In my capacity as a comics critic, news releases from publishers, big and small, and creators make their way into my Inbox. Since I don’t have a news section, I rarely pay them much heed, but one I received last month caught my eye…
“FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: DC COMICS TO PUBLISH ALL STAR WONDER WOMAN BY NEWLY-EXCLUSIVE SUPERSTAR CREATOR ADAM HUGHES”
Hughes’s involvement in an All-Star Wonder Woman project had been rumored for some time, so it was quite the anti-climactic announcement, especially given that the comic book isn’t slated for release until summer 2007. But this news release was interesting in that its chosen focus is surprising, given the overall context of the project. Quoting from the release:
“WONDER WOMAN is the most popular super heroine of all time and a cultural icon. She has served in the Army, renounced her powers at the height of the feminist movement and helped launch Gloria Steinem’s Ms. Magazine. She has been –- and continues to be -– a trailblazing role model to women and an integral part of the cultural zeitgeist.
“ADAM HUGHES: An unparalleled talent and artistic craftsman, Hughes has been a fan-favorite for close to two decades, and brings a level of detail and widescreen mastery that remains striking and unique. Hughes has made a name for himself with runs as interior or cover artist on titles such as Catwoman, Legionnaires, Wonder Woman and Justice League. Especially known for his depiction of Wonder Woman, the choice to bring him aboard as both artist and writer on the series was an easy one to make, according to Dan DiDio, Senior VP – Executive Editor.”
That DC would chose to evoke Wonder Woman’s status as a feminist symbol and “trailblazing role model” under these circumstances is befuddling, even laughable. There’s no denying that those descriptions of the iconic character are apt. Despite creator William Marston Moulton’s incorporation of so much bondage imagery into Wonder Woman’s Golden Age adventures, she is the most recognized super-heroine and evolved into something more than her arguably kinky roots.
But Adam Hughes’s Wonder Woman as feminist symbol? That’s a different matter altogether.
It’s true that these days, Hughes is best known for his portrayal of Wonder Woman. He served as the cover artist on her regular title for a long stint, and Hughes is one of the industry’s most popular artists when it comes to the depiction of female characters. But the emphasis in his work isn’t always on the strength or vulnerabilities of female characters, but their forms. Their flowing lines. Their curves.
Oh let’s just be honest — their tits and asses.
Adam Hughes is “a fan-favorite” primarily because of his cheesecake art. His talents are not limited to sexy pinups — he handles comedy well, for example — and I don’t dismiss his work as being purely gratuitous at all. There are a number of artists whose work falls into the same vein, such as Frank (Liberty Meadows), and there are even those whose styles exhibit a clear Hughes influence. Just look at Wonder Woman artist Terry Dodson’s work over the past couple of years and how it’s evolved into something quite akin to Hughes’s work.
And even if there was nothing more to Adam Hughes’s art than a T&A factor (which, again, is not the case), there’s really nothing wrong with that in the right context. But the pairing of Hughes’s popularity as a Wonder Woman artist with the Amazon Princess as a symbol for female empowerment just doesn’t hold up to even the most superficial scrutiny.
One could argue that Hughes brings sexuality and strength in his super-heroine artwork. One could argue that others creators’ efforts to omit Wonder Woman’s sexuality from her character — she’s often been denied any kind of male companionship throughout her history — flies in the face of a feminist message. Those arguments could have merit. But Hughes’s work doesn’t just sexualize Wonder Woman. It often crosses over into objectification. It’s part and parcel of our culture, and Hughes’s cheesecake art is far from the most glaring or serious example one can find.
Just look at this Supergirl statue, scheduled for release this month from DC Direct. As its selling point, DC points out it’s designed by Adam Hughes. The statue features a teenage character in the midst of disrobing, all while doing her best Marilyn Monroe impression. It seems in this context, DC is more than willing to use Hughes’s sexually charged style to sell product. So why take the opposite tack with All-Star WW?
I’m not here accusing anyone of great crime against womankind. Hughes’s art is pleasing to the eye, and he’s a master at what he does. He is an artist, not a pornographer. I also don’t take DC to task for trying to make some money with a title the appeal of which will depend a great deal on titillation factor. DC Comics is a business. Though it often brings some great art to the masses, its chief function is to offer product.
What I’m challenging here is a mixed, conflicted message. I’m maligning the marketing. It’s as though DC is a Playboy enthusiast. Its news release seems to indicate that people should want to read All-Star WW for Hughes’s various definite articles instead of the big, round nouns.
I get where this is coming from. DC is a publisher of, among other things, children’s entertainment, and it’s being careful to guard its reputation. If there was a truth-in-advertising approach to this project, it opens itself up to accusations of sleaziness. But c’mon, there has to be a better approach. DC is trying to sell O, The Oprah Magazine when it’s really printing up copies of Maxim.
Me? I’m looking for something more in line with Time. Someone got a copy of Ex Machina handy?