Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Women in Comics - How are they doing?


OK, I know I said the last post on Thor and Cap would be my last post on the subject.  I lied.  I gave a whole lot of space to discussing Sam Wilson taking over for Cap and how it fits with the history of minority characters in comics, but in doing so I neglected how the new female Thor fits with the history and present of female characters in comics.  I didn't see as many full blown articles opining on this one; most of what I saw was Twitter chatter.  And a lot of what I saw there needed addressing.  It seems to me that there isn't much acknowledgement of the reality of female characters in comics, especially where they are today versus years ago.  The idea that a female Thor is filling some kind of void is more than a little off base to me, and in all honesty I don't consider it a big victory for women.  Yes it's nice and it helps, but there are several excellent female characters already in existence who more than fit the description of role models for young girls.  Yes, there can be more and yes, some characters are still more sex symbol than anything else.  But anyone who says that there's nothing there either doesn't read comics now or is being willing deceitful in the name of getting pageviews.  Let me run down some examples:

  • Wonder Woman - The original female superhero goes back the Golden Age of comics, and she's progressed a long way from how she was depicted in her early days.  Early Wonder Woman comics put her in predicaments where the villains had her trapped in bondage type positions or were spanking her.  Yes, that's right.  I'm not going to post the images but you can find them if you look hard enough.  The series she starred in was Sensation Comics, as opposed to Action Comics for Superman and Detective Comics for Batman.  When first joined a Superhero team, it was the Justice Society - as their secretary.  Fast forward to today.  Wonder Woman is recognized in the DC Universe as one of the two most powerful people on Earth (the other being Superman of course).  She's the most lethal fighter among the Justice League because unlike Superman she has little reservation about putting an enemy down permanently.  She wields a sword as a fighting weapon just as easily as anyone out there.  And while she's in a relationship with Superman, she's not some super powered damsel in distress when the two team up to fight.  And away from Superhero work, she has her own life that is not dependent on some dude.  
  • Batgirl - She's supersmart and an expert with computers, and can hold her own on the streets of Gotham as well as anyone not named Batman.  She's also her own, independent woman whose life isn't centered around finding Prince Charming.  Yes she's had relationships and there was an unresolved mutual interest with Dick Grayson, but he series centers around her fighting bad guys and not looking fabulous.  She also doesn't take to the streets in some sexy but ridiculous looking costume that would get her killed, even in comic book land.
  • Black Canary - She doesn't have her own solo series but is part of the Birds of Prey team with it's own series.  Prior to the New 52 continuity, Canary fought crime in fishnet stockings and a leather jacket.  She now dons a must more practical uniform.  She also went through a real emotional dilemma when Ra's Al Ghul offered a chance to revive her incapacitated husband in return for allowing him to kill someone she was protecting, and they didn't make her a stereotypical emotional woman when choosing which way to go.  Yes she was conflicted and considered betraying her teammates but she ultimately made the right call without getting all stereotypical emo woman about it all.

Those are just a few.  In the Marvel Universe a woman, Maria Hill has been in charge of SHIELD.  Black Widow has her own series, and Storm has one that's starting up.  Storm was in charge of the X-Men at one point.  Captain Marvel has her own series, and one of the hottest new titles is Ms. Marvel.  On the Ultimate Marvel side the Ultimates (Ultimate Marvel's version of the 616 Universe's Avengers), two thirds of the team are women.  Kitty Pryde went toe to toe with Galactus for crying out loud.    There's a lot there, even without the new female Thor coming around.  And for the most part, with a few exceptions (ahem, Starfire), the ridiculous outfits and body proportions of the nineties have been scaled back considerably.  Of course it's not perfect and there is more progress to be made.  But we can acknowledge that, work for more, and recognize what is being done better today. 

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