Mothership Connection, by Martha Thomases
There’s been a lot of conversation lately in the girls’ section of the comics blogosphere about the way women’s lives are depicted in superhero comics. Even so-called strong, independent female characters are little more than an excuse to show tits’n’ass. Some site evidence that female characters are used as plot points, citing the “women in refrigerators” syndrome. More recently, discussions have centered on the premise that married characters are boring.
A lot of this is a reflection of the larger pop culture, which is at least as male-dominated as comics. The people who can greenlight movies, or put a television show on a network, are most likely Penile-Americans. Book publishing tends to be more diverse because there are more women in positions of authority, and (this is related) book publishing tends to pay less than other mass media.
Most of it, however, is lazy pandering to the perceived target audience. It’s assumed that boys find the single life more glamorous and more exciting than marriage. Up to a point, I agree. The thrill of the chase is, well, a thrill. That said, even the new gets old after a while. Dashiell Hammett used Nick and Nora Charles to show that marriage can be sexy and fun. Why can’t comics?
I’m more disturbed by two recent storylines that assume that being a mom conflicts with being heroic. Both Black Canary and Catwoman recently lost their daughters. Black Canary thinks her adopted child is dead because Green Arrow and his colleagues decided it was too dangerous for the child to live with Dinah. Selina persuades Bruce Wayne to help her put her daughter up for adoption, then asks Zatanna to erase her memory of her baby girl.
Maybe this happens because the target audience – adolescent boys of all ages and genders – don’t want to think mothers can be heroic. Maybe they find it disturbing to be attracted to someone’s Mom. (And yet, in the larger pop landscape, the MILF is the new pin-up. Go figure.)
Or maybe it’s because being a mother requires super-human endurance, strength and coordination. Maybe the intensity of emotion that’s part of being a parent is too intense for escapist entertainment.
A few years ago, Pixar’s The Incredibles told a great story, with all kinds of familial relationships. The family didn’t get in the way of the action. On the contrary, the family was the best weapon against the bad guys. I’m willing to bet that The Incredibles turned a bigger profit (by drawing a larger audience) than any comic book property that year.
So there are lots of stories in many media about heroic moms, and there’s really no reason to demand that so-called mainstream superhero comics create them, too. I get that. More to the point, if I want to see these stories, I should write them myself. (And I am, in my novel, Secret Identities).
So I’m not demanding. I’m suggesting. I think this is a way to grow an audience, which would make it profitable, and I think it’s a way for superhero comics to tell new kinds of stories, which would make it fun.
More fun comics. What a concept.
Martha Thomases is the media goddess of ComicMix.