04 Sep Superwomen: Women in the Comic Universe by Gerrod Harris
It’s quite clear, unless you’ve been living under a rock, that in the last decade, our western world has been invaded by superheroes. Once the proud defenders of nerd counterculture can now be found in the middle of mainstream pop culture, and they’re pulling in metric tons of cash each year. Through comics, television shows, merchandise, and multimillion dollar movies, the superhero has transitioned into a new light of popularity, and they seem to only be growing.
I recently finished reading Grant Morrison’s acclaimed analysis of society’s reflection in the comic universe, Supergods. After reading this, I have been looking at trends in our superhero movies and wondering what actual events or cultural values are behind certain decisions in the films. In the wake of this, Marvel announced the new Thor, will in fact be a woman. Myself, being a huge fan of Thor, I’m not at all fond of the idea of them completely swapping out the current Thor. With all his history and stories dating back to 1962 when he was written and drawn by the legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, to switch in an all new character with someone else, woman, man, or frog, just seems silly. With Morrison’s words in mind, clearly, the comic world is trying to become more equitable for both genders. Gone are the days where the comic market targeted adolescent boys, rarely reaching a female audience. The comic industry has not grown to be nearly as large as it is today without expanding its material to attract girls of various ages.
But what of the female characters on film? It seems, for every Superman, there is a Lois Lane, who although may be useful in many scenes, she will still need rescuing (this is in reference to 2013’s Man of Steel). Women in the comics have come such a long way since the Golden Age of heroes. Take Wonder Woman for instance, originally created in the 1940’s by sexually promiscuous professor, Wonder Woman faced little danger, but rather she was used as a piece of propaganda for American’s during the war. Now, however, she is one of DC’s top selling characters, who will be getting her own film shortly, and is known to frequently save the world from threats of incredible danger.
Black Widow, another female character, who has gained much more popularity amongst the mainstream for her portrayal by Scarlett Johansson, was previously known as one of Marvel’s most deadly assassins with a secret past. She has worked alongside A-list heroes of the likes of Daredevil, Iron Man, and Captain America to name a few. She could hardly be seen as a side kick, more of an equal in the comics, but she was just as known for kicking serious ass, as she was for sleeping with most of her partners. In the movies, although sexually toned down, she seems to be getting larger roles, and has maintained the dangerous aspect as seen in Iron Man 2, The Avengers, and Captain America 2: The Winter Solider. She seems to be one of the first female heroes on film to be able to hold her own.
As mentioned above, Black Widow, and the upcoming Wonder Woman movie will offer audiences a strong female lead that does the original comic book characters justice. In the past, female roles have often been rather small compared to the leading hero, like Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. Although well played, and important to the plot, she was such a small part of the overall film. The movie adaptation of Electra flopped at the box office, and after watching the movie I understood why. Jennifer Garner, along with a poor plot, failed to convince the audience that they were seeing Marvel Comics’ ninja assassin femme fatal. Yes in the past, female hero’s roles have been diminished to playing the sidekick, the love interest, or have just failed to catch on. However it seems like things are changing, with the previously mentioned Black Widow and Wonder Woman, but also because of characters like Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique form X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Comic lore is full of female superheroes and foes who are capable of holding their own against dangerous opponents, and often have a deep and rich history to them. I’d like to see what directions Marvel and DC studios take with these characters, who they’ll introduce along the way and the adventures they’ll face. While my hopes for these unsung heroes to join the ranks of Earth’s mightiest heroes in the mainstream culture, rather than hiding where only those who read comics know their story, seem to be in good hands, I give the female Thor a short while until she fades into the obscurity along with the likes of past “substitute Thors”.