Over the summer, Marvel comics made a pretty colossal announcement: they would be introducing a new version of Thor, a female Thor to be precise. The first issue was released on October 1st. What’s more; this storyline isn’t going to be only four or five issues long. In fact, writer Jason Aaron said that this iteration of Thor is going to be long term. Even with newest Avengers film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, coming out next year, there are no plans to go back. Aaron says that she is the Thor of the Marvel Universe for the foreseeable future. All of these developments are so positive for the relationship between Marvel and their female fans. However, is the comic book industry doing enough to create content that represents a variety of strong women who are not overly sexualized nor used solely as plot devices? That’s still up for debate.
Since early comics were published, the world of superheroes has had a lot of problems with representation of females. They’re full of over sexualized female costumes, women posed in ways that show both their breasts and butts (which isn’t physically possible, as far as I know), and women are quite often used as plot devices, serving no role other than something for the male superhero to rescue. In addition, places such as comic book stores are somewhat of a “man’s world” and women have been cast out by a rather hostile environment.
In recent years, female fans have come out of the woodwork and the improvement of representation has come to the forefront of discussion. Superheroes dominate pop culture in a way never before seen in the past, which means that the potential for female following has grown. In fact, nearly 47% of comic book fans identify as female. Additionally, a number of newer websites, specifically the blogging platform Tumblr, have had a lot to do with this growth. It allows women to connect with others from all over the world who share their interests, as well as share gif sets, art, and other fan-made media. The Internet has also given rise to online reading and online purchasing, creating a more hospitable environment for female readers when compared to the comic book stores of old. It’s imperative that publishers, Marvel and DC in particular, change their business models in order to give female fans the representation they deserve, as well as eliminate the over sexualized and passive stereotypes. The problem lies in how to go about doing this, while still creating successful characters.
There have been some recent attempts to create new female characters, but most of them have not taken off and that’s a problem. While the introduction of such characters is great, they don’t become part of the mainstream comic universe because they don’t have the built-in appeal of heroes who have been around for upwards of 50 years. This is where Marvel comes in with a pretty awesome solution: take one of their legacy characters and do a bit of gender bending. This comes on the tails of introducing six new female-led series since 2012, creating a series featuring female X-Men characters, and increasing visibility of females in other series – Gamora’s role in Guardians of the Galaxy is one example.
The greatest thing about the ongoing battle of female representation in a former male’s territory is that the fans have so much input and refuse to settle for the norms. That doesn’t always mean simply stating that they want to see better representation either; it quite often involves creative ways to make their opinions known. One of my personal favorite examples of this is the Hawkeye Initiative. It’s a fun blog that challenges the idea that male and female characters are drawn the same. What if some of the most popular male heroes were posed in the same way many of the women are? It’s pretty comical.
Even though it’s somewhat entertaining to see men posed so ridiculously, it proves that there is a major difference in how the characters are drawn. Why is it that when Hawkeye is booty popping and miles of leg are exposed, it’s funny, but when it’s Wonder Woman it’s the socially accepted norm? That’s just not the way it should be. It will be interesting to see if this is something that is improved upon as more and more females are brought into the Marvel and DC comic universes.
Crushable blogger Alexis Rhiannon does a great job of articulating exactly why it is that women want better representation. Some of the male comic book creators, such as Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso, say that they don’t want to censor themselves and that they want to leave room for “something fun” in their comics, that they don’t want to be the “PC police”. However, as Rhiannon points out, who are these representations fun for? For him, most likely. Creators need to start seeing their characters through the eyes of those who share a gender with said character. They want characters that are slightly more relatable to themselves and don’t need a pair of enormous boobs to be considered worthy of readership. Positive changes are so very possible and Marvel is finally working to cater to that audience and even DC is starting to make some positive changes. However, many female comic book fans would be thrilled to see these changes come about just a little faster.