I feel slightly dumber just for typing that. I felt much dumber after reading the comic in question, but now that I have at least I can say with confidence: as much as Lepore's recent review in the New Yorker traded in bad-faith arguments that equated superheroes with porn stars, Wilson's response is even worse.
First she relies on the oldest and weakest standby of defensive fanboys everywhere, the claim that it's not fair to judge her comic because it's a) part of a crossover, and b) the first installment of a series. Therefore, Wilson says, Lepore's reading is "decontextualized" and invalid.
All I can say in response is that if Wilson doesn't think it's fair to read her comic in standalone 20-page installments, perhaps Marvel shouldn't release them that way—or charge $3.99 for the privilege. Lepore took what she was given and found it incomprehensible. I am probably somewhat better versed in Marvel continuity than Lepore and found it much the same. This book has no frame of reference outside the confines of a company-wide crossover that, to judge by what's on display here, looks pretty dreadful. That's not Jill Lepore's fault.
Then Wilson defends her work by insisting that it's written with a knowing smile, that we aren't really meant to take its tropes at face value, that the "feminist paradise" of Arcadia is at least a little tongue in cheek. But the comic gives no indication that we should read it that way. True, the dialogue and narration lurch between cheap snark and stilted artifice. (Seriously, when did She-Hulk stop using contractions?) But the characters all treat the ridiculous premises with deadly seriousness, and most of the plot (such as it is) is given over to explaining its own arbitrary rules. Nobody explains why this society is a feminist paradise, let alone why we shouldn't take that declaration seriously.
Maybe that's because Arcadia has no society to speak of. I only counted five panels—single panels—that showed any civilians, any citizens at all. Everyone else in this book is a superhero, and the action is dedicated entirely to their following or violating or protesting or upholding the made-up rules of Superhero Land. It's so committed to the rules of the crossover, in fact, that it doesn't tell us the first thing about the rules of Arcadia, the laws and values that might (or might not) make it a feminist society.
And here's where Lepore's lack of context does hurt her ability to read this comic: the all-female cast and their "feminist paradise" only exist as one of about three or four dozen microworlds that were formed as part of the Secret Wars crossover. Each of these microworlds is apparently built around some well-defined hook or theme or some forgotten pocket of Marvel continuity. In other words, we have a feminist paradise guarded by female heroes for the same reason that we have worlds where all the heroes are zombies or cowboys or whatever. It's a gimmick, and not one that speaks to any feminist ambitions: Marvel literally had to destroy and remake their universe in order to imagine a world defended by women.
Wilson is right that her characters aren't sexualized in the manner of countless "brokeback" poses (and she's right to challenge Lepore's priggish porn star comparison) but that is an awfully low bar to clear. She gives herself a great deal of credit for not writing one particular type of bad story, but that doesn't mean she's written a good one.
Wilson concludes with a couple of potshots about elitism and "the ivory tower" (ah yes, those elitist academics, always writing about superhero comics in the New Yorker!) and she huffs about "the difference between criticism from within the community—criticism from people who love comics and want to see them succeed—and criticism from the self-appointed gatekeepers of art and culture, who categorically do not give a shit."
Abhay Khosla has already taken Wilson to task for her anti-intellectualism in his own inimitable style, so there's nothing more to say there. I'll just note that Wilson's argument boils down to a false option, a choice that excludes the possibility of criticism from people who know superhero comics, who like superhero comics, and who still recognize A-Force for what it is: a soulless script-by-numbers event comic tie-in, and nothing more. The criticism from within the community that Wilson asks for, with its "aspirational messages" and its "calls to action," wouldn't really be criticism at all: it would just be marketing for her lousy comic.
I do love comics and I do want them to succeed. I believe success means producing something better than this. If you think that makes me a "gatekeeper," well—you can put me down among those who categorically do not give a shit.