A few weeks ago, during a live conference streamed online, the Marvel Studios revealed dates, titles and official logos for their next films to be released until 2020. Besides the long-awaited sequels for Captain America, Avengers, Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy, the House of Ideas also revealed an intriguing set of “B Side” characters to join their cinematic pantheon of heroes: Inhumans, Dr. Strange, [Black Panther](movie:9047) and Captain Marvel. The last two received some special attention because they are going to be the first superhero films starring a black hero and a woman respectively in Marvel's monumental cinematic universe. This special attention towards those films due to race and gender elements are part of an old debate in comic books, which associated with other recent events, led me to the decision of writing about female characters in Marvel comicbooks with emphasis on the main characters and their importance throughout the years.
In a market considered for years as man oriented, female characters for a long time played only only supporting roles among the most powerful heroes on earth. However, as it happens with every form of art, comic books follow the political, social and cultural changes of our society, therefore it’s easy to understand why since the sixties, following the women’s claim for rights and active social roles, the ninth art started to insert in its pages relevant and over powered female characters, even though, to this day they are not as popular as most male heroes.
Female Marvel characters existed since before the company was even called Marvel. When the editorial company was still known as Timely and Atlas comics, characters such as Venus (which is currently one Agent of Atlas) already had their own magazines, nonetheless, it was only in 1961, with the creation of the Fantastic Four by Stan Lee, that our concept of a Marvel Super Heroine was created in the form of Susan “Sue” Storm, whose original alias was Invisible Girl, only latter becoming Invisible Woman. Following her path, other super-heroines joined the ranks of Marvel’s other major teams, the Avengers and the X-men. It was in the 60’s that The Wasp, Scarlet Witch and Jean Grey first appeared, hugely relevant characters for their respective teams teams, and they've all made appearances in films, or are about to. Scarlet Witch is going to be introduced in Avengers Age of Ultron, played by Elizabeth Olsen; The Wasp might show up in The Ant-Man, since Evangeline Lilly is set to play a Van Dyne in the film and finally Jean Grey, who is so far known through Famke Janssen’s performances in the X-men franchise, but who is also about to be recast for X-men Apocalypse. It was also in the 60's that non-powerful female characters were born, like Peter Parker’s love affairs Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy. At the same time, Pepper Potts and Sharon Carter were created - however, those two gained more relevance only recently, due to their appearances in Marvel’s cinematic universe. Pepper Potts because of the Iron Man franchise, where she is played by Gwyneth Paltrow, a character of the utmost important in Tony Stark’s life and a key character in Iron Man 3. Sharon Carter on the other hand, besides of (no of) her importance on the Captain America comics, got overrun by her ancestor Peggy Carter, Captain America’s love affair in The First Avenger and one of the most important characters in the MCU, since she co-founded SHIELD side by side with Howard Stark which is going to be explored in her upcoming tv series, Agent Carter.
- The 70's
If those characters started to establish themselves in major teams in the 60's, the 70's marked the beginning of solo adventures for super heroines. Carol Danvers, a decorated army officer is rescued by legendary Captain Mar-vell from the alien machine Psychomagnetron and became super powered as well, becoming Miss Marvel (who already appeared in the sixties as a supporting character). The lawyer Jennifer Walters, cousin of some guy called Bruce Banner, receives a blood transfusion from him and becomes The Savage She-Hulk. A young woman is released from a genetic treatment chamber after spending decades recovering from a disease, only to find out she has developed super, becoming The Spider-Woman. Even though their solo titles ended a couple of years later, they were the birth of some of the most important super heroes in Marvel’s history and they played significant roles in most of the company’s big sagas, joining, in many occasions, the Avengers and even the Fantastic Four. A notable aspect of these three characters is that they are all the female counterparts of existing heroes. Without regards to this fact, their connections with those counterparts is very different. Jessica Drew and Peter Parker are rarely connected, even though they have equivalent names; Carol Danvers is deeply connected to her mentor, Captain Mar-vell, but she has fought a lot to overcome his position and she is already more popular than the old Captain, who has been dead for a few years on the comics; She-Hulk might be the one that stayed closer to her counterpart, probably because Jen and Banner are parents and also because it’s impossible to escape from the shadow of the Emerald Giant, one of Marvel’s biggest characters, literally and figuratively.
- The 80's
The 80's were a period of intense cultural changes in the United States; pop music exploded in the trails of Michael Jackson and Madonna; synth music announced a growing love for all sorts futuristic gadgets, following the success of Star Wars and Back from the Future; urban moviments such as punk, heavy metal and hip hop became stronger and more popular. There was also a revolution in everybody’s sense of style, people loved to dress with excess, everything was ridiculously colored or completely black, and it was also a time for headbangers with long hair, punks with huge mohawks and people with every sort of creative hairstyle, tattoo or piercings. In cinema, action films became a thing because of the infinite badassary from their stars, horror peaked in popularity with the creation of iconic characters and blockbuster filmmaking spread like wildfire. The ending of the decade also marked the end of the cold war and the fall of the Berlin wall. So many cultural changes were obviously fated to affect comic books. Female characters boomed in the X-men, with the creation of characters such as Psylocke, Rogue, Jubilee, Dazzler and Kitty Pryde, all by the hands of Chris Claremont, who was also first to make a woman a leader of a major team, by making Storm (with her awesome Mohawk) defeat Cyclops in a combat for the leadership of the X-men. The X-men also became the largest team, consequently having the biggest amount of super powered women in their stories; the list goes on and on with characters like Emma Frost and Mystique. Until today, more than one hundred mutant women have crossed paths with the X-men, as members or opponents.
As a direct consequence of those cultural changes, female characters started to be envisioned with an overly sensual style: absurdly slim waists, accented curves - every women was a model and their clothes did the best to emphasize their sexy lines. Legs and cleavage were always on display in the tighest spandex uniforms possible, that composed the wardrobe of those characters. She Hulk, as an example, had to fight against hordes of enemies dressing like a gym instructor and Miss Marvel herself had to fight aliens wearing a black swimsuit and a beach canga around her waist. This exaggerated focus on the fittest possible bodies was also common to male characters, which is understandable since they are all athletes, but they were rarely seen wearing barely anything, as the female characters. By one side it was a reflex of the sexual liberty in vogue during that time, but it was also simple and plain sexual exploitation, this image of women in comic books became a trademark that only now is being changed. On the one hand it was an answer to the sexual liberation in vogue at the time, but on the other it was plain and simple sexual exploitation. This image of women in comic books sadly became a trademark that only recently is changing.
It was also in the 80's that Marvel’s most remarkable anti-hero was born. A Greek ninja assassin, Elektra Natchios was created by Frank Miller as a secondary character for the [Daredevil](movie:47230) comic book for only one edition. The positive reception guaranteed the comeback of Elektra for a couple more editions, and later to her own title. It was such a successful character that she appeared in the 2003 Daredevil film and two years later got a solo film, which was the first film based on a female character from Marvel Comics. The film was a huge failure though, being loathed by both the public and critics - today it’s side by side with films like Daredevil and The Fantastis Four in the limbo created after Marvel Studios assembled the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
It’s a consensus amongst comic book fans that the nineties weren’t the best years for comics in general, super heroines included. A lot of new characters appeared, especially in the X-men, but none of them remarkable. Nonetheless, some of the mutants became more popular than ever due to the animated X-men cartoon, which had Jean Gray, Storm, Rogue and Jubilee as main female characters.
- The 2000's
If the 90s weren’t relevant, the year 2000 set in motion huge changes in how the world was going to see super heroes. That year Bryan Singer remodeled the X-men and brought them to the Silver Screen wearing black leather uniforms instead of the classic blue and yellow spandex, creating a more realistic and gritty universe, completely different from anything done before in relation to superheroes. In the very first film, the gender aspect was brilliantly handled by the team of strong and powerful female characters: Jean Gray, Storm and Rogue, with the X-men and Mystique on Magneto’s side. In the comic books, Jessica Jones was the new addition to the adult seal Marvel Max, and Wolverine got cloned into a little girl, X23. Throughout the 2000's, Marvel organized their universe in order to make something more coherent and integrated, in which big events would resonate equally for all characters, creating one of the most intricate and complex fictional universes of all time. The multiverse grew limitless, taking old characters to new places and bringing forth new characters to please the widest possible audience. In the comic books, events such as The Civil War helped to shape a new age for Marvel Comics and in theaters, Iron Man redefined the Super Hero film, making possible the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which redefined mainstream cinema as a whole.
In theaters, female characters weren’t as objectified as they used to be in comics. New social and cultural transformations marked by the internet era helped to increase the popularity of super heroes, and the transformation of the market made clear that comics weren’t male territory anymore, so female characters assumed different roles in the beginning of the 10's. It’s important to highlight that sensual lines didn’t cease to exist and they probably won’t, since the universe of super powers is mostly inhabited by people in great physical shape. However, the body stopped being the defining element for those characters, which started to get more developed personalities, leading to an obvious abandonment of swim- and gym suits as uniforms for most of them.
Captain Marvel, who until 2012 still wore that same black swimsuit, might be the main face of this new era. Carol Danvers has recently assumed the place left by Mar-vell after he died, becoming the new Captain Marvel and wearing appropriate clothes for a cosmic warrior, a full body uniform that only leaves her face uncovered, but with the option of a retractable helmet. The visual transformation of Carol Danvers, and her solo comics are a historical landmark for super heroines as a whole, and her trajectory in the last two years, which is now building up to her own movie, and points out that she might become the single most important female character in Marvel’s history. Quoting Captain America himself in Captain Marvel #1, from 2012, during a conversation with Carol about becoming Captain Marvel, "You have led the Avengers. You have saved the World. Quit being and Adjunct. Take the (Captain Marvel) Mantle."
With most of the rights to their super heroines spread between Fox and Sony, Marvel optioning for Danvers was the best possible choice - however, the film that is scheduled for 2018 still doesn’t have a leading actress nor a director attached, but one thing can be said for sure: she will not be seen wearing a black swimsuit unless she is on the beach as a civilian. In the comics, her own series has been going on for two years without signs of stopping and she still fights alongside the Avengers. Her old title, Miss Marvel, has been passed forward to an American-Pakistani, in another groundbreaking decision made by Marvel to make their comics more approachable for different people.
In most of the recent films, a lot of female characters are very well established, such as Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique or Scarlett Johansson’s [Black Widow](movie:1070824) and even Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, and new characters are about to make their debut. Another remarkable female character is the aforementioned Peggy Carter, star of her own TV series in 2015.
It’s necessary to point out here that Marvel hasn’t become, and has no intention whatsover of turning into a feminist company, or a defender of the ideas of feminism, but that doesn’t make their changes less important. Their changes are focused solely on spreading the word in order to make Marvel even more friendly to the public, always aware that the world is composed by different people, from different ethnicities, genders, orientations, religions or simply with different tastes, and the more respectful they are towards those different people, the more successful they are going to be. [Captain Marvel](movie:949779) has everything going to be a starting point for many other female super heroes to come after Phase 3 - right now we can only hope it’s going to honor the decades of history of those powerful women.
Sources: marvel.com; Marvel comic books; opiniaozona.com.br
Special thanks to my buddy Bruno for the support.