Tag Archives: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

Graphic Mythology: Comparing Feminist Superheroes


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.


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



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



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.


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.



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.

nausicaa n


nausicaa p

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

Graphic Mythology: A Good Example

So after all my carping, can I point to any positive examples of the portrayal of women in graphic novels? I hope I don’t sound too much  like Mr. Rogers, but sure I can. In fact, I already did (Winged Victory and Cleopatra from the Astro City series). So let’s do another this week.


Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (written and illustrated by Hayao Miyazaki) is a manga comic that offers a very imaginative blend of environmentalism, militarism, sociology, political intrigue, and religion. Some reviewers have claimed that it mixes Christianity with Japanese animism. I personally enjoyed this series even more than I did Watchmen. It took me a lot further into a story which is relevant, sometimes gritty and fatalistic, but still inclusive of ideals.


The title character is one of the best female leads I have ever seen in a graphic novel. She is honorable, heroic, physically capable, intelligent, compassionate, and spiritually sensitive. And … she is dressed. This is not an over-sexualized character. Women in general are treated well in this series.


Let me state emphatically that this is more than just a comic. In terms of plot, theme, character development, and setting, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is truly a graphic novel. At over twice the length of Watchmen, it provides an engaging read. The view from the high road is indeed a good one.


Literary Legislation (Part 3)

In contradiction to how I ended my last post, I had an easier time then expected in finding a commendable female character from ancient mythology. Though she did not do anything particularly heroic, Nausicaa is described favorably in The Odyssey for helping Odysseus after he washes up on the shore of her father’s kingdom. Still, she was relegated to a role which was typical of the times. At least her mother, Queen Arete, was alleged to have been wiser even than King Alcinous, her father.

Nausicaa by Frederic Leighton, c. 1878
Nausicaa by Frederic Leighton, c. 1878

The compassion and nurturing nature of Princess Nausicaa in this tale by Homer evidently inspired the title characterfrom Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the manga comic series (and subsequent feature animation) by Hayao Miyazaki.

Color illustration from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki.
Color illustration from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki.

This character lives in a post-apocalyptic world of monsters, deities, and warring nations. Her mixture of humility, heroism, innocence, and femininity is a refreshing departure from an overworked device of more recent manufactured mythologies.

The device to which I alluded is a type of template for female heroes: sexual attractiveness (within narrow cultural stereotypes) combined with attributes more traditionally associated with men. The latter include anger, aggression, and violent capability. The right measure of tomboyishness adds nuance. Too much tends toward boring predictability and limitation, and I appreciate Miyazaki for avoiding this. As a general observation, he gets women and girls right, and he does so with insight, variety, and respect.

An example of a writer who did something similar (especially with younger characters) is  C. S. Lewis. Lucy Pevensie, Polly Plummer, and Jill Pole from various installments of The Chronicles of Narnia series are a few of the endearing and interesting personalities he invented. In The Silver Chair,  he used Jill in a subtle but clever plot development to demnostrate the ways in which adults demean younger girls. His social statement  was tangential to the main story line and not at all heavy-handed. Such critiques are often more effective when they are not emphasized.

1998 watercolor update of her 1953 original black and white rendering from The Silver Chair, Chapter 2
1998 watercolor update by Pauline Baynes of her 1953 original black and white rendering from The Silver Chair, Chapter 2
Jill is given a Task by Alice Raterree, from The Silver Chair, The Chronicles of Narnia
Jill is given a Task by Alice Raterree, from The Silver Chair, The Chronicles of Narnia

Finally, I must mention Meg Murry, a central character in the Time Quintet of Madeline L’Engle. Given the fantastic nature of these stories, she and her mother are still put across as intelligent and believable. It is good to read a constructed myth written from a female perspective in which the heroine is neither sexy nor violent. In fact, I wish there were more male figures like this as well.