Sunday, March 8, 2009

International Women's Day - A Look at Female Super Heroes

While not observed in every country, March 8th is International Women's Day. It is a day that (depending on where you live) is cause of celebration for the political and social achievements of women over time, an opportunity to display the love for the women in people's lives, or a day to reinforce the equal rights of women across the world. Today, as part of that celebration, I wanted to take a closer look at some of my favorite female super heroes - at their careers, their evolution, and at their achievements over time.



Invisible Woman

Sue Storm originally got her powers after being hit by cosmic rays while on a space mission with her soon-to-be husband, Reed Richards. During the early days of the Fantastic Four, Sue was the perpetual damsel in distress and she was comparatively much weaker than her teammates.

Thankfully, over the years, writers have helped her grow, both in character and strength, exponentially. Sue has learned to use her powers in brand new ways, including the addition of the force fields, which turned her into a far more useful asset to the team (she even defeated the Hulk by herself using them) and she became more dexterous with her invisible powers.

For example, she is now able to turn invisible objects visible, which was a major plot point in a storyline by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo where Galactus wanted to use her as a herald in order to get around an planet wide invisibility cloaking technology other alien races were using to cloak their planets from him. Many other characters point out that because of the nature of Sue's powers, she is the most formidable and dangerous member of the Fantastic Four, such as Wolverine in Wolverine: Enemy of the State or Dr Doom in just about any recent encounter.

The biggest change, however, comes in the form of Sue's personality. John Byrne was the one that originally made the transition from "Girl" to "Woman", in a storyline where she was mind-controlled by the Psycho-Man and fought her teammates to a standstill until her husband was able to free her.

An interesting after-effect of this encounter was that this possession was used to excuse the outfit that she wore during the 90's, which is absolutely horrendous.

More importantly, the Invisible Woman is one of the few super powered mothers in comics, having given birth three times (she gave birth to her daughter Valeria twice, it's a long story). She is a very caring and protective mother, the leader and head of her family, constantly making sure to always protect and keep the family together during tough times.

During the Marvel Knights 4 series, by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Steve McNiven, the Fantastic Four lose all of their money and even their home at the Baxter Building. Sue quickly acts in response to this by getting a job as a teacher to help with the family finances. The first family of comics helped create this great character, that, for all her super powers, seems and feels very real.


Ms. Marvel

Ms. Marvel is not exactly a popular character, even though she has had two ongoing series and plenty of appearances in both the Avengers and X-Men. Sadly, some writers have dragged the former Air Force pilot Carol Danvers through the mud in some pretty nasty ways.

The main offender is a story that happened in the pages of Avengers #200, where Ms. Marvel got impregnated without her knowing how, only to give birth three days later to a boy named Marcus. Marcus also turned out to be the person that impregnated a brainwashed Ms. Marvel in another dimension, so he could be born again in the 616 Marvel dimension. This "son" of Ms. Marvel grew into adulthood in a matter of hours, only to take her away to his former dimension to basically take advantage of her. The controversial storyline was satirically (as satirically as something like this can be interpreted) summed up in a rather recent issue of The Pulse by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev.

Additionally, during the 1980's, Ms. Marvel got her powers, memory and personality stolen by the X-Man, Rogue. This story proved to be heavily influential, with repercussions felt even in the most recent series, and continues to be referenced as one of the most important parts of Ms. Marvel's mythos.

Shortly after that, she gained new and extremely expanded powers while in space with the X-Men and began calling herself Binary.

Years later, fueled by a heavy depression because of her rather miserable life and loss of her cosmic powers, she became an alcoholic and was kicked off the Avengers because of it.

I do not like when characters are dragged through the mud like this, but, thankfully, she got at least a little bit of redemption during the events of House of M, an alternate reality where Ms. Marvel was the most effective, beloved, and popular superhero, taking up an almost Superman-like role in that reality.

In her most recent ongoing series, by Brian Reed and several artists, we see Ms. Marvel work her hardest to try to become that person she was in the House of M. She even hired a publicist to help with her damaged public image. The end result was a person that, even in the face of adversity and severe hardships that she went through in the past, was still pushing to be the best hero she could be. Isn't perseverance like this one of the reasons that people love Spider-Man so much?


Atom Eve


Atom Eve is a fairly new character with only a handful of years worth of publication under her belt. In that short amount of time, she has captured the hearts of both the readers and the popular hero, Invicible. Created by Robert Kirkman and Corey Walker in the pages of Invincible as a member of the Teen Team, Atom Eve was popular enough to warrant her own recent two issue miniseries.

In the miniseries, we learn the origin of Samantha Eve Wilkins, who we know as Atom Eve. She was originally a government experiment to develop super powered beings. Her "father", the scientist that created her, felt remorse for his actions and switched her for another baby so that the government would think that the project was a failure. This allowed him to give his "daughter" a chance to have a normal life. However, this didn't last very long, as a young Eve started to develop her powers to manipulate matter at an atomic level and later became the costumed hero, Atom Eve.

Atom Eve is an extremely intelligent and powerful character. The nature of her powers requires her to have a deep understand of scientific knowledge, especially in chemistry. Thanks to her resourcefullness, Atom Eve is capable of many feats, both big and small. She is able to changer her clothes into her costume almost instantly, has the power to create simple constructs to aid her, is able to fly by making the molecules around her less dense, and has the ability to manipulate organic and inorganic matter at will. Her powers compliment that of Invincible quite nicely and I hope there will be more of her in the future. Of course, being in a Robert Kirkman comic does increase your mortality rate and could lead to a very early (and gruesome) death.


Oracle

Barbara Gordon has been part of the Batman family for a very long time (since 1966) and has a appeared in both the Batman live action show of the 60's and the popular animated series of the 90's. The daughter of Commissioner Gordon, she was first introduced as Batgirl and was highly popular with the readers during the 60's and 70's.

At the end of the 80's, Barbara was part of the influential Alan Moore story, The Killing Joke, where she was shot and crippled by the Joker. Even though she had already retired from her Batgirl days, this event seemingly put the the final nail on her super hero career.

Two of DC's writers, John Ostrander and Kim Yale, decided not to let the dissability cause the character to fade into obscurity. Barbara Gordon, thanks to her intelligence and resourcefulness with computers, was reborn as Oracle, an information broker and hacker that would aid super heroes in their fight against crime. Originally appearing in the pages of Suicide Squad, Oracle soon started helping a lot of other heroes in the DC universe such as Batman and the JLA.

Oracle played a large role in the year long event (and subsequent novelization) of No Man's Land that spread all over the Batman-related titles. More importantly, she eventually formed her own team, the Birds of Prey, with the help of Black Canary and, eventually, several other fellow female super heroes. The team was eventually given its own series called Birds of Prey, which, especially under the helm of writer Gail Simone, helped establish Barbara as a force to be reckoned with and to be respected.

I particularly enjoy this character because of her uniqueness - several people could fill the role of Batgirl, like how Cassandra Cain has been doing for some time now, but, at the end of the day, there is only one Oracle.

However, the upcoming miniseries, Oracle - The Cure, seems to hint that Barbara may be finally cured of her paralysis. I know not everyone agrees with me on this, but I sincerely hope that DC decides to forgo their desire to bring this character back to the Silver Age interpretation and do not make Barbara Gordon into Batgirl again. I honestly believe this would be a very serious character regression, and a total disservice to the past twenty years of the character's history.


Conclusion

These are just a few of my favorite female characters that I felt deserved the some of the spotlight on this day. I would have loved to go on even greater detail about these and other super heroines or other women in comics, but I also wanted to hear some comments from the readers of the Weekly Crisis. What are some of the women in comics that you feel deserve to be recognized for their achievements and their history?


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16 comments:

Andrenn said...

Another awesome post, I would do something similar for my blog but it could never hope to be this well done. Was also really glad to see Eve get a mention as she's a great character (been calling it for months, she's dies in #60)

Matt Ampersand said...

Andrenn: I am glad that you liked this entry. And I sincerely hope that you are wrong about issue #60.

Anonymous said...

Barbara is my #1, and nobody comes close to her.

She is flawed and makes plenty of decisions I don't like - and gets called out for her mistakes all the time - but you can relate to her very easily. She has determination and likability, but most importantly she acts like a real person, which is not something I can say about many DC women.

I agree that her becoming Batgirl again is the WORST DECISION EVER MADE. 20+ years of characterization thrown into the garbage. Yes she hates the Joker, but she's said many a time that she would never let him or her disability define her. And now DC decide that she's been harboring a "darkness" about it? Why are they destroying all of their characters lately?

Kirk Warren said...

While not technically a super hero, my choice would probably be Mary Jane. She was Peter's rock, his pillar. She stood by him through all his darkest periods and I never saw her as the dead weight that Marvel treated her before and after One More Day.

Matt Ampersand said...

Anonymous: I am glad to hear I am not the only one that would hate to see Barbara become Batgirl again.

Kirk: Oh man, you should be glad I didn't go into Mary Jane again, or this entry would have ended up in 5-part essay of me complaining about Joe Quesada and OMD.

Daniel Woburn said...

great post, loving the look of the new Weekly Crisis team.
one of my favourite female characters, albeit a relatively new one, is Daisy Johnson aka "Quake", currently appearing in Hickman's "Secret Warriors". This is a bright, spunky young girl (she's 19 years old, my age) who fully stepped into the role of an Agent of SHIELD/superhero. She's smart, and powerful. stood up to SHIELD interrogation, and some of the superhero heavies of the Marvel Universe (see "Secret War"). she's obviously got such talent that Nick Fury took her under his wing and is now leading his team in the field. whisked away from her "normal" life and then unceremoniously dumped after the Secret War shenanigans by Nick Fury when he went in to hiding, she still knew she was destined for a greater purpose. she has a brash confidence which is good to see in (relatively) new, female characters. hinted at in the recently released Secret Warriors #2, Phobos sees the future, and comments that she's gonna be one of the greats. maybe. if the right writer takes her there.

Bill said...

Not exactly a superhero a lot of the time, but I'm a huge Catwoman fan (Brubaker-present).

To a lesser extent, Black Canary, Huntress, Black Widow, Zephyr Noble, Scrap from Dynamo 5, the Rumor, Ultra, and Elsa Bloodstone.

Good list though, especially Atom Eve.

Max said...

I guess Death is out because of the "super" thing (though she could kill 'em all) so my favorite female character would be Black Canary as she was portrayed by Mike Grell in The Longbow Hunters and the early issues of the following Green Arrow series. GA and BC were a great couple in those issues. What they had felt genuine, especially as they were both treated as individuals whose interest conflicted at times, much like a real relationship. Though Crazy Jane in Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol comes close – a hugely affecting portrayal of a vulnerable woman with severe problems and extraordinary abilities.

Eric Rupe said...

Second Mary Jane Kirk. One of the great female characters from any comic book. An other great female supporting character would be Ultimate Aunt May.

Klep said...

I'm a big fan of the Black Widow. Natasha Romanova is another character who, like Ms. Marvel, has aspirations to be better than she is. Her career as a spy has caused her to do some horrible things, which she has come to terms with, but it drains her and she wants to leave the grey world of espionage behind. That's why she keeps joining up with the Avengers: their world is much less morally ambiguous.

Unfortunately, the world of espionage is near impossible to escape from, and so much of her life is spent struggling to keep that part of her life from dragging others, particularly the people she cares about (like Murdock), down to that level.

I like how in Bucky she's managed to find a kindred spirit. Hopefully that will last a while.

ArtStar said...

Wow.. another great post.. I'm a new official member but have been logging on for ahile now. I was so upset when it was no updates for that recent long stretch but reliefed when every thing was good and yaw were ok... thanks and keep up the good work...peace

Matt Ampersand said...

Thanks for all the positive feedback. No hate letters yet, awesome!

Daniel: Good call on Quake, Marvel could use new blood.

Bill: I liked Brubaker's run on Catwoman too. I stopped reading after that, but I have heard good things about some of the later writers. Maybe I'll check out some of the paperbacks one of these days.

Max: I have never met anyone that didn't like Death (man, that sounds weird). I would have loved to write about her, but I have not read either of her mini-series, so I do not think I would have been able to write a complete entry without resorting to using Wiki heavily.

Eric: Yes, another person that likes Mary Jane! Also, good call on Ult. Aunt May.

Klep: I have never really read about Natasha outside of her most recent appearances in Cap and Mighty Avengers. What else should I check out?

altonralston said...

I second Selina considering her three lives as a private individual / mom, a vigilante hero, and her villain / thief persona. I think Brubaker and Pfeiffer did a tremendous job with character development in the 80ish issues given to them. I prayed DC would keep the title going and told everyone one I knew to buy / read the title.

I've also been a big fan of Mary Jane Watson Parker for years and really like the development of Sue Storm over the years too. I like the development of Atom Eve too. Every appearance of her is greatness.

I've enjoyed some of the X-Women for years too. I always like Jean Grey when she is alive. Kitty Pride is great. I liked her limited series in the early ought’s where she was a bartender in Chicago.

I wish there was more Black Cat in the Marvel U. The Evil That Men Do was a great chance to shine on her in the U but Smith killed that series with the year long + delay.

Klep said...

Matt: She had a 6-issue mini around 2000, and another 12-issue mini in 2006-2007. The first series is where Yelena Belova (the blond, wannabe Black Widow) is introduced. The second series is a really great bit that involves her origins catching up to her, written by Richard K. Morgan.

Anonymous said...

The picture of Sue Storm above, in the weird costume. What story arc/issue is that from? I've heard mid 90's? Does anyone know which issue(s)? thanks

116Bears said...

I had a long as post ready to go, that got erased when I signed in.
So just: Fuck Sue Storm in her invisible asshole.

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