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.

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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit