and/or wrote a vast number of "working girl" comics-- none of whom were about the type of "working girls" Goyer and Mazin would've referenced.




And then there were the curvaceous jungle-queens, like the 1950s LORNA THE JUNGLE GIRL, written for the most part by Don Rico.




No one would doubt that all of these female characters are drawn to be ostentatiously sexy-- certainly more so than the 1980s She-Hulk, IMO.  And I for one don't blush to admit that any time a female character was drawn to be ostentatiously sexy, there's a better than even chance that publishers knew that a lot of young horndogs would indeed use such comics for "wank fantasies."

At the same time, overt sexiness was not the only avenue through which young horndogs fulfilled themselves.
I admitted in the previous essay that it's quite possible that the Vosburg-Springer She-Hulk met with approval with some fans, even though the artists did not strive to be extremely titillating. Perhaps the semi-ripped clothing did it for some people-- possibly including the estimable Kurt Busiek-- even though I for one found She-Hulk's attire about as sexy as the Hulk's pants, since it was evident that the clothing was never going to get torn any further, no matter how much physical punishment the character endured.  But there's no accounting for taste, and it's easy to imagine male comics-readers being turned by any number of relatively unexceptional images. As problematic as Frederic Wertham is, his testimony that some readers were turned on by nothing more than high heels seems to be a typical enough phenomenon-- and certainly not one confined to comic books.

Having established that sexual titillation can take place whether or not an image is structured to be titillating, we're back to the Square One established by Goyer. Even if he's wrong, wrong, wrong about the motives behind She-Hulk's creation, there can be no doubt that some comics have been created to be "wank fantasies."

But even when they are created with the conscious intent to have such an appeal-- are they all the same?

Some comics aren't much more than this. Stan Lee features like SHOWGIRLS and MY FRIEND IRMA had occasional moments of snappy dialogue, but I doubt anyone bought the titles for the dialogue.

On the other hand, the example of LORNA THE JUNGLE GIRL presents a different paradigm. I didn't choose the panel above at random; while LORNA certainly is a comic book featuring a pneumatic jungle-princess, it rises above the mediocrity of most jungle-comics with its ongoing gender-humor. LORNA had just one basic gag: the protagonist's boyfriend keeps telling her to quit playing jungle-heroine because women can't hack the adventure-game, and she proves him wrong every time. No one would claim LORNA to be the comics-version of Noel Coward, but there's obviously more than just titillation at work here.

More on these matters in a future essay.

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