The “superhero industry” has an Elektra complex. What I mean to say is that in order to appease feminist consumers, the braintrust behind Earth’s protectors slings terrible shit like the 2005 Jennifer Garner vehicle Elektra at audiences, and use its poor box office performance as their ultra-weak proof when making their false claims that people do not want to see female-driven content. “Catwoman bombed not because it was a mess in which Sharon Stone’s skin actually turned to stone, but because audiences just aren’t interested in women superheroes,” the suits of the “superhero industry” would most likely claim. “Girls don’t sell comic books and boys don’t want to play with lady part toys. And there’s nothing that Disney and Warner Brothers can do about that.” At least, those are the wacky, backwards standards the “superhero industry” wants us to get used to.
We devoted feminist superhero enthusiasts have been through a lot over the past few years -- from January Jones in X-men: First Class, to Barbara Gordon’s sudden rehabilitation from paraplegia, to Rebecca Hall getting shot in the face in Iron Man 3. Despite all this, can we turn around and notice when positive changes are happening – when things are looking up for women and superheroes?
It’s been a banner year for girls in comics. Marvel’s X-men franchise, ever the bastion for egalitarianism, has now tipped the scales to include multiple X-teams with multiple women in leadership positions. Storm and Psylocke lead two separate teams, non-respectively, including an all female team that debuted last month. All-girl teams rarely make it in comics. They are usually a half-assed attempt for the publisher to prove that diversity even exists, and often (but not always- respect to Gail Simone) involve dollar bin characters and exploitative art. But there’s something different going on in 2013.
Marvel launched a new, mainstream X-men series, with the prime title of X-men, which features an arguable cast of A-listers, such as Shadowcat, Rogue, and Jubilee. The writer and artist, Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel, respectively, are just as prominent as some of the leads. The fate of this book is yet to be revealed, and, frankly, I’d prefer some more wild cards in the band, like Dazzler or Monet St. Croix, but the fact that a reader is complaining about quality and not quantity when it comes to women in comics could mean everything.
And say what you will about the lack of women in most of Marvel’s other properties, but at least the publisher is making an effort. The new Mighty Avengers line up includes three women, two of whom are of color. Lady Sif is truly killing it in one of the publisher’s oldest titles, Journey into Mystery, and Gamora, who use to fly through space in an Italian bikini, now wears actual clothes. I daresay that’s a lot of progress in just a few months.
As for DC, well, their 2011 New 52 revamp devastated the prowess and achievements of the publisher’s many women. Characters like Renee Montoya, Oracle, and Black Canary were downgraded in a thinly veiled revamp so that old men could pretend it was the ‘90’s again and sanction their nostalgic perversions. Wonder Woman has been selling like gangbusters in her solo series, but as the only member of her gender on the Justice League, she’s begging for help.
Before we totally castigate DC for its print crimes, a moment to commend it’s recent cinematic coup. Man of Steel incurred the wrath of many critics for its narrative issues, but two things are undeniable: Henry Cavill is better looking than anyone you’ve ever touched yourself to and that movie had some powerful women. The prologue shows Kal-El’s mother, Lara (played by Israeli lioness Ayelet Zurer) taking an active role in her son’s salvation. General Zod’s right hand man happens to be a woman, the fearsome Faora(Antje Traue), who takes Superman on in a rough fight. That’s right: the most iconic Superhero of time got wailed on – extensively – by a woman. It’s as simple as that.
And what about the one who started it all, our dear Lois Lane? Like the motherfucking Pulitzer prize-winning journalist that she is, she uncovered Superman’s secret identity within the first quarter of the movie. And from there, she was structurally present throughout the film, not forgotten halfway and recalled at the end for a last kiss. Sure, Superman had to save her, but this time it was because she was involved in the plot, not because she had “gotten herself into trouble” again.
Look: we know better than to take our tops off and celebrate the end of oppression. Toy sales could change and these well-treated Wonder Women could return to obscurity, where many who run this industry believe they belong. It’s the sad, gross truth of any cultural “industry.” But if this unexpected shift can continue for just a bit longer, the comic book industry can instill some lasting generational change. Adult readers will learn that women can take on many roles in fiction and in reality, not just the one of fetishized mutant ninja slut. A young boy will see no difference between the male and female action figures in each of his hands. And a few years from now, Elektra will get another chance at her own movie. And it will be damn good. Because she deserves it, and we demanded it.