This past week, DC Comics posted this contest. And the Internet subsequently exploded.
The contest offers potential winners/artists four panels/scenarios in which to draw Harley Quinn, all of which involve suicide, the following taken straight from the contest details:
Harley is on top of a building, holding a large DETACHED cellphone tower in her hands as lightning is striking just about everywhere except her tower. She is looking at us like she cannot believe what she is doing. Beside herself. Not happy.
Harley is sitting in an alligator pond, on a little island with a suit of raw chicken on, rolling her eyes like once again, she cannot believe where she has found herself. We see the alligators ignoring her.
Harley is sitting in an open whale mouth, tickling the inside of the whale’s mouth with a feather. She is ecstatic and happy, like this is the most fun ever.
Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of “oh well, guess that’s it for me” and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen.
– See more at: http://www.dccomics.com/node/305151#sthash.Lu2kv4N6.dpuf
This week is World Suicide Prevention Week, so DC’s contest seems on the surface ill-timed. Panel 4 also seems completely tasteless, and in line with the sexist portrayal of female characters that most people have come to see as misogynistic and hopelessly out of date.
The controversy quickly became named Harleygate, and a hot topic on Twitter. And it was to Twitter that creator Jim Lee took to in order to explain to fans that this contest wasn’t offensive, but us poor, uneducated fans simply didn’t understand, as so perfectly explained here http://www.theouthousers.com/index.php/news/123917-jim-lee-speaks-on-harleygate-teaches-fans-about-context.html by Jude Terror.
I watched Lee’s posts in real-time last night, and could not believe what I was reading. The condescending tone was one thing. The assumption that the issue with #Harleygate was that we were too stupid to understand how to read comics was another. But the idea that Lee somehow thought he was making things better with his tweets was just astounding. Someone should have explained to him just how much worse he was making it.
The first is that, yes, panels have to be taken in context, that’s true of any text, and as fans, we’re smart enough to know that. But context in no way justifies the fact that you’re holding a contest that focuses on a female character committing suicide. With all the depth of subjects and plot devices, you really couldn’t come up with any other scenario for Harley Quinn? Even just focusing on her potential death would have been fine, you really had to make it suicide? And no one at DC thought that was perhaps, maybe, potentially, a bad frakking idea?
And no one thought that in light of this upcoming week being World Suicide Prevention Week that this contest was incredibly ill-timed and in poor taste? That it would be seen as offensive to anyone that has ever lost someone to suicide?
And seriously, not to beat a dead horse, but is there a story-related reason as to why Harley has to be naked in one of the panels? Really? What was the last male-character story where the plot required him to be naked? Anyone? No? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
This type of incident might be forgotten, or forgiven, by fans if it was the first time that DC had stepped in it. But it’s not. In fact, it seems as though this type of crap decision making is becoming the Modus Operandi of DC.
Earlier this week “The creative team on DC Comics’ “Batwoman,” a comic book starring a lesbian crimefighter, have quit the title, citing editorial decisions by DC that they say “compromise the character and the series” — including the scuttling of a planned wedding between Batwoman and her policewoman girlfriend”.
And we started this year with DC’s strange decision to fire, then rehire Gail Simone on Batgirl.
You would think DC would take the hint that they are seriously screwing up when websites like this exist:
Fans have not been happy with DC this year. Titles cut, artists fired, bad decisions like the above contest, PR nightmares like Lee’s tweets, all have led to various rants about what DC thinks they are doing, and how they expect to retain a fan base abound. And I agree with most of these opinions.
But the thing that troubles me is that DC doesn’t seem to care. They have shown little concern of just how far afield they have gone. Yes, comics have been misogynistic and sexist for years. No, the few female writers/artists they have does not give them a get out of jail free card on this. No, teenage boy fans don’t have a problem with this attitude. Yes, lots of educated, not-prejudiced fans are deeply offended by this.
It doesn’t have to be this way. You can write good stories for good characters. You can show women as people. You can have gay characters. You can reflect the world we live in.
And if DC doesn’t wake up and realize that they need to clean up their act, fans are going to start showing their opinions by boycotting the titles.
DC may not care about fanboy/fangirl rants online, but maybe they’ll start to care if they start to lose money