The Editor’s Notes: Jill Lepore, A-Force, and Misdirected Criticism

The Editor’s Notes is an opinion column allowing our writers to express their honest feelings about comic books, the comic book industry, and all that it inspires. The views expressed within belong solely to their author.

As we examine the fallout surrounding Jill Lepore’s New Yorker article criticizing Marvel Comics’ A-Force, a pertinent question begs to be asked. How harmful can a review be?

Lepore’s claims that A-Force is a “pervy” comic are based mostly on the views of her companions: two ten year old boys. When asked to offer an explanation behind the women of A-Force having “large” breasts, they answer “because they’re girls.” Lepore holds this as evidence that the general view of women in comic books is reduced to chest size and that A-Force offers nothing new or different.

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Lepore’s article seems to wish women were more respected and better represented in comic books. And that is why her article so damaging, as that is exactly what G. Willow Wilson is fighting to achieve with A-Force. As Wilson posits in a response on her website, it is possible that Lepore is simply uninformed about Secret Wars and its characters. Therefore she wouldn’t be able to discern what a progressive stance A-Force takes – to represent female superheroes more like their male counterparts. As Wilson states in her piece, the cover was meticulously thought out:

“They face us head-on. She Hulk has her arms crossed over her chest. Nobody is in the brokeback pose… nobody has her butt up in the air.”

We are, of course, working within the constraints that they are still superheroes – they wear latex. With the fact that they are still women – they are going to have breasts. We must concede as rational adults that a large part of the arguments against A-Force in Lepore’s article are purely the product of adolescent immaturity.

Her piece goes on to explore the creation of the queen of comics, Wonder Woman, at the hands of noted polyamorist and pornography enthusiast, William Moulton Marston. Lepore seems to think that having the history of Wonder Woman married so closely to the world of pin-ups somehow makes it impossible for her to be a role model or for any role models to be birthed from her legacy. Wonder Woman may have been born of pin-up culture but she now sits comfortably in the pantheon of feminist icons. It seems that Lepore is missing the promise that A-Force makes – one where superheroes are treated equally, regardless of their gender. A future she desperately wants herself.

There is no doubt that the comic book industry – and artists like Wilson in particular – have made strides in representations of racial minorities, LGBTQIA and female characters. There is also little doubt that there is more work to be done. But the question comes to mind – how much of the movement is being hindered by misplaced criticism? There is much to be said, for instance, on the lack of LGBTQIA characters in Secret Wars, but when facing the idea of critiquing the forthcoming event, Lepore instead went for a comic that is trying to make strides in the right direction.

G. Willow Wilson puts it succinctly:

“…I imagine Dr. Lepore and I want the same thing: better, more nuanced portrayals of women in pop culture. What I don’t understand is why someone in her position would, from her perch a thousand feet up in the ivory tower, take pot shots at those of us who are in the trenches, doing exactly that.”

Critiquing a comic that already falls within the parameters of your position distracts from real issues that need addressing. There are still plenty of books that misrepresent women – those should be discussed. Issues and struggles that LGBTQIA individuals must face are often overlooked. And minority characters are still sorely underrepresented in mainstream comics. Instead, Lepore has chosen to discuss a comic that is already moving in the direction the industry so desperately needs – forward.

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As long as mainstream media misunderstands the current comics industry, change in comics industry cannot be accurately noted and encouraged. The main push for change must come from within the community itself. Reading and promoting books like A-Force, Ms. Marvel, Rat Queens, and The Wicked + The Divine – books featuring smart female heroines, LGBTQIA characters and minorities – will do more for the future of representation in comics than uninformed reviews in national publications can detract.

Art criticism helps oil the money machine and we must realize the negative effects this will have on the industry. It must also be noted that when unnecessary issues are brought up again and again, what valuable critiques of true issues are going unwritten? Reprimanding A-Force curbs the readership and could potentially hurts sales, thus making it harder for books like it to be made in the future. This is exactly the sort of regression Lepore was afraid of in the first place.


About Tiffany Belieu

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