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Thursday, October 29, 2020 

Newsarama's awkward list of best female heroines

So Newsarama/Games Radar's written a list of 10 notable superheroines from the Big Two whom they consider the best, and it's a shame the modern writing can't match that assessment. Let's see what they say about Supergirl:
Supergirl may have started out as a spin-off character from Superman, but for many fans, she' become so much more than that. DC's Maid of Might represents a certain element of femininity that is often glossed over in fiction – the balance of girlish glee and emotional exploration with confidence and physical power.

Too often female characters must be one or the other, ultra-feminine or super-powerful, but Supergirl - who possesses all the strength of her cousin Superman while facing all the issues of a young woman - is at her best when writers strike a true balance between both sides of that coin, letting her be a real Supergirl.

That dynamic plays an important role in the CW's Supergirl, a show that places a slightly older Kara in the central role and embraces her femininity without shying away from her ability to kick ass.
If this is supposed to imply superheroines have only been depicted as one of the other most of the time in the past, it's laughable. What about Hawkgirl, who came well before Supergirl, and could be feminine and powerful in her own way simultaneously? What about Black Canary? Or, most importantly, Wonder Woman? Oh, and how come no mention of all the rabid politics on the now cancelled TV show, or the politics that turned up in Kara Zor-El's solo book that were insulting to femininity? Are we missing something here? I'm afraid that, no matter how she's portrayed on the TV series, it doesn't excuse the political platform the show was built on for much of its run, and what turned up in the comics a few years ago contradicts the notion those in charge now respect femininity. Next up is Black Widow:
Black Widow has been around as a character since the '60s, but it's only recently that she's become a particularly prominent heroine in the Marvel Universe, thanks in large part to her role as a founding member of the cinematic Avengers.

But the fact that her recent success has mostly been due to her onscreen adventures doesn’t discount her role in comic books, either. Though she started out as a villain, it wasn’t long before Black Widow became an Avenger, a career she's balanced with her black ops work alongside SH.I.E.L.D. and on her own, even leading the team for a time.
I think her recent prominence owes more to political correctness than a real quest for entertainment. Besides, there were some notable stories starring Natasha Romanoff in the past, some of which I own (in a trade format), like a Marvel Fanfare story from 1983, and a miniseries from 1987, Coldest War. Those tales are far more engrossing than today's PC-infected fare. Next is She-Hulk:
To some, She-Hulk is the ultimate expression of feminine power. She's indestructible, super-strong, and without inhibition – all of this with the mind of a high-powered attorney wrapped inside those unparalleled green muscles.

And while she may seem like a typical spin-off character (obviously riffing on her somewhat more famous cousin Bruce Banner), She-Hulk takes the concept of a gamma-irradiated hero to a totally different level, embracing her alter ego and living life to the fullest.

In some ways, She-Hulk also broke other boundaries – her John Byrne-penned ongoing series introduced an indestructible, fourth-wall-breaking hero with a sense of humor years before Deadpool grew a similar schtick.

She-Hulk was Deadpool before there even was a Deadpool.
She was decidedly better written than Deadpool was too years before, but that's beside the point. What's glossed over here is how disturbingly masculine-drawn she became in the past decade when Axel Alonso was EIC, and even after C.B. Cebulski took over, it hasn't changed much, if the following panel from Immortal She-Hulk says anything. It looks dreadful. And they think they're so qualified to talk about femininity, huh? To say she's indestructible - which she wasn't in past decades - risks making her sound like a Mary Sue devoid of flaws. Then, there's the Wasp:
Janet Van Dyne was not only the first female Avenger, and a founder, but also the hero who named the team when they first formed.

Though she started out as something of a sidekick to her on-again-off-again (currently off-again) paramour Hank Pym, Janet quickly became a hero in her own right, leading the Avengers several times, and often acting as the team's moral center.

Wasp's arc has consistently projected upwards, quickly leaving behind any semblance of being a 'damsel in distress,' and progressing to the top levels of Marvel's heroic roster. Add to that her historical significance, and it's easy to see why she's one of the greatest female heroes ever to grace the printed page.

And while viewers got a glimpse of Janet Van Dyne in action in Ant-Man, she took on a much larger role in the sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp - in which her MCU daughter Hope Van Dyne took on the mantle of the winsome Wasp.
I see they don't mention how misused and marginalized she became in the past decade, and no objective view is taken of how she was handled during 1981, for example, and whether Hank Pym should've been turned into some sacrificial lamb in the process. I don't like how they discuss Jean Grey either:
Jean Grey was the first X-Woman, and even bore the name of her publishing company as Marvel Girl before transitioning to her Phoenix identity in the '70s. But she’s more than just the first female mutant superhero – she's also emblematic of the entire X-Men franchise, and one of the most complex, well-developed characters in comic books.

She may have started out in the typical Marvel superheroine model, but later adventures saw Jean develop a level of depth that many ensemble cast members never achieve. Between her ever-developing relationship with Scott Summers, her vast and terrifying power levels, her descent into madness as the Dark Phoenix, and her penchant for self-sacrifice and redemption, Jean experienced more in her tenure as a hero than almost anyone.

Of course, the Phoenix always rises from the ashes, and the resurrected Jean is a key character in the current 'Dawn of X' X-Men era.
I miss any mention that it was later established that Jean was replaced by a cosmic entity for some time, and 5 years after the whole Phoenix tale was told, the real Jean was discovered cocooned at the bottom of the ocean by the Fantastic Four. Can you honestly feel comfortable with a character who slaughters millions upon billions of aliens on a distant planet, surely one of the most shock value stories of the Bronze Age? Some people may think the Phoenix Saga is a masterpiece, but for me, the whole description of the Phoenix's actions in the 1980 issues makes me sick. And I'm saying that because I'm a fan of Jean Grey, and find it horrible how the whole mess kept getting regurgitated as time went by (like in Grant Morrison's 2001-04 run), and wonder why nobody thought to mention Claremont's original plan to have Jean sprung from Shi'ar custody and not face any justice for the crimes committed against a neighboring alien race, if she were the established culprit. Jim Shooter changed all that, but it doesn't explain why he thought the premise itself was agreeable to start with, and greenlighted it at the time. Now, here's something about Babs Gordon:
These days, she's back in action as Batgirl, her spinal injuries having been healed as part of the 'New 52' reboot. She's remained in her reprised role as Batgirl for nearly a decade now - though her current ongoing series is about to wrap with #50.
Hmm, so they don't mention how that solo book became a drainpipe for SJW ideology, effectively dampening the praise that I believe is owed to earlier, better writers like Chuck Dixon, for example, or John Ostrander, who cast Babs in a special role in the latter part of Suicide Squad, where her new role as Oracle was developed. And it doesn't get any better with what they say about Carol Danvers, referred to here as Capt. Marvel:
Carol Danvers is just about the most powerful woman in the Marvel Universe, and is arguably the publisher's top female hero.

With cosmic powers, a background as a fighter pilot, a high profile movie, and that crucial Avengers membership, she's everything great about superheroes wrapped up in one sleek package.

It's no wonder the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will likely put Carol front and center, as one of the pillars of the most popular superhero brand in the world.
Unfortunately, when the more than 6 consecutive volumes since 2012 sell as poorly, one after the other, as they did when ideologues like Kelly Sue deConnick took over, you can't say Carol's at the top so easily. Just like why, thanks to all the political correctness Spider-Man underwent in the past decade, it's no longer possible to say he's the top male superhero. That's what happens when you dumb down the creation so badly. Whatever "success" Carol's seen in the past decade owes more to PC media coverage glossing over any mistakes made, even as sales were very poor. And while the film drawing from this very well of PC may have raked in millions, there's no guarantee a sequel - if there is one in the works - will prove as profitable this time around. When they turn next to Storm:
Storm is also the first major Black woman superhero – a distinction that shouldn't be overlooked, especially considering how important she's remained in both X-Men and Marvel lore.
Certainly she was one of the earliest Black superheroines (DC's Bumblebee/Karen Beecher from the Teen Titans is also worth consideration), but so much political correctness in the past decade has ruined everything, to the point where you could ask how important anybody considers her in the wider sphere of pop culture today. Next is Invisible Woman:
Marvel's first superheroine may not have the highest profile of the characters on this list, but Sue Storm set the pace for modern female heroes – and still occupies a fairly unique place in comic books.

While its true that early stories didn’t exactly serve Sue particularly well, she developed into the heart and soul of the Fantastic Four, serving as Marvel's first family's de facto – and literal – mother. And that may be one of the most crucial aspects of her character.

While Sue Storm is powerful in her own right – many writers have said she's got the most raw power of anyone on the FF – she also represents an important aspect of womanhood that many female heroes have sacrificed or had used against them – motherhood.

That Sue can serve as one of the most respected heroes in the Marvel Universe (and its first female hero) while simultaneously raising two children and shepherding the growth of many more through the Future Foundation can't be understated.

Plus, it takes a pretty amazing woman to stand up to a blowhard like Reed Richards.
First, they're wrong about Sue Storm being Marvel's first superheroine - one of the earliest was Miss America, debuting in Marvel Mystery Comics #49 from 1943 whose real name was Madelyne Joyce Frank, and was co-created by Otto Binder and Al Gabriele. For a time, it was implied in the Bronze Age that she and her husband, the Whizzer, were the parents of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, but that was later changed to Magneto and his late wife Magda Lensherr. If anything, Sue Storm was the first Marvel superheroine of the Silver Age, when she debuted in late 1961. (But Mr. Fantastic a "blowhard"? If anything, he sometimes got carried away babbling his scientific jargon, to the occasional distress of his family and fellow heroes, and Sue had to remind him he should cut it short.)

But what an interesting note about motherhood and womanhood! Have they taken into consideration all the recent artwork at Marvel beginning when Axel Alonso was EIC that's denigrated a lot of their female casts by making them look masculine (including the aforementioned She-Hulk, when they drew her in some instances with very masculine-looking muscles), and certainly less feminine, almost entirely eliminating their breasts and villifying sex appeal, something Stan Lee oversaw when he was in charge of the once House of Ideas (She-Hulk was developed as a big green sex symbol under his oversight too), and nobody in his time ever accused him of wrongdoing, and we could even cite modern Marvel's denigration of Mary Jane Watson, kicking her to the curb and thus removing one of the best symbols of womanhood from Spider-Man's world in 2007's notorious One More Day when Joe Quesada was still EIC. At the time, they also trolled the audience by getting rid of the Parkers' daughter, featuring a young girl in a cameo who's implied to be the daughter May, basically erasing her along with the marriage through the Mephisto deal. As a result, Newsarama's allusions to motherhood bear some pondering too, because under Quesada, he pretty much belittled the idea along with marriage between men and women.

Unfortunately, they fail to flesh this out into a full-fledged argument where a case could truly be made for womanhood/motherhood, obviously because they don't have what it takes to make a seriously objective, meat-and-potatoes argument over what went wrong with Marvel in the past 20 years, and there's no chance Marvel would ever draw inspiration from Amy Coney Barrett for motherhood and womanhood, because her approach is anathema to theirs. Last up is Wonder Woman:
Diana of Themiscyra represents the best of mankind, and of womanhood. Strong, compassionate, fearless, and independent, as Wonder Woman Diana is a pillar of the Justice League and one of the greatest heroes and warriors in the entire DC Universe.

And though her real world origins are complex, William Moulton Marston and his collaborators Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne created an equally complex character who would grow to become a feminist icon and the character that almost anyone in the world thinks of when you say "female superhero."
Trouble is, WW's been just as much a victim of dumbing-down in modern times, and during the New 52, her origin as the product of enchanted clay was retconned so that instead, she was the daughter of Zeus, which may not have been changed even after New 52 was abandoned 5 years later. If not, it symbolizes all that's gone wrong with corporate-owned comics today, where bad ideas remain firmly in place, no matter how badly served the creation becomes as a result. Almost hilarious is how feminists don't seem to care if the retcon remains, despite how it slights their alleged beliefs.

And that concludes a little look at a not-very-objective item about women in mainstream comicdom, by people who aren't very dedicated to advocating for quality writing.

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"Jim Shooter changed all that, but it doesn't explain why he thought the premise itself was agreeable to start with, and greenlighted it at the time."

He didn't green light it. The destruction of the alien planet was not part of Claremont's original plot, but thrown in by John Byrne as a dramatic extra in the course of drawing the book. When Shooter saw it he said actions have to have consequences, and forced the rewriting and redrawing of the final issue of the storyline.

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