Let no-one imagine that Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev haven't thought through the whole contentious business of producing a superhero book containing page after page of villainous female sex-workers in their underwear. What to you and I might well have passed as an frankly inconceivably crass example of old-school sexism, saved only from the very worst of Greg Land-isms by the fact that Mr Maleev's strippers are off-duty and lacking in pout, is at second glance a cunningly constructed guide to learning about how to spot a trustworthy mistress of the burlesque. Good, kind and honourable women of the sex industry,
|This is a good stripper because she's not really a stripper at all. (Note how symbolically important it is to make sure the reader has a real good view of her all-white knickers from a front-on angle when the violence begins.)|
as no doubt your parents and teachers explained to you, cover up just a little more of the flesh than is typical in the ranks of the pole-swinging, hip-grinding professional classes. In fact, the morally acceptable kind of stripper isn't a stripper of any kind at all, but rather an 'undercover' superhero who's just pretending to be teasing off her clothes for money, as is the case with Echo the ex-Avenger in "Moon-Knight" # 2. And it's to Mr Bendis and Mr Maleev's credit that they worked so carefully to establish a strict visual iconography for their Hogarthian satire here, for only the noble Echo is shown (1) wearing the more modest option of a sports bra while (2) presenting a top'n'bottom matching colour scheme of purity-indicating white. This does, of course, make it hard to understand why super-criminal Snapdragon and her skimpily-attired sex-spies couldn't spot the fact that the handsome and yet-deliberately-modest Echo was amongst them faking the faking of the flashing of the nipples and the gyrating of the reproductive organs for the "little boys who need their mommy". Still, at least that blindingly bright white sports-bra is there to help the reader tell the evil mostly-naked women from the single entirely good and just-slightly-less nude one.
The bad strippers of course, as everybody knows, wear coloured underwear and often have nothing over their breasts but barely-nipple-covering scraps of fabric. This information is important, because it allows the reader to immediately grasp that what's happening here isn't a steaming pile of appallingly unreconstructed stupidity, but an ironic deconstruction of the modern sex industry, in which the distinction between good women who really aren't corrupt and bad women who really are is tightly and ethically maintained.
Lesson Number 1: There are bad strippers and there are good women in white sports bras only pretending to be strippers in order to be better super-heroines.
|Echo: Not just an unambiguously strong role model for women, but an outstanding example of diversity in the superhero comic.|
You might take a look at these panels and jump to the conclusion that "Moon Knight" # 2 is nothing but the most chauvinistic of comics, but you'd be wrong, and you'd be a humourless PC bigot if you thought anything of the sort. For the truth is that the script and the art make it plain that these women are anything other than just sex objects. Why, one of them manages to match the clearly mentally disordered Moon Knight in a fist-fight, and if being shown to be capable of matching blows wearing nothing but your pants'n'bra with an insane and pathetic male superhero isn't a show of respect to women everywhere, then I don't know what is. Yes, it's true that in the end our utterly disordered superhero is shown actually winning the conflict with Snapdragon and her taser-firing stripper-accomplice in the fetching purple undies, and, yes, it is true that the villainous women have to be saved by a very large Black American man with a pistol, but that's a minor point which only the most didactic of critics would dwell on. For these women are admirably strong as well as bad. And they have the kind of plan which shows that the female sex, and particularly the younger and more traditionally attractive of its members, is effortlessly capable of undressing and taking their destinies in their own hands. These sex workers are symbols of an aggressive feminine capacity to turn men's sexism against them, to manipulate the vain and weak "powerful men" who visit strip clubs in the hope that attractive naked women will, as Snapdragon declares to her sisters and comrades in a devastatingly pro-feminist declaration, " kiss the boo-boo".
|One in the eye for those who would see a comic set in a room of barely-clothed sex workers as a regressive text, from a super-villain who is fully-clothed!|
And so, Snapdragon's super-strippers aren't there in "Moon Knight" # 2 to present male readers with a titillating, trouser-stretching and childishly transgressive experience. No, they're a critique of any such reading experience. For what a reader blinded by feminist ideology might mistake for an utterly unnecessary and unbelievably shallow use of sexual themes is, in truth, a sign of how women really can be in control of their lives. "Moon Knight" # 2 is a sex and gender samizdat, a threateningly subversive pop art product which challenges its readers to look beyond the panties to the fact that the women here are selling both their bodies and their integrity in order to make what is presumably a rather good living for very little hard work. And in return for passing on to Sanapdragon the indiscretions overheard while whipping their clothes off in a public space, these sex workers will make even more money out of the despicable men who "need something they don't have". In such a way can woman, after the fashion of a kind of ideological judo, use men's weaknesses against them by working with the independent-minded Snapdragon and her, by coincidence, profoundly male super-villain boss.
But the gender of the character who's in charge of this whole process of stripping and snitching isn't in any way important to the overall pro-women meaning of this tale. Of course it's not. Somebody's got to be in charge, and it'd be sexist to suggest that men can't make money out of stripping too.
Lesson number two: A feminist text is one which contains the words "They want you to kiss the boo-boo."
|If this book is unfair in its representations of any single group, it's clearly white men. "Moon Knight" # 2: political correctness gone mad? Why can't white men can't be anything other than insane Avengers or criminal masterminds?|
Let's be plain about the radical nature of this text. If there's anyone who's being subject to a devastating representation in "Moon Knight" # 2, it's white men, who only appear on the page when they're (1) super-heroes suffering from D.I.D., or (2) super-villains.
This comic-book is nothing, and indeed far less than nothing, if it's not an overwhelmingly challenging statement made against the domination of the super-hero sub-genre by white males associated with both just and ill causes.
But the PC brigade will try to tell you different. They'll point to the apparently constant objectification of women in these pages as evidence of an adolescent and dismissive attitude to "social justice", but they'll miss the fact that these women are so able that they can strip, store tips in their underwear and remember the details of their punter's conversations too. More than that, one of them can taser and punch Marc Spector while he's wearing
|Why must white men be constantly portrayed as nothing but maniacs with three separate super-heroic personalities at the same time?|
two super-hero costumes and she's got nothing on but one set of purple beneaths. Oh, and those joyless and emasculating bores will be out to spoil your fun by not only thinking too much, but by missing the fact that there are also representations of people of colour in positions of power and authority in this book. "Moon Knight" is a comic which doesn't just stop at showing respect to women! No, it's a book that's there to display respect to everyone that it can. And so Echo herself, as everyone who's a fan must surely know, is a Native American, while we've twice in the new Moon Knight series seen black men represented as powerful criminal figures shooting guns at heroic if misguided white males.
Strong women. Determined women. Real big Black American males with particularly good gun skills.
This is a thoughtful and progressive text, but they won't see that. They never do.
Lesson number 3: It's the ordinary white male who's getting badly done by in the modern superhero book.
|A strong female super-heroine is a super-heroine unconcerned for a man's dirty little mind, is a super-heroine who can stand there in her bra and panties even though there's no reason at all for her not to be more fully clothed.|
Let's close with a glance at how "Moon Knight" # 2 proves that modern women don't have to be ashamed of their bodies. For example, rather than being concerned with the male gaze, Echo is proud to wear nothing but her shining white underwear wherever she goes. White undies in the strip club, white undies in her own rented rooms, and, presumably, white undies for all points in between, since Maya frees Spector in her undies and is still wearing them when she gets him home, meaning that's she's crossed town in them too. (They were escaping! She didn't have time to change!) It just goes to show that Maya Lopez is always strong and proud to be seen in her not-as-skimpy-as-they-might-be skimpies. She refuses to let the fact that she's wearing hardly any clothes reduce her to anything other than the most obviously professional and capable of super-people. Just as the likes of Thor and Captain America and Superman are forever being shown in their posing pouches while pretending to be undercover male prostitutes and gross-out hen-night entertainers, so Echo stands as an absolute equal with them, proudly daring to be shown only pretending to be dressed as largely-naked sex object.
|But .... what's she doing?|
And in this triumph of an obvious salute to the principles of the Slut-Walk, in this clear sign of support for women fighting for the right to wear what they like without being reduced to the status of sexual objects and targets for sexual violence, I salute the creators and editors of "Moon Knight" # 2. How better to stand behind all those women fighting for their rights, in whatever form, in whatever way, in the face of what's still a predominantly patriarchal society than by presenting the only women in a superhero book as criminal sex workers lacking most of their clothes? In an industry, a medium and a sub-genre which so often represents women as little more than objects for male gratification, in a tradition of storytelling which so often seems oblivious to the importance of representations of gender and sex, it's an absolute joy to finally have a definitive text from a mostly all-male creative team making the statement that comic books are for men and women, that they're welcoming and inclusive and respectful and very, very smart.
After all, Mr Bendis and Mr Maleev could have chosen to tell any other story at all, but they decided to bravely present us with this biting satire on the toxic content of so much of modern entertainment and contemporary finger-pointing ideology. They could have sidestepped all that underwear and gunge and awkwardness about race and sex and ethnicity and gender and mental disorder, but they were determined to face up to the challenges of the most contentious of modern social discourses. And they did it in a fun way too! No wonder the reviews on many of the most visited sites on the net and in the pod-o-sphere have praised this comic for being "subtle", "classic", "thoughtful", "crazy", "a great premise" and "funny".
Lay down your banners, push aside your Shelley and Steinem, your Dworkin and your Dresselhuys, the millennium is here. Now we can just concentrate, thank heavens, on being awesome and making sure that everything rocks. As Nigel Tufnal told us long ago, and you'd think that folks would've grasped this point by now, there's nothing wrong with being sexy.
Lesson No: 4: There's nothing wrong with sexy.
In closing, let me make a few things plain, in order to save any stray visitor wasting time on comments which I'll only delete. Yes, I do just want attention, I do know Moon-Knight # 2 is just fun, I am nothing but a trouble-maker, I do know nothing about modern entertainment, I have no sense of humour, I know everybody else hates me nah-nah-na-nah, I really ought to stop trying to ruin people's fun by over-thinking, I am a horrible snob, I do write too much, I know this issue was all a great joke to smoke out self-righteous PC would-be gatekeepers, I really should stop whinging about social issues because I can't change anything and nobody cares nah-nah-na-nah , I clearly know nothing about the forceful challenges to sexism in other books produced by Moon Knight's current creators, and, let's be honest, I am the anti-Christ, the whore of Babylon, and the bloke who pretended to be Lou Reed when David Bowie saw the Velvets in the New York of 1970. Next!