“All the super ladies, all the super ladies, all the super ladies… Now put your hands up!”
Let’s talk about women in comics. This can be a controversial issue: Are they truly represented, or are they just eye candy? Are they well-written characters or are they simply catalysts for the male hero’s evolution?
The answer of course is… Yes. It depends what you’re reading, as well as who was writing it and the era in which it was written. You might have a Wonder Woman comic form the ’60s that is oddly progressive and full of girl power. You might come across a recent comic featuring the alien princess Starfire and roll your eyes at her outfit (or, more specifically lack of an outfit).
The fact is, making a blanket statement about women in comics is like making a generalization about… sidekicks in comics. Or families in comics. Or villains in comics. Characters of all sorts have changed and evolved depending on when they were written and who was writing them.
In a weird way, comics are a microcosm of society: As we become more enlightened, so do comics. Of course, true enlightenment never really stops–we’re always learning and growing, and comics reflect that, too.
Is there still misrepresentation? Sure. But I’m happy to say that at least this female reader spends more time feeling empowered than rolling my eyes.
And today, I want to talk a little bit about that empowerment. Today, I want to share a bit about what I, as a fellow woman, have learned from super-heroines.
I described Barbara Gordon before in my “Top 10 Sidekicks” list. She’s strong and insanely smart, but above that, she has more perseverance than just about any other character. Not only did she decide to become a hero fighting for truth and justice, but after she was paralyzed by the Joker, she found a new niche for herself in the superhero community–as Oracle, the super-hacker and computer wizard. She eventually regained her ability to walk and returned to the mantle of Batgirl. And, just like you’d expect, she continues to tackle every problem and obstacle with grit and intelligence.
I adore Kamala Khan. She has strong family and community values, and she has the wide-eyed optimism that only comes with youth. And honestly… if we adults adopted just a bit of that kind of attitude, the world would be a better place. She stumbles and has doubts, but she always, always does what she believes in her heart is right. Her support system–friends, family, and the community of Jersey City–is a reminder to everyone that “lone wolf” is overrated. As strong as she may be, she reminds us all that we are ultimately, always, stronger together. She is a shining example of a comic book hero and a super-lady that I would be thrilled to have my future children see as a role model.
Oh, Doreen Green. I’m pretty sure you were created just to be a throwaway, comedic character… but with your spunk and optimism, you’ve found a way into comic book history. Though your stories aren’t always canon (they exist in a special place that connects to the larger story without actually impacting it), you teach us again and again that you don’t always have to fight to save to the day. SG’s motto is that she’s here to “eat nuts and kick butts,” but more often than not, she and her similarly punny friends (Koi Boy, Chipmunk Hunk, etc.) save the day by just… talking to the villain. Why are you doing this? Is there another option you hadn’t considered? She once even convinced Galactus–the Devourer of Worlds–to not eat Earth, not through an intense, nail-biting action scene… but because she found a planet of nuts for him to enjoy. And when that doesn’t work… then it’s time to kick butts. But SG never falls victim to the “doom and gloom” of superheroes. She’s here to save the day and love every second of it!
What isn’t there to say about Mera? She is–literally–a force with which to be reckoned. She can use her powers to control the oceans, and even though she could be terrifying… she remains selfless and strong. While her skills as a warrior are nothing to be ignored, her heart and moral compass are what set Mera apart from others. After all, she first met Arthur Curry (Aquaman) when she was sent to assassinate him. What happened instead? She fell in love with the genuinely good man and tried to help bring the surface and underwater worlds together. When that failed, thanks to a coup in Atlantis, she took on the mantle of queen herself to save, not only the man she loved, but also the two worlds he was from–whether she truly wanted that power or not. A woman who understand power and responsibility, Mera is the quintessential leader from whom we can all learn something.
Speaking of quintessential…. Wonder Woman is the female superhero. Diana is an Amazon, raised on the island of Themyscira–where there are no men. She comes to our world when Steve Trevor washes up on the shore. After nursing him back to health, the Amazons decide to send a champion to “Man’s World” to help guide them. Diana is known most often as a warrior, but in truth she is a diplomat first. Her compassion and desire for the truth–specifically what truly makes up the hearts of man–compels her forward on her mission of peace. She fights when she must, but she ultimately believes that goodness is humanity’s strongest trait. And so she fights for it–endlessly and tirelessly reminding us that we can fight the good fight, too.
While writing these, here’s a crazy thing I just noticed: All of these lessons aren’t just for women. We can all persevere, support our communities, be optimistic, be a force of nature, and be compassionate.
Humans have a habit of wanting to label anything and everything. The universe is confusing and terrifying, so the more we can organize it the better, right?
Maybe. We are all unique and those special traits and differences should be celebrated. But when does celebrating become just another form of labeling? When is it best to celebrate that a woman did this–broke the glass ceiling, defied the patriarchy–and when is it best to simply celebrate that a person did this? That–regardless of gender, background, age, or any of the other million labels we assign each other–this one person, with their unique personality and skills, with their special brand of bravery and perseverance, has accomplished something great?
I don’t know the answer. What I do know, however, is that humans have a habit of adopting an “us vs. them” mentality. So maybe saying that these super-ladies have taught me so much doesn’t matter as much as saying that these super-people have helped me understand, just a little bit more, what it means to be part of the human story.
Of course, female representation in comics–and in all media–is a debate that’s been going strong for decades upon decades, and I doubt it will end any time soon. And it should continue: We can’t get better if we don’t question. My only hope is that, above all else, people remember to be kind.
After all, as Wonder Woman once said:
“Because no matter how small an act of kindness or generosity or simple positivity you put out into the world, it will make a difference.”*
Larson, Hope. Batgirl, Vol. 4: Strange Loop. Burbank, CA, DC Comics, 2018.
Wilson, G. Willow. Ms. Marvel: Teenage Wasteland. New York, Marvel Comics, 2018.
North, Ryan. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power. New York, Marvel Comics, 2015.
Abnett, Dan. Mera: Queen of Atlantis. Burbank, CA, DC Comics, 2018.
Rucka, Greg. Wonder Woman, Vol. 2: Year One. Burbank, CA, DC Comics, 2017.