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“Marvel Divas”: Making Breast Cancer Sexy?

June 30, 2009

vixens001_cvr-668x1023Tomorrow, Marvel Entertainment (the same company that made X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the Hulk household names) will release the first issue of a new miniseries, called “Marvel Divas.” The comics will focus on four of the Marvel universe’s female characters: Black Cat, Captain Marvel, Firestar, and Hellcat. There’s not much we know about the content of “Marvel Divas” at this stage, but we do know two things.

First, the miniseries is being marketed as Marvel Comics meets Sex and the City. As writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa explains:

The idea behind the series was to have some sudsy fun and lift the curtain a bit and take a peep at some of our most fabulous super heroines. In the series, they’re an unlikely foursome of friends…with TWO things in common: They’re all leading double-lives and they’re all having romantic trouble. The pitch started as “Sex and the City” in the Marvel Universe, and there’s definitely that “naughty” element to it, but I also think the series is doing to a deeper place, asking question about what it means…truly means…to be a woman in an industry dominated by testosterone and guns.

Second, tomorrow’s issue will reveal that Firestar (pictured standing up, in the middle) has breast cancer.

Aguirre-Sacasa discusses the story line in the New York Times:

In doing research, he discovered that Firestar had once worn a suit to prevent her microwave-based powers from making her infertile. “She retired and probably stopped wearing that suit,” Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa speculated. He is not specifically blaming her abilities as the cause of the cancer, but the development “helped give the series some gravitas,” he said. “The first issue is pretty light-hearted, but the stakes deepen as the series progresses.”

Breast cancer? Light-hearted? Is anyone else incredibly skeptical about the way in which this story will be handled?

Don’t get me wrong — I definitely believe that it’s possible to address serious, socially conscious issues in comic books. Marvel, in particular, has proven repeatedly that comics are capable of this. But Aguirre-Sacasa’s continued insistence that the series will be “pretty light-hearted” doesn’t suggest to me that this particular comic is capable of appropriately dealing with its subject matter.

And even without the breast cancer plot line, the miniseries sounds problematic. Jezebel points out the underlying sexism of the premise:

Can we just stop for a minute and call shenanigans on this, please? Do you think there’s a series in development that features Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker just chillin’ at the Applebee’s, shooting the shit about a Mets game and calling each other bro? No. And do you know why? Because it would be BORING. Just like a bunch of superheroines bitching about their love lives and waiting around for Mr. Big. The only people who are going to get excited about this series are those who want to see the “hot sudsy fun.”

If this is Marvel’s way of attracting a new fan-base of female readers, this does not sound like the way to do it. By reducing these heroines to their body parts and romantic interests, this sounds more geared toward readers interested solely in seeing pretty women in latex. And that’s what bothers me the most. There are plenty of fascinating directions where a comic miniseries could take these characters, and plenty of intelligent, critical comic book fans who would read it. This feels like Marvel is settling for the lowest common denominator, and I doubt that strategy will satisfy any of the company’s fans.

What do you think about the potential of “Marvel Divas”? What are some comics you’ve read that address social issues — particularly those involving women — effectively?

13 Comments
  1. Amy permalink
    July 3, 2009 1:37 pm

    Having just read the comic in question, I think the potential to address actual issues facing women is about nil. It was incredibly stereotypically sexist and banal. That said, the interior art was great. Too bad about the writing.

    This is basically Sex and the City without any depth. If that tells you anything. Ugh.

    • Carrie permalink
      July 3, 2009 7:46 pm

      Amy, I’m curious to hear more, since I haven’t read it myself (and I doubt I will, with all of the negative reviews). How was the breast cancer storyline treated? Is there potential for it to go somewhere, or is it just another excuse to reduce women to their anatomy?

      • Amy permalink
        July 3, 2009 7:57 pm

        Well, the news was broken at the end of the issue. So it wasn’t particularly explored yet. I may be judging hastily, but from the gist of the rest of the issue (the womenfolk’s social calendar involves writing tell-all books, speed dating, mani-pedis, martinis, gossip) I don’t have high expectations.

  2. July 3, 2009 1:44 pm

    I agree with Amy 100%. I ranted about it on my blog, but here I’ll just say 100% agree.

  3. lilacsigil permalink
    July 4, 2009 4:16 am

    I’ve read the issue and Amy’s review is spot-on. Surprisingly, the interior art is terrific, but it starts off with the main characters bitching about more famous superheroines and moves on to them giggling over their boyfriends for the rest of the issue (until Firestar runs in to say “OMG CANCER” on the last page). Breast cancer has been brought up once before – in an issue of Ultimate X-Men, where Psylocke is told by the villain possessing her that she has a tiny tumour in her breast, but she then sacrifices her life to stop him. She comes back later in a different body but that’s the last we ever hear about the cancer.

    I wonder if they make it breast cancer so they can say “breast”, tee hee.

    • Carrie permalink
      July 4, 2009 10:46 am

      I wonder if they make it breast cancer so they can say “breast”, tee hee.

      You may laugh, but I actually think you’re on to something. Because why would they choose breast cancer, over plenty of other horrible diseases? It seems clear to me that choosing something that directly relates to the female anatomy is an excuse to reduce women to their body parts, which is something we already see happening in media, all the time. It would have been great if writers thought to take this as an opportunity to educate people about breast cancer and to give that community of women a voice through the medium of comics, but from what you and the other commenters have said, it sounds doubtful that that’s what’s going on here.

      • lilacsigil permalink
        July 4, 2009 8:35 pm

        Yes, the “tee hee” was attached to them saying the word “breast”! I think you’re right about the reduction to body parts (and baby incubators) – Firestar’s concerns about her power were always phrased as a worry about infertility, not bodily autonomy and health.

  4. mt7 permalink
    July 4, 2009 6:02 pm

    I enjoyed it.

    • Carrie permalink
      July 4, 2009 9:12 pm

      Care to elaborate, mt7? I’m curious to hear your perspective.

  5. charles permalink
    October 30, 2009 3:21 am

    i read the whole series. it was a great book. it did have a campy feel to it much like sex and the city. but it was fun. the thing that did it for me was that these women are all so different. but they came together and stayed together through thick and thin. the caring the characters showed for each other was touching. and to be frank the men seemed to be more objectified than the women were. daimon was a vain man just after sex. and vodoo was just a hookup as well. puma was the only male who came through with some class. and he was portrayed poorly in the early part of the series. i thought the book was a wonderful little story and it is a shame it got such bad publicity. and it seems a lot of the haters did not even bother to read it. i really enjoyed the series. as for the j. scott campbell cover it is a typical part of comic art. i am not saying it is right. but it is a part of the genre. i mean all the guys are all muscley with big packages and you don’t hear anybody complain about that. lol. just my opinion.

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