How not to make a super heroine
Written by Matt Lintschinger Thursday, 25 February 2010 20:26
(a rerelease because the site doesn't allow access to it anymore, yet it is still in my blog account)
HOW not TO MAKE A SUPER HEROINE.
I will try to organize the paper in the following form;
1. State of Super Women
5. In the Suit
6. Honorable Mentions
7. In short
1) The state of super women:
We all know comic books; because of the last decade of movies, the entire country has become one huge comic book shop. Even my boss at my country club has knowledge of superheroes that used to be unknown in my city. Sad story, in 2001, on Halloween I dressed up in bright green painted skin, shirtless in the cold night, yelling the word “SMASH!” everywhere I go in purple pants and people would look at me and say “oh look, its Frankenstein”. Now, even my Persian grandmother knows names like “Tony Stark” and “Bruce Banner”. We are all comicbook geeks now, and we all have the same complaint; “this is a sausage fest”.
Well, the women are there. You see them fairly frequently…in comics. The majority of fans get their info from the Batman and Spiderman cartoons and all the superhero movies, but the problem is still rooted in the comics.
You see super ladies on allot of the covers and every super team has at least 3 nowadays. From the X-men alone you can think of at least 9 different strong women characters that get equal standing on the team, buts that’s the power of X-men. In most comics the women are boiled down too “who is she the girlfriend too” and “Damn, what a fine ass”. Lots of cheesecake, lots of sex objects, but griping about that solves nothing (I will return to it in honorable mentions).
What I believe takes precedence as the problem with female super heroes in general is not that they are sexy, but when writing either existing or new female characters, a creator tries to hard to make sure it’s a “woman”. That’s why so many of them are portrayed shallowly: over emphasized breasts, always in senseless love with one dork or another, and nothing else besides. It seems like there is “humanity” and within that there are men and women and women in fiction are only allowed to be 1% of what it means to be human……and thus we get hundreds of super heroines falling into obscurity because of the handicapped writing.
Now here is how I would fix it:
When you think of batman, do you think of him as a “man”? Does he go to baseball games, does he go drinking with his friends, does he ask Alfred to pull his finger so he can have a funny fart, does he think of which girl in the bar will not call him back in the morning, or is he THE GODDAMN BATMAN!? He is Batman of coarse. Why even mess around with the idea of his character and ideals being swept aside because of stereotypes or because he has a crush on someone? That is bullshit you can see from space. Why have batman be defined by his genitals and hormones? So, why have any hero or heroine be that shallow.
When it comes to female characters I know the western ideology of “women are more emotional” and “women love Love more that men”, fine, think that way, but that doesn’t mean a woman is only that. Women are not Care-Bears: they have more than one emotion.
When you think of a male character (while creating) you don’t think of how he worries over his fertility or virility and you don’t see his endowment to prove how huge his Y chromosome is. There are elements in real life that could make such motives realistic for the character, but you don’t write him that way, because you know no male character has been actually contemplated as “male”. Quit writing women in contrast to men and the women will be all the more human for it.
Lets talk about the range of super hero motives: Batman has symbolic vengeance, Spiderman has guilt, Wolverine is hate driven, Superman is sympathetic, Green Lantern is brave for others, and Luke Cage has his own gestalt. Very personal reasons that are vastly different, but if they were written like women characters tend to be their motives would boil down to “getting chicks to look at mine toned ass”. So many supermen have distinct personalities that writers honor every time they are written, so why not do women the same way.
One more gripe before I give my example of what needs to be tried: think of action movie women and the “maternal motive”. Beatrix kiddo from Kill Bill, Sarah Conner from Terminator, and Ultraviolet from piece-o-crap Ultraviolet. In each we have women who kick ass better than most men and in each we have them having children as part of their motives to kickass.
In the 2 part kill bill movies we see the pregnant Beatrix at a wedding get gunned down and shot in the face by the villain. Even though we saw her pregnant and when she gets out of a coma we see her go nuts realizing that she has had her pregnancy aborted (via the then unexplained circumstances), when she goes on her rampage of revenge we (the audience) aren’t thinking of her as an angry mother, we are thinking of her as the betrayed super assassin who was shot in the face. By the end of the second film she sees that her kid is alive and that hits her like a truck, but my point is even in Tarintino writing the paramount to her character is of this assassin who wanted to live a safe life and getting back at the people who ruined it. In that sense she is the same as the Punisher.
In terminator 2, Sarah Conner is protecting her son, it would be more explicitly maternal if she wasn’t having nightmares of the world burning. In my mind I see her thinking of the greater good and knowing her son is a part of that rather than just “my son, my precious baby sweety pie, Moma’s coming”. She is a father figure for all intensive purposes rather than a mother in this film.
Now with ultra violet, my god. First, the actress was hired to be the female Keanu Reeves: a mannequin who strikes poses. But that is what they wanted the character to be, an emotionless kill happy assassin terrorist without a real motive, until she finds out her target is a little boy and suddenly it’s a bad issue of “lone wolf and cub”. The kid isn’t even cute, but she just goes from slaughtering hundreds of enemies and allies to being a BS baby sitter. Not believable, not relatable, and almost out of nowhere for the film.
Having a child (or proxy there of) is a good motive for a character to act, its right up there with revenge, amnesia, and evil twins. But its seems too me that female heroes have this as the primary motive 78% of the time. I would love to see Batman fist fighting Bane to save his son, I would be weak at the knees if I saw Wolverine learn to control his rage as he settles down to be a dad, and I would spend everything I own to open my own comic book shop if Spiderman got Marry Jane knocked up and rushed home from saving the day each night to read his daughter a bedtime story. Having kids and the emotional changes related to parenthood is a profound, massive, and all but essential human experience, but it can’t stand alone. There has to be more to a person than being a mom or a dad.
Speaking as a guy who looks forward to being a father, cooking and cleaning, scooping the poop of my kids and their pets, surviving rage filled puberty only to pay for their collage bills, I can tell you I would have to be a complete and utter moron to accept that a woman is onlycapable of the pure-as-cyanide feminine stereotyped behavior. Fight for truth, justice, vengeance, penance, honor, duty, fun, a deranged need to punch guys, a need for approval and attention, or even to promote your own line of toys, try to have a female hero fight for any other reason than romantic or maternal love.
A final note on personality: The image. Not necessarily the personality of the woman behind the mask, but the image they project while in costume.
We see Marry Marvel as helpful as a girl-scout from heaven
Its nice, its friendly, its an outfit that doesn’t strike fear, but it does help comforting people in disasters. The same goes for Superman, Booster Gold, and Captain America. A social image that is nice, but far too overused by classic hero women.
Here we see one of the incarnations of Batgirl.
Quite a reverse. She is sharp, black and ready to kick your jaw up into your eye sockets. Scary and angry with a touch a mystery, this conveys the image to villains that they need to change their underwear.
Now a personal favorite (though I have heard allot of guys hate this one): Jubilee of the X-men.
Sure, her outfits are frequently gawdy, but here is my point: she enters battle in her everyday wear. She has fun with her super powers and the line is blurred between her super hero activities and her day to day activities. I hope to see a great story with her in near future.
But sadly, most super heroines in mind don’t seem to portray an emotion outwardly through art or personality with writing. Here is what you tend to see…
All the same height, same muscles despite powers, same head with different hair cuts (seems to be an international problem if you also look at anime) and large amounts of T&A. The sad part is, that was a modest example
so, Power Girl’s symbol is apparently her cleavage.
Why can’t we have more berserker Heroines like a Lobo, Hulk, or Wolverine?
Is it that unbelievable to see a woman fight evil with anger in her fists? Is it because pure hate lacks sex appeal? (by the way, anyone know a good X-23 story?)
Why not an armored heroine like Steel or Ironman?
Can’t a woman be a super scientist or is it that not even the most sexist artist sees a point in making an exposed cleavage in body armor?
But why not let a woman be a monster like The Thing, Metamorpho, or even the mild Martian Manhunter?
Would a huge monster loose all its ferocity knowing that its female or does the idea of a woman being ugly and proud not make sense to you?
My point: a female super hero doesn’t need a pink cape.
This is not so much a complaint as the last chapter. This one you can take or leave, but I want my say in this matter. Considering how wide the selection of superheroes is out there. You can have godlike ones like superman, Thor (literally a god) and Dr Manhattan. You can have them be scientists like Forge, Mr Terrific, or Blue Beatle. You can even have a normal man in a costume like Rorschach, Nightwing, or Punisher. From Captain Marvel too Captain Britan, Green Lantern too Green Hornet, and Dr Strange too Dr Who, super heroes can be armed with anything between omnipotence and table spoon. But now I list the ones I find tiresome in women heroes;
1. Martial artists. Apart from it showing off how a normal human can enter a fight against a giant robot dinosaur, this talent has a few clichés in women characters. Most female black belts are portrayed as “graceful”, meaning the fights having sexy poses with a lot of up-skirt shots because women always kick. In both live action and comics women seem incapable of throwing punches (did anyone see Million Dollar Baby?). Women have arms, let them use them use them, and also, if they are martial artists, add some real muscle definition. They are super heroes, not super models.
2. Psychics’ and Telepaths. Again, no super complaints, they just faint way, WAY to often. It seems like every psychic in comics is a woman and everyone faints twice an issue. They read the mind of an ancient evil, they faint. They delve into someone’s subconscious, they faint. They read the thoughts of someone who saw “X-men 3; X-men united”, they faint. Are psychics diabetic or something? It gets less problematic with telepaths and anyone who can erect a force-field (Green Lanterns and the Invisible woman and so on). Lets say a Heroine is erecting a force-field to stop the incredible Hulk, the hulk punches the energy wall a few times and when it breaks the heroine faints. Sure, even male heroes like Green Lantern faint after a massive assault on their will-power-fueled field, but half the time they don’t and just stand against the pain to fight round two even it kills them. Why not have the woman power through her pain and keep fighting?
3. Element wielders. With a very short list of exceptions, heroines that use generic “captain planet” powers are lame. I have my own beef with the base “four elements +1” dichotomy of super powers, but here are my relevant complaints. While an element hero fights a super villain they tend to stand in place, strike a pose and just shoots her element at her target mindlessly in an easy to dodge straight line like a lawn sprinkler. Then, after showing off her colorful power, she gets knocked-out in one punch. You get the same problem with telepaths; a woman has a ranged super power and thus she is extremely powerless in physical or close range combat. Any Green Lantern can throw a punch without kung-fu training and the Human Torch could set his fists on fire to fight for his life. I think you get my point already: if you’re a super hero you have to be able to take a hit and use your powers creatively.
4. Fan-girl syndrome. Its nice to see a woman inspired by the acts of a male role model as well as any female ones. It is cool to wear your hero's symbol to say to the world that you and he are equals. But, imagine if Batman wore the superman “S” and called himself SuperBat? The problem is as simple as being perpetually compared too and overshadowed by the original hero. Sure, its an easy way to explain the super powers of a new female hero by copying a male one outright, but if you saw Pixar’s “the Incredibles” then you know full well a great personality is far more essential than an origin for the powers. (to be continued in honorable mentions).
In general, if you are into action, make a super heroine that you want to see really fight. Whether its with bloody knuckles or fire breath, if your hero gets in a fight she better be doing more than just striking sexy poses
You already have an idea of the great male super villains: Magneto, Dr Doom, Lex Luthor, the Joker, Venom, the Juggernaut and even Doctor Octopus each have their legacies of violence, fear, power, and greed. But can you think of a female one? Catwoman seems to be the only one that comes to mind, but that is because she is the de facto girlfriend of the Batman. Don’t get me wrong, she is a great character (when she is not being played by Halle Berry), but because of her long history, she has become the template for allot of bad villainesses.
Lets break it down as a note of what to avoid from the Catwoman formula:
1st. Seductress; avoid writing a villain whose primary hobby is giving the hero a boner. Leave those villains to James Bond. Not even female heroes are immune to this as a lot of smut super hero books use the seductress no matter what gender the hero is.
2nd. Cat themes: trust me, it happens with mind blowingly insane frequency. Avoid cat villains and avoid giving her nonlethal claws.
3rd. Bullwhips: Non lethal claws and most exotic weapons of small size just come off as sex toys. If a woman has a weapon, make it a bone breaker.
4th. Jewel thief: Why get a necklace when you can steal millions of dollars without needing appraisal? You don’t see Green Goblin stealing earrings.
5th. No High Heels: whether running, kicking, climbing or flying, those shoes are worthless. Lipstick may count as part of the disguise, but it is still silly.
Now lets discuss the qualities I would like to see with threatening female villains. If you want any female villain to be taken seriously consider the following:
1. WORLD DOMINATION. She has an evil mind and a few billion to spend? Why not try the ultimate goal of world domination? Your villain will never be satisfied until her robot army gives everyone at the UN handcuffs and shackles.
2. BRILLIANT. The Nobel prize should have been her’s. Her invention can change the world and she will prove it; WHETHER THE WORLD WANTS IT OR NOT!
3. BAD ASS! Who needs to take over the world when she can rip her hated enemy in half with her bare hands? Beating her hated nemisis might allow her a happy life, or give her free time to hunt down the next heroic victim.
4. HONORABLE SCHEME. Have your villain desire to save the world by any means necessary. What is a few million lives when eternal piece in science and nature is just a few assassinations away.
5. POWER. She has felt infinite power and she wants seconds. Godhood is around the corner as this Nefarious woman plans stand alone in the universe.
6. ANCIENT EVIL. She is already a dark god, she is just stuck in another dimension because of an ancient spell. How fun is it to send demonic beast after beast into the mortal realm to wreak havoc until her inevitable release.
7. WHY SO SERIOUS? Who needs money or power or victory? People are like bubble wrap and your villain enjoys popping every single one.
See? There are so many ways to be evil and none of them require testosterone. Make your villain intimidating by stepping out of the pretty box.
But, even though I recommend making allot more villainess that break bones and strike fear into innocent hearts, do not under any circumstances have one heroine face off against all female villains. Let me explain: tradition has (normally) provided a male hero with dozens of male villains and two seductress villains. People don’t give a second thought to that imbalance. But the lesser lines of comics have embarrassing heroines (Like Sultry Teenaged Super Foxes or Sailor Moon) have set up that a if a female hero fights only female villains, then it is a farce. People (men & women) will see a women against women comic like segregation drinking fountain crossed with jello wrestling. Show that the girl hero can play with the big boys, otherwise the dreaded phrase “separate but equal” will haunt your comic creation.
But also don’t just have ugly guy villains face off against your female hero. Its not a big problem, but you run the chance of the wrong kind of feminist image, “men are always the villains” or “she inherently hates men”. Again, it will probably slip under the radar, but for a good measure keep the Male/female villain ratio per heroine about 50/50 or 60/40 either way. You can have your most powerful, most influential, and most psychopathic villains be women without any creative problems………………okay, there is one more problem with female villains:
Avoid the sultry bride of Satan look. The good intention behind making villainess women look like this can be summed up as “being slutty is bad, so the more evil a woman is, the more slutty she gets”. Try to make a villainess with dignity and don’t fall for this common mistake. You never saw Margaret Thatcher sporting a spiked collar and black G-string.
5) In the suit
"It burns my eyes, IT BURNS!"
This will be a short chapter. Yes, comic book women are overly beautiful and sexualized. No every day woman looks like that without plastic surgery or once-in-a-blue-moon genetics. And being beautiful does not correlate or reflect morality, but lets reason through the subtly nuances.
First, a super hero tends to be very athletic. Not only the cardio from chasing robbers and dodging bullets, but the flexibility needed climb a building and escape alien invaders. By my estimate the average super hero sprints twice a day and spends three hours running patrolling laps around the rooftops of the city. There are almost no out of shape super heroes, and even then they never have to use a steak knife to carve a new notch in his belt (speaking as a guy with stretch marks, I am bitter). So, its just part of being a super hero, its like being in the Olympics: only very special cases allow for any wide hips.
Honestly, you are not going to convince me that male superheroes aren't in fantastic shape. ( But as linkara recently pointed out, women are drawn to titillate the audience, so I advize just making them look like olympic athletes):
Second; the boobs.
I'd be lying if I said I didn’t like them on some level, but I would be wrong to justify it. Let super heroines have less than a D-cup more often, hell, I demand there be some A-cups and some flat ones also. There are plenty of porno comics out there, theres no reason to sexualize a heroine beyond physical logic or personality. Look at any of the pervious pictures to see the average super suit: you would think they made those suits with pockets for the breasts to slide in too show such cleavage
Did she glue her suit too her skin? Or is it just painted on?
But, My huge complaint goes out to artists everywhere: DRAW DIFERENT FACES FOR DIFFERENT WOMEN! If you read any one comic by any one artist, I bet a hundred bucks that it will be the same face with different colors and a different haircuts. Show one with a long nose, one with a strong chin, sharp cheekbones, fuzzy eyebrows, chubby cheeks, but the most the average artist gives them to distinguish between women is glowing eyes and pointy ears.
We might remember more female heroes if we could tell them apart.
6) Honorable Mentions
Okay, so I had my say on what went wrong for women in comics. All the cheesecake, all the sexism, and all the underwhelming clichés that make 99% of Super Heroines easy to forget. But now I would like to salute the heroic women that make fighting crime all-inclusive.
1. Wonder Woman. She stands right up there with Superman and Batman as one of the three big pillars of all comics. Powerful, legendary, and politically active in almost every incarnation. Sure her outfit is basically a one piece swimsuit, but even Susan B Anthony wore a dress. Just think of her costume like Superman’s underwear on the outside.
2. The Invisible Woman. Not only is she the most powerful member of the Fantastic Four, but she is the most responsible. She is a mother with a stay at home husband while and she keeps her own super hero name (I am glad she is not Mrs. Fantastic). She looks out for her younger brother the Human Torch, she dated around before marriage with guys like Namor. This lady has full control of her life and decisions. And on that note, I hate Jessica Alba from the bottom of my black heart for dumbing down this great character.
3. She Hulk. Yes, originally she was just a female version of the Hulk with a name dumber than “super girl”. But she developed into a pretty awesome character. First, she has no pathos, her powers were given by her cousin bruce in a blood transfusion. She got the ability to change into a hulk, but she is not crazy like THE HULK. She saw herself tall, powerful and endowed and did what any body (man or woman) would do in that situation; she had fun. It was like a dream for her, going from a small wormy lady lawyer too fighting super robots and dating rockstars. She is a real person in an unreal world and she knows it and loves every second. Sure, she is not as strong as her cousin, but his strength is based on how angry he is and this girl couldn’t be happier.
7) IN SHORT SUMMATION
Well, that’s my complaints and my heroic hopes for future heroes and their creators. Seeing women fight evil still feels like a breath of fresh air in the century old comic industry. Lets not pollute that air by pretending these women are anything else but heroes.
I can't wait to see what the future will bring. It is going to be great. If you want the history, http://fora.tv/2009/09/22/The_Supergirls_The_History_of_Comic_Book_Heroines