How Women are Changing the Comic Book Universe

The giants of the industry, DC, and Marvel, have outlined a deliberate policy to include more and more women at all levels, from creators to characters, and try to make the latter much more versatile. Superhero comics still have a long way to go before we can talk about equality, but a start has been made.

Miss Marvel’s excellent Muslim teen episode hit last year and also inspires people to fight racism. More recently, a new series “Spider-Gwen” began, in which Spiderman’s girl becomes a superhero in a parallel universe instead of Peter Parker. Recently it was revealed that the new “Avengers” will be a women’s team. The completely atypical “The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl”, with the participation of the artist Erica Henderson, restarted at Marvel, and its heroine, the squirrel girl, does exactly what is indicated in the title – wins everyone. Catwoman openly declares her bisexuality, and very soon we will have our own series about Supergirl, the first photos of which were published a few days ago. The list can be continued for a long time, one thing is obvious: there are more women and they are changing comics and the entire industry – for the better.

In 2011, fans started a petition after learning of the 1% reduction in screenwriters in DC, who eventually had to officially declare that they would hire more women.

Of course, this does not mean that there were no women at all in the comics up to this point. From the tritest example – Wonder Woman, who appeared back in the 40s – to the fact that screenwriters like Louise Simmons, who worked for forty years in the mainstream, and Anne Nosenti were already hosting big series in the 80s. These examples, however, are rather isolated. There are many questions for Wonder Woman, given that she was invented by BDSM fan William Marston, which is why she was constantly tied up in the plot, and she herself worked as the secretary of the Justice Society. During the rise of women’s independence in the postwar period, in the 40s, comics were mostly read by women, not men. The target audience changed dramatically in the 50s, when, due to the insane trend about the harmfulness of comics for the child’s psyche, sales fell and the publishers decided to throw all their strength into a new strategy – to attract men. The portrayal of the male fantasy of a superhero, in its radical masculinity, also emerged from wartime, became the anthem of the sexist mid-century. Official DC policy, for example, prohibited women as main characters.

Of course, there was progress, but it was a drop in the ocean, and when in the 80s publishing houses tried to introduce more women, everything turned out as usual. This is primarily about the mainstream comics, which are owned by the monsters of the market and which primarily tell about superheroes. Things have always fared much better in independent publishing houses, in which, especially since the 90s, women have been able to draw and write on any topic and create versatile characters who were not afraid to be strong or talk about their sexuality. Tank Girl is a good example of this, independent in origin, it even became the basis for the film.

Gail Simone is the benchmark for what the female writer has to offer comics, and slowly but surely she is no longer the exception. Perhaps the loudest and most surprising example is the new Miss Marvel. Marvel decided to take an unprecedented step and made the title character of a separate series, not just a teenage girl, but also a Muslim. In many ways, we should thank the editor Sana Amant for this, who came to screenwriter J. Willow Wilson with a proposal to make the new Miss Marvel girl Kamala Khan, as unlike her predecessor Carol Danvers as possible. The first issue of the new Ms. Marvel was a huge success, with a print run five times. A huge role was played by the fact that such an atypical character allowed the screenwriter to tell a multifaceted story, the key elements of which were understandable and close to many. Now Wilson will be involved in the women’s team of the Avengers.

Online sales of Miss Marvel’s editions noticeably exceed the number of paper ones. They are easier to buy and reach a larger audience. With the advent of the Internet, comics have gradually entered into even closer dialogue with their fans than before, their opinion plays a role, and publishers listen to constructive ideas. Like fanfiction, reader reactions play a huge role in comics, and the industry itself is very closely tied to the community around it. It is only an illusion that it is composed of only men and aggressive teenage boys. Today, the audience is divided approximately equally between the sexes, and the variety in age, orientation, nationality, and so on is enormous.

Muslim woman Miss Marvel received such a huge response not because she was composed for the sake of political correctness, but because her character is masterfully spelled out, besides, her story carries an important social mission. Muslims are grateful for the positive coloring of the character, while the rest of the readers of the comic book, the atypicality of her story helps to look at the world around her in a new way. Carol Danvers, by the way, also pumped well. Taking the title of Captain Marvel, she ended up in the hands of feminist and talented screenwriter Kelly Sue Deconnick, who turned, frankly, a boring character into an interesting and complex heroine, who was dedicated to an own film in 2019.

Anastasia Fetter

Anastasia Fetter