While all you long-time comic readers might get all cynical about DC’s New 52 relaunch, the fact is that it’s got a newbie like me back into reading comics.* (If you listen to episode 8 of Shooting the Poo, you’ll hear the heart warming story of how my Dad would supply me with comics every Shabbat afternoon…) And as a result not only have I started buying Marvel comics, I’m also reading the original run of three Super Hero teams – The Avengers, the Uncanny X-Men and the Justice League of America.**
Now, these comics were written in the 1960s – JLA predates the other two by a couple of years – and were for a mostly early teen and male audience. So it should come as no surprise to a reader like me, even one whose had his feminist eyelids opened in the last few years, that all three comics are sexist. What’s interesting is how that treatment of the female superheroes varies across the three comics.
Wonder Woman, as a member of the JLA, easily gets the best treatment of the three. She’s empowered in the sense that she gets to dish out the punishment and beat the bad guys just like the blokes. In fact the males generally treat her as an equal, with no requests that she cook them dinner, clean their tighty whiteys or stay on the sidelines as they deal with the danger ahead. If I do have an issue it’s that there’s actually no recognition that she’s a woman at all. She might as well be a male super hero.
If Wonder Woman is basically a bloke in ladies clothing, The Wasp is a girly girl pretending to be a super hero. In the 7 issues I’ve read the men – especially Ant Man / Giant Man – push her aside or simply ignore her when the fighting starts. And when she does get involved, Stan Lee’s god awful descriptions and dialogue only emphasise how limited she is as a super-hero. And then there’s her dialogue, with her constant references to Ant-Man’s blue eyes and how she’d like to get closer to the burly looking Thor. If it hadn’t been written in the 60s, The Wasp’s portrayal would read as a piss-take.
Jean Grey fits somewhere in between the other two. When it comes to the fighting – and the training – she’s there with the guys in their blue and yellow costumes giving as good as she gets (and often saving the day). But as the only gal in Xavier’s College, she’s also given the duty to cook the meals and wash-up. And there’s also plenty of male gaze with everyone, including Prof X, having the hots for her.
In spite of these brilliant observations I’m left with the following questions:
- Is the fact that Wonder Woman was basically treated as one of the guys the reason why comic writers have struggled (or so I’ve heard) with the character? Or is there something more to it?
- What happened to The Wasp? Why does Ant Man / Giant Man still get mentioned today but she’s been mostly forgotten? Did she die?
- So when did they stop calling Jean Grey Marvel Girl (or Woman)?
* Both the DC and Marvel iPad apps have also gone along way in getting me back into the comic groove. I mean it’s so bloody easy to download the new issues every Thursday morning… AND reading them, all full colour with directed navigation, makes it a delightful experience. Seriously, the iPad was invented for comics.
** I decided not to go with the Fantastic Four as the other major ensemble cast of the time.
*** Well, aside from the fact that we don’t see a single person of colour in the first 7 issues of any of these titles.