When asked to name superheroes most people blurt out Superman, Batman, or even Spiderman. No one ever says Miss Fury, Silver Scorpion, or even the Black Canary. Maybe it’s because they’ve never heard of these woman superheroes.
Super heroines have certainly changed in the sixty-six years since the world met Miss Fury. The current crop of women saving the world now includes all sorts of strong women from different societies. Kumori Ashina is a super heroine who found her powers after refusing to be part of the samurai Clan in the new “Blade Of Kumori” series. The Birds of Prey women first burst onto the scene in 2002 and are still going strong. The Oracle, the main character of the series, is actually Batgirl – yes, Batgirl! — from the old Batman comics, who struck out on her own after she was paralyzed by Joker’s gunshot. Her top two agents are The Huntress and Lady Blackhawk. These current superheroines have their predecessors to thank for paving the way.
The Birth of the Super Heroine
In 1941, boys in America had been enjoying Superman, Batman, The Flash and Captain Marvel, but there were no comics aimed toward girls. That is until Miss Fury arrived on the scene in her panther skin costume, which hid her true identity from the world. Miss Fury was one of the first super heroines to grace the pages of comic books; the second was Black Cat. Not only did Miss Fury have the distinction of being the first, appearing in April of 1941, but she was created by a woman … a woman who had taken the pseudonym Tarpe Mills. June Mills changed her name because “it would have been a major letdown to the kids if they found out that the author of such virile and awesome characters was a gal.” Black Cat appeared in comics in August of 1941. Black Cat was a movie star who suspected that her director is a Nazi spy, so she donned a cat costume, because the villain was afraid of cats, and searches for the truth. And, thus began women’s infiltration into the comic world.
One thing all these women superheroes have in common with each other, and their male counterparts, is their need for a disguise. Mild mannered Bruce Wayne was a millionaire by day and by night, Batman. Women needed disguises for the same reasons the men did, to keep their secret identity just that. Most women were portrayed as the dingy secretary afraid of her own shadow, but whose altar ego is a kick butt super heroine. For some unexplainable reason, many women superheroes based their disguises on animals. Miss Fury, Black Cat and Catwoman “changed” into cats to serve and protect. Also, there were heroes named for nasty bugs: the Spider Queen, who had spider-like traits similar to Spiderman, and the Silver Scorpion, who relied on karate to win her battles. Black Canary was a bird in name only, since she was a judo master and used her “Black Canary choker” as a last resort to triumph over the evil villain.
Over Sexualization Of Super Heroines
In the 90s, women superheroes became over sexualized. According to the book “Great Women Superheroes,” “When Mike Deodata took over as artist on “Wonder Woman” in 1994 and drew her as a barely-clothed hypersexual pinup, the magazine’s circulation shot up.” Talk about a complete one eighty from what the creators William Moulton Marston (a psychologist) and Max Gaines intended for Wonder Woman. When they created her, they hoped Wonder Woman and her mission would attract women readers.
In 2007, Wonder Woman is still seductive, with her low-cut top, and Power Girl, and Wildstorm join her in the contest for most scantily clad woman superhero. Luckily, not every woman superhero in today’s day and age is taking part in that contest. Trina Robbins, author of “Great Women Superheroes,” “The Great Women Cartoonists,” and “From Girls to Grrrlz,” stated, “I’m happy to see after the all time low of the ’90s, Catwoman is now drawn looking like a real human woman (albeit a gorgeous one) with human proportions and a leather outfit instead of that second skin Jim Balent put her into. Also the women of Birds of Prey look human, but I would expect no less when they are written by someone I respect like Gail Simone.”
World War II’s Influence On Comic Book Artists
When America was on the brink of World War II, many of the villains the superheroes and heroines fought in the 40s were Nazis, or were suspected of being Nazi spies. The war began, sending most of the men in America off to fight Hitler and the Germans, leaving the women to take over the men’s jobs. This was the era of Rosie the Riveter, and the reaches even extended to the comic book industry. Women like Nina Albright, Jill Elgin and Pauline Loth took over the comics during the war.
When the war ended, the men returned to their jobs, but it wasn’t the end for these talented artists. Nina Albright drew the comic books “Captain Aero” and “Black Venus.” Jill Elgin, who had gotten her start as part of the team behind “Black Cat” after its move to Speed Comics, drew “Girl Commandos” after the war. Pauline Loth drew Miss America in 1944, when the character got her own comic book.
Where Did The Women Go?
Women drawing comic books hit a sharp decline after these wonderful artists. In fact, by the 70s, the era of feminism, women drawing comic books hit an all time low. According to Robbins, “In 1970, there were exactly two women drawing comics in San Francisco, me and a woman named Barbara (Willy) Mendes.” Since then women comic book artists have been multiplying. “Today, I can’t even begin to count the number of women cartoonists in the Bay Area. And, thanks to them, and to the advent of manga, there are now more comics that girls and women like to read than at any period since the 1950s.”
Comic books, especially those with women superheroes, have made a place for themselves in history. In February of 2007, Florida State University held an exhibit entitled: “BLAM! The Changing Faces Behind the Mask.” It was a showcase for women and minority superheroes in comic books, as well as a reflection of how much times are changing in the world of super heroines. Ms. Holland, one of the exhibition’s organizers, points out, “Now you’ve got someone like Catwoman. There’s not a real good or bad with her. There are so many levels, so much conflict. It’s more interesting than a superpower.” My how times have changed.