Published on July 24th, 2015 | by Holly Ringsell0
DC & Marvel – Where Are Our Women?
Avid comic readers, I set you a challenge. Name 10 female characters from Marvel and DC, that are simultaneously well-known and not a villain. I’ll wait.
No, really. I’ll wait.
Thats because they’re seemingly few and far between. Batgirl, Batwoman, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Gamora, Black Widow… They’re the first lot that come to my head. I’d also argue that Gamora was only catapulted into the mainstream from 2014’s Guardians Of The Galaxy. Marvel and DC’s female symbols simply don’t exist — only Wonder Woman holds the gravitas of Batman or Superman, and Marvel doesn’t really have an equivalent. Sure, they exist, from both brands, but they’re certainly in the minority when it comes to numbers.
Comparing Wikipedia lists, DC has a total of 174 female characters, whilst Marvel has 180. These range from the well known and frequently seen (Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel etc,) to the utterly obscure — Photon, anyone? Dorothy Spinner? Echo? Saturn Girl? By comparison, the male superheroes are so high in numbers, that they’re actually split into categories, such as ‘List of human superheroes,’ ‘List of superheroes without powers,’ and so on. Theres actually no single comprehensive list, likely because it would simply prove too long. We all know theres plenty of superheroes ranging in relevance and notoriety regardless of gender, but considering that half the population of our real world are indeed women, doesn’t it seem odd that the female heroes are so low in numbers?
DC Comics, in particular, seems to have a peculiar relationship with female characters. Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn — they’re all female, super sexualised villains. Both Catwoman and Poison Ivy’s entire shtick is being sexy, with both often acting flirtatiously with Batman, amongst others, while clad in figure hugging outfits. Don’t get me wrong — flirting and figure-hugging outfits are nothing to be ashamed of — but it’s certainly odd when a considerable handful of your female characters fit this mould. Catwoman, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, was initially inspired by 1930’s film actress, Jean Harlow. She was introduced with the intention of giving the book sex appeal, as well as a character which would supposedly resonate with female readers. However, Bob Kane, a notorious douchebag, is quoted as saying the following in regards to the ‘cat’ aspect of her character;
“I felt that women were feline creatures and men were more like dogs. While dogs are faithful and friendly, cats are cool, detached, and unreliable. I felt much warmer with dogs around me—cats are as hard to understand as women are. Men feel more sure of themselves with a male friend than a woman. You always need to keep women at arm’s length. We don’t want anyone taking over our souls, and women have a habit of doing that. So there’s a love-resentment thing with women. I guess women will feel that I’m being chauvinistic to speak this way, but I do feel that I’ve had better relationships with male friends than women. With women, once the romance is over, somehow they never remain my friends.”
Pfeiffer’s slightly uncomfortable off-to-the-side glance says it all
Thankfully for men and women alike, we’re no longer in an age of Bill Finger’s abhorrent nonsense. Unfortunately, we’re still left with characters with questionable origins and little development. Harley Quinn, another DC mainstream character, comes paired with a troubling relationship with the Joker — one full of abuse of almost every variety. Personally, I’ve always had a hard time connecting to the character of Harley Quinn — she’s presented as tough, a dominant tour de force of madness… Yet is completely and utterly submissive, both around the Joker, Batman and others. She seems to be a questionable idea of a villain, all spandex and attitude, until you intimidate her. I think that says something a little worrying about her creators, the usually incredible Paul Dini and Bruce Timm.
Marvel isn’t flawless. Black Cat, a villain initially created to fight Spider-Woman, has all but been turned into a set piece. Her main focus seems to revolve around repeatedly attempting (and sometimes succeeding) to woo Peter Parker. Comics nightmare Kevin Smith even wrote a story where the character was sexually abused — ew — and that’s a troubling trend. Our female characters, even when given a backstory or development, are often forced through terrible and traumatic occurrences. Comics Queen, Gail Simone, even coined the term ‘women in refrigerators’ after the repeated theme of female characters injured, killed or depowered as a plot device, and subsequently, how disproportionate it is. Plenty of male characters backstories are progressed with the use of a girlfriend, wife, sister or daughter, being brutally murdered, kidnapped or raped – in the case of some characters, (Jackie’s girlfriend in The Darkness comes to mind), all three.
Who would’ve guessed that a comic with this many unnecessary lines would have equally unnecessary story arcs?
That’s not to say that dark stories don’t have their place in comics. They absolutely do. Both male and female characters are tortured in all regards, and that definitely has a place in storytelling — provided it’s actually telling a story. Progression of character, motivations and plot should be a well constructed, thought out process… but it’s simply too easy to have a character murdered as a motivation. Joss Whedon is shockingly guilty of this in both his TV series and movies — Age Of Ultron was a culprit — and it’s lazy. It’s the quickest journey to a point. ‘I need this character to seek revenge. Kill someone they love.’ Rather than progressing a character deeply, properly, sometimes the easiest thing to do, is simply murder a loved one. Or fridge them. But y’know, that doesn’t happen to dudes.
Thankfully, it’s largely a thing we’re leaving behind. Quotes from the 40s and 50s are of their time — not entirely relevant to a world thats (mostly) moved on. The 90’s saw a lot of sloppiness in comics, (both in the form of artwork AND writing,) and we saw plenty of female characters murdered and brutalised. Trends in comics are starting to see a change. We have a stellar team working on Batgirl and Gotham Academy for DC. Marvel have been running Silk, Spider-Gwen, Ms Marvel, Captain Marvel and Black Widow to great success. Even both companies reboots feature more women than usual — DCYou has 4 of the 24 titles prominently featuring a female character, while All New All Different Marvel is excelling with a whopping 27 of 45 titles prominently featuring either a female character directly or as part of a team. Thats awesome.
I’ve written before why we need these characters, why it’s only fair to have a reasonable split of men and women in our stories, but it should come down to variety. Comics should be accessible for a range of people, and thus our range of comics should support that. Smaller publishers like Image, Boom and Dark Horse are contributing hugely to the female readership… It would certainly be excellent if the big two followed suit.