Arts & Pop Culture

THE DAWN OF THE FEMALE SUPERHERO

By TYLER BREITFELLER

Who decided that Batman was the cinematic superhero icon of our time? Whose choice was it that Wolverine should be the face of the X-Men or that Iron Man should have three movies before Black Widow has one? Since the first Superman film in 1951, over 70 movies based on DC and Marvel comics have been made. Of those, only three have been female-led. Three. Between DC and Marvel, there are over 350 female superheroes in mainstream comics, but for some reason I can count the ones who have led their own movies on one hand. 

Supergirl, Catwoman and Elektra currently hold this distinction, which is most likely, as annoying as it is, because of the male-centered titles that they’re related to. Superman, Batman and Daredevil were all particularly successful at their respective times of release, and film companies thought to take advantage of their popularity. However, unlike their male counterparts, none of the female-centered films performed exceptionally well at the box office and they have since become scapegoats for female film snubbers across the country. Of course, these are probably the same people that still think a new Batman film every other year is fresh and exciting. superheroes

Speaking of Batman, since his big screen debut, the Dark Knight has been the subject of eight feature films, and there is a ninth on the way. Three of them were made in the last decade alone. It’s indisputable that people flock to theaters to see these films, but whether Batman continues killing it at the box office because of his story or simply because Warner Brothers hasn’t given anyone else a chance has yet to be determined.

If the company ever does look to expand its roster, I wouldn’t hesitate to vouch for Kate Kane, also known as Batwoman. She has the name recognition that production companies seem to love, and her status as relatively new to comics altogether cements her as a much more modern character than her male counterpart.

Here is a little backstory: Kate Kane is the daughter of a colonel and a captain, and grew up with her parents and twin sister Elizabeth as they moved to a wide variety of towns and military bases. While in Belgium, her family was caught up in a terrorist attack, resulting in the deaths of her mother and sister. Afterwards, Kane joined the Marines in an effort to please her father. It was around this time that she began to come to terms with her sexuality, notably entering into a lesbian relationship with her academy roommate. After being suspected and questioned by her commander, Kane confirmed her sexual orientation and was dishonorably discharged. Her father, despite his military pride, forgave her and congratulated her for being honest with herself. Kane’s father later remarried and, through her new stepmother, she became a socialite in the world of Gotham’s elite.

Now, this all seems like a better coming of age story than half of the cookie-cutter dramas that are released today, and she hasn’t even begun fighting crime yet. Kane is a compelling character with a rich backstory, complex story arcs and thrilling villains. Batman may have Joker, but Batwoman has Alice, the self-stylized High Priestess of Gotham City crime. Kane is not only entertaining; she is also a role model that young girls can look up to. She’s smart, tough, and when hope seems lost, she sets her own path in life. She’s out and she’s proud of it — and while there are various subplots exploring Kane’s personal life and relationships, they never become the focus of her story. Frankly, I think it’s time that Kane has a chance to shine.

Even though not many female characters are awarded solo superhero movies, the recent ensemble film trend has led to female characters being given more screen time than ever before, even if they aren’t directly in the spotlight. The X-Men franchise has the largest supporting female cast, and boasts power hitters like Jean Grey, Rogue, Emma Frost, Kitty Pryde, Storm and, most notably in the newer entries, Mystique. While the films continue to focus mainly on the struggles of their middle-aged white male leads, the women in them don’t just fall into roles as the love interest or damsel in distress, which is certainly a step up from other series. However, it should be noted that each of these female powerhouses could easily shine on their own, and it would do 20th Century Fox well to realize that before they give Wolverine another solo title.

Jean Grey, for example, an intelligent woman and young professor, is (initially) a telepath found by Xavier, founder of the X-Men. During an emergency mission in space, the team finds their shuttle damaged and Jean pilots it back to Earth, but there is a cost — severe radiation exposure. Determined to help her friends, Jean calls out for help and is answered by the Phoenix Force, the sum of all life in the universe, who is moved by her selfless dedication. The two eventually merge their psyches. From that point on, Grey literally holds the strongest force in the universe, and struggles to contain her new powers. Emma Frost, another telepath member of the team, houses the Phoenix Force for a period as well. However, Frost’s tale is a bit different. Originally an enemy of the X-Men, Frost grew up abused and manipulated by the men in her life and was forced to do whatever she had to in order to live the life she wanted. She is unapologetic in the ways she uses her cunning, powers and sexuality, and through her not-always-upstanding actions was able to attend university while fighting crime.

Both of these women, although very different, live extremely independent and strong narratives that any audience, male or female, could be inspired by. Female superheroes are incredibly complex and strong characters. They kind of have to be. The fact that I’m even writing this article demonstrates just how much harder women need to fight for their place in society. Giving these women the recognition they deserve would be a big step in the right direction. It would give the next generation of young boys a vision of women being as tough as they can be, and it would help foster a mindset that these ladies shouldn’t be portrayed as side characters in their own lives. The entertainment industry is on superhero overload right now, and it would do society well for the industry to show women kicking as much ass as men.

So why hasn’t anyone done anything about this? Well, the answer lies in the inherent sexism of the entertainment industry. It’s inarguable that comics, from films to cartoons to books, have been and continue to be marketed to males. For example, two years ago, Cartoon Network canceled the Emmy nominated Young Justice television series. But they didn’t cancel it because of poor ratings; they cancelled it because of the demographics of its viewers. Young Justice was more popular among females in the young adult age range than young males, whom the network had attempted to target, and Cartoon Network was not happy about that. For this reason, Young Justice was axed after its second season, leaving its story unfinished and its viewers livid. Numerous online petitions were spread, but to no avail. Cartoon Network and DC Comics were sure about the type of viewers they wanted, and they hadn’t gotten them.

Thankfully, in the time since, it seems DC has begun to change. Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman and will be portraying her (the heroine’s first time on the big screen) in the 2016 film Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. DC announced that Gadot will then star in a solo title, which is slated for a 2017 release. Warner Brothers, the production company behind DC’s films, has been searching for a female director to helm the project.

It’s debatable what’s more ridiculous — thinking female led films won’t appeal to a male audience, or thinking that superhero film audiences are predominantly male. Regardless, hopefully the breakthrough of Wonder Woman means times are beginning to change. Though no plans have been made for other female members of the Justice League to show up in DC’s film universe, a television series centered on Supergirl is currently in talks. Let’s hope these two ventures are only the beginning. The superheroine’s spotlight is long overdue, and I think it’s time that every production company from LA to New York realizes just how important these women are.

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