It is no secret that comic marketing for females has had some missteps lately. The backlash over Marvel merchandising for The Avengers: Age of Ultron having blatantly neglected Black Widow representation was a message from the public that female characters are long overdue for time in the spotlight. And while franchises like The Avengers, The Dark Knight, and the upcoming Suicide Squad and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice films all feature strong female characters that are not simply present to support a male hero or villain, it seems like merchandising is a few steps behind.
This should be understood as a major mistake for companies that target children and adolescents. The Toys R’Us website, for example, has over thirty action figures for Marvel and DC respectively, and in each category, only five are female. Two of those characters in the Marvel category are only sold with a male figure as a set. Superhero themed birthday party merchandise often leaves out female characters since these products tend to be targeted to young boys, leaving Black Widow out of The Avengers party plates and cups on the Toys R’Us website, and leaving Gamora off everything but the napkins in the Guardians of the Galaxy birthday party supplies on the Walmart site.
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While merchandising has a long way to go before it catches up to where many fans want it to be (especially parents of girls who dream of being superheroes themselves, and not just one’s girlfriend or wife), DC has unveiled a few new lines that are focusing on female characters in a positive way. Elephant Gun and Diamond Comic Distributors have released a second round of their DC Bombshells vinyl decals. This line features six characters from DC comics dressed in pin-up style, and displays both heroines and villainesses. Some might find the decals to be another example of comic marketing relying on sex appeal to sell female characters, but while the original pin-up girls of the 1940’s predominantly focused on sex appeal alone, the characters appearing on Diamond’s decals are posing in a pin-up fashion while displaying their special talents and abilities. And even though the origins of pin-up girls were all about marketing to men, current depictions of pin-up girls are becoming more popular with women, many of whom find the idea of embracing your feminine sexuality to be empowering.
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Anyone who is already a fan of pin-up art will enjoy DC Bombshells because the artist, Ant Lucia, has captured the essence of 1940’s pin up with every decal. Each piece is quirky, sexy, and fun, while also showing off each character’s special ability or trademark. Zatana, for example, casually waves her magic wand, which sends some sort of magic spell to a rabbit that sits at her feet while a smirk creeps across her face. Each decal shows the characters having fun and celebrating their individual talents. They are sexy, yes, but the amount of skin showing is actually very tame, and in keeping with the origins of the pin-up style, they are tantalizing rather than shoving sex in the viewer’s face. It is also worth mentioning that the artist has drawn these women to be age appropriate for pin up. Each woman looks to be older than twenty, based on the detail of their faces and bodies, and so it is not as shocking (or inappropriate) to see them in these flirtatious poses as it would be if they were depicted as much younger.
For the less mature crowd, DC is also unveiling a new website dedicated to introducing some of their female characters to an audience that is of high school age or younger. DC Super Hero Girls is a new website that invites the viewer to “Head to Super Hero High” and “Meet the DC Super Hero Girls.” The focus of this site is to introduce each character as a high school student, with all of the awkwardness and insecurity that comes with being an adolescent. Using characters like Batgirl, Wonder Woman, and Harley Quinn, DC Super Hero Girls shows how being shy or disorganized doesn’t make you weird; it simply makes you unique. Each girl is shown with three distinct attributes, such as in the case of Poison Ivy who is labelled as “genius, awkward, and shy.” There are seven characters, which means most girls who visit the site will be able to relate to at least one of the attributes that these girls possess.
DC Super Hero Girls is a fantastic step forward for DC in terms of marketing to young girls. The website shows how strong and powerful these characters are while humanizing them by giving them a well-rounded personality that viewers can identify and connect with. The website also does not mention the male counterparts to some of these women, such as Batgirl’s relationship to Batman. This is also important because, as we’ve seen, a lot of the superhero marketing towards women and young girls focuses on the female character only as an accessory to or as dependent upon her interactions with a male superhero or villain. Girls are probably more likely to look up to a super heroine if she is known for more than just window-dressing for a male hero.
It will be interesting to see over the next year what steps are made by both DC and Marvel in terms of marketing to females. There is not only a demand for more representation, but there is a palpable disappointment when an opportunity for a female character to be represented is missed, such as the aforementioned case of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Women are looking for strong, flawed, real characters to look up to, and young girls need the same — possibly even more as they develop their sense of selves. As the films that are coming out in the next years will hopefully show, female super heroines and villains are able to carry their own storylines without relying on a male counterpart. And then maybe in the future, there will be as many Wonder Woman action figures as there are of Superman.
Image 1 © 2014 Walmart
Image 2 © 1943 20th Century Fox
Image 3 © 2015 DC
Image 4 © 2015 Legion of Leia