When it comes to the two giants of the superhero world, Marvel definitely has the reputation for ridiculousness. Big risks (like pretty much everything about [Guardians of the Galaxy](movie:424073)) lead to big rewards, and DC is often seen as the more staid and cautious one, struggling to catch up.
I may be a Marvel fangirl at heart, but there are some areas where the ludicrous has no place, and one of those is in the way that they choose to portray their female characters. With women accounting for more and more of the comic book fandom, sexism is a hot-button topic for the industry. Sites like the Hawkeye Initiative point out a very big issue with comic books, that the female heroes are often portrayed in a very sexual manner, with silly poses and skimpy costumes. (Want to see more from The Hawkeye Initiative? Check out this collection of some of the best by Danica Lynne Abeln here!)
However, this is not the biggest issue for me. While I find many of the costumes ridiculous in terms of practicality, I'm also willing to suspend a certain level of disbelief for the sake of enjoying the story. Let's face it, some of their costuming concepts are a bit ridiculous on all sides. No one would spend all day, every day wandering around with a full leotard under a suit. In New York. In the summer (comfortable!). Our non-billionaires wouldn't develop the bank accounts to put together masks, costumes and equipment as a side-effect of having been bitten by a spider, or chanced upon a mutated gene. Really, if we were going for 100% practical costumes, all of these heroes would look like ninjas, all the time. Which would not be very fun to read, not to mention boring to cosplay!
I also feel the need to point out that these are very stylized drawings, and they are being used to tell a story. Which means that our super-women tend to look very sleek and slim when going about their daily lives, and then suddenly bulk up Popeye-style in a fight scene. Where an artist needs to convey strength, intimidation, etc, they tend to emphasis the muscles, and vice versa. Have you ever noticed that (and this applied to the male characters too) when a hero is getting his ass kicked, he is drawn with far fewer rippling muscles than when he is winning? Add to that the lifespan of many of these characters, and the different artists who have brought them to life, and you end up with countless variations of appearance for each one.
All of which is fair enough, so I thought. And then I decided to re-watch X-Men: The Animated Series, and for the first time, noticed a little something. When the sentinels scan the characters, it's not just names that pop up, there are actual weight stats alongside them. Then I took a little flick through the Marvel/DC character guides and encyclopedias, and took a good hard look at the weight stats in there, too. This isn't something that is subject to perception, or used to help tell the story, these are measurable, quantifiable statistics, and for the most part, they are ridiculous.
Take Black Cat, for example. One of the curvier members of the Marvelverse, Felicia Hardy is apparently 5'10", but weighs only 120lbs. Those are not the measurements of a muscular, curvy woman. At all. In fact, few of the measurements make any real sense, as 125lbs and 5'9" seems to be the size that Marvel has decided to make their average superwoman - clearly without ever talking to physically strong women.
Ms Marvel is listed at 5'11" and 124lbs, despite her hugely muscular frame. Some of the thinnest in the bunch are Jean Grey and Kitty Pryde, who are shorter than many at 5'6" but still only weighs a teeny tiny 110lbs, Jubille, who is an inch shorter but 5lbs lighter, and Snowbird, who has the ridiculous measurements of of 5'10" and 108lbs. Which, to put that into perspective, is thinner than every major supermodel that I researched. Funny, the comics don't seem to have her looking like she would make Christie Turlington feel chubby.
To add even more perspective, how about we look at some of the superheroines who have actually been cast by real people, and see how they stack up? Emma Frost is apparently 5'10" and weighs 125lbs (which, for the record, appears to be the standard for Marvel). I think that January Jones looks fantastic as Frost, but the measurements don't. Jones is both shorter and heavier at 5'6" and 134lbs. What? Halle Berry is apparently about the right weight for her iconic role as Storm, (in fact, she is a few pounds shy of the listed 127), but she's also half a foot shorter which would account for the difference. Finally, Scarlett Johansson. I personally think that she has an ideal superhero body - toned, not skinny and with the assets to match the art. Marvel disagrees. ScarJo may be their ideal 125lbs for Black Widow, but again, she falls far short on height at only 5'3".
Marvel also goes to the other end of the ridiculous spectrum, with women at huge weights. Namora and Namorita, despite appearing phsycially similar to the other superheroines are actually huge, at 5'11"/189lbs and 5'6"/225lbs respectively. Apparently it is something in the water? Then there are those who would be expected to be enormous; She-Hulk is listed at 6'7" and 650lbs, and Thundra at 7'2" and 350lbs. Two slightly more surprising additions to this end of the scale were Gamora (6', 170lbs) and Tigra (5'10", 180lbs). Why exactly is Tigra almost the same height as Ms Marvel, but over 50lbs heavier?
Ironically (and almost hilariously), the only stat I could find that seemed reasonable was for Marvel's own model, Millie. At 5'7" and 137lbs, she's not far off Jennifer Lawrence, who actually has a good shape for a superheroine. (Just not Mystique, who is apparently 5'10" and 120lbs.)
DC, true to form, are actually far more realistic in with their stats. Rather than Marvel's go-to of supermodel sizing, many of the women of DC are between 130 and 150lbs, and between 5'5" and 5'7". Much more reasonable for characters with some real muscle on them.
Their smallest character is Speedy (Mia Dearden) at only 105lbs. However, she is also a street kid (which allows for some waifishness) and only 5'4". Star Sapphire is also pretty slim for her height of 5'7" at only 125lbs, which is about the same size at Katie Cassidy who has been criticized for being "too thin" for her role as Laurel Lance in Arrow.
Of course, they also have their intentionally super-sized ladies, but even these are far more realistic than the giants in Marvel. Giganta stands at 6'6", and weighs 246lbs, while Artemis (obviously not the Young Justice version) is 6ft and 166lbs. [Wonder Woman](movie:45787) (you knew I was going to get to her) is also 6ft, and one whole pound lighter than Artemis. As the three heaviest women in the encyclopedia, these are impressively realistic - a muscular woman at 6ft? 165lb sounds about right for that.
The remainder of the big names are all in proportion, and measure up (for the most part) to their images. Supergirl is 5'5" and 135lbs, Poison Ivy is the same weight but an inch taller. Harley Quinn is 5'7" and 140, while Catwoman is only very slightly smaller than her at 133lbs. One of the tallest of the bunch is Huntress, at 5'11", and her weight is higher to compensate - 148lbs.
So what the heck, Marvel?!
I'm all for talking racoons with big guns, Norse gods turning into Frogs, parallel dimensions run by reality-tv obsessed weirdos, and generally all the great ways that you surprised and delighted me over the years with your weirdness.
This, on the other hand, is a word that I can't use in polite company.
I don't expect my superheroines to look like the average woman, after all, they most definitely are not average. I'm not suggesting a fat Rogue for the sake of "diversity" or anything like that. These ladies pack a serious punch, and their weight should reflect their musculature.
I love female superheroes because they make me want to be healthier. As a kid, they gave me someone to look up to who made me want to be stronger, and as an adult, they make me want to hit the gym and train harder. These weight stats do not do that.
For the most part, they are physically unachievable. Incredibly tall, muscular, busty women with six packs do not weigh 120lbs. The women of Marvel absolutely tower over their DC counterparts, but the figures suggest it doesn't matter. Powers aside, the ladies of DC would be able to knock 'em down with a feather.
In this one arena, DC wins, hands down. They recognize that taller women weigh more (shocking!) and that muscle actually has weight. Marvel, on the other hand, needs to do some serious thinking about the kind of message they are sending to fans. Even researching this, when I knew that they were unreasonable, I couldn't help do some pondering, and coming to the conclusion that according to Marvel, I should weigh maybe 10lbs more than my dog.
Maybe Marvel should be thinking less about their "female-friendly" Instagram, and more about re-issuing their characters with measurements that make sense.
Note: Stats for this article are taken from both the official Marvel Encyclopedia and the official DC Comics Ultimate Character Guide.