No Ifs, No Butts: Spider-Woman and the Comic Community’s Problem with Minority Readers

Sometimes it’s easy to see the potential of an iconic image from a first glance. War photography, Marilyn Monroe on a subway grate, Doge—that kind of stuff. Did I see that potential when I first saw Milo Manara’s variant Spider-Woman cover? No, I really just thought her butt looked weird. But then I didn’t yet know of Manara’s prolific career in erotic illustration that undeniably complicates the debate. I couldn’t possibly foresee becoming a bystander to Marvel creator Dan Slott’s incredibly problematic defence of the cover. And perhaps we’re all yet to realise how it in fact epitomises the very real issues facing minority readers in the wider comic book community.

In case you haven’t been closely following the controversy of Spider-Woman’s butt, allow me to review. At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, at a panel called ‘Women of Marvel’, the publisher announced a new ongoing Spider-Woman series. The series, part of Marvel’s ‘Characters and Creators’ publishing initiative that ‘aims to speak directly to… women and girls‘, joins nine other female-led series published by Marvel. According to company’s Editor-in-Chief, Axel Alonso, these superheroines ‘are not the big-breasted, scantily clad women that perhaps have become the comic-book cliché’ but are ‘defined by many things—least of all their looks.’

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