It hasn’t yet been even a month since the release to the public of variant covers by Milo Manara for the upcoming Spider-Woman series by Marvel. In the wake of the release, many criticized the medium for once again making a mockery of female characters. Others fought back and defended the move, but once again it threw gender into the spotlight for the mainstream side of the medium of comics. Some focused on it from afar as editorials from Time and Elle criticized the pose of the character in such a way. Others simply highlighted what were other fan reactions to the same topic through such artistic and critical ventures as the Hawkeye Initiative.
The Hawkeye Initiative is an interesting one. Although often looking very amateurish, its premise is simple. It takes male characters and puts them into female poses, and even sometimes into female costumes. The outcome is ridiculous as expected, but in a different sense, it also highlights the focus of the medium to the big two publishers. While the big two of Marvel and DC sometimes blunder their way through their own popularity, other publishers are taking some more progressive approaches to their own titles.
Surprisingly for me, one of these came this week from an unlikely source, Archie Comics. I am not much of an Archie fan, not generally speaking anyway, but my wife buys Betty and Veronica Double Digest every month, and I usually get around to reading some of it (if not all of it.) The stories are goofy and old fashioned as expected, but while there are some anachronistic throwbacks to other times, it is surprisingly progressive at times, addressing among other topics human rights, bullying and the environment. One of the more interesting developments of characters in recent years is Kevin Keller, the gang’s openly gay friend from high school, who has been given his own monthly series. I hadn’t been keeping up with the stories at all, but on a whim I decided to check out this issue as it involved Kevin becoming a superhero in Riverdale, an unusual enough development in Archie Comics.
The story was kind of goofy, though I guess it was fun enough, but it was not the story which was of note. I might argue that the characterization of the character himself was a little off, as his reactions to his crush is a lot more along the lines of how females are presented in this series (hearts in place of eyes) which could be borderline offensive to the representation of homosexual people. The more interesting part than the story or the character was the cover, particularly in this case the variant cover, which as far as I knew had drawn very little interest, although by rights it maybe should have. I am far from an expert on the subject, but comics are known for creating homage covers, often for previous covers in the medium. Such iconic covers as Amazing Fantasy #15, Detective Comics #27, Action Comics #1 or even Crisis on Infinite Earths #7. One of the these covers which is most often copied is actually also copied here, that being the second variant cover for Kevin Keller which is a variant of Uncanny X-Men #141. Although the homage here is a lot more humorous, it is really the first that is more noteworthy. Sensation Comics #1 which introduced Wonder Woman is a fairly iconic cover, but it is one which is rarely paid homage to. In fact, this might be the very first instance of an homage to this cover, and if it is not first then it is among a small handful. There was an homage in the first volume of Wonder Woman (issue #288) but this was a case of the same character and so this may in fact be the first time that another character shared this pose.
What is most interesting about this is that it is a male character taking the place of a female character, something which happens so very rarely in comics that it can be considered to be almost unique. Female versions of male characters occur all the time, with the likes of Supergirl, Batgirl or even a female Robin, but a male version of most female characters would end up in a ridiculous visual much like the efforts of those behind the Hawkeye Initiative. In this case though it occurs, even when the male hero of Kevin Keller looks nothing like Wonder Woman. As one of the counter criticism of the medium goes, if one wants to find better representations of minorities, or women or non-straight people, they only need to look to the independents. For the comic fan though, it is important to remember when saying this that Archie Comics is often pretty close to being an independent as well, if not necessarily in terms of content then at least in terms of context.