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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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.