Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Female hero Template Revisited

Some things change and some things almost certainly stay the same, from Wonder Woman’s origins as a strong woman being constantly restrained and whipped to modern day heroines with their spray on costumes, voluptuous figures and sexualised poses I think we can all recognise the need for an alternative to the norm. An alternative that has female characters that are strong willed and attractive without contorting painfully so that their rear gets the best light it can, female characters that are strong without the need to go and kill things to prove it, female characters that in short, are worth reading about.
Looking at the comic industry you can see the sexualisation of the typical female stance but I would argue that the male model often suffers from the same over posed, muscular form that is likely to objectify that sex too, not to the same degree as with the female characters, but certainly it is worth stating. So taking as fact that ‘hero’ comics must have action, adventure, drama and sexy characters how do we change the dynamic beyond making the girl hit harder and the guy a stereotypical scientist (another overused archetype)?
Imagine if you will a new model, not one based in the alternative worlds where independent stories are often violent, sexually explicit or have explicit language and themes (though certainly this is not the case for all alternative comic books), but in the mainstream. Co-existing with the Avengers and The X-Men could a female character stand alone and not have a bra size that would destroy the back of even the strongest woman? Could she be attractive and active, competent and compelling in that universe or in their rivals without thrusting out her behind or having conversations while changing costume, her perfect form hidden by just whisps of smoke or steam? Could she even have a form that wasn’t quite perfect?!
Looking at that last point it seems even more unlikely. Remembering the only plus size heroine I can think of; Big Bertha, the Great Lakes Avenger, she was a female version of the blob when active with the team and then shrunk down to a supermodel size when not fighting crime and get this; she was an actual supermodel! Oh and obviously people thought she looked amazing as Bertha and nasty as Big Bertha. Bad! Not only that but The Great Lakes Avengers were a comedy outfit too. They took the piss out of Reed Richards with Flat Man, had a Dinosaur Pterodactyl girl and sunk even lower when they recruited ‘Squirrel girl.’
It seems that the idea of a woman who’s athletic but not perfect isn’t going to fit in into the mould and yet why not? Well, I think if we are looking for a new model then we look to incorporate a compromise here! Our heroine is going to have a slight tummy. There, did the world end? Did the universe implode?! No. Okay, it’s done! She’s going to be athletic and pretty and she works out a bit and is active but she is not perfect. Cool.
Looking at the next obstacle we need to make a few key decisions. We want her to be modern and we need her to look cool but we don’t want to see her in a corset, holding a whip, shoving her arse out. We need a cape. A cape can cover the bottom and so we get drifting dramatic cloak action instead of gratuitous bottom action. It can give us a visual dynamic and it can give us a strong look. The cape is the first piece in the puzzle that is her costume. Next we need to attack the chest thrusting thing. How to combat that? Simple, we give our girl a suit of armour, not one that’s moulded around her breasts perfectly, no, we want something sturdy looking that still gives our character movement, look, functionality and we can have it so it doesn’t completely remove the female form but conceals it slightly. We want to blur the lines so our artist can concentrate on making her look good, strong, heroic, and not just sexy.
She has a cloak, no stupid shoulder pads (being retro eighties isn’t big or clever), a bullet proof costume, a utility belt and good solid boots (no heels). We have a new argument now to land on; colour. Looking at purple brings us towards the Huntress and so we must go away from that so I think we say our heroine is not just a vigilante, she has to be like the big heroes, like Captain America and Thor. She needs to be respected, adored and trusted by the public. We want someone that can stand up and have her own title, have her own villains, her own stand alone stories and supporting cast. We want a proper character.
Red costume, a mask that conceals the identity though not her sex, armour to keep her safe, a cloak to dissuade  the obvious gratuitous butt shot and a heroic direction and emphasis.  Great! Now we have dealt with some of the obviously annoying stuff, the daft poses, the ridiculously revealing costumes we must move on to the more important things, the actual core of a strong, modern, female character.
Let’s look for someone that can pass the Bechdel test shall we? It’s a scary test to apply to the media you consume as once you start looking for the flaws in the drama you watch you will find that most of it doesn’t comply to the law. The law (please look it up) means we need to have at least two female characters having a conversation that does not revolve around men or a singular man. We can do this but we also need to look away from the ‘Birds Of Prey’ nearly all female cast. Oh no, I want female and male interaction, but I want this to be more equal, so let’s have a list here  yeah?
We need a cast:
Main character is a strong female character, as we have already designed.
Support cast consists of at least one male and one female character that aids the main character effectively.
One support character should be a male character drawn and written as a stereotypical female character but this character must not be the main characters love interest.
A love interest that has a real role to play in the story other than to just be someone to go home to and it matters not what sex they are though let’s make them male so we can keep true to the course of constructing a comic that is both mould breaking and yet set in one of the main universes.
A main villain that will provide a physical, emotional and intellectual battle that will test our heroine.

Now we have that under our belt I’d like to do what is really important; I want to look at the actual character of our heroine. I want to go somewhere that may not be too many people’s liking, I want to build someone who walks and talks.
Firstly I think we rule out the dead parent’s thing, it’s been done. Let’s make this quick and say she has a respect for life, a love of order and yet a thirst for adventure. Let’s make her dad a good man; an ambulance driver and Paramedic. Her mother was a doctor. They worked at the same hospital and met and fell in love and she had a happy childhood. Let’s say her parents are still around, perhaps divorced? She splits her time between them in her youth and she grew up well adjusted but had some rebellious acts.  Nothing that took her to the police station but perhaps some independent nights when she didn’t come home on time? A boyfriend that got her into motorbikes and a love of football that saw her travel with a fan base that could be as rough as it was loyal? That’s her.
What brought her to the point where she decided she needed to take a stand? Not something too horrific, this is a hero not a vigilante. Let’s say a friend was killed, no, a boyfriend, killed by a drunk driver. Okay. This brings her into the idea that perhaps life wasn’t fair and that someone should do something about some of the injustice? Yes.
Remembering that she is surrounded by a universe full of heroes and heroines she knows it can be done and so being clever, a scientist in her own right, she knocks up a serum that gives her an edge, uses money she has earned selling other inventions and builds her costume.
She stands for right, has a fighting style based on Aikido, redirecting force rather than being the owner of a stupidly exposing flying kick and is as brave as any other Avenger. She rights wrongs, goes by the book and can beat her foe with a twist of the wrist or by tricking them into defeat. She isn’t a smasher because that invites a whole load of chest high, bum out action. She fights in a closed stance and can twist and turn her way out of danger...and maybe even fly.
We have a heroine that at the moment doesn’t walk and talk but is built to walk and talk in a slightly different way to the norm. She can be pushed into the lime light and be upright and stand for good. She can be all those things and more though what we really want is someone that can be what isn’t the norm, a female character that doesn’t coast on TnA.
Finally let’s look at one last thing, not motive, not combat moves, not costume and colour and stance but actual character. Let’s have her not as a raging feminist but as someone that is written like Captain America (when he’s written well). She sees people, not sexes or races. She sees criminals but she also sees causes and isn’t unsympathetic to the enemy. She knows that hard choices are too hard for some people and that they need help to realise their potential and she realises that some people are beyond help but that she isn’t Judge, Jury and executioner.
She needs a complicated, brave writer and artist to bring her to life. She needs to breathe and live and think and be written not as a ‘girl’ or ‘woman’ but as a character in her own right. She needs love and faith and she needs to come to the fore because standard Marvel and D.C characters simply don’t cut the mustard.
Oracle is great but still it’s too much T n A, Maria Hill gives good character but is still relegated to bit part action and is in awe of ‘real heroes’ like Stark and others fall for the pit falls of sticking out their lady parts to get noticed. Let’s have someone like ‘Spitfire’ from Marvel’s New Universe, only let’s make her better shall we?
(You can pick at this, take some of the things too far and argue she can be sexy while being effective and I agree. What this is is perhaps a slate to build thoughts and debates. A base for you to maybe push a character forward that will challenge slightly more, a rough mission statement, typed by a bearded chimp that would really like to take on the challenge and work in comics and not just write a ‘new genesis’ for an old character...but bring a new character into the limelight.
No, I don’t think I can do it better than everyone else, can’t say I’d revolutionise the medium or comics as a whole or that I will ever get the chance too. Please take this as an idea, a thought, and maybe do something a whole lot better than I can with it.


  1. Yes!! The boots thing really really hacks me off. Kate Beckinsdale in Van Helsing, high kicking and running in a corset and STUPID HEELS, even Black Widow has heels on. It's just silly.

    You're basically talking about making Jane Foster a Super. She clever, funny, modest, driven and gorgeous without being a sex-siren.

    Oh, and there's nothing wrong with an anatomically correct breastplate, as long as she hasn't got ridiculously huge boobs or masses of exposed flesh. Pragmatism doesn't need to win over style in every thing!

  2. complete agree about the heels thing, it winds me up NO END. It always amuses me that in the Wonder Woman tv series, if you look carefully she has two sets of boots - heeled ones when she's standing around and softer non heeled ones when she's running!

    Have you read The Watchmen? There's a great conversation near the end in that between the The Silk Spectre and Owlman where they are going to start heroing together, as it were, and she's talking about getting a 'proper' costume, a thick leather one, that actually gives her some protection!

  3. Exactly. I agree with all that you so wisely point out.
    Re the flesh thing? I couldn't agree more. Obviously I like the female form but is seems all mainstream comics fall for the same idiocy and yes I know its the style of the business and the visual calling card but I feel there is room for alternatives.

    Oh and Big Barda is another character with armour and boots and all that but she is locked to Miracle man of the Justice League. Not an independent character and her costume is awful!

  4. O.K, I'm with you all with the heels thing, Its just silly, but you have to admit it looks bloody good (yes I know thats not the point!) Perhaps one of her super powers could be running in heels ! " waits for the collective slap "
    A pair of new rocks or doc martins would be much more practical,
    Tank girl and lara croft (not sure if she ever comic book though) pulled the look off, but still very sexualised.
    I love the idea that she has " a bit of a tummy " this appeals greatly!!!
    Just to play Devils advocate, don't we want our super heros to look quite sexy? I agree a little less tits and arse and more personality,quick witted and intelligance to thrill us with.
    So a compromise : super skills in heels,minimal cleevage, and with all that running and fighting she is bound to have a nice arse, so no cape to cover it up AND they are just bloody dangerous !!! " SUPER HEELS GET KILLED IN CAPE CAUGHT IN LIFT SHAFT TRAGEDY !
    And stop posting interesting blogs ! I'VE GOT A BLOODY BOOK TO FINISH !!

  5. Sexy and overly sexulised in the art are different. I want this character to be a stand out in an industry that settles for lazy stereotypes. She looks great but not perfect, she has an awesome arse, but with the cape it only comes out when it normally would for a bloke, not stuck out like J-Lo's at a constant premier.
    Attractive, strong and principled without having to tow a standard line this character should appeal to men AND women.
    Many women read comics, its time they were given a character that they can read that isn't marketed for guys to look at.
    Let the boys drool over Ms Marvel or Powergirl, Our character is one everyone can like.
    Peaceout. (No heels!)