Comics fans react with disgust at photos of a woman on her way to work

The <em>New Statesman</em>'s senior geek misogyny reporter on the pictures of Shailene Woodley as Mary Jane Watson.

Yesterday, Sony Pictures released the first official images of Andrew Garfield's new costume in Amazing Spider-Man, and soon after, shots of the Garfield in action in and out of costume leaked.

Much discussion ensued about the changes made to the new costume, with these comments from Bleeding Cool a pretty representative cross-section:

As I said in the other thread about his lovely big new white Bagley eyes, I reckon that a lot of the changes Amazing made were not for the sake of making Spidey look better, or to make a better film, but changes that simply had to be made out of necessity in order to just make it so that the film was DIFFERENT from the Raimi movies. Now that that's done, it certainly looks like they've wound things back to a... well, a frankly astonishing level of comic-accuracy.

Impressive how the eyes changed the overall appearance.                        

This suit honestly couldn't look any worse to me. Every picture makes me less and less excited for this movie.

(I'm picking Bleeding Cool's comments as a vaguely representative example of geeky commenters)

Later that day, more paparazzi pics were revealed, of Shailene Woodley, the new Mary Jane Watson, on her way to the set. She doesn't seem to be in costume, beyond having MJ's famous red hair, and she's not made-up or professionally lit either.

So what did commenters think of Woodley?

Ew she's disgusting. They're spitting on comic books by making an ugly Mary Jane.                              

It's pretty clear that Gwen would have to die for that girl to have a chance with Peter.                              

Tiger, looks like you didn't hit the jackpot!                                                                           

I mean she's kinda plain and dumpy.                                                            

a quick google shows an average looking girl with makeup at best. You can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig.

it must be exceedingly difficult to find a gorgeous girl in Hollywood since they have now failed in two attempts at MJ (Dunst looking good enough in the first one i guess, but deteriorating rapidly in 2 and 3).

There's actually 28 pages of people arguing whether Woodley is hot or not, seven times as many as there are talking about the new costume. (Although, like all comment threads, they go off-the-rails after a while. Flicking through, there's an intense argument over whether the phrase "lipstick on a pig" is sexist, and a fair amount of discussion about porn.)

That was nothing particular to Bleeding Cool — it was the same everywhere. Den of Geek's editor Simon Brew made the admirable decision to take down their post with the shots, writing:

For Den Of Geek - and I'm not saying we have a perfect track record here - can we try and have a conversation over someone's suitability for a role, rather than judging how they look when a photographer took a quick snap? 

I say this as a proudly ugly man, who hated the school playground beauty competitions that most of us have to go through.

People, follow this man's lead. Comics culture needs to get better in its treatment of women, and fast. Currently it seems to be on a downward trend.

Photograph: Sony Pictures

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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