Marvel logoby Michael Brown, staff writer

One step forward, two steps back. That’s what happened Monday when Marvel released in its November solicits a variant cover of the upcoming Spider-Woman ongoing series. Drawn by Italian artist Milo Manara, who has worked with Marvel for a few years now, the cover has become quite the focus of  widespread criticism from both Internet genre and mainstream outlets for its obviously sexualized portrait of the character. Not to mention, it comes at a time when the comic book industry is under fire for its treatment of female characters, creators and fans.

To further exacerbate the situation, there’s a striking — ahem — similarity between Manara’s Spider-Woman cover and a blatantly sexual pose of a character in his erotic comic, Click. [Editor’s note: this image is a little beyond our PG-13 rating level, so we’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not to go look it up for yourself. If you’ve ever seen a cat in heat, you get the idea.] Geek culture sites and blogs are ablaze with writers and editors taking umbrage with the cover, calling it “lewd and irresponsible,” “not a good idea,” and, “looking more like a colonoscopy than a costume.”

Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott, who will also pen the Spider-Woman series, and Chris Claremont, a long time Marvel scribe who’s best known for his work on Uncanny X-Men both came down as defenders of Manara via Twitter.

Now, with the facts out of the way, here’s the take of a guy who’s been reading and enjoying comics for 30 years. This is ridiculous. As I said above, the comic book industry is taking criticism for the way it’s been treating female characters, fans, and creators. If Spider-Man had been drawn in that position, the cover wouldn’t have gotten as far as it did. Women have been a constant joke for comic book artists for years, and this cover is one more example of the industry not taking women seriously. Another fine example is DC’s Power Girl, with her gravity-defying breasts packed in a skintight white costume with a window in the front so you can see her cleavage.

It’s easy to forget that comics, while maintaining a mostly adult demographic in the current market, are historically aimed at children, and kids still do read them. Intentionally or not, some comics have become soft porn. There’s a place for adult-themed comics with sexual themes and nudity, but Marvel is not that place. Marvel has always produced mainstream comics that are wholesome enough for parents to trust as a brand for their kids; you never worry when your kid is browsing the Marvel section of the comic book store.

In all fairness, over the last few years, Marvel has made a conscious effort to be more thoughtful of female readers, who by the way, are starting to make up a large part of comics readership. Not only do female readers have to endure snotty and holier-than-thou comic shop owners who mock and alienate them, now they get to deal with ridiculous treatments of their gender on the page.

When Joss Whedon announced his plans to revive Buffy the Vampire Slayer in an eighth season for comics, he insisted that women be portrayed as women. You’ll find no back-breaking busts or porn-mag poses over there. When I read stuff from other publishers and I see an outrageously drawn woman, I think, “Joss Whedon would never allow that.” But Milo Manara isn’t the only offender. Greg Land, who I admittedly enjoy at times, has taken heat for some time now for his depiction of women, even being accused of drawing from porn mags for his poses.

Variant cover of Spider-Woman #1 Drawn by Milo Manara

Variant cover of Spider-Woman #1
Drawn by Milo Manara

And, I might add, this is the same comic that was introduced at the Women of Marvel panel at San Diego. Marvel should have known better. As one reviewer said, it’s like Marvel’s doing it on purpose. Ass-splosion aside, Manara’s art is lifeless and dull, and while we sure get a look at Jessica Drew’s red-and-yellow-clad booty, we also see her other features, like her almost non-existent nose, and her hair that wraps all the way around her neck in some kind of weird, twisted neck beard.

I’m not being prudish and saying that erotic art doesn’t have its place. If you’re drawing for erotic comics, then that’s where it belongs. But does it belong as a representation of our hero, from a company who is leading the way with a slew of new female-led titles? Nope. Could Marvel have chosen a better artist to launch their first issue? Yep.  Anyone remember The Hawkeye Initiative? Where Strong Female Poses were redrawn by putting Hawkeye and other male heroes in their place? Could be, this pose would find a good home there.

Marvel, which I might remind my readers is owned by Disney, dropped the ball, in my opinion, and this thing is going to be everywhere in the days and weeks ahead. Creators and publishers have to do a better job at making their female readers happy. As the number one publisher in the country, Marvel would do well to remember the words of one Peter Parker: “With great power …”

This isn’t the 1960s, where Reed Richards called his wife an insufferable, emotional female, and tells her that the only reason he keeps her around is because she’s pretty. Women play a larger role today than The Pretty Foil, or the Professional Plot Device. They take up arms and defend the country. They’re breadwinners, not always babymakers. We are the Enlightened Age. More understanding and sympathetic. Comics readers are, too.  Comics creators and publishers need to follow suit.

What do you think of the cover? Do you think it fits in with the Marvel brand and image? Sound off in comments!

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