This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics
Mere weeks after its release in theaters, Magic Mike XXL, the money-making movie about male strippers and their money-makers, is still ab-dominating social media.
It’s also the single-best advertisement for the upcoming Gambit movie, starring comics grandpa chaperone Channing Tatum, as confirmed by female relatives after I alerted them to Fox’s film.
Now that there’s a chance that Tatum will inject some overt sex appeal into a comic book movie, this begs the question: Who is better at aiding those who like ogling dudefolk, Marvel or DC?
Last March, DC Comics actually paid homage to the original Magic Mike in their film poster variant series.
Though it may not seem like it to the naked (or the semi-nude) eye, this cover matters. The mainstream comics industry has a long-standing tradition of pandering solely to a heterosexual male gaze. Illustrated women in centaur contortions, brokeback poses, and widely disproportionate proportions are not reserved for “adult” reading; they’ve been quasi-regular fare for comics over decades.
As the industry is just now beginning to recognize that female fans exist in significant numbers, readers are just now—slightly—seeing nods to androphilic (read: dude-ogling) tastes. The Thrust-ice League up there is just the tip—of the iceberg.
A character of any gender need not simply be in a state of undress and/or physical peak to fit under a gaze. A vein-popping, head-decapitating shirtless warrior is not the same as his bikini-clad female counterpart bending forward to give readers a peak at her cleavage.
Often, receptiveness is the key ingredient to any beefcake or cheesecake recipe—enter the variant cover for Constantine: The Hellblazer #1.
As someone who was on Twitter and Tumblr when this variant was released, I can share that the general reaction was this:
Ming Doyle’s illustration proves that leaving the pants on a character can still knock the pants off of others. John Constantine has an open, receptive body language; he’s also making eye contact with the viewer. “Tight” would describe both his fashion sense and his pants. His facial features are soft, and his hair is slightly tousled. Doyle has crafted a Constantine who’s inviting the reader to look at him.
Despite Marvel’s recently improved emphasis on female fans, the publisher has barely put a horse (or “Pony,” if you’ve watched Magic Mike) into the beefcake race. Many openly queer male artists are in its employ, but most of their work is reserved for female characters (which is, ultimately, a Higher Cause, but…what’s a cover or two?). Fortunately, Kris Anka has ushered Marvel partially into this race with a literal race on August’s House of M #2 cover.
Not to be outdone, DC is also releasing a cover featuring a shirtless version of their King of the Seas.
Aquaman’s cover is actually an entry in DC’s second wave of the “Bombshells” nineteen-fifties-style variant covers. The first wave came out in June 2014, and it featured only female characters. Though the covers themselves were stylish, fun, and largely less sexualized than the comics status quo (some heroines even gained clothing in their redesigns), they still sent a sad message about who the covers were—and weren’t—intended for.
DC listened to outcry, as August 2015’s Bombshells line-up features at least eight covers with male pin-ups on them. Given, Aquaman’s design is more the shirtless exception than the rule, but it’s a start. I’m still waiting on Marvel to commission some Milo Manara-esque designs for their male-led titles (I’m not, actually).
No conversation about comics beefcake, however, is complete without Dick—Dick Grayson, that is. Here’s Grayson #13:
All the previous DC covers are variants; if fans wanted to, they could avoid them.
This is Grayson #13‘s main cover. It isn’t a spin-off, surprise, or one-time wink at the audience. This portrait is a pretty spot-on indication of Grayson so far. And, this series is what thrusts DC furthest past the competition and into the top position.
Tim Seeley, series co-writer with Tom King, has spoken openly about appealing to female fans in the past, admitting that the team tries to depict Dick shirtless at least once an issue. For almost all of Grayson #5, a stubbly, shirtless Dick carries and cradles a baby through a desert. In another issue, a crew of female spies-in-training chase a teasing Dick throughout their campus. In a later issue, that same crew nicknames the two halves of Dick’s derrière as “Jim and Juan.” It should be noted that Jim and Juan are basically supporting characters.
The purpose of this “Hunk-Off” isn’t to suggest that the industry need be more sexual; just to make it equally so for fans who aren’t straight men. And, maybe incidentally, to also show “sexy” characters in ways that aren’t objectifying, dismissive, mean, out-of-character, or reinforcing of unhealthy gender dynamics. In the preceding covers, the subjects retain their agency—some are even “in” on what the cover’s doing.
For those disappointed by Marvel’s loss here, take heart—at least this cover for Wolverine #6 happened (if by mistake):
This year has brought fans #HotArchie, #DapperDick, and #ComeHitherConstantine. Who do you hope (or think) is next?