Marvel/Benefit Cosmetics’ SPYGAL is Condescending To Women

There has been a lot of unrest and discussion around women’s rights recently. With all of the political debate about abortion, birth control, gay marriage, and other rights that concern women, at some points it has seemed that we are going BACKWARDS rather than moving forward in a lot of things. But comics have recently been very good about writing strong women that are good role models — sure they still ooze sex appeal, but in a way of confidence and less in the “I’m a bimbo with big boobs who fights crime” sort of way. Women have moved away from being counterparts to their stronger, more badass male companions and are creating an awesome culture for themselves. Just look at Gail Simone’s Birds of Prey, the recent Wonder Woman and Batwoman, or the modern X-Men. All of these series are full of strong, epic women who could kick your ass and still look hot while doing it. They are independent and opinionated, full of intelligence and witty banter.

I have held off for many years on writing about women in comic books, because though I am passionate about this issue, I have seen most things changing for the better (other than a few botched attempts by both Marvel and DC to appeal to women who are not hard core comics fans). The thing about me is that I consider myself to be an equal opportunist feminist — a humanist, if you will. And while I believe women face many struggles with the way society perceives them, men face just the same. Yes, I speak about feminism on panels at conventions. Yes, I could talk your ear off about sexual objectification in the big two (something I don’t think should be “accepted” even now, even though the culture of comic books so very much revolves around hot chicks with hourglass figures). But nothing has really ever incensed me enough for me to use my column as a sounding board — until now.

When I first read the brief description of SpyGal, I was a little bit intrigued. It was something along the lines of “The First Beauty Inspired Superhero, drawn in 1960s pin up style by Phil Noto!”

As a fashionista-geek-woman-lover of pinup-huge Philo Noto fan, my ears perked up right away. I was instantly imagining how they would make a “beauty” inspired superhero — maybe she paralyzed people with her beauty a la Medusa? Had toxic makeup she would apply to the faces of her enemies?

The truth, I’m afraid, is much worse than anything I could come up with in a caffeine fueled fit of giggly silliness.

SpyGal is about a superhero who uses gadgets disguised as beauty products — her compact is her communicator, her lipstick can shoot bullets, etc. Very Get Smart, except girly. That in itself might be interesting, if it was handled right. As a comic that is supposedly modeled after ’60s pin ups, I can see how this could be played off as something kind of kitschy. Why is that so bad? The character — and the comic, as far as I can tell — is sponsored by makeup company Benefit and their product the POREfessional, which apparently shrinks pores. Thus, SpyGal is constantly making lame one-liners in reference to this product – “Let me use this cleanser to get rid of all the bad toxins in your pores that are making you crazy!”

If it were a single issue comic book shoved into some sort of promotion for this beauty product then fine, whatever. Maybe it’ll get more women interested in comics. But it’s a real comic book, published by Marvel’s Custom Edition, with a real story line, that will only be available at Benefit Cosmetic stores. Uuuh, what? From the pages I have seen so far, all of the dialogue is incredibly condescending towards women. In one spread, a woman freaks out because of the aforementioned “bad toxins” are in her pores and making her act crazy and make a fool of herself. After our heroine cures her with the Benefit POREfessional, Dr. Donald Roland becomes incredibly embarrassed “I can never show my face here again.”

“Nonsense, your job is important to you!” retorts SpyGal. THIS is their idea of the “strong, career oriented women” they claim to be promoting? Case and point, this line from the press release for SpyGal:

SpyGal dispenses justice, beauty tips and witty life advice with an effortless grace, while also grappling with work and dating worries. Can SpyGal ever find Mr. Right…or must she sacrifice romance to the demands of her job helping powerful women spread their influence around the world? Writer James Asmus and artist Phil Noto reveal all in SpyGal #1!

Yes, because the two main struggles of a woman’s life is WHETHER OR NOT SHE IS GOING TO SACRIFICE HER JOB FOR THE MAN OF HER DREAMS. Seriously, are we still spouting this crap? Is “Mr. Right” still a thing?

I feel that this entire thing is condescending and I am frankly disappointed in Marvel for producing this steaming pile of crap when they have OTHER comics that are finally, FINALLY setting women in a better light. Are they trying to take five steps back? What is with all of this typecasting for women lately?

I hope we don’t see more comics cropping up that are 100% sponsored by products. I wish the big two would stop talking down to women and treating us like a minority and instead just treat us as equals who like superhero comics just as much as the boys. We don’t need sweeping romances to suck us in. We need good storylines and badass women we can look up to and try to emulate.

 


Molly McIsaac wears dresses every day but still plays in the mud and rolls around in her massive collection of comic books and action figures. You can follow her oftentimes ridiculous life on twitter.

Comments

  1. Ugh, that sounds absolutely terrible. It’s too bad, cause I loves me some Noto art, haven’t seen him on interiors in a while. THIS? I will pass.

  2. filippod (@filippodee) says:

    Those “custom edition” comics just beg for oblivion.

    Wanna more Marvel “custom edition” sponsored crap?
    Try Harley-Davidson Avengers:
    http://www.comixology.com/Harley-Davidson-Avengers/comics-series/8047

    I just can’t believe Jeff Parker wrote it. I find it embarrassing.

    • There was a Fred Van Lente written, Wyndham Hotels sponsored Avengers book that was given away at the Ultimate Marvel Movie Marathon a couple weeks ago — it was truly awful.

      I’m sure the sponsoring party tied the creators’ hands in many ways, so I don’t blame Van Lente (or Parker or anyone else) for the poor quality.

      I hope Marvel charges other companies a lot for these things.

  3. Is it wrong I want to know how they turn a yuck moment into a wow moment?

  4. Mark waid tells a story about how some rich guy hired dc to do a custom comic featuring his son and dc heroes as a birthday or bar mitzva present or something. it was pencilled inked all by professionals and a small number were printed. must be nice to be able to afford something like that.

    when i hit the big mega millions lottery, ill do a custom comic featuring nothing but marvel characters reading articles on ifanboy and loving them.

  5. Honestly? I hope some media outlet calls them out on this BS in a big bad way. At least then, there’s someone reinforcing to the young girls/women who actually read this that it’s wrong. And maybe then the company pulls it due to bad press. How terrible. Having a 10-year-old daughter, I’d be livid if someone pulled this crap on her. And with Marvel & a few big name creators endorsing it? That just really sucks.

  6. I guess phil noto has boat payments to make.

  7. Wow…I just…wow. I have to hope the makeup company gets some backlash from this as well. As presented it looks as if they don’t have much of an opinion of their clientele.

  8. The best thing to do with a poorly made comic is not buy the thing. I didn’t know this existed until I read this article, so it only brings attention to shoddy work. Sometimes, ignoring something will make it go away.

    • Yeah, but if it’s only available at the Benefit Cosmetic stores, then you’re getting a lot of unsuspecting viewers that may not have any basis for modern comics – notably parents buying it for their kids – so this is feasibly going to be their impression of the medium & what Marvel thinks is a powerful woman. That’s damaging to both parties. … Or worse, the thing is given out for free or as an incentive, reaching more people.

    • I’m embarrassed, the first sentence of my initial comment is badly written. I meant to state “don’t support these products” at the end, but the signals got crossed in my feeble brain.
      In any case, I see your point and to that I would say this type of comic is there for those who are ignorant of the art form. I don’t doubt this is crap on paper, but the makers couldn’t care less about quality so long as anyone browsing through this swill catch keywords and phrases highlighting the brand and its products.

  9. Molly stated, “…I feel that this entire thing is condescending and I am frankly disappointed in Marvel for producing this steaming pile of crap when they have OTHER comics that are finally, FINALLY setting women in a better light. Are they trying to take five steps back? What is with all of this typecasting for women lately?”

    As per most corporate endeavors, this comic exist solely on the request of Benefit. Marvel wasn’t trying to impress the average comic book reader/buyer, they were trying to give the client what they wanted. Levity was obviously their intent.

    I’m not convinced this comic will set women back 50 years, and, at the same time, I don’t think Benefit was looking to make strides in the progression of fairness. It’s a light-hearted tale that is to be taken as such. Shouldn’t women’s rights include the right to laugh at themselves and trivialities?

    • Molly hasn’t even read the whole comic. Re-read her blog. From the ‘few pages’ she’s seen plus the description which I firmly believe she’s entirely misconstrued (or purposefully twisted)… I don’t see how one can be offended on so little.

      Come on people… can you imagine only seeing 5 minutes of a TV, or reading half a chapter of a book and then declaring “This is offensive!”. What do you say to people like that? Think about it.

    • “Shouldn’t women’s rights include the right to laugh at themselves and trivialities?”

      Sure, but do you honestly think that’s how most women would read this, based on the page above? I’m pretty sure the women I know would be more offended than amused. Do you think the supposed playfulness of this will translate that way to a little girl – or does it just send a message of condescension?

      And Marvel/Asmus/Noto produced it – there’s accountability there, no matter their own interest or lack thereof. All those names are on the cover.

    • Considering the Spy-related name, the Spy-related gadgets and the artist involved (Noto), it’s easily assumed that this comic portrays a ’60-theme’…mindset and all. Mad Men does this perfectly, its shows you the times in which the characters live, including the awkward nuances of the period for the viewer to react.

      I had never heard of Benefit Cosmetics until now. Offended or not, this is free advertisement for a company looking for any type of exposure. Most woman who hear about this ‘offensive comic’ will laugh it off because it is a comic. In the meantime, the chances of them trying a Benefit product from an ‘offensive comic’ that made the news, is more likely and will be shrugged off as disingenuous outrage.

      In my opinion, the creators of Spy Girl are only accountable to their employer/client. No one is made to buy this (it’s free when visiting Benefit stores).

  10. First off… No, I will not read this garbage no matter what and yeah it sounds pretty dumb. Sure. Its too bad Phil Noto is associate with such a thing.

    But… I have to take issue with your clever twist of English here:
    “…because the two main struggles of a woman’s life is WHETHER OR NOT SHE IS GOING TO SACRIFICE HER JOB FOR THE MAN OF HER DREAMS”

    That is NOT what the description says. At all. I’m sorry, but YOU flipped the description there.
    If I say ‘An Apple Is Red’, you can’t come back and say ‘Red Is An Apple’. Words and sentences don’t work like that.
    The description never says that the character has to make a CHOICE between a man and a job, nor does it state she would sacrifice her job for a man. Rather, it laments that she may never find the right guy because of her dedication to her job: “Can SpyGal ever find Mr. Right…or must she sacrifice romance to the demands of her job helping powerful women spread their influence around the world?” Now, maybe that sentiment alone is offensive as well, that’s a fair opinion.

    But because you did that… twist one set of words to mean something it didn’t, I’m not so convinced myself that this PAID ADVERTISING passing off as a comic might actually be all that demeaning or offensive as you are trying to say it is.

    Also… in the end, this is ad work above all else. So if it is offensive, more than likely that blame rests on Benefit more than Marvel On top of all this, you even admit in your blog “from the pages I’ve seen so far”. Holy crap man… you mean to tell me you’re going to offended… without having to take in the work as a whole to ensure you’ve properly understood it?

    **COMMENT MODERATED**

    • and yeah, I made some grammatical errors in my post… so kill me

    • To be fair to Molly many of the comments made on the Internet are about stuff that hasn’t been read yet.

      See Before watchmen for a prime example. No one knows if that’s truly an insult to Alan Moore or the reader but I can guarantee about 1000 people have said it.

      I personally don’t get annoyed by things I haven’t read yet but then I can’t say I’ve seen any comics lately that i felt insulted my whole gender.

    • @tommyc
      your analogy isn’t appropriate. it’s not the content of before watchmen that’s controversial, it’s whether or not it should be made without moore’s consent. or even made at all, with or without consent, because some think watchmen should stand on it’s own.

    • @sitara119
      Fair point sir. I was just trying to come up with an obvious example of something controversial and unread.

      Though I have read comments elsewhere along the lines of ‘this will suck just because it exists’ which is basically insulting unread content. I’m not defending it or agreeing with it just pointing out its there 🙂

  11. Phil Noto drew this? Man, that leaves a bad taste…..

  12. i’m a lil’ confused as to what’s so offensive. granted, just like everyone else here, i haven’t read the book.
    even if she did have to make a choice between her job and her lover, why is that offensive? people, women and men, have to make that choice sometimes. i have. how is that condescending to anyone?
    i’m not really sure what anyone would be looking for in what is basically a make-up advertisement other than make-up advise. an accurate representation of women everywhere?
    isn’t that kinda like saying that the athlete on any given box of wheaties is condescending to the obese people who basically support that business. and ronald mcdonald? forgeta bout it. he should be the fattest clown on the planet.

  13. More people will have read this article than the comic itself, so I don’t see what the big deal is. If you ask me, neither the comic or this article do anything to help women’s rights.

  14. In fairness, I haven’t seen or read this comic, so I can’t actually say that it’s bad. The Harley Davidson Avengers book I did read, and it was really pretty terrible. I understand the profit motive here (for Marvel anyway; I doubt a custom comic makes business sense for a makeup company or a motorcycle manufacturer), and I assume that few comic readers will actually see these, so there’s little risk to the Marvel brand. So if businesses want to throw money around to rent Marvel characters and creators for ill-advised marketing products, then I think Marvel would be fools not to get paid. So grab the cash while you can Marvel, and enjoy yourselves as you laugh all the way to the bank!

  15. In response to most all of the commenters of this article in somewhat defense of the body of work, I wish to submit a reasoning opinion to Molly’s anguish. This article seems rather the tipping point of her own frustration, rather than that of the comics industry. Not to say that she wouldn’t or couldn’t be annoyed by this book otherwise. I mean, female readers do have a certain right to be upset with most of the propaganda printed in comics. But that seems not to be the case here, especially the way she began the article.

    I say this with all respect to Molly, I read most all of her articles published here at iFanboy and love her opinions and writing, but just here and now I think this article is somewhat senseless to the actual comics medium.