A variant cover for Spider-Woman #1 by Italian artist Milo Manara has come under fire for its depiction of the character, with mainstream sci-fi/pop culture blogs such as Blastr (owned by Syfy) and io9 (owned by Gawker Media) taking strong positions against Marvel’s decision to publish it.

In an opinion post titled "Spider-Woman variant cover makes us ask WTF, Marvel?" on Blastr, writer Carol Pinchefsky says of the piece, "This is a pose of submission.  And unless we’re discussing Super-Submissive from the Planet Bottom, ‘submissive’ is not a word we should use to describe a superhero."  Pinchefsky asks (not rhetorically, as it turns out) what a man would look like in the same pose, and then presents a Photoshopped image of the cover with Spider-Woman’s face replaced with that of Marvel EIC Alex Alonso. 

In a post titled "Check Out Spider-Woman #1, Starring Spider-Woman's Ass," Rob Bricken on io9 described the character’s position in the Manara piece as "what’s known in the animal kingdom as 'presenting,'" and also made the gender equality argument.  "If it’s inappropriate for a male character," Bricken wrote, "it should be inappropriate for a female character."

Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort responded, after a fashion, on his Tumblr, where he wrote, "I think that the people who are upset about that cover have a point, at least in how the image relates to them."  He continues by pointing out that it’s a fairly typical Manara piece, and even contends that it’s "one of the less sexualized ones," arguing that "it seems far less exploitative to me than other Manara pieces we’ve run in previous months and years."

Brevoort also points out that "it’s a variant cover, so people will likely need to seek it out if they want it, rather than it being the display piece for the book," and concludes with an accurate observation on the times.  "I think a conversation about how women are depicted in comics is relevant at this point, and definitely seems to be bubbling up from the zeitgeist," he wrote.  "That too is fine.  Nothing gets better unless ideas are communicated."

The cover in question is a 1/50 variant, which means that retailers may order one copy for every 50 copies of the regular edition they buy.  We assume Spider-Woman #1 will sell between 50,000 and 100,000 to U.S. comic stores, which means there will be 1,000 to 2,000 copies in circulation in the U.S. and Canada.

And Brevoort’s observation on other Manara covers is almost certainly true, with the Uncanny X-Men #12 Emma Frost Variant reproduced here typical of Manara’s art for Marvel, and, for that matter, for any purpose. 

We assume that the controversy and publicity will increase demand for the Manara variant cover edition of Spider-Woman #1, which wasn’t going to sell any copies at collector prices (which is how most 1/50 variants get sold) to people that are offended by Manara’s work regardless of the attention. 

As far as the main edition of the book (which has a Greg Land cover that’s also come in for criticism, although not as much as the Manara variant), it will certainly get more attention than it would have without this week’s controversy, but it’s unclear whether that will produce more or less sales. 

But what is certain is that the times they are a changing, and the growing female audience for comics is going to change the dialogue about what’s published and the attitudes it displays toward women.  

Marvel, in general, is seen as more progressive on gender issues related to its characters than DC, so it will be interesting to see how that's affected by this controversy, and whether there's any change in its use of Manara art for variants.