Another reason for this comparison is that both of these books have experienced their fare share of discussion over their portrayal of women, something which I know is a very heated topic among comic book fans. I know that the fact that I possess the Y chromosome means my experience may be biased, but I want to tackle this analysis and comparison with the utmost respect and sincerity.
I think it is interesting that both titles carry names that have powerful, although not exactly positive, connotations.
A "diva", traditionally, meant a female performer that could act, sing, and dance (a triple-threat, if you will) and was originally tied to the world of opera and theater. "Diva" was the term given to the female lead of a given performance, who were normally viewed by the general public as having hot tempers, likely to throw fits, and would often quarrel with other leading ladies.
In modern times, however, the term has evolved past its roots in opera and theater and is now used basically as a derogatory term to women that act in the same way, yet are not necessarily tied to the world of performance. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (the writer of Marvel Divas) used to be a playwright before a comic book writer, so it is probable that he was going for the original meaning rather than the modern one.
"Siren" is another word with a long history of connotations, dating all the way back to Greek mythology. A "siren" is often confused with a "mermaid", because they both use the sound of their voice to attract men to them (and in some languages, they share the same name). The difference is that sirens were portrayed as women with bird like features, such as wings or bird feet while mermaids have fish-like features. In this aspect, sirens are a lot more like sphinxes or harpies (which is also used as a derogative term against women).
In modern times, the word carries a more positive connotation as a very seductive woman, one who can lead men to do her bidding, without the negative aspect. The fact that the three women involved in Gotham City Sirens are former villains leads me to believe that they are going for the older meaning. Siren, of course, can also refer to noisemakers such as police sirens or firefighter sirens.
I don't know how familiar comic book readers are with the etymology of these words, but if anything, I suspect that more readers know the original definition of the word "siren" than that of "diva".
"Don't judge a book by it's cover" is an age old adage, but sometimes it is all comic book fans get for a long time before the actual comic book gets to their hands.
When the cover and blurb to Marvel Divas showed up in the previews and in that week's column of Cup O' Joe (by Marvel's Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada) there was quite an uproar about it from fans. The cover by J. Scott Campbell featured a portrayal of the four leading ladies standing around and striking sexy poses with unrealistically big breasts that defied gravity and waists that did not fit their body types. While this is obviously not the first time that women have been unrealistically portrayed in comics (and won't be the last either), it struck a nerve among many fans of both genres because of the fact that this book was seemingly aimed at female readers while the cover was aimed at the male portion of comic book readers.
Gotham City Sirens
The cover to Gotham City Sirens, drawn by Guillem March, was practically the same thing - the three heroines are standing on top of a circle (in this case, I presume it is the Bat-signal) while striking sexy poses. In this cover, the body proportions look a bit more realistic than the previous one, but it is also a bit more blatant in showcasing Harley Quinn's behind and Poison Ivy's cleavage. But because of the fact that the accompanying blurb did not imply this comic was meant for female readers, this cover did not cause nearly as much of a furor around the internet.
Of course, there's also the belief that there's no such thing as bad publicity, which could mean that the controversy raised over the cover to Marvel Divas could have raised that book's profile and led to more sales. At the same time, the controversy surely kept away people from the book. Proving or disproving this theory in regards to these particular comics would be a pretty hard thing to do anyway.
Despite their similarities, these two books share very different roles for their respective companies.
Gotham City Sirens
Gotham City Sirens was one of the many relaunches and debuts that DC has put out in the process of revitalizing the Batman franchise. Gotham City Sirens is, in many ways, similar to one of the many books that was canceled earlier this year - the long-running Birds of Prey.
Birds of Prey was also a book about three women (originally two, eventually more) coming together to join efforts, although they were heroes as opposed to the villains of Gotham City Sirens.
DC has several other ongoing titles that feature women as protagonists, popular and long stay characters, such as Wonder Woman and Supergirl, the newly launched Power Girl series, and the recent Black Canary and Green Arrow co-billing. Additionally the current weekly comic by DC, Wednesday Comics, also features stories about Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Catwoman.
Marvel, in comparison, seems to have less ongoing titles with female leads. Ms. Marvel is one of them and the newly relaunched Black Panther (although I don't know how long that is going to last, as T'Challa seems to be back in some of the covers) are the only two female characters that currently have an ongoing series. She-Hulk's title was canceled not that long ago and was replaced with a mini series (Savage She-Hulk) instead that featured a new character.
It seems that Marvel prefers to spotlight their female characters with mini-series instead, such as Dark Reign: Elektra, Savage She-Hulk, NYX, and Patsy Walker: Hellcat. Marvel Divas falls within that category of trying to fill out the gap created by the lack of diversity in Marvel's ongoing titles, as is the upcoming Models, Inc.
An ongoing title is seen as more prestigious than a mini-series in many reader's eyes because it shows that there is a greater interest from readers and a greater willingness from publishing companies to showcase and push their female characters to new audiences.
Covers aside, the art on these two comic books is on opposite ends of the spectrum. As I have mentioned on other occasions, I hate to criticize art unless it is detrimental to the story, so will be looking at each with that in mind.
Gotham City Sirens
Gotham City Sirens features an art style that is extremely clear, kinetic, and colourful. Guillem March provides the pencil work and he is an extremely talented storyteller with a strong sense of both movement and facial expressions.
Sadly, the art is not without it's faults and one of the most glaring ones is the sexualization of all three main characters. All three female leads have D-cups with lots of clevage showing, there's a couple of gratuitous closeups of Catwoman's behind, and Harley Quinn is wearing a schoolgirl outfit throughout the whole first issue.
This is, of course, nothing new within comic books, as most readers fully know, but it bears repeating. There is nothing wrong with the bodies of either men or women, but it honestly felt that in this comic, showcasing it played a bigger part than it needed to. Despite the fact that this is a book with three women as protagonists, it feels like the art was completely aimed at male readers.
Tonci Zonjic (and yes, I had to look up how to spell it) provides the art for Marvel Divas. It's hard to define Zonjic's art, as there is a sense of realism in his character designs, but it doesn't resemble the photo realistic style of Brian Hitch or Steve McNiven.
The greatest feat in Zonjic's style is that he manages to give each of the four ladies a distinct fashion style that separates them from one another and gives each character a personality that is instantly identifiable. Black Cat is shown always wearing dresses and knee-high boots, Hellcat has apparently a liking of business suits, Firestar wears clothes that you would see at a rock concert, and Photon's civilian wardrobe is made up of simple jeans and shirts.
There is a problem with Zonjic's style, however, and it is that his characters seem to have a "missing-nose" syndrome. Depending on the profile that the characters are standing, the nose or other parts of their face aren't completely drawn and it makes the character's facial features look too similar to one another.
Both artists have their strength and their weakness, but with profoundly separate styles. At the end of the day, it is a matter of taste and preference as to which one readers will like the best, but I felt the art in Marvel Divas was more welcoming to the female, or any, for that matter, readers.
These two stories are built strongly on the foundation of other works, although very different ones.
Marvel Divas was notoriously pitched as "Sex and the City" set in the Marvel Universe by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Although my experience with the TV show is rather limited, the end result is a lot like what Sex and the City was like from my perspective: four women discussing and bonding over their romantic life, complete with one of the protagonists being the author of the book. The comic book dwells on both the comedic and more dramatic aspects of life as a single women in a world dominated by men, much like the show did. The comic, also like the TV show, features a lot of snappy dialogue that is somewhat self-aware and that breaks the 4th wall.
I am actually a very big fan of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, his short run on the Nightcrawler ongoing being one of my favourite series ever and his work on Marvel Knights 4 also very high on my list. During Marvel Knights 4, he also wrote a very "Sex and the City"-like issue where Sue Storm, She-Hulk, Emma Frost, Sharon Ventura , and Alicia Masters go for a girl's night out. He actually uses Marvel Divas to have a cameo by Sue Storm, probably a nod to his previous work, and Aguirre-Sacasa has stated that Invisible Woman is one of his favorite characters. She shows up to promote Hellcat's work, but doesn't do much else.
Gotham City Sirens
Gotham City Sirens is the brainchild of Paul Dini, who has written a lot of Batman related titles in the previous years. Most notably, however, is his work in the world of animated TV series such as Batman: TAS, Superman: TAS, Batman Beyond, and many others. Dini, alongside Bruce Timm, helped create the character of Harley Quinn, who proved to be so popular that it was added to the Batman canon in the comics.
My experience with Dini's writing is actually very limited, but, from what I have learned, he has a tendency to spotlight his pet characters, like he is doing with two of the protagonists of Gotham City Sirens, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, and with villains such as Hush and the Riddler. This tendency, however, reaches almost Claremontian levels when it comes to one particular character - Zatanna. She makes an appearance in this comic where she is wearing only a robe before getting into a bathroom only to be almost drowned by Poison Ivy in scene that felt straight out of a bondage movie. Zatanna is held under water, with her extremities restrained, and a gag in her mouth.
It is interesting that both comics had a guest appearance in the story by a pet character of the author, but they are treated in very different ways.
Both comics are flawed in different aspects, but it should be obvious by reading this article which one I preferred. I think Marvel Divas attempted to portray women more realistically than Gotham City Sirens did, which was more of a straight superhero fare. What do you think? Which one did you like more, and why?