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Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Rant Inspired By Livejournal.

I just went on a twitter rampage in response to a retweeted quote from Parsimonia's blog. (I'm linking the post itself so you can see context and because her original point is definitely worthy of consideration. But you know me, I have to harp.)

Anyway, I thought I'd record the gist of my comments here. Mostly because I (of course) think I have good points. But I don't really want to flood her comments section with something largely tangential to her main topic.

The quote:

You cannot find meaningful female or minority characters prior to the Bronze Age. So the obsession with nostalgia over the Silver and Golden Ages, by its nature, is exclusionary to women and minorities.

And I say, bullshit to that particular part. (the full comment is here.)

I won't argue with the rest of her comment. (Hell, Geoforce sucks.) But the idea that there are NO Silver/Golden Age women or minority characters. That's incredibly blanketly wrong.

Off the top of my head:

Golden Age: Black Canary, Wonder Woman, the Cat/Catwoman
Silver Age: Jean Grey, Sue Storm, Sharon Carter, Jan Van Dyne, the Scarlet Witch, Black Widow

I'm shakier with non-white characters, I admit, but Sam Wilson, Tom Kalmaku, Black Panther

And depending on when you start the Bronze Age: Luke Cage, Storm, Kitty Pryde and Emma Frost count too.

I'm not saying this is a significant portion, mind. Or that straight white male heroes don't vastly out number women or minority heroes in that time. But to say they don't exist is offensive.

Sure, there are problematic aspects. And that can turn a lot of modern readers off. But that's not a reason to negate them. And sometimes, what we see as problem was actually progressive.

Sharon Carter for instance kept denying Steve's marriage proposals because she wanted to remain Nick Fury's superspy. Yeah, okay: problems: mini-skirts, fainting, thinking that she has to choose between career and marriage.

But she still got to be competent, kickass, and hell, she CHOSE career over marriage. Not fucking bad for the 1960s.

Jean Grey had her problems in execution, sure. Needed Xavier to walk her through simple tasks. Mooned over Cyclops but wouldn't confront him. But she was actually able to knock aside over friendly guys at a time when good girls were expected to put up with shit. She was competent, smart, and was the first of them to go off to a real college even.

Jan Van Dyne and Sue Storm I admit to being shakier on. But Jan WAS part of the rotated-chairmanship run of the Avengers and led the team quite well.

(And please note, everything I mentioned happened IN the Silver Age comics, they're not modern day inventions.)

And that's ignoring all the development and enhancement the ladies have been through since.

I also think nostalgia can open doors to wider variety. For example, JSA's nostalgia allowed for modern successors to white male heroes in the form of Michael Holt or Courtney Whitmore. And it shouldn't be ignored for that either. That's like to me the epitome of what nostalgia SHOULD bring us. The characters that pushed their way through a creative environment/time where they weren't necessarily welcome without serious problem, and the new characters inspired by them.

Rant aside, I do recommend that you read Parsimonia's post with regards to women as comics creators. (Her point about big crossovers is particularly good. I might just be naive, but I'd like to think Gail Simone wouldn't have made Diana a Star Sapphire.)

(Edited to add: Bluefall clarifies what she means by meaningful here.

I guess she and I just definitely have incompatible definitions of meaningful, because I'm having trouble seeing how the woman who's simultaneously Hal Jordan's love interest, boss (career woman AND owner of her own airfield), Star Sapphire (parallel counterpart, main adversary, and chosen queen of a race of intergalactic Amazons) isn't meaningful.

It'd be like saying Lois Lane or Catwoman were never meaningful characters. Oh. Wait. Sorry.

Really though, I have sincere doubts in the perspective of anyone who would claim that Jean Grey isn't a meaningful character simply because she was the X-Men's token girl.)


  • At January 31, 2010 2:55 AM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    You are fucking kidding me.

    Hell, two of those examples are women who were BETTER OFF in the sexist years--Golden and Silver Age Wonder Woman got to win a bit and be happy, and what I wouldn't GIVE for Silver Age Wanda back.

    She was clumsy and saddled with a ridiculously protective brother (which, given that they were teenagers surrounded by terrorists is understandable), but she was always portrayed as incredibly formidable. And the joy and delight she took at having the power to protect herself and her brother was incredible realistic. Hell, the first Avengers mission they all took together it wasn't Wanda who got captured. It was Wanda as the one-woman demolitions crew blasting through rock to save her brother.

  • At January 31, 2010 2:56 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    See what you miss in the wrong time zone?

  • At January 31, 2010 6:24 AM, Blogger Menshevik said…

    To add a few:

    Golden Age:
    Comic books: Sheena, Black Cat (Harvey, solo heroine 1941-1951), Mary Marvel (headlined two titles simultaneously for a time)
    Syndicated strips: Miss Fury (1941-1952, written and drawn by Tarpé Mills), Lady Luck (1940-1950), Invisible Scarlet O'Neil (1940-1956)
    Pulp novels:
    Golden Amazon (1939-1960)
    Outside of the US: Nelvana (Canada, 1941-1947), Darna (Philippines, 1947 to today, AFAIK)

    These were all heroines who headline(d) their own series - hope that's "significant" enough.

    Re. the Silver Age I'd mention Joe Robertson and Wyatt Wingfoot for minority characters and Crystal for female characters. The Invisible Girl (as she then still called herself) also was interesting because she grew stronger over time (paving the way for her to effectively becoming the FF's strongest member in the Bronze Age) and that she showed that she could be a wife and mother while remaining an active superheroine.

  • At January 31, 2010 10:42 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    Does Zinda count as a Silver Age heroine? Because Lady Blackhawk rocks. ROCKS!

  • At January 31, 2010 10:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Also, there was the Spirit's cast.

    Just off-hand: Ebony, P'Gell, Dr. Floss (PhD AND MD), Sand Sherif, Ellen Dolan (wasn't she mayor of Central City for a bit?)

    Also, Ms. Marvel actually showed up in the Silver Age. She used to be a supporting character in Captain Marvel's series. She was the HEAD security officer at the Cape. Not bad for the mid 60's.

  • At January 31, 2010 10:57 AM, Blogger Seangreyson said…

    I think, if you only read the first few issues of the silver age marvel books it becomes easier to dismiss the marvel women.

    In the first batch of FF, Sue really did tend to be relegated to cooking for the rest of the team, swooning, etc.

    And in the first year (give or take)of X-men, Jean filled a lot of the same sort of roles. Though in her case she was also written a lot more like a teenage girl from one of the 50/60's sitcoms, which made it slightly more appropriate-ish.

    The big difference, at least at Marvel, was the female characters grew. The writers actually gave them real responsibilities, and made them integral to the plot.

    Even before the "Hidden Years" era, Jean had already developed to the point where they literally killed off Xavier in order to age the team, and counted on Jean to replace him. Didn't stick of course but still.

    In DC, I'm less certain of character development. Like every comic blog reader I've seen a lot of crazy Lois Lane stories over the years, and there's certainly a question on to whether or not she developed as a character. As for the other DC women, Wonder Woman did have her own very successful book, which is more than can be said for a lot of female characters now.

  • At January 31, 2010 11:12 AM, Blogger Matthew E said…

    Saturn Girl was the leader of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and an obviously formidable character, in 1963. The other female Legionnaires needed some time to catch up with her, but Saturn Girl was kicking ass and taking names right from the start.

  • At January 31, 2010 11:59 AM, Blogger Menshevik said…

    I forgot to mention, among others:

    Silver Age: Supergirl, Batgirl (also Batwoman and Bat-Girl, come to think of it), various members of the LSH etc., Clea (another Marvel heroine who grew considerably as time wore on), Valkyrie.

    As far as "minority" characters went, I suppose one could also bring up the Ancient One (Dr. Strange's mentor) and Mantis (her debut was in the same month as the death of Gwen Stacy, a popular issue to mark the end of the Silver Age). Red Wolf (Marvel's first Native American superhero) is also Silver Age, but perhaps never was important enough for some people to count as significant.

  • At January 31, 2010 12:00 PM, Blogger Menshevik said…

    (I wouldn't count Shang-Chi as Silver Age myself, but he predates Storm, Kitty Pryde and Emma Frost by several years).

  • At January 31, 2010 12:10 PM, Blogger Menshevik said…

    @ Seangreyson

    Golden Age Lois Lane could be a pretty tough cookie (I always have this mental image from the Fleisher cartoon "The Billion Dollar Limited", where she lets a bunch of train-robbers have it with a tommy-gun). And for all the sillyness of the Silver Age version, she was popular and "important" enough to star in 137 issues of her own title - which, according to this comment
    for a time was the #2 selling comic-book.

  • At January 31, 2010 12:17 PM, Blogger Menshevik said…

    Damn, that link didn't come through. It's at "She Has No Head" for "Giving Lois Lane a Second Look, for the First Time" (you can find it via "When Fangirls Attack", 27 January 2010), the second comment written by "Dean" on 25 January.

  • At January 31, 2010 12:23 PM, Anonymous Jennifer said…

    I love Silver Age ladies! To deny their awesome is ridiculous.

    And to add to Ragnell's point, Wanda Maximoff was the only girl on a team of boys and didn't date any of them. In the 1960s. That's impressive!

  • At January 31, 2010 7:50 PM, Blogger Evan Waters said…

    While Sue did have the weird "she doesn't have to do anything!" moment in an early issue (which I still kind of love because Reed is so angrily breaking the fourth wall), at some point Stan and Jack did realize that she needed more useful powers and gave her the force-field gimmick.

    And this one may predate the Golden Age, but Wilma Deering in the Buck Rogers strips was pretty strong for her time- there were some "knock her down a peg" moments, but she was a soldier. It wasn't hard for later incarnations to bring her up to date.

  • At January 31, 2010 8:49 PM, Blogger Your Obedient Serpent said…

    Mort Luchins, over at the What Were They Thinking? blog, loves to scan Golden Age stories with strong female characters.

    Golden Age Lois Lane was no weak sister (to put it in the vernacular of the time). Her famous contempt for Clark was because he didn't meet the standards she set for herself.

    And I've got to mention Ma Hunkle here.

    Am I crazy, or is it time that someone gave us a Red Tornado series that takes the character seriously? I've always thought you could play Ma Hunkle straight instead of bigfoot/slapstick -- even a little on the Noir side.

    Yeah, she was a supporting character in a humor strip, and her single GA acknowledgement in "serious" superhero books depicted her as something of a buffoon, but despite that -- here's a WORKING MOTHER, who was the undisputed HEAD OF HER FAMILY, who wound up OWNING HER OWN BUSINESS, and when thugs kidnapped some kids in her working-class neighborhood, she PUT ON A COSTUME AND BEAT THE CRAP OUT OF THEM.

    Hell, I want a straight, dramatic Red Tornado movie.

  • At February 01, 2010 7:58 PM, Blogger Will Shetterly said…

    During the Golden Age, Chop-Chop of the Blackhawks was a comic-relief cliche, but in the Silver Age, he became a full-fledged member of the team.

  • At February 01, 2010 8:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Jimmy Woo over at Marvel was a Golden Age-ish Chinese-American hero who was never a racist stereotype even if he did have to fight a Fu Manchu clone. The fact that someone gave enough of a damn about an obscure character of the past to finally make him a team leader points out one really good thing about nostalgia: sometimes it can give characters a second chance. Especially those who may not have the best chance in the past like minorities. Completely writing off the past doesn't always help. Besides reclaiming can be more helpful than flat out rejection.

  • At February 02, 2010 12:33 AM, Blogger Jessica said…

    Word to this post, and all the comments. Heck, even in the obscure and mostly terrible Golden/Silver Age Blue Beetle comics, the women rocked. Joan Mason was the (shamless ripoff of) Lois Lane of the Golden Age Blue Beetle, who took no guff and regularly assisted in the crimefighting (she was certainly more of a reliable helpmeet than the Beetle's police officer partner). Sometimes Blue Beetle didn't even show up, because Joan didn't need him. Even the one-off women in BB regularly shrugged off kidnappings and bullet wounds. They got a bit more docile in the Silver Age, but Luri Hoshid, the only recurring Silver Age Blue Beetle character besides a villain and Blue Beetle himself, was a highly competent Arabic archaeologist. Just because they're totally obscure and not canon now doesn't mean these characters weren't awesome in their day!

    (P.S. Hi, I lurk sometimes. *waves*)

  • At February 05, 2010 9:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well I think the problem is lack of gender diversity... MAYBE back in the day they only focused on one female gender, the damsel/princess type... but now comics have the other problem they are only focusing on the bad girl female.
    Even if Sue Storms was the motherly type or damsel in distress type back in the day, it wouldn't have been so bad, it becomes problematic only if her type is the ONLY female type.

    The problem in comics is that the female is going to be envisioned as what the male readership wants. So Spidey gets to be the nerd but is always surrounded by hot-babes.

    [Of course this could also be the wish fulfillment of the female readership who want to see themselves as spidey's hot babe LOL]

    - Seafire

  • At February 05, 2010 3:10 PM, Blogger Menshevik said…

    To say that there was just one type of female character in the Silver Age or whenever is an exaggeration. In the 1960s I'd say you could identify different types, such as princess/damsels (Gwen Stacy, Betty Ross, Clea, maybe Sif in a more warlike version), girl-next-door types (Liz Allan, Crystal (even though she was in fact a princess)), working girls (Betty Brant, Karen Page), screwball comedy types (Janet van Dyne, MJ Watson), mother figures (Susan Richards, to some extent Aunt May), crones (Agatha Harkness - one tough old lady!)...
    I think the problem in the Silver Age was twofold:
    1) there were simply not that many female characters, and
    2) gender-types tended to be allocated to certain roles. So yes, there were "bad girl females" in the 1960s, but pretty much all of them tended to be villains (Enchantress, Umar), ex-villains (Black Widow, Medusa) or spy-types (Black Widow again, Countess Valentina), while most (natural) mothers were, with the perhaps sole exception of Sue Richards, fairly minor supporting characters or dead (IIRC it was only during the Bronze Age that it we got a villainous mother when it was revealed that Umar was Clea's mother).

  • At February 05, 2010 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanks Menshevik, I didn't even think of those other characters. Like most ppl, I was under the impression that the "olden" days only had one female type, Sue Storm, in her maternal, damsel in distress role.
    But I think the rpoblem with the modern age is still there, there are soooo many females being characterized as bad @$$ femme fatales... just like the olden days will be remembered for Sue Storm and not the gender diversity that actually existed, I am pretty sure that this time period will be remembered for the femme fatale and not the fact that there were and probably are more types of female characters then thought.

    - Seafire

  • At May 16, 2011 5:01 PM, Anonymous viagra online said…

    I cannot remember any thing about my childhood , but I have just a memento in my mind about a similar thing as your post!


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