Alan Moore, Amanda Waller, Barbara Gordon, Barda, Borderlands 2, Deathtrap, Dial H, Gaige, Jakita Wagner, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Mina Murray, Nelson Jent, Oracle, Planetary, Power Girl, Roxie Hodder, Warren Ellis
More and more, I’ve been thinking about feminism. As incongruous as it sounds, it all started when I was playing “Borderlands 2” (also known as the video game that saved my marriage). In the game, there is a character named Gaige. She is a teenager with the special ability to summon a cycloptic robot with a destructive energy beam, and laser Wolverine claws, and it is every bit as awesome as it sounds.
And then it hit me. I’ve never played the girl in a video game. The girl is always the worst character, Chun Li, included. And Gaige isn’t just a token girl, she’s really useful. It isn’t exactly Gloria Steinem founding the Women’s Action Alliance, but maybe incremental change in the way we view women is progress.
Comics and video games are spiritual cousins. And the cousins are really sophomoric. At best, women that are depicted with any personality are bundled with sex appeal to make them palatable.
Now I am an avowed lover of the female form. But even considering that, it becomes a bit odd that there are a wide range of male characters in comics, but female characters are almost uniformly intended to be seductive.
Again… there is a place for this character in entertainment, and in comics. But its sort of overused. So I will briefly highlight women that I think stand out of the pack.
Alan Moore used Dracula victim Mina Murray to lead his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Prickly, stubborn and defensive, Murray is also the most balanced and sensible of her rather imbalanced team. Although eventually she is involved in a romantic relationship, Mina is presented as intelligent, complex and at times, severe. Moore also later uses Mary Poppins (!) as the possible face of God, and at the very least, as an omniscient figure, dovetailing with his general themes of mankind returning to matriarchy of sorts. Not the typical female characters at all.
In China Mieville’s Dial H, a senior citizen named Roxie Hodder guides schlubby hero Nelsen Jent in his crimefighting career. In Dial H, a mysterious pay telephone (a minor miracle in itself) grants them powers, and with the last issue it allowed them to bridge their difference in age and start a May-December romance. Nelson is overweight, incompetent and immature, but Roxie has been a terrific influence on his life.
I have a weakness for a well written female powerhouse. In Warren Ellis’s Planetary, Jakita Wagner is the team’s bruiser, and she’s quite good at it, although Planetary’s demanding plot structure makes her character a touch underwritten. Jakita is portrayed as attractive, but she is covered in body armor, which is how all women in combat should probably be designed.
There have been a lot of complaints about Power Girl and the infamous Boob Window outfit. It is unofficial DC canon that she has the largest bust in the DC Universe, but this tends to give her character short shrift. Power Girl is a weaker version of Superman, and usually the first person in a fight. Visually, Power Girl is one of the few super-heroines that is explicitly muscular and this is sadly unique. Power Girl is the hero you KNOW will knock you out.
Its worth noting that a step up from Power Girl is Barda, a Justice League member who is depicted as a powerhouse roughly as strong as Wonder Woman, and even more violent. Wonder Woman is an Amazon warrior who doesn’t have any armor, (also the Amazons were supposed to be archers who sliced off the breast of their dominant side, but we don’t need to go that far) but Barda is insulated, head to toe despite her beauty. Barda is also depicted as over seven feet tall, towering over Superman and Batman.
I saved the best for last though. Barbara Gordon was crippled by the Joker and became the Oracle, a faceless hub of information that supplied communication and data for nearly every major hero in the DC Universe. Barbara was a complex character who dealt with her handicap by being even more useful than she was as Batgirl. Nearly every writer that touched her did good work. (Of course, DC decided to heal her paralysis and not make her Oracle anymore.)
Amanda Waller ran the Suicide Squad, a batch of bad guys sent on covert government missions, but she found her way into in every bit of skullduggery imaginable. I cannot tell you if Amanda Waller is good or bad. I cannot tell you much about her, because she is that complex. I can tell you that she is one of the best comic characters ever, an overweight, black wife that beat abuse and poverty to become more powerful than anyone than Lex Luthor. (Of course, DC decided to ‘sex her up’ by making her look like Angela Bassett.)
Comics need more of these characters. There’s probably some that I missed, or some that you think I should have included (Catwoman? Yeah right.)