Lip Service

Feeling drab and dowdy? Tearing your hair out in search of a stylin’ new look for SDCC? Worry no more, true believers, because, as it turns out, Marvel wants to help you look stylish!

For the gents, they have an assortment of superhero costumes–most with built-in muscles. And for the gals…well, there’s…

Wait for it…

Lip gloss.

How, exactly, is lip gloss supposed to be analogous to superhero costumes? Is it perhaps super lip gloss, with the power to imbue its wearers with the reflexes and proportional strength of a tube of lip gloss? Let’s turn to Dogulas Miller, marketing coordinator for Lotta Luv (the cosmetics company with whom Marvel teamed to produce not only lip gloss but an entire line of Marvel make-up), for some enlightening commentary:

“With a branded line of make-up from Marvel, girls will be able to feel as if they are going from ordinary to extraordinary just like the super hero characters in the stories, ” he explained. “There is also such a nostalgic undertone that either young or older girls are drawn towards because of the long history and brand behind the name Marvel.”

(Miller went on to defend his expertise in matters of the feminine mind, informing readers that his mother “totally used to be a girl,” and that once, while intoxicated, he had accidentally watched the opening credits of an episode of Sex In the City.)

So, the guys get to power up with stuff like invulnerability, strength, deadly frisbee skills, flight, manipulation of fire, and being an undead spirit of vengeance whose head is a flaming skull. And the girls get lip gloss, associate with the power to have…shiny lips. (There’s a whole side discussion here on the habit of defining normal human virtues like beauty and confidence as the girly equivalent of superpowers, but that’s a column for another day.)

“But wait!” you may argue. “They’re focusing on the lip gloss because it’s a new product! Surely their products aren’t that wildly gender-dimorphous!”

That’s very open-minded of you. In fact, I had the same initial reaction, which I attempted to validate via one of the article’s myriad links back to the Official Marvel Shop, stocked (the article claimed) with “numerous costumes (for kids and adults).”

Here is a list of the costumes I found:

Black-Suited Spider-Man Muscle Chest Adult Costume
Captain America Muscle Chest Adult Costume Set
Captain America Muscle Chest Kids Costume Set
Fantastic Four: Dr. Doom Adult Mask
Fantastic Four: Mr. Fantastic Muscle Chest Adult Costume
Fantastic Four: Mr. Fantastic Muscle Chest Kids Costume
The Human Torch Muscle Chest Kids Costume
Fantastic Four: The Thing Muscle Chest Kids Costume
Ghost Rider Adult Costume
Ghost Rider Child Costume
Hulk Inflatable Adult Costume
Iron Man Adult Helmet
Iron Man Deluxe Muscle Chest Adult Costume
Iron Man Light-Up Muscle Chest Child Costume Set
Iron Man Movie Quality Child Costume Set
Iron Man Quality Muscle Chest Kids Costume
Punisher Muscle Chest Adult Costume
Spider-Girl Sassy Deluxe Adult Costume
Fiber Optic Spider-Man Kids Costume
Spider-Man Glow-in-the-Dark Kids Costume
Spider-Man Muscle Chest Adult Costume
Spider-Man Muscle Chest Kids Costume
The Incredible Hulk Adult Latex Full Mask
The Incredible Hulk Deluxe Adult Mask
Hulk Deluxe Muscle Chest Kids Costume Set
The Incredible Hulk Muscle Chest Kids Costume
X-Men: Beast Muscle Chest Kids Costume
X-Men: Wolverine Deluxe Muscle Chest Adult Costume

Noticing a pattern here?
Of the 28 costumes in the Marvel Shop, 27 are of male characters. The 28th, the “Spider-Girl Sassy Deluxe Adult Costume,” is a sparkly little minidress that resembles Spider-Girl’s actual costume only in fabric pattern.

It doesn’t take a mind-reader (even one with the proportional strength of a tube of lip gloss) to figure out what’s going on here: between the lip gloss and the Divas, the writing on the wall is pretty clear–day-glo, even. In its decision to market directly to female readers, Marvel, like Wizard, seems to have adopted the philosophy that the population is divided into two groups: people, and women. In a few months, when they realize that girls are not rushing to buy Spider-Man lip gloss and Incredible Hulk tampons, expect Marvel to poutily insist that this is proof that women are not interested in comics.

The irony, of course, is that Marvel is a company whose comics, historically, have been extraordinarily girl-friendly. Ensemble casts, full of strong female characters, dominated the line for decades. Series like Runaways, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, and even Spider-Girl (despite its rocky history), drew the kinds of crowds of teen girls that Minx could only dream of. I cut my geek teeth on New Mutants and Excalibur, and they, in turn, defined my criteria for girl-friendly superhero comics. While the distinguished competition was stuck in ’50s gender sensibilities, Marvel books were passing the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Even the heroines clearly designed to titillate the straight male gaze (I’m thinking Emma Frost and the Goblin Queen) had personalities and dimensions beyond their skimpy costumes.

Marvel, I think it’s time you and I had a chat.

For the last couple years, you’ve been trying your little heart out to work your sticky fingers into the pockets of that elusive female demographic. Out of respect for what you used to represent to me, and in hopes that you’ll come to mean that again, I’m going to tell you how. No strings attached: this is a gift, from me to you.

-Don’t start a new line of products. Make small tweaks–like, say, making a decent X-Men or Avengers t-shirt that’s available in girls’ sizes–to customize your existing products for women. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, or even paint it pink; you just need to take it in a little at the waist and shoulders.

-Can the make-up. Girls don’t want Spider-Man lip gloss. No one wants Spider-Man lip gloss, because it’s a fucking stupid product.

-By the same token, you don’t need to push contrived Sex In the City knock-offs to attract female readers. You’ve been producing really solid, character drama-focused books with fantastic female characters for years. If you want to widen your female audience, broaden the marketing, not the product. Bringing back the classic New Mutants is a great start, though.

-Make products featuring female characters–the real characters, not pinkified, defanged “saving the world can be glamorous!” versions of the characters (with the possible exception of Millie the Model, who could probably pull it off).

-Especially Storm.

-Talk to some actual girls and women. Ask them what they buy, what they look for in comics and licensed products, what comics they do and don’t read, and why or why not. Listen to their answers.

-Lockheed plushies.

-Seriously, though. Can the make-up.

-Discuss this column here.

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