Monday, August 13, 2012

Stop looking at my boobs when I'm kicking yo butt

Comic book heroines have got it rough. I'll be the first to admit that. They work in a male dominated field. They've got over 75 years of sexist stereotyping to overcome. Lastly, they're written mostly by men. Still, they've come a long way since the only role model girls had was Lois Lane screaming for Superman to save her month after month.

Wonder Woman became one of the first strong powerful heroines unleashed on the comic world. Unfortunately, there's some back story and issues to go along with Princess Diana's early days. I'm not going into all that, because it has no bearing on this discourse. The important thing is that she is still going strong. DC Comics came out with a string of super heroines to compliment WW. Unfortunately, they were all knockoffs of established characters like Superman and Batman. So, we end up with Supergirl and Batgirl. Even though both were grown women, they got tagged 'girl' for their troubles. I'm not saying they didn't kick butt, because they did, just in a Fifties and Sixties type of way. It would take almost another twenty years before these great characters would evolve past the 'Girl' moniker and become truly strong women in their own right.

When Marvel broke onto the scene in the Sixties, they were no better. Sue Storm spent most of the decade calling on Reed and the rest of the FF to save her. The Avengers had the Wasp, who seemed more interested in shopping than actually fighting crime. Jean Grey from the X-Men appeared to be around for the guys to moon over. I could go on, but you get the point. The heroines were nothing more than window dressing to draw in female readership without much in the way of substance.

The Seventies changed that. Marvel amped up the X-Men with Giant Sized X-Men #1. Jean Grey slowly started her evolution into Phoenix. Storm became an aloof powerhouse. We also saw the birth of Spider-Woman who would later become quite important to the new millennium of the Marvel universe. The Eighties brought us The Savage She-Hulk. While both were Marvel attempts to protect copyrights, both characters showed that inner and outer strength could work in comics. Then Frank Miller introduced one of the most important female characters of all time, Elektra. A woman out for vengeance over the murder of her father, she proved the perfect embodiment of a powerful woman who didn't take crap and could stand on her own two feet without a man coming to the rescue. That Daredevil was hopelessly in love with her only heightened Miller's run with the character. He proved that you could have a romantic twist in comics without making the woman some damsel in distress.

That didn't mean female super heroes weren't still the subject of boob-ogling costumes, not to mention impossibly large and perky boobs to begin with. We are still talking about comics. The Eighties did give us some amazing female writers to begin the revolution of women coming into their own. Louise Simonson started off as an editor on several Marvel titles before becoming a writer on New Mutants, X-Factor and a host of other titles.  Ann Nocenti became the acclaimed and often controversial writer of Daredevil, introducing another strong female antagonist for Matt Murdock in the form of Typhoid Mary. She also created fan favorite, Longshot. Wendy Pini introduced the wonderful world of Elfquest to an eager comic audience. They aren't the only female creators to make a difference but as personal favorites I couldn't pass up going on and on about them.

Some others I'd like to briefly touch on. Gail Simone went to work on DC's beleaguered female characters and breathed new life into Wonder Woman, and the Birds of Prey, a series combining the talents of Oracle (the original Batgirl), Black Canary and Huntress, Batman's daughter?--not sure who she is now with DC's constant revamping of their comics. Colleen Doran has worked on creator owned series as well as DC and Marvel titles. Amanda Connor, Jill Thompson, Nancy Collins, Elaine Lee, these are all women who have taken the reins of comics and made them their own.  Serena Valentino's utterly delightful Gloom Cookie is among some of my favorite guilty pleasures of all time. In case you're asking yourself, if Jmo is hinting for you to check some of these writers and artists out, the answer is yes. Comics aren't just superheroes anymore. It's science fiction, horror, and yes, romance. These women have taken comics in directions you wouldn't believe.

Now, how does all that tie into Romance? Simply put, our mother's and grandmother's Romance novels painted women as wilting violets in need of men swinging in to save them, just like early comics did. Now, we have heroines that stand toe to toe with their heroes and refuse to be put in a corner until the dust settles. Why do we love these new heroines? Because, women weren't made to sit back and let men handle things. They were made as equals to complete men, and with the ability to surpass them. To portray them as anything but equals is a disservice to both sexes. With male readership, and writership--yeah it's a word, I just made it up--on the rise, men must feel the same way.

Okay, that's my soapbox moment for the week. I hope you enjoyed my comics and women history lesson as much as I did actually researching it. If you knew me, you'd know how much I hate research. Join me next week on The Writer Limits, as I examine creating the perfect story thanks to reading way too many comics with a cautionary tale I like to call Stan Lee rotted my brain. While you're there you can catch up on this series by reading my views on the Spandex Conspiracy.

The Writer Limits




Maria D. said...

Good post - I had no idea so many women were working in comics now but I'm glad to see it happening. I can understand the changing role of women in literature affecting comics and vice versa

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Did I learn something here - yes. Strong, independent are here now and here to stay. They have earned respect and I suppose we can lend the comics some influence. Great post. I am almost tempted to pick up a comic book now...

J. Morgan said...

Maria, romance novelists are even working in comics now. Marjorie Liu writes X-23, and X-Men, plus Wolverine. P.C. Cast, Kim Harrison, Patricia Briggs and Sheri Kenyon have all adapted and expanded on their characters in comics. So, the thin line between comics and romance is blurring more and more every day.

J. Morgan said...

Paisley, your man stared in a movie based on a little comic named 300