The big two publishing companies, Marvel and DC, have announced more female-led books than we’ve seen in the past. Following the overwhelming success of The Avengers movie, Marvel will launch a new Black Widow comic book this January. And over at DC, Wonder Woman’s monthly book is pretty much the best thing they’re producing. They’ve made some drastic changes to her history, but she’s still portrayed as a strong warrior, competent and independent. X-Men, from Marvel, showcases some of the most interesting and powerful female superheroes in the industry. Phoenix, Polaris, Storm, Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Dazzler, Psylocke, Rachel Grey, Jubilee, and Emma Frost have all played a huge role in storylines. Recently, Marvel even began publishing an X-Men book with an all female cast. And it has been very well received due to Brian Wood’s expert character development and Olivier Coipel’s art moreso than low-cut bustiers.
On the film side of things, though neither is up for a solo film, both Wonder Woman and Black Widow are apparently must-haves for franchised sequels. Black Widow is going to appear in Captain America: Winter Soldier and Avengers 2: Age of Ultron. And Wonder Woman will be featured in the Man of Steel sequel (the official title has not yet been released) coming out in 2015. *An aside: I have my doubts about Gal Gadot’s ability to play Diana Prince and about the direction Zack Snyder might take the whole thing. But, if Zack can avoid making Diana just a love interest for Superman, and can convincingly put her in direct competition with an adversary in the movie, it might be okay.
Zack, please read up on the Bechdel Test! I swear it will help.
So what's the catch? Where's the controversy in this wave of goodwill and empowerment? Enter, DC Comic’s Batwoman. Despite her derivative name, she is in fact a well-developed hero in her own right with a rather extensive history and background. She also happens to be…. a lesbian. Conservative readers obviously object, but there has been backlash on DC from the more liberal readers as well because they’ve decided not to allow Batwoman to get married. This decision disrupted an ongoing story that writer and artist team J.H. Williams III and W. Hayden Blackman, had developed for the book. So, the team eventually - and very publically - quit the series. DC replaced the duo with a new writer, Marc Andreyko, and artist, Jeremy Haun, who will hopefully continue to establish Batwoman as an integral part of the DC Universe.
It’s undeniable that female comic book characters are all sexy, but the contemporary portrayal of these women does not push sex appeal as the primary focus or sole selling point. The writers, artists, editors, et al. are dedicated to establishing these heroes as characters first and foremost. I was raised by a strong minded and outgoing feminist who's outlook on some of the costumes, poses and generally sexist approach to female superheroes hugely influenced my view of the storylines and characters I follow today. And with the number of young ladies entering the graphic novel community, more and more of the audience will be just as critical. I’ll be keeping my eye on the development of female heroes as it continues, and I can’t wait to see the establishment buck the preconceived notion that female superheroes only sell because sex sells. – James Emmett