superheroines

I’m not expert in comics and/or superheroes and I know there ARE female superheroes, or better, superheroines, such as Firestar, Black Widow, Aquagirl, and Batwoman.  (A wiki list can be found here.) Where are the mainstream superheroines geared towards kids lately?  It’s not that they never existed, but they have been written out of the newest iterations of the mainstream kid shows.  My son and daughter are into the superhero scene, which has led to my 7 year old daughter being mocked for liking Spiderman.  (She seemed bemused and dismissed the mocking and the mocker pretty quickly.)  We went with a Marvel comic theme in my son’s room and it wasn’t difficult to find many superheroines in posters and such for his room.  But when it comes to current kids TV shows, kids movies, and most kids merchandise today, the superhero seen is virtually all male. For girls, as we know the toy market is virtually all pink and princesses.

This predicament did lead to a fun activity with my kids.  They made up their own superheroines, including No Weakness, Scary Girl, Tool Girl, Hide Girl, and Loud Woman.

Where have all the mainstream superheroines for kids gone and how can we bring them back?

14 thoughts on “superheroines

  1. Women are pretty front and center in X-Men and (perhaps less so) Avengers. I’m sure Joss Whedon would have had several more women if he hadn’t been constrained by which characters had already been in movies made by Marvel (as opposed to the ones Marvel didn’t do themselves, like the X-Men trilogy) and a desire not to add too many characters that would be new. He wanted Wasp too, but the movie was too busy, so he ended up not adding any new characters at all (Hawkeye was in Thor, and Black Widow was in Iron Man II). He hinted that Wasp will be added in Avengers II, but I imagine she’ll debut in the Ant Man movie if that comes out first.

    I stopped reading comic books in the mid-90s, but I thought there was a huge range of female characters with intriguing personalities, backstories, powers, and so on, as interesting as the male characters and often popular enough to carry a series but more commonly as supporting characters or as members of teams. I’m not sure it’s a lot different now, but I’m not following comic books anymore.

    One of the problems on the movie scene is that producers suspect no one will see a female superhero in a solo movie. Part of their reasoning for this might well be bad decisions by past filmmakers. I never saw Elektra, and part of its problem was that it was a spinoff of the unpopular Daredevil movie (which, insofar as the Elektra character herself was concerned, was simply awesome), but part of it was that it wasn’t really a comic book movie. It was more of a chick flick with a female comic book character as the star. People who want that kind of movie can find it easily. They won’t see one disguised as a comic book movie. People who want a comic book movie don’t want that. So no one saw it, since there was simply no audience for it. Then, because it did badly, no one will make another one.

    I suspect there was similar problems with Halle Berry’s Catwoman movie, which I also never saw. Would a Catwoman movie made by Christopher Nolan and crew do any better? Perhaps. Is it likely to happen? I suspect not. Joss Whedon tried for years to get a Wonder Woman movie together that respected both the comic book history of the character and the character as a woman, and he just couldn’t come up with anything they wanted to make. Maybe he’s the one to get it done, though. It will be with Marvel, though, at this point. DC lost him with how they handled Wonder Woman.

    I do think the show Heroes did a relatively good job with women. The women were as prominent as the men, and their characters were at least as interesting, for the most part. Alphas doesn’t have anywhere near as many characters, but I think they’re not far behind (but they do have a lower ratio). It’s a little weird to call them superheroes when the don’t wear spandex, but those shows are basically superhero stories. But again, these are teams. I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of headliner women in scifi, fantasy, or superhero TV shows or movies. I think the best or most interesting female characters are often in ensemble-cast shows. A Buffy or Xena is rare.

  2. Not a superheroine, but I would think Katniss of Hunger Games ought to count as an exceedingly popular heroine in a SF story (books and movie(s)). I like her as a heroine because you can see both her strengths and her weaknesses — and they don’t fall along the lines of what you would typically expect.

  3. While I’m not a big fan of the direction most super-hero comics take with their female characters, the cartoons based on them are often pretty decent. For example, this series of shorts from DC is both delightful and aimed at a fairly young audience:

    I’d also recommend Wonder Woman in the Justice league cartoons.

    I think the fact that the creators behind these shows know they have to deal with a much larger audience in order to be successful helps a great deal.

  4. I’ve been reading Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run on Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers). I think I first heard of it here. Carol is now “Earth’s Mightiest Hero.” How mainstream is it? I wouldn’t know, but many readers of comics do know about the various Captain Marvels (either DC or Marvel) and “Ms. Marvel.”

  5. My main gripe is that the shows geared towards kids have a very strong tendency towards an all-male cast of superheros or at best include a token female who is on the second string. Shows like The Super Hero Squad and The Ultimate Spiderman are all-male all the time. The Avengers has Wasp, but seems to me she is rarely on the show (e.g., my 4 year old son can never remember her name, only that she “gets small”). The Fantastic Four has one female superhero: The Invisible Woman. No comment.

    As a result (or because of?), virtually all kids superhero stuff represents male characters. We were very excited for Wonder Woman to make a major reappearance, but I guess that’s not coming anytime in the near future.

  6. My son has been a committed Supergirl fan since he was five (he is 11 now), and he seems to find plenty of contemporary Supergirl graphic novels to buy,

  7. Thanks for all the suggestions! The Supergirl movie is now at the top of my Netflix queue, I will definitely be showing my kids those fun DC shorts, and, when they are older, perhaps they’ll get into comic books where it seems there are more diverse characters. My kids are too young for Hunger Games, Heroes, and Alphas. Heroes was excellent! Why did it have to end? And I’m still hoping for a new Wonder Woman movie!

  8. I have long been a fan of Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider-Ham). It’s a great comic for kids because who doesn’t love anthropomorphic animal characters? (*No* one, that’s who!) The 25th Anniversary issue from 2008 is particularly relevant here, as it features a great superheroine for kids: May Porker, the Sensational Swiney-Girl. May is the teenage daughter of Peter Porker & Mary Crane Watson and carries on her father’s tradition of fighting crime as a masked vigilante. I think there are a lot of good things kids can take away from this story: Swiney-Girl is a strong female character who doesn’t just fight crime but deals with issues real teenagers face too. And it closes with a strong message: she realizes that she doesn’t need to seek approval from others, because she is proud and confident in herself.

    This isn’t in the superpower genre and it doesn’t address feminist issues (at least, not per se), but another great comic for kids (and adults, too, really) is the recent run of The Muppet Show Comic Book (http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/The_Muppet_Show_Comic_Book). It’s really well-written and neatly illustrated.

  9. Less mainstream, but two WONDERFUL web-based all-ages superheroes are Faith Erin Hicks’s Superhero Girl and Dean Trippe’s Butterfly.

    From mainstream comics, in no particular order, kid-friendly comics with either female protagonists or pretty gender-balanced ensemble casts:
    Tiny Titans
    Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade
    Runaways
    Power Pack
    The New Mutants (old series)

  10. The cartoon “Avatar: the Land Airbender” and its sequel, “The Legend of Korra,” are full to brimming with very rounded superheroine characters. Very entertaining stuff! I especially appreciate the way the shows include personality conflicts and jealousies that don’t fall into any sort of “handbags at dawn” plot device. As an added bonus, the two series are really great at following people of color without resorting to exoticising them. For comic books, Neil Gaiman’s “Black Orchid” is pretty good. The Runaways series (created by Brian Vaughan) follows crew of adolescents, male and female, and the girls are multi-talented, smart, and central to the story. The X-Men series has so many female superheroes and villains that it is hard to count–those focusing on Kitty Pryde are probably the most accessible to younger readers.

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