The shirt itself doesn’t harm anything by existing. I don’t object to it any more than I’d object to seeing a T-shirt featuring Jenny Sparks, the Engineer, and Swift that says “I love to see women in Authority.” It’s a cute idea. I do have serious problems with it being alone in that article. Well, not alone. It’s on display with some heart pendants featuring Spider-man/Gwen Stacy and Spider-Man/Green Goblin (which I predict will be a surprisingly good seller) and lip gloss tubes featuring unrecognizable characters kissing. And that begs the question… Where are the female superheroes in this superhero merchandise aimed at female people?
There’s just no good reason to launch a women’s superhero clothing line with a sleepshirt professing attraction to four male characters. “Marvel has no recognizable female characters” does not work as an excuse. The company’s Silver Age formula was teams with at least one girl. Where’s the X-Apparel with its variety of well-known female characters? How about the Fantastic Four? A simple image of a blue baby doll shirt with a big 4 logo in the center sends a pretty clear Sue Storm message. Hell, how about an Avengers T-shirt with some fricking female Avengers on it?
Of course, the real problem is that Marvel has no recognizable solo female characters. They have no merchandizing equivalent to Wonder Woman or Supergirl, and this is their own damned fault. Wonder Woman didn’t spring fully formed from the Golden Age into the hearts of little girls in the 60s. The only reason she’s known to the country at large is because she had a TV show and was in Superfriends. Because someone a few decades went “Yeah, we can go mainstream with this” and they took the leap. It paid off, and now DC has a feminine cash-cow no matter how few women pick up the actual comic books.
No one at Marvel really pushed solo female adventurers like Ms. Marvel or She-Hulk or Black Widow during the live action shows of the 70s or the animated shows of the 90s or even the live action movies of today. All summer long we read articles asking “Where are the female superheroes?” and what does Marvel announce for women in future films after making bank on the up-til-then unknown Iron Man? There’s a woman named Natasha in the Iron Man sequel.
They don’t have the guts to put out a female James Bond without attaching her to a major male lead. What hope does the poor Wasp have?
Honestly, I wish I could be commending Marvel for this. Even though I’m disgusted that they had to do cootie testing to see if they’d offend their “core audience” with marketing towards women, I’m glad they want to market towards women finally. But I’m underwhelmed. (And I’m not alone.) This offering of groupie-style apparel, little heart pendants and flavored lip gloss is weak, and unless behind it lies a treasure trove of Ms. Marvel tank tops, Valkyrie sundresses, and Black Widow lipstick Marvel is in trouble here. This is just asking girls to attach themselves to the heroes as a love interest. Even Disney doesn’t make that mistake. See, it’s not the pink and sparkles that appeals to girls with the princess and fairies lines. It’s being the hero of the story that appeals there. It’s the one who looks like you taking center stage. The one you could be.
For this to really take, Marvel needs a superhero brand for women. They need a brand women identify with and want to emulate. The sort of logo that women get tattoos of so they can feel powerful as women. They need their own equivalent to Wonder Woman, and they’ve got plenty of characters in the stable with the potential without having to try a cheap knockoff. They just need to pick one and put her out there competently enough.