By Allison Eckel
I saw a great photo on Twitter last week of a group of fans at the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (C2E2) in fantastic hero costumes. The group included Thor, Captain Marvel, and Iron Man; and they were all girls. Not in a jokey, drag queen way. But in a fantastic display of girl power uber-craftiness, this group of fangirls transformed Marvel’s most indelible heroes into Wonder Woman-worthy heroines.
In the DC Universe, girls can find many strong role models, most of whom lead their own books. Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Batwoman, and even Catwoman are no-nonsense, strong-minded, self-confident women who are regularly kicking butt and saving the world; and selling books by the boatloads to male and female readers. That is fantastic.
Guys are not the only ones who love role models who are strong protectors of the innocent and are steadfast in their commitment to the Good Fight. I was in kindergarten when I watched Linda Carter wear Wonder Woman’s star spangled bathing suit while kicking Nazi ass and carrying an injured Steve Trevor to safety. I was instantly finished with Disney Princesses; Princess Diana rescues herself while deflecting bullets! Plus, her symbol looks really great on a t-shirt.
So, Marvel: What have you got?
I asked at my Local Comic Shop (All Things Fun, which also publishes this blog) for examples of female-led Marvel comics titles. We couldn’t find any. She-Hulk and Elektra both had their own titles, but not since about 2009.
The Marvel Universe does have strong female characters. But since they are hidden in the pages of large team books like Avengers and X-Men, they are not approachable to outsiders. And they are not immediately inspiring to little girls. Invisible Woman from the Fantastic Four may be a contender – purveyors of super-cute apparel Tokidoki have put her on a fun, pink t-shirt (available at All Things Fun, natch). A few X-Men have potential. Storm, as a weather witch, commands great forces. Rogue and Kitty Pride are younger and may be more relatable to little girls. But they require too much explanation to be embraced immediately by girls hungry for strong female heroes.
Marvel recently announced an overhaul of its Captain Marvel character, as Glenn wrote previously. New series writer Kelly Sue DeConnick is quoted in an interview on Marvels’ news site. She explained that Carol Danvers will “have to figure out how … to marry the responsibility of [the Captain Marvel] legacy with the sheer joy being nearly invulnerable.” Based on her interview, I would hazard to say that Captain Marvel could be a first for Marvel: A successful, solo-female hero book. Except…
The character’s name has a long history of association with males, and with DC Comics (see Glenn's post for deatils). Plus, the character’s new costume is highly derivative of Supergirl (they even share a last name). In fact, the look is almost the same as Kara’s in 1998’s Elseworld’s Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl.
So, Marvel is on the right track to branding a powerful female hero, but so far, they are cobbling her together from what looks like left-over pieces the other kids left behind. Not exactly my idea of a great effort.
For now, I will continue my daughter’s indoctrination to the girl power available from DC Comics. Luckily, Old Navy has been selling Wonder Woman t-shirts for a while now, so I have been able to keep my daughter well-outfitted in Girl Power apparel. I will also learn from those awesome cosplayers at C2E2 and teach my daughter that when you can’t find that great female role model, you make her yourself.
By Glenn Walker
In Marvel Comics' Avengers #213, an unfortunate character-defining moment occurred with Dr. Henry Pym, then going by the name of Yellowjacket. He struck his wife, Janet Van Dyne, AKA the Wasp. Ask anyone who's a Marvel Comics fan about Hank Pym, and at some point during the conversation, early on usually, the phrase 'domestic violence' (or worse) will come up.
Now before we start this rollercoaster ride, please understand I am not supporting domestic violence in any capacity whatsoever. What Hank did to Jan is inexcusable. My question is why does one slap define his character forever? Especially in light of the fact it might not have been meant to happen in the comic at all? Oh yeah, you read that right, but I'll get to that later.
First let's have some history on Dr. Henry Pym. He's one of the Marvel originals, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in Tales to Astonish #27. As Ant-Man, the scientist-turned-adventurer continued on in that comic, gaining both a rogues gallery and a sidekick: Janet Van Dyne, who became the Wasp. While Ant-Man could shrink and communicate and control ants, he gave his heiress girlfriend slightly different powers. The Wasp could shrink, but at insect size she sprouted wings and had mechanical 'stingers.' She was a bit ditzy at the beginning, but let's be honest here, Stan Lee was not at his finest writing women back in those days.
The next big move in Hank's career was, along with the Wasp, becoming a founding member of the Avengers. By that time, Pym had improved upon the science that allowed him to shrink, and was also using the identity of Giant-Man, who could not only shrink, but also grow to incredible size. Retroactively it's been suggested that Pym kept trying to improve himself to compete with the bigger guns in the Avengers, especially fellow scientist Tony Stark as Iron Man. Me, I don't buy it.
Later after a leave of absence from the team, Hank and Jan returned to the Avengers, and this time, he called himself Goliath. Three identities and at least a half-dozen costumes, as well as a dozen outfits for the Wasp – a pattern was developing. It would stay in place for years. For the record, the Wasp has had more costumes than any other heroine in comics. He stayed Goliath for a while, and was even trapped at a height of fifteen feet for some time. It was during this period that things got bad.
Realizing that he fought better in the lab with his brain than he did in a costume and with his fists, Hank turned to his research more seriously. This, unfortunately, was his undoing. He created an artificial intelligence called Ultron that not only turned against him, the creature affected his thinking, and ultimately his mind. Later this monster became one of the Avengers' greatest foes. Failed experiments and damaged self-esteem added into the equation and Henry Pym had a mental breakdown. From this tragedy arose the new identity of Yellowjacket.
Yellowjacket was everything that Hank Pym wasn't, and he even claimed to have killed Pym. Yellowjacket was active, aggressive, acting first and thinking last. He wielded a disruptor pistol, didn't change size, and moved in on Pym's woman quickly – and asked Janet to marry him. The Wasp was the only one who knew that Yellowjacket was the product of a mental break and a backfiring experiment. So she not only humored him, she married him.
At the wedding, Hank came to his senses, but still thereafter was subject to mental stress. Mostly it was the guilt of having created one of the Avengers' deadliest enemies that weighed most heavy on him. For the most part – except for switching off to Ant-Man once or twice – Hank remained Yellowjacket for most of the 1970s. He later took on other identities like the scientific adventurer Doctor Pym, and more recently as the new Wasp in memory of his late ex-wife (yeah, we'll get to that). He also has gone back to Goliath, Ant-Man, and Giant-Man for short periods of time, that last is the identity he's using in current issues of Avengers Academy.
Ultron has returned on many occasions, often screwing with Hank's mind. In hindsight, it is hard to say how many of Pym’s mental problems have been his own, and how many have been the brainwashings and manipulations of Ultron – but that's a case for another time. This brings us back to the beginning: Avengers #213, and the slap.
Yellowjacket was under stress and mental strain again. He was getting careless, making mistakes, and taking it out on his wife Janet. Verbally, it should be stressed, he was yelling at her. Janet, in their relationship, had always stood by him. She would rather be superheroing, and he would always want to be in the lab, they quarreled occasionally, but they always stood by each other. In this issue, it changes.
Hank strikes Jan, knocks her down, and gives her a shiner. One strike is shown. Despite the idea that if it happens once, it'll happen again, we don't see it in the comics. He hits her once, and is labeled a wife-beater forever. In the events that follow, Hank is expelled from the Avengers, divorced from Janet, suffers a complete mental breakdown, does jail time, attacks the Avengers, is brainwashed by Egghead, and even seriously contemplates suicide – all of this in a very short time.
Hank has been forgiven, and redeemed himself, in his own eyes, in Janet's, and in those of the Avengers several times in the decades since. It seems that he is forgiven in everyone's eyes, except those of the majority of readers, and the writers at Marvel. And as I've always said: There are no bad characters, only bad writers. Seeing as Hank Pym is one of my favorite Avengers, it hurts me to see a character of such great potential treated thus. The slap remains a stigma, the stigma that defines the character.
I have to wonder why this is not the case with other comic book characters. Have we forgotten that Hal Jordan slaughtered most of the Green Lantern Corps? How many people has the Hulk killed in his rampages? How many times has Spider-Man knocked Mary Jane around? In post-Crisis continuity, Superman sentenced the three Phantom Zone villains to death. Reed Richards struck his wife Sue physically and verbally to shake her out of her Malice identity.
Let's not even get into the weird physical relationships Batman has had with Catwoman and Talia, among others – you know there was more than slapping involved there. Add in the archer couples Hawkeye and Mockingbird, and Green Arrow and Black Canary, and you have enough dysfunctional relationship there to make Hank and Jan seem positively healthy. Why is it Henry Pym that takes the blame?
Recently it has come to light, although I had heard rumors for years, that the slap was never meant to happen as we saw it on the page. The writer of that issue, Jim Shooter, who was also Marvel's editor-in-chief at the time, posted a blog entry about the incident. You can read it here. It's called, appropriately enough, "Hank Pym Was Not a Wife Beater." What is most interesting is that artist Bob Hall collaborates this in the comments section of the blog.
So where does this leave us? Well, continuity is as it was printed, not what was meant to be printed. I mean, this is the way it is: Hank hit Jan. Of course, Janet is no longer with us, killed at the end of the Secret Invasion. In Dan Slott's Mighty Avengers, Hank was in the process of finding a way to bring her back. The subplot remains in Avengers Academy by Christos Gage. Both Slott and Gage are good writers – no, make that great writers. Maybe Hank is headed toward another redemption, and maybe this time it will stick.
By Glenn Walker
If that title sounds familiar, it should, it was used just one of many times somebody in the media tried to make Wonder Woman relevant. "The New Original Wonder Woman" was the tagline and temporary title of the 1970s television series starring Lynda Carter. At least then, the character of Wonder Woman was recognizable.
If you've been paying attention the last week or so to pop culture media you've heard of the newest brew-ha-ha over everyone's favorite Amazon Princess. Not for the first time, DC Comics has decided to mess with Wonder Woman, and writer J.M. Straczynski, notably the man who erased Spider-Man's marriage from existence and more recently grounded Superman, has been named the man for the job.
The dirty deed happens in the iconic landmark issue #600 of Wonder Woman on shelves now. This oversized comic also features an introduction by the aforementioned Lynda Carter, great stories by Gail Simone (the exiting WW writer who has done tremendous work with the character), Amanda Conner and Louise Simonson, amazing art by George Perez, Phil Jimenez, Greg Horn and Ivan Reis, a handful of pin-up pages all that I quite enjoyed - and the offending new version of Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman has been changed and/or rebooted several times over the last almost seven decades. The most notable change was in 1968 and lasted almost five years. Wonder Woman was stripped of her powers, arsenal, costume and her supporting cast, including her Amazon sisters. She found a new mentor who trained her in the martial arts and she fought crime using her wits and fighting skills in a white jumpsuit as Diana Prince.
Then, as now, there was a public outcry against this change. Feminist Gloria Steinem in particular railed against this depowering of the strong female role model. While the stories themselves weren't really all that bad, they weren't Wonder Woman. The status quo was returned in 1973 as Wonder Woman found her sisters and her powers again and became weirdly amnesiac of her time in the white jumpsuit pretending to be Emma Peel of the Avengers. No, not those Avengers, but I'm glad you're paying attention.
Wonder Woman, like many of DC Comics' characters, was also rebooted in 1985. Writer/artist George Perez jettisoned the invisible jet, the Diana Prince secret identity, and Steve Trevor as a romantic interest in favor of a father figure role. Perez also upped her power levels, gave her finally the full ability to fly and tied her origins and backstory more tightly to the Olympian gods. This was a good change, and most of all, she was still Wonder Woman - trademark, imagery, continuity and marketing were all intact.
The current change, presented in a ten-page story in Wonder Woman #600, is a serious change, more in line with the 1968 shake-up. Note the similarities. Diana no longer has her Amazonian supporting cast as Themyscira is destroyed. She's wearing a full bodysuit and depending on simply fighting skills. There seems to be a serious depowering going on, as she doesn't fly and is shown fighting human agents in an urban setting.
The new costume is practical, and makes sense, but it's not Wonder Woman. Sorry, I hate to be the crab here, but sometimes tradition and recognition trump practicality and logic. Take Superman. Capes are dumb, but he's not Superman without the cape. Same with Diana. No armored bathing suit, no Wonder Woman.
Her origin has been mucked about, from all indications, by time travel and some diabolical villain. And Diana's mission seems to be to uncover what really happened and ideally reverse it, right? If she does, and she wins, won't everything go back to the way it was? I doubt it. Logic seems to dictate our heroine will lose this fight - another reason for me to dislike this new paradigm.
What is most disturbing to me about the story by JMS and artist Don Kramer, is that the main character, Wonder Woman, if she is even being called that, is completely bland. And the elements that are interesting - the sewer of guardians so similar to the mysterious subway in Captain Marvel's origin and the so obviously Neil Gaiman Oracle, are lifted from other sources. Indeed, the Oracle is far more interesting than the reputed star of the story.
It's a shame that the other three and half stories in this issue outshine the one we're supposed to be the most interested in. I guess we'll have to wait for Wonder Woman #601 to get a better idea of what we really have here. And if not, Wonder Woman has returned to her original and most known form after every other change - let's hope it happens this time as well.