Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Marvel Women

Marvel announced this morning that, starting in March (which here in the United States is Women’s History Month), they are going to start a year long program celebrating the women of the Marvel Comics universe, starting off with a series of one-shot comics featuring female superheroes who might not have their own series as of yet, and then moving on from there to a Young Guns program that will serve to promote female artists, as well as a program called Write Stuff, in which they will pick four or five female writers and promote them all through the year. Along with this, Marvel will also be doing variant covers (starting with the First Lady of Marvel Comics, the Invisible Woman on Fantastic Four #575) beginning in January, followed by the outrageously sexy Punk Storm in February. All of this will be followed up with omnibus runs of various Marvel titles that have featured superheroines like Night Nurse, Hellcat, and a few others. At some point, during the summer most likely, Marvel is aiming to do an event that takes all of the superheroines of the Marvel U and places them in one story. (The story was originally reported on Newsarama. Click for the full story.)

Invisible Woman Punk Storm

Now, I have to say, I’m equal parts excited and horrified about this for any number of reasons, but I’m going to start with the good stuff first, because I have to admit, this was great news to wake up to first thing on a cloudy Wednesday morning.

Marvel has such a great cast of strong, powerful female characters, starting with the Blonde Phantom and Venus and coming all the way down to recently created characters like Layla Miller and Pixie, and it seems as though in a lot of these cases, the characters’ true potential has remained greatly untapped. It’s not that surprising, really, when you consider that comics starring female superheroes don’t seem to sell as well as those starring male superheroes. Not surprising, but incredibly sad. Given the right writers, these women can support titles just as well as their male counterparts do, and – as proved by DC’s Birds of Prey when it was in the extremely able hands of Gail Simone – be just as smart, compelling, and fun as any title featuring a Spider-Man or a Wolverine. Personally, I’m hoping for one-shots or minis featuring Dazzler, Blonde Phantom, all of the Spider-Women (from Jessica Drew and Cassandra Web all the way down to Mattie Franklin and Araña), Satana, all the way to characters who seemingly have disappeared off the Marvel Universe map, like Nina Price – Vampire by Night and Southpaw from Dan Slott’s She-Hulk run. Marvel should truly celebrate these characters.

My worry, though, stems from the fact that, lately, Marvel hasn’t fared too well when they’ve tried to market comics towards women, and I think a major part of that is because of how they’re marketing them. Models, Inc and the unfortunately named Marvel Divas are both books that are obviously created with a female audience in mind, the former borrowing a title from the spin off of the Beverly Hills, 90210 universe and the latter an obvious (if incredibly late) homage to Sex and the City. But I look at these books, and the first thing that strikes me is just how utterly wrong these books seem. For the longest time now, comic book superheroines have been around to serve as moist, delicious cheesecake for the majority male readership of comics, and so when trying to appeal to the opposite sex, it feels as though Marvel’s trying to go the stereotypical route with appealing to the female fanbase. What we end up with are books that seemingly mess up these characters that the fans respect, taking them away from the core of who they are and turning them into characters that people will think girls like to read. The problem with this is that women in their teens and early twenties and beyond – women who’ve grown up loving comics, don’t have the boys-have-cooties-pink-is-for-girls kind of mentality. More often than not women are just as drawn to shows like Lost and Castle as they are to shows like Gossip Girl and Melrose Place. What I honestly and truly hopes Marvel does is treat these superheroines as characters and superheroes first and foremost – as people – and then take into consideration that they’re female. The books shouldn’t be made unnecessarily “girly” because they’re aiming for that specific market, nor should they try so hard to make the women sound like stereotypical “girls”. Women in general have come so far beyond that kind of stereotyping, and if Marvel’s truly serious about honoring females and women’s history, it’d be in their best interest to treat their superheroines as humans for this event, and not sexual stereotypes.

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