I can’t do it, I just can’t. It doesn’t matter how much I admire Kieron Gillen as a writer, and admire him I most certainly do. He’s undoubtedly one of the best half-dozen writers currently at work in the superhero sub-genre, and his fine scripts have seen me return to the buying of Uncanny X-Men after 28 years of apostasy. But all the craft and ambition and decent-hearted humanism of his scripting can’t compensate for artist Greg Land’s utterly wretched storytelling and the despicable sexism that marks so much of his work. No, it just can’t.
Of course, no-one’s going to surprised to hear a blogger lambasting the shameless Mr. Land and his pathetic artwork. In fact, I’d assume that the general response of any who stumble across this page would be “why bother?” Surely it’s a debate which has been and gone, surely we’ve moved past this? And there’s certainly a sense on the net that sexism is a social ill which comicbook fans don’t need to be concerned with, as if they’ve survived that argument, as if no-one but the stubborn, the obsessed and the congenitally joykilling would want to go through all that fuss again. Perhaps it’s that weariness which the poor harassed superhero fan may feel which accounts for the fact that of the first dozen reviews of this comic to be found when using Google, none of them even mentions the unarguable sexism of Land’s work.
Nope, not a single one. I’m sure that there’s a great number of pieces which have noted the problems in this specific comic, but those first dozen destinations certainly didn’t. From sites as high profile as Comic Book Resources to I Fanboy, and then to all points beyond, any restrained criticism of Mr. Land to be found was strangely centered on his reliance on photo-resources, with the exception of one review, where Land’s choice of a cowgirl outfit for Emma Frost was objected to because, it seems, such would be out of character for her.
And while I could only applaud a great breadth of opinions being expressed across the net, a thousand flowers blooming and such, the absence of sexual politics in these blogs didn’t mark any broad measure of debate and difference on other topics. In fact, what these critics have produced between themselves was a great homogeneous and politically-disconnected mass of incredibly similar and mostly lukewarm-to-positive reviews, although the blogger whose responses was to ask “Would the Mayor of San Francisco really be that sexy?” at least made me laugh. Yes, mate, that’s the context within which the argument ought to be framed. You’ve nailed it and closed it too. Well done! Just a little less sexiness for the middle aged female politicians in Marvel’s books, please…
Well, why don’t more folks buy superhero comics? I couldn’t possibly say…
Hardcore comic book fans, you undoubtedly get what you deserve, but your beloved hobby will wither and die, as it indeed is, because few beyond your ranks are going to want to spend money on such celebrations of contempt for 51% of the human race.
Yet oddly enough, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to put Uncanny X-Men back onto the shelf if the likes of Land’s objectivized super-people were removed from its pages. And I simply can’t buy into the premise that anyone searches out Land’s work simply because it gets them not just hot and flustered, but ultimately relieved and somewhat sleepy too. After all, there’s surely enough porn to be had for nothing more costly and demanding than an internet connection and the capacity to manipulate a mouse while exercising a less than entirely limp grip too. And if there is a tiny minority of boys who’ve somehow sexually imprinted upon Land’s work, well, I doubt they constitute a commercially vital niche. No, Land could produce superhero books without the most unedifying of cheesecake and most consumers would, I suspect, keep investing.
So why does Marvel keep commissioning and publishing work that’s not just so often technically inept, but morally contemptible? Is it stubbornness, an unwillingness to avoid being seen to bend before the tyranny of kind-hearted ideals and simple ethical decencies? Or is it that the short-term business of making money is more important than the more generous and inclusive of moralities to Marvel? If so, the company has already crossed a decisive moral Rubicon. Once a publisher recognizes the immorality of its product and yet continues to produce it — and how could Marvel not see Land’s art for what it is? — then there’s no reason to note any significant ethical restraints at all. The basic principle that making money trumps ethical standards has already apparently been established, and all that’s left is the key question of “what can we get away with and profit by?” Why, there are as yet untapped niche markets of sexists and racists and homophobes and a thousand other worryingly hateful minority tastes just longing for comics to cater to their beliefs in a far more specific way than at the moment. If filling up comics with Land’s representations of women doesn’t upset too many folks while also making you money, well, why not have the courage of the lack of your convictions and go a touch further, and further still? It’s only business, after all, and it’s only comics, and why doesn’t the publisher of Peter Parker and Jessica Jones and T’Challa make the bravest stand against the strictures of political correctness? After all, you’re already effectively doing exactly that with artwork such as Mr. Land’s.
Yet although I doubt Land’s work brings too many extra panting and trembling consumers to the cash register, I do find it easy to believe that a great many more folks might just give up buying certain comics because they’re ashamed to spend their money on such regressive, ugly-minded, and cruel-looking piffle. Me, for one.
Because it’s not just that some of us despise Land’s ethics, or his lack of any considered body of such, since it’s hard to believe that he’s ever given too much thought to his money-spinning, status-weaving activities. It’s also that his ranks of sexualized women contradict the very meaning of the books he illustrates. He’s not just producing tacky sexism, and poorly illustrated tacky sexism too. His representations of women actually work against the stories which he fails so conspicuously to bring to life. It’s certainly hard to buy into the adventures of a team of superheroic outsiders expressing support for the struggles of the powerless against the powerful as long as the women involved look just like stereotypical porn actresses.
Give the X-Men the Marvel Universe’s tired, its poor, its huddled mutants yearning to breathe free, but just make sure that they’re built like the least edifying masturbatory fantasies of a ten year old boy so immature that he can only stir up bubbles of air while staring-staring-staring at the cleavage of Mayor Sadie, M.I.L.F.
Good work, publishers and editors at Marvel. Your wives, your sisters, your mothers, your daughters, as well as your husbands, brothers, fathers, sons and indeed everyone you know and don’t know — that’s everyone, really — must be proud of you. How you must long to take copies of Mr Land’s Uncanny X-Men into schools and churches and town halls to show off the contributions you’re making to a braver, better, more compassionate world. Well done for persevering with such a principled and well-thought-through stance. Hurrah for Marvel!
Marvel Comics can do all the thinking it wants about attracting wider audiences, and babble on in public about its progressive and well-intentioned strategic policies. But until the company fully recognises and accepts what shame is, they’ll not attract anyone from beyond the hardcore who’s got the slightest idea that loathing “sexism” isn’t an aspect of “political correctness,” but of basic human decency.
It’s doesn’t matter what I say, of course. What I do or say won’t affect a thing, except that I’ll get a few more contemptuous and insulting comments. Writing about these things is never a ratings winner or a nerve-soother, I’ll tell you. Oh well.
But I did want to continue to read your work in Uncanny X-Men, Mr. Gillen, and to be inspired by it too, and I really am sorry, but I just can’t.
Shape up, Marvel. It’s 2011. If you’re not going to be consistently and deliberately kind-hearted and generous in all that you’re doing now, after 60 years and more of publication, then when will you?
Folks who might want to see what Marvel can publish in the way of mutant tales that’re in a considerably more compassionate and laudable vein ought to race off now and buy Generation Hope #9 by Mr. Gillen and Mr. McKelvie, in concert with a long list of collaborators and enablers from the X-Office. It’s worth the investing in, I really do assure you.
This review originally appeared on Colin Smith’s blog Too Busy Thinking About My Comics.