Kudos to cartoonist Lea Hernandez for demonstrating how easily Marvel could have turned the very disappointing sexually exploitative cover of Heroes for Hire #13 into a much better piece of art, and for proving you can let your female superheroes be sexy without being victims. (Warning: Graphic links, while from a comic rated ages 12 and up, may still be considered non-safe for work.)
The cover for Heroes for Hire #13, drawn by Sana Takeda, has come under a lot of criticism since its publication. Its detractors argue that it's basically a hair's breadth away from being tentacle porn. Hernandez (creator of Near-Life Experience) has been just one of many who have been upset at the overtones of disempowerment and suggested rape of the cover, which takes three normally self-assured powerful women and displays them as submissive, victimized sex objects.
What interests me far more than debating the exploitative nature of the original cover (or its appropriateness for a teen audience) is what Hernandez was able to do to improve it with just a few simple changes. Her final remix is amazingly better, and preserves all the things Marvel undoubtedly hoped would bring in viewers. It keeps the sexiness of the characters (and Misty looks a lot sexier with hair that could actually exist). It keeps the tentacles – as has been pointed out, the Brood do have them. It even keeps the bondage aspect.
What it adds, what the original lacked, was the strong personalities of the main women. As Hernandez observes:
The expressions have all been changed. Colleen is looking directly at the tentacle, instead of away in fear and resignation. Her expression says, "God, you're a boring monster."
Misty's look is that she's got the opener to the can of whup-ass right now. She's thinking, "This is like one of those lame-ass traps from that 60s Batman TV show. Weak."
In keeping with the supposedly ha-ha aspect of the cover, Felicia is going, "Bleeeech!" at a tentacle that's getting a little too close. Her eyes are open, and she's looking at the stupid slimy thing.
That's how you do it, Marvel. Take notes.
And that's how you criticize something effectively. It's not enough to say what you hate; like Lea Hernandez, you have to help show how to make it better.