BadRep Challenge Response: Feminist Characters in Comics?
Team BadRep were put on the spot again this month: in the wake of SDCC Batgirl igniting the gender-and-comics conversation loud ‘n’ proud, the team were asked to take a look at their favourite comic book titles and characters – some obvious choices, some less so… and next up, we have Steve.
There wasn’t a specific comic which made me look at the female lead and think “Girls can be heroes just as well as guys! I should be for equality, and stuff.” That doesn’t mean there weren’t loads of characters who fit the bill, only that I never looked on them that way. Which could be the whole point…
I got into comics pretty late, and mostly with UK releases instead of Marvel or DC. I think it started when an older friend had spent 2 straight hours laughing himself onto the floor at Alan Moore and Alan Davis’ “DR & Quinch“. (They STILL get asked to do more of that one.) I suppose that technically DR’s girlfriend Crazy Chrissie is an empowered and independent woman, but since she spends much of her time firing guns and/or throttling him, it’s hard to tell. It’s a great book though, especially the incredibly sensitive war poetry.
2000 AD was (and still is) an important publication in the UK. It hurt like hell when I finally stopped buying it (around the age of 18 and at university, I think). It also produced a far more relevant female character for this post: Judge Anderson. I was mostly oblivious to Judge Dredd’s satire on future fascism, so all I knew was that Anderson was a determined, skilled woman who could do everything Dredd could (shout, kick doors, shoot things) but also more. She had the psi-powers side of it as well, and her storylines just seemed fuller to me. The telepathy element allowed for more of a detective story, and the others in Psi-Division such as Empaths brought in some very murky subtlety at times. There was no hint of her being less physically capable than a male Judge (although Dredd in particular is something of an unstoppable juggernaut) so my decision was completely based on which characters I got more from. (This priority of ‘story over gender’ was reflected in my affection for another 2000AD series, Pat Mills’ enjoyably bonkers Finn, which starred a male witch.) Anderson is still incredibly popular, and will feature in the new Judge Dredd movie currently in production.
In my all-time Top 10 individual graphic novels, Neil Gaiman’s Death: The High Cost of Living will always feature highly. Technically very few of the female characters in the Sandman tales are actually human, and those in the Endless family such as Death, Delirium and Despair certainly not, but it is a remarkable book. There’s no question that Death herself is where all the focus is, as she steals the show from her brother Dream even in the main Sandman storylines which are supposedly about him.
We recently linked to Greg Rucka and Rick Burchett’s “Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether” (starring LADY SKYSHIP PIRATES), but Rucka was on my radar long before. His series Queen and Country stars Tara Chace, who in my view is about as feminist a character as can exist (hard-drinking, flawed, MI6 operative in a man’s world) – we have a post about her here. It was another graphic novel which caught my attention though, when he took over a superhero who was originally arguably one of the least feminist-friendly ever: Elektra.
Seriously, even quite recently before Rucka’s volume Everything Old is New Again, she was aimed at a fanbase who wanted her to look like the image here. She’s the Sexy! Killer! Babe! In Red! So far, so very sex assassin, as we call it around here.
In Rucka’s storyline however, things get shaken up a bit. Elektra has got too used to the endless killing, and is almost at a point where she can’t recover psychologically. She meets a new sensei who is the other main character of the book… an older woman of colour. That’s right, the most dangerous warrior in this story – more capable and badass than the famously lethal assassin herself – is a non-white woman of advancing years, and she is also the one with all the intelligence and wisdom. The art (in the early episodes at least) is superb, with a fight between them showing convincing movement and how muscles actually work. It also heralded a change from CombatBarbie visuals. Rucka had just previously produced Elektra/Wolverine: The Redeemer with esteemed Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano, where the glorious full-page paintings showed a stylised Elektra with a body which was often much less objectified than typical comic fare. (Amano’s site doesn’t have my favourite pages from towards the end of the book, where Elektra is shown exhibiting the kind of power and savagery usually given to an avatar of an avenging death goddess, in some very powerful images.)
Everything Old is New Again frequently surprised me, since earlier chapters of this character had basically been SexyNinja books (I knew Greg Rucka would be doing more with it though). I wasn’t thinking outwardly about feminism, I was just being pulled along by the adrenaline and drama of the story.
And that’s the secret. That’s why pop culture is such a great partner for feminism: we don’t notice that it’s happening. It’s why the first Matrix film is a classic, but no matter how many motifs and clever philosophies the sequels pack in, they still fail to inspire. They will never get people thinking to the same extent as the original did because the audience is bored (and disappointed, if you’re me). Grab your reader’s/viewer’s attention and you can push your message home very effectively.
I don’t have one particular comic or character which made me stop and think YEAH FEMINISM, but I suspect there are many which slipped in under my radar and connected strongly, which is a great thing too.