Issue #22 of 35   INDEX

Joel Grineau
by: Joel V. Grineau
Super-heroines: Where are the female superheroes?

Previously, while writing a column on the Justice League of America, I questioned the wisdom of having the Huntress join the team. Of course, some would argue that the character has been around in one incarnation or another since the late 1970's, and is currently a rising star over in the Batman books. On the other hand, as my editor suggested, "Ah, !@#$, the 'League is just desperate for female characters."

This made me wonder; Where are all the super-heroines of comics?

There seems to be a vicious circle at work here. Up until the last decade, the majority of comic books were written by men, for men (or as some wags believe, by boys, for boys). Most women were therefore either love interests or physically well endowed colleagues. Of course, if you were a male super-hero with a female sidekick, you'd have the best of both worlds (with Frank Miller's classic The Dark Knight Returns is one exception that comes to mind. . .)

Since the majority of comic books were produced by men, and catered to men, we had few comic books specifically about women. Any look at comicdom's 'A-list' of heroes easily illustrates this point.

"Wonder Woman" is one of the few ongoing monthly series, that stars a female super-hero. "Wonder Woman" has been going strong (with only a one year hiatus, caused by "Crisis") since 1942. No other female super-hero can come close to Wonder Woman's longevity, visibility, or Q-rating.

Wonder Woman is a success because she's an Icon. Many female heroes that have had their own series were, unfortunately, copies of successful male heroes. For example, there was "Mary Marvel Comics" (1945- 8), "Supergirl" (1972-4), "Ms. Marvel" (1977-9), "Spider-Woman" (1978-83), "Savage She-Hulk" (1980-2), again with "Supergirl" (1982-4), again with "Sensational She-Hulk" (1989-94), "Catwoman" (1993-present) again(!) with "Supergirl" (1995-present), and Electra (1996-present). Female knock-offs of established male super-heroes are like photocopies; fuzzy, ill-defined and often unappealing.

Some have argued that things have gotten better in the last decade for women in comics. After all, the number of women involved in comic book production has increased in all categories: writers, pencilers, inkers, colourists, letterers and editors. Jeanette Kahn has helmed DC for over a decade now. Most super-teams have more than one women character.Female super-heroes love, laugh, kill (or don't kill), and are hurt, maimed, or killed as regularly as their male counterparts. This is supposed to be a step in the right direction, for they should be seen as heroes first, and women second, right?

In both the 1991 and 1994 major JLA story arcs ('Breakdowns' and 'Judgement Day'), DC decided that a hero had to die, just to prove how important these stories truly were. In both cases, it was a woman: Silver Sorceress and Ice, respectively. Of course, the pundits could point out that these women were killed off simply because they were "expendable" characters. Oh, sure, they were muuuch more expendable than, say Obsidian, Elongated Man, Despero/L-Ron or Booster Gold.

I mean let's face it, good comics with good female characters are few and far between. However, my short list of such comics includes "Give Me Liberty" (1991) & the various "Martha Washington" (1994, 1995, 1998) stories by Frank Miller/ Dave Gibbons, the last "Captain Confederacy" (1991-2) mini-series, and "Kalla Dreadstar" (1995) by Peter David.

But even in the late 90's, the status of women in comics is still by and large, not encouraging. I won't even tackle the contuining "girl" issue - Supergirl, Power Girl, etc. And one need only observe the current trend of overly-endowed, scantily clad, "I'll kill you if you look at me cross-eyed" - 'bad girls', like, Shi, Evangeline, Vampirella, and Lady Death over at some of the competitor comic companies. Popular or not, I fail to see how they are a step forward for women in comics.

Joel Grineau is a former Writer/Contributing Editor for "Chaos" Magazine. "Iron Man" 146 (purchased in the spring of 1981) was his first comic book, and time has not worn down his enjoyment of them. Joel holds a BA from the University of Guelph and an MA from the University of Saskatchewan. He is currently an officer with the Canadian Forces.

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Text © Joel V. Grineau, 1997,1998.
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