Superheroes are more than just comic book characters. They can reflect the very best in us, the ideal version of ourselves that we all strive to become. Within the pages of the comics that these larger than life characters originate that anybody can become a hero – anybody can become that paragon of virtue, the symbol we all strive to be. The role model for children and adults alike.
But is that as true as we’re led to believe?
If you look on the shelves of your local comic shop for a superhero comic, then you’ll see a lot of books starring either just male heroes or ensemble books with a less than balanced mixture of men and women on the team. What you won’t see as much of are comics featuring a female lead. That isn’t to say there are no comics with strong female leads; Marvel alone publish upwards of five a month (Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen, Silk, Black Widow, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and Thor), not to mention the most famous female superhero of all in DC’s Wonder Woman.
Although Marvel’s female lead comics are, on any given day, on the top end of the quality scale there aren’t as many as there are comics with male leads, but they are on the shelves ready to be read, enjoyed, and to give inspiration. The same cannot be said for the comic book movie scene. There have been more than ten movies released into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), of which eight feature a male superhero as the lead character (even if Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow stole every scene she was in in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and three are ensemble films. A Black Widow solo film isn’t on the cards yet, but it really should be – as a fan I want more Black Widow. Random Blather recently wrote an excellent piece covering this in more detail.
Aside from the MCU’s lack of strong female superheroes, the same can be said for any of the other non MCU Marvel, or DC, superhero movies; there simply hasn’t been a halfway decent female led superhero movie that gives people, but most importantly our children, a strong female role model to look up to – and before you mention Elecktra or Catwoman, give your head a shake; they are absolute rubbish and aren’t the kind of thing anybody should be watching.
When it comes to strong portrayals of women in comic book movies, there are scant few to choose from. Black Widow is arguably one of the most engaging characters in the MCU, and she is long overdue for her own movie, and as of this writing I think she is the strongest female superhero on the silver screen. When looking for other women in comic book movies who give a good accounting then you have to look either pretty hard, or to some fairly non-family friendly movies. Between the borderline psychopathic Hit Girl from the Kick Ass movies and Halle Berry’s timid portrayal of Storm – a character who has been worshiped as a goddess and is one of the X-Men’s linchpins – in the X-Men movies, there haven’t really been all that many movies that show just how awesome these characters could, and should, be on the silver screen. Although looking at the release schedules for comic book movies over the next five years we can see two (out of a total of thirty ensemble or male led comic book movies) that will take a small step to rectifying this. The MCU’s Captain Marvel (2018 release date) and, finally, a Wonder Woman movie (2017).
The world has needed a Wonder Woman movie for a long time, whether it makes money or not.
DC have needed to take a risk on a Wonder Woman movie for years; Anthony Mackie sums up one of the primary reasons perfectly in a interview with Geek Dad last year:
“Scarlett [Johansson] does great representation for all the other girls, but there should be a Wonder Woman movie. I don’t care if [DC] make 20 bucks, if there’s a movie you’re gonna lose money on, make it Wonder Woman. You know what I mean, ’cause little girls deserve that. There’s so many of these little people out here doing awful things for money in the world of being famous. And little girls see that. They should have the opposite spectrum of that to look up to.”
Great comics featuring strong female leads are on the rise, and while there are quality stories being told by creators of both genders, superhero comics have always been seen as a male dominated industry (regardless of how accurate, or not, that may be) and publishers have tended to be reluctant to create solo comics starring female leads. However superhero comics have a far wider audience than just the one that is typically portrayed in the mainstream media, and publishers have slowly begun to understand that it isn’t strictly a male audience that purchase their product. There is a huge audience of women of all ages who love superhero comics as well, but it isn’t just women who want to read about female superheroes – there are plenty of male fans who want to see these stories told.
Great female led comic book movies are pretty much nonexistent, and it’s long past time that changes. Yes, there are two coming in the next five years, but with the comic book movie schedule already confirmed up until mid 2020, the frequency of female led movies isn’t likely to change anytime soon. While it has taken a long time to get two superhero movies staring women as the lead, we at least have two on the cards. But when Marvel can release two movies about a talking tree and a talking raccoon (regardless of how awesome those movies are and will be) before DC release a movie about the most famous female superhero the world has ever known then maybe we should look at just what message young fans are receiving.