Graphic Mythology: Comparing Feminist Superheroes

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It occurred to me that it might be interesting to compare feminist superheroes who also have some kind of connection to mythology. In saying this, I would like to emphasize that qualitative comparison need not equate to a ranking system. We are free to choose different favorites, and I think I have betrayed some of my preferences already. This post , then, is a kind of summary.

I made a lot of negative noise about Wonder Woman, and I really did little to nuance my statements. This was a deliberate attempt to stimulate discussion. What I must say now is that the validity of promoting or denouncing Wonder Woman as a feminist icon depends on which Wonder Woman you are talking about. My complaints centered mostly on certain aspects of her Golden Age portrayal by William Moulton Marston and H. G. Peter.

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Others have criticized her apparent domestication (i.e. adherence to more traditional female roles) in the Silver Age.

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More recent portrayals have often shown her as angrier and darker and have given her a more unreasonable body image.

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It should be noted that most of these representations are neither purely good nor purely bad. Critics can’t even reach a consensus on what good and bad actually are. Certain aspects of overall emphasis are what have drawn fire from different camps in different periods. In terms of her feminist record, this is a character with a checkered past. She even did a stint for a few years under the influence of Gloria Steinem. Like her or not, she is one of the most iconic images in comics.

Then, of course, there is her portrayal by Alex Ross and Mark Waid in Kingdom Come. I found nothing personally objectionable in this version, and I will write more about this next week. Of course, what satisfies me, might not satisfy someone else.

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I have already intimated that Winged Victory and Cleopatra from the Astro City series by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson strike me as more reasonable feminist characters, and I appreciate the balance and maturity of their portrayals.

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Two weeks ago, I cited Nausicaa from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki as another good example. Although she has her weaknesses, she is compassionate and gentle, and she has a spiritual connection to nature and the supernatural. She is also a capable warrior as well as an expert pilot.

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So now that you’ve seen four of them side by side, so to speak, do you have a favorite?

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12 thoughts on “Graphic Mythology: Comparing Feminist Superheroes”

  1. I remember back in the ’80s a comic from Marvel called The Defenders, which was decidedly weird. One of the main characters was Valkyrie, a Viking-type woman warrior. She was supposed to be Brunhilde, from the Wagnerian operas, which were based on Norse mythology. Somehow Brunhilde took over the body of a modern woman named Barbara Norris. I remember her husband was part of the support team, trying to keep a relationship with his wife after she had changed so dramatically.

    Come to that, Marvel’s “Thor” comics have featured quite a few interesting women over the decades. I’m thinking Karnilla, queen of the Norn, Hela, goddess of death, Sif, Thor’s on again/off again sweetheart, Thor’s mother Frigga, and of course (for the moment, anyhow) Thor herself.

    Hmmm, perhaps I need to do some back-reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My favorite is Brian Azerello. The art doesn’t try to oversexulize her. Although the new one with Greg Ruck as writer and Liam Sharp as artist may be looking good as well. As for Jason Fabok’s art it is beautiful and one of the best, but her boobs are barely being contained in the outfit she’s wearing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonder Woman’s outfit has always seemed unreasonable to me. Anyone who has ever worn anything strapless understands, because one would constantly have to pull it up. Difficult to save the world and adjust your clothing at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

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