How Batgirl took on DC Comics: the anatomy of a PR crisis

Most Comic-Con news arrives courtesy of press releases and carefully choreographed unveilings at panels. But this year, one of the most surprising Con stories of 2011 came out of that democratic staple of Con life: the audience question-and-answer session.

In short, one inquisitive Batgirl cosplayer — who goes by the moniker Kyrax2 — wanted to know why DC Comics didn't have more women helming their brand new superhero books. A week later, the ensuing internet hubbub led DC to issue a press release confronting this issue, stanching what had become a DEFCON 1 public relations meltdown.

This particular lament didn't originate with Kyrax2. Indeed, the news of a positively dinky amount of women writers and illustrators participating in DC's much ballyhooed September relaunch had been gaining traction prior to Con.

But Kyrax2 put a face to this critique of DC's testosterone-heavy creative and superhero rosters, and after hearing a heated exchange between DC co-publisher Dan DiDio and a fan on the Thursday of Con, Kyrax2 took her concerns to the microphone the next day. In an eminently readable interview with DC Women Kicking Ass, Kyrax2 described the frosty reaction she got at the Justice League panel:

How Batgirl took on DC Comics: the anatomy of a PR crisis

When I got up to ask the question, I was feeling almost *bewildered*, which is why it came out as, "Where are the women?" This line got cheered. Johns responded that DC had more iconic female characters than anyone else, and also said that he loved Mera, who was a great character and ‘right there next to Aquaman'. The first woman Johns mentioned in response to my question wasn't Wonder Woman, it was a character defined by her relationship to one of the male superheroes.

I responded to that, thinking out loud and noting that a lot of their female heroes are associated with another hero. For example, BatGIRL/Batman, SuperGIRL/Superman, Wonder GIRL…Wonder WOMAN, who I said was the only REALLY iconic DC female hero I could think of off the top of my head.

The audience didn't like that. They immediately began yelling at me, shouting out their favorite female heroes, Huntress, Starfire, etc. In terms of iconic status, are Huntress and Starfire on the same level as Wonder Woman? I certainly hadn't heard of them before I got into comics.

The room became extraordinarily hostile to me very, very quickly. People started booing and yelling at me to sit down. I shrugged and said, "Well, now I'm going to get yelled at." I wasn't upset so much as I was *confused*. Didn't these people want to see more kick-ass women?

Later in Con, Kyrax2 would again press the issue with DC's head honchoes, who at this point damn well knew the woman in the Stephanie Brown Batsuit. Post-Con, news of DC's Q&A imbroglio spread as industry press picked up the story and the audio clip of a miffed DiDio addressing the other fan from Con Thursday made the internet rounds. Faced with an increasing irate interweb, DC fired off a much needed press release entitled "We Hear You" last Friday evening:

DC Comics is the home of a pantheon of remarkable, iconic women characters like Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Batgirl, Batwoman, Catwoman and Supergirl as well as fan favorite characters like Black Canary, Katana, Mera and Starfire [...] We'll have exciting news about new projects with women creators in the coming months and will be making those announcements closer to publication.

On one hand, I empathize with the DC panelists. Convention Q&As can be a snake pit, where any topic — no matter how innocuous, inane, or arcane — can rile up the spleen of fans ("I HATE the color of Hawkman's shoulder pads!") and inspire "gotcha" questions.

On the other, these weren't those questions. It's somewhat baffling how damage control was flubbed here, for the simple fact that wanting to see more female creators and the creation of marquee female characters isn't a controversial position whatsoever.

DC definitely isn't conspiring to keep women out of the comic industry, but dodging questions about the sheer possibility of hiring women creators gives the veneer of dodginess. As Kyrax2 herself noted:

The thing I don't understand, is why Didio is so actively hostile to questions about female creators? Consider a couple of other ways the conversation could have gone:

Q: Are you committed to hiring more women?
A: Yes.
(cheers from the audience, I sit down)

Superheroes may have the comic medium in a headlock, and the industry skews towards bepenised personnel and protagonists. But assuming an omertà about letting women in the Batcave doesn't make a damn lick of sense, and hopefully DC's willingness to open (and act on) this dialogue with fans will inspire other publishers to do the same.

So there you have it, comic industry — now someone give Kate Beaton's Strong Female Characters their own series, for crap's sake.

Middle photo via DC Women Kicking Ass.