Through the centuries, in relation to history, comic books and their take on women have altered. The changes began with the beloved Archie Comics, continued with Young Romance, and finally received a huge boost during the tension-filled feminist movement of the 1970’s with the infamous Ms. Marvel. Women were not given leadership positions during that time, and there were decidedly mixed feelings about women and their role in society. Thanks to Chris Claremont the writer of X-Men, the creation of strong female characters came to fruition. Mr. Claremont had such a deep understanding for the necessity of strong female heroines that his characters, Storm, Jean Grey, Rogue and Psylock were considered “Claremont Women,” smart, capable and powerful.
In the year 2016, when women have come leaps and bounds in terms of equality, the two most notable comic book giants D.C. and Marvel are still struggling with the ongoing issue of the portrayal of women in comic books. Women encompass half of the readership of comic books, and yet the middle ground is still not in sight. While we have been able to see beloved heroes such as Superman, Thor, Batman, and Iron Man come to life on the big screen we have yet to enjoy a leading female hero. D.C. has attempted such matters on television with Supergirl, but the ratings for the show have unfortunately dropped on a weekly basis since its release. While I must admit I haven’t seen much of the show, as a woman who considers herself independent and strong, the first episode rubbed me the wrong way. Within the first 10 minutes the show made it clear that Supergirl would be in the shadows of Superman. She is ridiculed by the media not long after her introduction as a potential hero and is portrayed as awkward and unsure of herself. This is not the Supergirl many were hoping for. Thankfully, Shayera, or better known as Hawkgirl, has made a much better impression in her debut in D.C.’s The Flash and D.C. Legends of Tomorrow. On the other hand, Marvel had been applauded back in July of 2014 for its announcement that a woman would replace their character Thor in November that year. They also released the X-Men films in 2000, which featured Storm and Rogue as leading characters. Marvel did anger some fans with its controversial cover art release for Spider-Woman No. 1 drawn up by an Italian artist best known for his pornographic comics; Click, Butterscotch, and Hidden Camera. Marvel has, without a doubt, attempted to put out the fires of its reputations in terms of gender equality especially after the realization that in 2011 the publisher had no female-led titles in print. With the Women in Marvel podcast and nine on-going female-led titles, the company has pulled through some of its worst times. On March 11th, 2016 Entertainment Weekly published an article about Marvel’s launch of a program to support girls’ interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The “Girls Reforming the Future” challenge encourages female students between the ages of 15-18 to submit videos demonstrating ideas they feel can make the world a better place.
The creator of Gotham Academy, Becky Cloonan, in a 2015 issue of Variety magazine, stated “being more inclusive allows for more diverse stories to be told, which in turn allows for a larger readership, which feeds back into allowing for more creators. The industry is a lot healthier than it was 10 years ago, and by all accounts it should continue to flourish.” Other female creators such as Ming Doyle, agree that this is an overall issue of our civilization. While it may seem this is potentially specific to the comic book industry, it is actually surrounding us on a daily basis especially in fields dominated by men. This is why I feel the significance of Marvel’s challenge is an important one. It is proving to young women around the world that it’s okay to enjoy science and technology as a woman. We need more women in these fields to level out the playing field.
While women are still grossly underrepresented in the comic book industry both as employees and heroines, I feel Marvel and D.C. have enhanced their views on women in sync with our current culture. Employing more women in the field would provide an honest perspective on the expectations of female heroes. Most women are working within editorials for The Big Two, instead of the creative aspect of the process. Marvel is taking monumental steps with the “Girls Reforming the Future” challenge, to better understand women and our impact on society. I am hoping that they will consider this as an opportunity to conduct research on the modern young woman’s mind, which will go hand in hand to create stronger female personas in today’s comic book world. Take it a step further, and allow women to become truly equal in comic books so that the rest of the world can follow just like they have in the past.