Comic Art Friday: My heroes have always been heroines

Today’s Comic Art Friday is dedicated to my birthday girls: my wife KJ and my goddaughter Shelby. As regular readers here know, KJ has been battling metastatic breast cancer for the past three years. One thing we’ve learned in these past 36 months: We don’t take birthdays — or any days — for granted.

The Invisible Woman, pencils by comics artist Geof Isherwood

In recent days, I’ve been reading Mike Madrid’s entertaining book The Supergirls, a breezy history of superheroines in comics from the Golden Age until now. Aside from the occasional pang of jealousy — this book is very much like one I had intended to write someday — I’m enjoying the author’s fresh perspective on facts I already know rather well.

In his chapter on 1960s Marvel Comics, Madrid observes something that often frustrated and puzzled me in my comics-reading youth: Marvel’s early superheroines were pretty much useless. It’s strange that a publishing concern that made at least token efforts toward progressiveness in other areas — Marvel featured African-American supporting characters (Gabriel Jones in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Joe “Robbie” Robertson in The Amazing Spider-Man) long before the practice was fashionable, and had numerous marquee heroes of color (Black Panther, the Falcon, Luke Cage, Brother Voodoo, Black Goliath) years before DC had even one — struggled to put quality female heroes into its pages.

Mary Marvel and Marvel Girl, pencils by comics artist Geof Isherwood

Unlike DC’s Wonder Woman and Supergirl, whose powers were the equal of any of the men (even though they rarely got the opportunity to demonstrate this, especially in the case of Supergirl), Marvel’s heroines of the 1960s were uniformly ineffectual. The Invisible Girl (seen at the top of this post, in a pencil drawing by Geof Isherwood) turned invisible — a handy skill for a voyeur, perhaps, but not much good in a fight. The fashion-obsessed Wasp shrank to insect size and flew — again, not much help when some supervillain is bashing your brains in. The X-Men’s Marvel Girl (alongside Mary Marvel in the Common Elements commission above, also by Isherwood) could push objects around with her mind — kind of cool, but still somewhat ephemeral compared with her male counterparts’ optic blasts or ice shields. The Scarlet Witch (below — yes, that’s Isherwood yet again) could… well… we never could figure out exactly how Wanda’s powers worked. We just knew that she couldn’t kick a lot of evildoer butt using them.

The Scarlet Witch, pencils by comics artist Geof Isherwood

It wasn’t until Ms. Marvel arrived on the scene in the late ’70s that Marvel finally created a heroine with maximum power potential. And even then, they couldn’t figure out how to deploy her effectively.

To Marvel’s credit, they’ve worked at upgrading most of their legacy heroines. The Invisible Woman — Susan Storm shed the “Girl” tag decades ago — added powerful force fields to her invisible arsenal. Marvel Girl transmogrified into the world-destroying Phoenix, before coming back down to Earth under her civilian name, Dr. Jean Grey. The Scarlet Witch — as much as I detest what Marvel’s writers have done to her character in recent years — may now be one of the most formidable beings in the Marvel Universe, with the ability to warp the very fabric of reality, as witnessed by the House of M storyline of a few years ago.

And, over time, Marvel has generated a veritable plethora of outstanding female heroes, including such characters as Storm, She-Hulk, Elektra, Kitty Pryde, the Black Widow, the White Queen, Valkyrie, Monica Rambeau, Thundra, the Daughters of the Dragon, Silver Sable, and at least three versions of Spider-Woman — as well as Spider-Girl, the alternate-future teenage daughter of a now-retired Spider-Man. So… they’re trying.

Comics are still largely a man’s world, sad to tell. It’s worth noting, though, that three of the best superhero comics being published right now feature female heroes.

Wonder Woman has never been better than in her current monthly series, as written by Gail Simone and illustrated by Aaron Lopresti. After an agonizingly trite start to her present-day adventures — which worked harder at making Kara a teenage sexpot than the Maid of Steel — Supergirl has developed in new and exciting ways with (at long last!) a sensitive creative team in writer Sterling Gates and artist Jamal Igle. And Terry Moore’s independent book Echo is an absolute joy, starring a beautifully realized lead character in stories with warmth and heart.

There’s hope for the ladies yet.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Breast Cancer Awareness, Comic Art Friday, Good Reads

4 Comments on “Comic Art Friday: My heroes have always been heroines”

  1. Donna Says:

    Shelby says, “Thanks Uncle Swan”. She said to give KJ a hug and a birthday wish from her.

  2. Mike Madrid Says:

    Hi-Thanks for the review on Supergirls. Hope you’re enjoying it. Please extend my best wishes and positive thoughts to your wife KJ on her birthday. She and other women like her are the real life heroines who inspire us all.

    Thanks
    Mike Madrid

    • SwanShadow Says:

      Mike: You’re welcome. I’m enjoying your book very much. (I’m about three-quarters of the way through it now.)

      Your chapter on Wonder Woman was outstanding. I’m glad that you were able to bring Diana all the way up to Gail Simone’s run as writer. As noted in my post, I’ve been pleased with the noble quality Gail has brought to the series.

      Thanks for the kind words for KJ. I will pass along your greetings.

      Glad you stopped by!


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