By odd coincidence, just as I decided to devote a little attention to the oeuvre of Gerry Conway, I became aware that back in May of this year he'd been fulminating against manga, as covered by this BOUNDING INTO COMICS essay. The substance of Conway's rant is that he wishes Japanese manga would be taken to task for "rampant sexism and misogyny."
Some respondents to the piece were quick to point out that Conway was a hypocrite, given that he had a hand in creating one of DC Comics' most outstanding (ha ha) sexy heroines, Power Girl.
There's a pinch of truth in this riposte, but on the whole, I tend to think that Conway only barely sexualized Power Girl in the few "Justice Society" stories for which he was responsible. I suppose she basically fits with the "titillation" category I suggested here, but the stories are just basic superhero fare, so for the most part any later hyper-sexuality attributed to Power Girl in later years is really not Conway's fault. Further, though I have not read all of Conway's work, I would tend to state that in all of the considerable number of stories that I have read, Conway tended to "work clean." Some of his collaborative artists-- particularly Wally Wood, the co-creator of Power Girl and her boob-window-- had a strong effect on how some of Conway's stories turned out. Further, if I were to compare Conway to another mainstream work-horse like Doug Moench, my verdict would be that Moench works a lot more sexuality into even theoretically G-rated material than Conway ever did.
But even if one agrees that Conway tended to work clean, does that in any way validate his opinion of the Japanese manga industry, beyond the level of a statement of personal taste? Any regular reader of this blog will know that my own taste allows for quite a lot of transgressive material in my reading, so clearly my answer is likely to be "no," even IF Conway had mounted an articulate campaign against sexy manga. His tweets against "sexism and misogyny" as cited in the above essay provide no examples of the things he found offensive, and in a follow-up tweet, cited here, Conway merely conflates all manga sexism with the fetishization of underage girls.
Another riposte against Conway is that, even though at one point he largely left the comics field for the greener fields of television, he's filled with envy of the way that manga has eclipsed American comics-work in terms of American purchases. This is certainly very possible, though in theory one would not be wrong in pointing a particular publisher's sins despite the success of that publisher's wares. But Conway's tweets don't even come up to the level of Frederic Wertham's fulminations, which were often misleading and poorly sourced at the best of times.
In contrast, even though I have similar disagreements with Tony Isabella for a more recent tweet on comic-book sexuality, at least his rant is more focused. This month he was apparently filled with high dudgeon because DC Comics still makes use of the character Deathstroke, whom Isabella claims to be guilty of "child molestation." This article on BIC speculates that Isabella's ire may have raised because DC is due to debut a new mini-series, "Deathstroke Inc"-- which would be the first time the popular villain would enjoy his own series since his nineties feature.
I personally have little investment in the character, beyond recognizing that he has generally proven to be an effective villain in other characters' features, though considerably less so as a headliner. His claim to fame in the "offensive sexualization" sweepstakes is clearly his dalliance with the underaged psycho-villain Terra in NEW TEEN TITANS.
I thought the original sequence was nothing special. During their lauded NEW TEEN TITANS gig, creators Marv Wolfman and George Perez had put forth a number of stories in which Evil Older People attempt to take advantage of Pretty Younger People, whether in a non-sexual sense (Batman constantly bullying Robin) or in other sexual scenarios (the Greek god Zeus attempting to seduce Wonder Girl). It's my opinion that when Wolfman and Perez depicted, somewhat obliquely, a relationship between forty-year-old Deathstroke and fifteen-year-old Terra, the creators were just flogging a new version of a clansgression-trope they'd been using to good effect. I don't remember that in the day the storyline became a huge controversy, but in any case, it's now become enough of a hot button issue that some DC raconteurs even rewrote the story to elide the offensive material.
Isabella's rant, though more focused, is not any better articulated than Conway's. Even though Wolfman and Conway presented Terra as both violent and demented, current politically correct fans have tried to eradicate any sense that she might be responsible for her own actions. The relationship, whatever it was, must be entirely the fault of the older man. To be sure, Isabella himself does not demand that the character should cease to exist, the way Conway would apparently like to see all manga scourged of their transgressive content; Isabella seemingly just wants to make sure Deathstroke doesn't star in any new series. Surprisingly, Isabella doesn't make an issue, as does Conway, of a deleterious effect on young readers, though I would not be surprised to find that to be one of his considerations.
The thing that both of these "old pros" have in common is the notion that comics in general ought to be held to the standard of the mainstream industry for which they have worked. Unlike a lot of the Journalistas of decades past, I personally can appreciate the need for a "G-rated" mainstream, and I've not been especially sanguine about the virtues of underground comics and their "let it all hang out" aesthhetic. But as far as I'm concerned, the genie got out of the bottle as soon as the American comics-medium became inevitably focused upon older readers. Some of these readers may yearn for the simple G-rated comics of their youth. But sex sells as much to them as to anyone else, and if current comics have any advantage over current Hollywood, it would be that the former can still occasionally do good stories (as well as bad) with transgressive sexual subject matter-- which I may define a little more extensively in a future essay.