From Jane Austin’s Emma to Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo trilogy, racy sex and leather stories are a booming industry for comic book publishers. As some prominent feminists have noted, while the comic book industry is filled with examples of men in spandex and leather beating and whipping each other in brutal games of domination, women are often limited to simple rope bondage and low-level name calling.
After several years of strong female characters prominently starring in titles as diverse as Fables, Madame Xanadu, Y the Last Man and Dominique Laveau: Voodoo Child, Vertigo has decided to try a new approach with its adaption of the best-selling Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels.
The adaption will be the latest comic work by Gail Simone, writer of Batgirl and television’s Repo Games. Simone’s career has long been closely linked to erotic fan fiction adaptions. The author is no stranger to stories of men dominating and assaulting women. Her early fame is attributed to a website designed to assist comic readers in finding examples of women being subjugated and dominated, often by cold, domineering men.
“The Fifty Shades comic book is honestly not that much racier than half of what we put out in the 90′s. We were doing the leather and BD/SM stuff back when Peter Milligan was writing kinky books to titillate horny teenagers,” says editor Will Dennis. “The only difference is that the boys picking up The Extremist are now husbands to the women buying Fifty Shades.”
Many in the industry speculate that Marvel’s recent partnership with Harlequin Romance to create a new imprint fueled DC’s announcement. While Harlequin currently has imprints focusing on themed romances involving Nascar, supernatural forces and firemen, the Harlequin Heroes imprint will feature single mothers, businesswomen, and high-powered Hollywood executives meeting and falling in love with super heroes who are much more sensitive and supporting than they appear to be when they rescue female characters from corrupt bankers and estranged family members.
Dennis insists that DC’s vulgar and insulting attempt to peg women into cliched and demeaning caricatures is entirely unrelated to Marvel’s similarly vulgar and insulting attempt to peg women into cliched and demeaning caricatures. “Fifty Shades is a fresh way for us to reduce women to one-dimensional characterization and is completely uninspired by any other attempts to minimize and disregard women’s right to well thought out and respectful representation in the media.”