Female Superheroes: An Experiment

When Marvel cancelled X-23 and people pointed out that it’s the only comic that company currently publishes starring and named after a female character, it got me thinking. I get the explanation that publishers don’t put out books that people don’t buy. I also get the counter-argument that people don’t buy books that publishers don’t market. This isn’t an article about who’s at fault. What I’ve been thinking about is my personal reaction to superhero comics starring and named after female characters.

Generally, I’m for them. All else being equal, I’d rather read a comic starring a female superhero than a male one. For whatever reason, I’m less enthusiastic about characters that are too much like me. Okay, “whatever reason” is insincere. It has a lot to do with my being a straight, white guy and the extreme abundance of characters that I share that demographic with. I’d just rather read about someone different.

And I do. If I have any interest in the character and the creative team at all, I’ll always give a female-led superhero comic a shot. But what the cancellation of X-23 has reminded me is that there aren’t a lot of comics like that out there. Maybe – in order to support those kinds of series – I should expand my interests beyond characters and creators I already like. Try some new things. Give some series I’ve written off another shot.

Let me make something really clear though. I’m not talking about buying and supporting bad comics simply because they star a woman. As part of this experiment, I’m going to buy a few issues of some comics that have been described as horrible by people whose opinion I trust. The idea is to dig into these comics more deeply than just dismissing them as “icky." By reading four or five issues, I can get a handle on what kinds of characters these are and what kinds of stories the creators are telling about them. But by no means am I committing to buying horrible comics just to support a demographic trend or even to “keep up with the industry.” I want to learn, but I’m not a masochist.

Because DC has some extremely recognizable characters and also several titles named after their female heroes, I’m going to start there. I’ll look at Batgirl next week, a comic that I gave up on after the first issue zagged when I thought it would zig. Its not meeting my expectations is all the reason I need as a consumer not to buy it, but as a critic, that also makes it a great place to begin this experiment. Having readjusted expectations, I’d like to take another look at it and judge it based on what it wants to be instead of what I wanted.

Later, we’ll move on to a universally praised series that I lost interest in thanks to all the broken promises over start dates (Batwoman), widely maligned comics like Catwoman and Voodoo, and some that I’ve been enjoying since they started (Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Birds of Prey, for example). And eventually I’d like to move beyond DC and look at some other female-led books that I’ve never checked out. Stuff like Magdalena and Lady Mechanika. I’m on the fence about trying T&A stuff like Lady Death and Tarot, but for the sake of completeness, I’m leaning towards satisfying my curiosity.

Besides, my goal in this experiment isn’t to find out which series or characters best support feminism. I’m 100% in favor of women getting treatment and opportunities equal to men, but I’m going to try to avoid terms like “misogynistic” and focus instead on story and character. If a series has nothing going for it except titillation, I'll say so, but I'm going to try not to prejudge. Hopefully, we’ll end up with a list of great, female-superhero comics that deserve wider support regardless of the gender or politics of their audiences.

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