It's a new year and a new decade, which means I have a really good excuse to write a Geek Beat about superheroines. It was one of the very first topics I ever tackled here on my column (and oh how clunky it was!), and I imagine there might be a few more in the dim future. But honestly, 2010 might actually be the year when things changed for the women who fight for truth, justice, and ... well, personal gain. (I'm looking at you, Black Widow and Helen Mirren.)
It goes without saying that the last ten years read like a laundry list of missed opportunities -- Elektra, Dark Phoenix, Lois Lane -- and a few fun exceptions like Pepper Potts and deadly little Miho. (Oh, I know all the arguments against Frank Miller but if I had to choose between watching Miho and S&M Gail or another neurotic Jennifer Aniston heroine, I'd pick the former. But that's just me.) But 2010 has some promise. Why? Well, by June 2010 you're going to have a lot of comic flicks either in theaters or in production. Thor, Green Lantern, Spider-Man 4, and First Avenger: Captain America will all be in various stages of completion. The dust will be settling on Iron Man 2, Kick-Ass, and The Losers. Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, Jonah Hex, and Red all loom on the late summer and fall horizon. Hell, you might even know just who The Avengers are!
So what? Well, many of these films are going to feature women as important characters. Some will have superpowers, some will just be packing heat, some may be entirely ordinary, and some will be nothing but love interests. One isn't even really a woman, but a young girl. But the possibility of cool is there for all of them, and there's rumblings in the land of Marvel that could shake up just who and what becomes a hot new film franchise in the coming years.
The most loaded possibility is Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow in Iron Man 2. Rumors abound as to what her role in the movie will be. (Yes, I know there were some spoilers but I didn't read them and neither should you. Let movies surprise you again!) It doesn't take someone hiding in the walls at Marvel Studios to know that Natasha Romanov is being primed to possibly appear in other Marvel films or get a solo film of her own if Johansson and Jon Favreau knock it out of the park. I sincerely hope they do, because Natasha Romanova is a character full of possibilities. She's a bit like Catwoman -- never completely trustworthy, never entirely bad, but so sleekly badass that you just don't care. Imagine how fun it would be to have an anti-James Bond loose in the Marvel Universe, and for that anti-Bond to be a woman who could beat him at the gadget game. And because Natasha is a character dependent on technology over superpowers, I think she's an ideal candidate to coax audiences into a wider and weirder world of solo superheroines. It's not a terribly big leap from Natasha's bullet bracelets (they fire energy blasts, by the way) to Wonder Woman's deflective bracers, is it?
Black Widow is just one of several gun-toting, "real world" action heroines that'll be gracing the screen in 2010. You've already seen what Kick-Ass' Hit Girl can do, you've seen enough about Zoe Saldana to know she won't need smelling salts in The Losers and Helen Mirren with a machine gun should be able to sell anyone on Red. Failing all else, there's always Megan Fox with a corset and a revolver in Jonah Hex, Scott Pilgrim's bandmates, or Ramona Flowers' evil ex, Roxanne Ritcher. While bullets and beauty don't necessarily equal great or strong characterization, it at least promises interests other than shopping and marriage proposals. I can live with that.
But hey, if those kind of heroines aren't your thing, you might be more excited by The Green Lantern or Thor. Asgard is going to be full of women who can swing spells and battle-axes. Sif and Freya can both hold their own, even if they'll inevitably take a backseat to the golden boy. Lantern is even more exciting because they're casting Carol Ferris as we speak.(Latino Review had the casting rundown on just who might be Hal Jordan's special someone, if you're curious.) As a love interest alone, Ferris is a pretty neat character because she runs the entire aviation company that employs Jordan. But this is the world of franchises, after all, so we have to believe that Warner Bros might be including her as something more. In Lantern mythology, Ferris isn't just a love interest of a superhero, she becomes one. As a member of the Star Sapphire Corps, she's powerful enough to rival her boyfriend. Even if Ferris' transformation into a purple powered being is dropped from the movie version, there are female Green Lanterns. Maybe she can be one of those, or Jordan will partner up with one. It's a universe that's as full of promise as the one the X-Men inhabit.
All of that franchise potential is expanding to the page as well as the screen. In a very bold and controversial move, Marvel announced they were putting together a three-issue anthology titled Girl Comics that would feature comics created exclusively -- writing, illustrating, lettering -- by women. They won't necessarily feature female Marvel characters, nor will the content be geared toward women, as Marvel seems to be taking the shocking approach that women don't really need stories designed especially for them. Instead, they're trying to shine a light on the female talent within a male-driven and male-oriented industry. (You can read more about the anthology on The Beat, as well as track the raging controversy it's inspired. Spoiler: Everyone was angry about some aspect of it.) If you've read my writing enough, you know I don't believe girls need special comics to lure them in -- but I do believe there needs to be a lot more press on women who read them and women who create them. But I'm also of the cheery and cheesy disposition that anything that makes waves is a good thing, and Girl Comics has a lot of potential to attract the right kind of attention. If you can attract enough new readers of both genders, you'll have more voices clamoring for more movie adaptations. Those movies can't avoid superwomen forever. There's too much money to be made, and that'll speak louder than gender equality any day of the week.
Of course, with great possibility comes great controversy. As Girl Comics' scandal proved, the boys still fear the girls have cooties, and the women can be just as incensed over anything overtly labeled as female. They can also be incensed by comics in general, because with any focus on comic book heroines come cries of cheesecake and sexualization. These are cries that'll undoubtedly get louder with each and every movie franchise. I fully expect there will be a few articles throughout the Internet wondering just why Black Widow had to wear a skintight suit, or why Hit Girl had to call attention to her gender so blatantly, or why Sif has to be Thor's girlfriend instead of just a fellow warrior. I know, because I'd be tempted to write on those topics except that their predictability is making me contrarian.
Sure, all of the bursting boobs, impossibly arched backs, and come hither stares of superheroines can make me wince. But I honestly feel that the complaints are beginning to miss the forest for the trees. There's so very little out there that's entertaining and empowering that it's a shame that so many continue to snub characters like Red Sonja and Power Girl because of their boobs and, er, creative fashion sense. I'd like to believe we can be accepting enough to allow characters to wear what they want -- I know I'd dress like Red Sonja if I looked like her -- and I'd like to believe we can appreciate them for more than just their looks. We constantly ask society to do this of real women. Why not those on the page? Particularly since Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image and beyond allow superheroines to have their own books. That's revolutionary compared to Hollywood, who hasn't let a woman outside of Carrie Bradshaw have her own franchise, and who doesn't allow them to engage in anything more complicated than having too many bridesmaid dresses. (Yes, it's true of literature in general -- but really, isn't it a shock when something so supposedly "male oriented" allows more than one female to shine?)
Do you want to see She's Just Not That Into You? Pick up Power Girl #7. (You should. You'll love it.) Do you want to see a woman grapple with a complicated crisis outside of a Nancy Meyers film? Read Jodi Picoult's Wonder Woman: Love and Murder or Gail Simone's Wonder Woman: The Circle. (Responses to these books are mixed, but they try to tackle Major Issues that Carrie Bradshaw might run screaming from. At least it's new territory.) But that won't change so long as women refuse to read comics or watch their movies because they think it's all wannabe pornography or "guy movies." I truly believe that women can only dictate what they want to see onscreen and on the page if they're spending the money. I don't think anyone will listen if you refuse to buy Red Sonja because she's not wearing enough armor -- but I believe they'll listen if you're a faithful reader who threatens or stops buying because she showing more skin than character development. You can't ask for a Black Widow spin-off if you're not going to see Iron Man 2. You've got to be vocal and visible about what you want out of your entertainment.
But that's rant territory for another time. My long and winding point is that 2010 is a fresh start. We began this game ten years ago with X-Men and audiences have caught up. They don't think superpowers are alien or pathetic entertainment anymore -- and they're willing to accept these characters in all shapes and forms. This could really be the year that makes male and female superheroes, but may really prove to be key for the superheroine. But Hollywood can only give so much, and it's audiences that have to pick up the slack. Whether you're male or female, this is the chance to take that attention and run with it by talking about Girl Comics, buying Power Girl, and lining up for Iron Man 2, Thor, and The Green Lantern and being vocal about what you've spent your money on. Get online and talk about it. Bring it up with your friends. Sure, it's all a bit silly, but it's fun, and it can add a little more color and variety to the blockbuster season. It'll make movies that everyone -- male and female, young and old -- will want to see and geek out about. In my wildest dreams, Black Widow creates a ripple effect that reaches all the way into the dramatic, romantic, and comedic genres as filmmakers race to answer the need of people who don't want to see Wonder Woman.
Far out? Naturally. But isn't that the point of the genre anyway -- dream big and see what follows? Well, I'm game, and I hope you're as intrigued by the possibilities of 2010 as I am.