Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Other Heroes: A Portrayal of Women in Comics - Part 1

Editor’s note: This series of blog posts was adapted from a paper written by Erminia “Minnie” Saucedo. Minnie’s series on this topic will enlighten you on the portrayal of women in comics. We’re excited that she’s shared this with us.

Of Men and Girls

Savin' the Day by Jen Monson
(c) 2014 Jen Monson
“It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…Superman!!” Ever since my early childhood years, since the day I first heard this everlasting cry, comic books and the memorable heroes within their pages have been in my life; an obsession passed to me from my father. My fascination with the super powered began with his old comic collection that had consisted of Spider-man, Batman, The Hulk, Iron Man and scattered issues of independent titles. As I grew, I began buying and collecting series of my own. Soon I began to see a bit of a trend in my beloved illustrated stories of might: the girls were almost always secondary characters. Though the heroines in Harley Quinn-esque romance comics ruled their stories, super heroines were in a limited supply when it came to having their own legacies. For this paper I will set out to understand the portrayal of female characters in comic books, looking back to comic history and connecting it to our own modern day issues and that may reflect or deflect the image of the modern woman.

Supergirl Tooned by Jen Monson
(c) 2014 Jen Monson
In the Prologue (Goddesses of Tomorrow) of Super Heroines: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy & The History of Comic Book Heroines author Mike Madrid recalls his first comic book, Superman #95, and its storyline “The Fury of the Kryptonian Killer!”. His young eyes surveyed the cover on which a Superman weakened by deadly Green Kyrptonite sits on his knees in pain; however it was the pretty blonde wearing a costume like Superman’s on the far side of the page that actually caught his six-year-old attention. She, he would later learn from his older sister, was Supergirl. Madrid wrote, “She could fly and was incredibly strong, and I could tell from the way she was drawn that she was brave and noble…Although I wasn’t sure exactly what her relationship to Superman was, I could tell she was somehow considered inferior. And I couldn’t understand why.” What Madrid unknowingly stumbled upon at the time was the sort of hypocritical creation that was Supergirl’s potential as a hero. In America we are told we can become whatever we wanted, so with that in mind American comic book writers turned and used that same vein for their heroes: raising seemingly ordinary people to a kind and just god-like status. While male heroes were written to reach, fulfill and sometimes even surpass their potential, female heroes were not often given that role as they had to settle for lesser powers than those of their fellow heroes of the opposite sex. Perhaps this is why writers, who have always been a majority of men, created more “men” in the comic book universes: Spider-man, Superman, Iron Man, Batman. Wonder Woman aside, the heroines did not and do not have many “women” but rather a large number of “girls”: Supergirl, Powergirl, Batgirl, Invisiblegirl. With today’s titles, Wonder Woman is still barely followed by a small handful of “women”, she is surrounded by more “girls”; now even her own sidekick, Cassandra Sandsmark, Wonder Woman’s Wonder Girl.  Writers limited heroines’ potential by dubbing them “girls”, already marking them to be lesser to the “men” they fought beside. They separated the “girls” from legendary status before the “girls” ever had a chance.

The next post in this series discusses Women in Refrigerators Syndrome.

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