No, I’m not strictly talking about Lois Lane the character; I’m talking about Lois Lane the public figure. When the public at large thinks about a non-super powered female supporting character, they think of Lois Lane. It’s been over 75 years since she debuted in “Action Comics” #1, which makes her the entire genre’s first female character. Yeah, she’s been around longer than Wonder Woman! So, does Marvel have a human supporting character that even comes close to matching her? Let’s find out.
I had to set up a lot of qualifiers for the entrants into this project — but really, I was trying to keep every character as conceptually close to Lois as possible. That means that I excluded every woman who serves in S.H.I.E.L.D. — after all, their primary job is peacekeeping and even their more passive agents have gone through some intense training. Characters like Maria Hill and Victoria Hand are more in line with super heroes than Lois, who is a normal human with a normal job. Like Lois, a lot of these characters are love interests, but a lot of them have grown into nuanced characters in their own right, just like Lois. I tallied up results for a lot of characters, but decided to focus on just the top 12 for this piece. This year’s 12 are:
Betty Brant, Jane Foster, Mariko Yashida, Aunt May, Pepper Potts, Trish Tilby, Gwen Stacy, Moira MacTaggert, Betty Ross, Alicia Masters, Liz Allan, and Mary Jane Watson.
These are the human supporting characters that have popped up in television shows and movies over Marvel’s long history. Karen Page, Darcy Lewis, and Debra Whitman were also considered because of their roles on screens both big and small, but they didn’t make enough of an impact in the other categories to land in the top twelve. And while, both Betty Ross and Pepper Potts have assumed super hero roles in recent years, I decided to still include them because this project measure’s a character’s public prominence, and those two are still portrayed as normal human supporting characters in film and on TV.
Just like the “Wonder Woman” project, I focused on the comics, video games, television (including TV movies, motion comics and direct-to-DVD films) and films. I gathered data from Comic Book DB, Comic Vine, IMDB, Box Office Mojo and Wikipedia. I typed in a lot of stats, and here’s what I found.
PART 1: COMICS
This was hard. The “Wonder Woman” project measured the prominence of Marvel’s leading super hero ladies, but this project deals with supporting characters. Therefore, most of them haven’t held down solo titles. Even Lois Lane has only had one ongoing series, and that was way back in the ’60s. Instead, I took into account the total number of comics they appeared in. Comic book appearances count 15% of each character’s score. Here are the top five entries:
1. Mary Jane Watson — 2,425 comics — 363.75 points
2. Aunt May — 1,853 comics — 277.95 points
3. Moira MacTaggert — 1,377 comics — 206.55
4. Betty Brant — 852 comics — 127.8
5. Gwen Stacy — 843 comics — 126.45
And the bottom three:
10. Pepper Potts — 534 comics — 80.1
11. Trish Tilby — 487 comics — 73.05
12. Jane Foster — 374 comics — 56.1
Spider-Man’s leading ladies take the lead early, no doubt thanks to the fact that they’ve all appeared in multiple comics a month since the wall-crawler’s debut way back in 1962. This test really shows just how prominent Spider-Man’s supporting female cast is, and they’ve all stood the test of time. The same can’t be said for the bottom three, who have all fallen into obscurity at one point or another. Pepper Potts and Jane Foster both disappeared for large chunks of the ’80s, and they both support characters that tend to only have one monthly comic.
Over on the DC end of things, Lois Lane’s 75 years of continuous publication puts her on top with 3,719 appearances.
PART 2: VIDEO GAMES
This category is filled with damsels in distress, which I guess makes sense seeing as how all of these characters are humans and most of them have romantic ties to the hero. It’s still a bit of a bummer to see the pervasive trope on display here. Still, video games are responsible for getting super hero characters in front of a lot of people who might not read comics. Because of that, video games count 20%, with playable appearances outweighing non-playable ones. Here are the top five entries:
1. Mary Jane Watson — 1 playable, 12 non-playable — 2.8 points
2. Pepper Potts — 2 playable, 4 non-playable — 1.6 points
3. Aunt May — 1 playable, 3 non-playable — 1 point
4. Betty Ross — 1 playable, 2 non-playable — 0.8 points
5. Moira MacTaggert — 3 non-playable — 0.6 points
And here is the bottom three:
7. Jane Foster — 1 playable — 0.4 points
8. Betty Brant — 2 non-playable — 0.4 points
9. Alicia Masters — 1 non-playable — 0.2 points
10. TIE: Liz Allan, Mariko Yashida, Trish Tilby — 0 points
Like I said yesterday, “Lego Marvel Super Heroes” finally gave a lot of these characters their first playable roles in a video game. Aunt May, Gwen Stacy, Jane Foster, Mary Jane, and Pepper Potts all appear as Lego characters in that game.
Lois Lane isn’t faring much better in this category — of the 8 games she’s appeared in, she’s only been playable in “Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes.”
PART 3: TELEVISION
Since it’s beamed or streamed directly into our houses, landing a supporting gig on a TV show can really boost a character’s prominence. Each episode of a TV series (both live-action and animated), direct-to-DVD feature, TV movie and motion comic was counted, and that total counts 25% towards their score. Here are the top five entries:
1. Aunt May — 95 episodes — 23.75 points
2. Mary Jane Watson — 87 episodes — 21.75 points
3. Betty Brant — 72 episodes — 18 points
4. Pepper Potts — 59 episodes — 14.75 points
5. Betty Ross — 27 episodes — 6.75 points
And here is the bottom three:
9. Alicia Masters — 12 episodes — 3 points
10. TIE: Liz Allan, Mariko Yashida — 7 episodes — 1.75 points
12. Trish Tilby — 0 episodes — 0 points
Since his first cartoon in 1967, Aunt May has appeared in all but one (“Spider-Man Unlimited”) of Spider-Man’s small screen series. Betty Brant made a splash in this category thanks to the 1967 Spidey show, even though her appearances have become more infrequent lately. And while Betty Ross seems to have been forgotten in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she’s been a regular player in their animated projects and has appeared in four direct-to-DVD films.
Still, Lois Lane owns this category. Starting with her first TV appearance way back in 1952’s “Adventures of Superman,” she has appeared in 398 episodes of television. Starring roles in Superman cartoons as well as the TV series “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” and “Smallville” have kept her in the public eye for decades.
PART 4: FILM
Movies matter. Movies matter a lot. Pretty much everyone goes to see super hero movies — and if they don’t, the media storm surrounding them makes the characters pretty inescapable. More than any other category, this one is really where these women have made a name for themselves. A film’s domestic gross (adjusted for inflation) counts 40%. Here is the top five:
1. Pepper Potts — $1,699,136,702.19 — 67.97 points
2. Aunt May — $1,593,526,344.68 — 63.74 points
3. Mary Jane Watson — $1,331,495,681.68 — 53.26 points
4. Betty Brant — $820,556,570.05 — 32.82 points
5. Gwen Stacy — $633,408,252.71 — 25.34 points
And the bottom three:
9. Betty Ross — $307,486,902.46 — 12.3 points
10. Mariko Yashida — $132,556,852 — 5.3 points
11. TIE: Liz Allan, Trish Tilby — 0 points
Welcome to the billionaires’ club, y’all! Unlike their super-powered counterparts, these characters tend to appear in a lot of movies. Through reboots and revivals, these women stick by their hero’s side. Of everyone on the list, only Mariko, Liz, and Trish failed to appear in more than one movie. Betty Ross, the lowest ranked character to appear in two movies, has a ton of box office to her (and her green-skinned co-star’s) name.
The persistence of human female supporting characters over their super-powered sisters has helped Lois out here, too. Adjusted for inflation, Lois’ total box office haul is a staggering $1,420,287,521.40. I know that’s not indicative of Lois’ ability to put butts in theater seats, but it is indicative that a lot of butts have sat in seats and watched her.
1. Mary Jane Watson — 441.56 points
2. Aunt May — 366.44
3. Moira MacTaggert — 227.51 points
4. Betty Brant — 179.02 points
5. Pepper Potts — 164.42 points
6. Gwen Stacy — 158.64 points
7. Betty Ross — 144.5 points
8. Alicia Masters — 112.97 points
9. Liz Allan — 106.3 points
10. Mariko Yashida — 94.5 points
11. Jane Foster — 77.62 points
12. Trish Tilby — 73.05 points
So, that’s kind of a weird list! Really, counting every comic the character has appeared in threw some curveballs into this mix. It made comics count a lot more here than they do in the “Wonder Woman” project, which accounts for Moira MacTaggert (one of the 3 women to appear in over 1000 comics) being so high while big screen heavies like Pepper and Jane are so low. Moira and Betty Brant both got boosts from appearing in movies where they had speaking roles, but didn’t have especially large parts. It’s entirely possible that future iteration of this project might need to take into account starring comic book roles and each film’s billing order.
Still, however debatable things get after those top spots, those top spots are pretty unimpeachable. Mary Jane and Aunt May have become nearly as ubiquitous as Spider-Man himself, and Gwen Stacy’s closing in on both of them thanks to her big role in the “Amazing Spider-Man” movie franchise. And while I don’t think Marvel’s giving their Wonder Women (Storm and Jean Grey) the spotlight they deserve, they’ve actually done a decent job of capitalizing on Mary Jane’s omnipresence. She’s had her own ongoing series, a number of miniseries, and even young adult novels. Compared to Lois Lane’s solo comic book output over the past few decades, Mary Jane actually has her beat. That being said, Mary Jane hasn’t had her own series in five years. It would be nice to see her take the lead again.
And really, any time Marvel wants to launch an Aunt May ongoing series, I will be there to support it. Picture it: Aunt May, Anna Watson, Peggy Carter and Blind Al as the Marvel Universe’s “Golden Girls.” I would read that book!
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre show Left Handed Radio: The Sequel Machine. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).