movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson
Tue Nov 03 2015, 08:44am | 12 comments
I welcome both approaches. There’s value in reimagining iconic male heroes like Thor as women, and in turning spin-off characters like Supergirl into vivid and important heroes in their own right. AND we need more original stories about women (Agent Carter, the women of Agents of SHIELD, and the upcoming Jessica Jones seem to be leading the way on TV). It should be both/and, not either/or.
I take issue with the article criticizing the Captain Marvel writers for saying she’s “too powerful” and that they need to find her vulnerabilities. I don’t think that was a gender-based remark, but a challenge in writing superheroes in general, especially ones with Superman-level abilities; if absolutely nothing can hurt them, they risk being boring. DC keeps trying to depower Superman himself for that reason.
I pretty much agree with your comment about Captain Marvel, but, personally (and this is going to be entirely subjective), I’m getting frustrated with writers who decide that the way to make Superman interesting is to make him not act like Superman. The Man of Steel writers decided to make him a haunted loner who never saves anybody. J. Michael Straczinski decided to have him give up flying. Gene Luen Yang (who’s usually one of my favorite cartoonists) decided to turn him into an angry wrestling champion.
These sorts of changes can work. I liked Grant Morrison’s stories about Superman as an angry young man, because I could see him slowly growing into the hero we know. But I also liked the stories Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman wrote about Miracleman, who had nearly godlike powers. Peter David wrote a great Captain Marvel series with a similar premise.
For me, Superman is interesting not just because of his powers but because, no matter how many genuinely evil people he has to face, he remains kind-hearted and idealistic and incorruptible. He’s not just a fantasy about what it’s like to be all-powerful. He’s a fantasy about what it’s like to be a truly good person. I want to read about that character, and I wish the writers would tell stories about him, rather than changing his personality every time they add powers or take them away. (YMMV.)
I agree with you — Superman has a core of decency that should remain constant whatever happens to his powers. It *is* possible to write interesting stories about a thoroughly good person; Marvel is pulling it off with the Captain America movies right now. But I suppose I also have more tolerance for writers playing with the mythos — it can survive experimentation. And even personalities evolve, after all; the earliest Superman stories portrayed him as somewhat of a bully, more vengeful than kindhearted, who roughly manhandled uncooperative women and hurled slum lords a mile away, seemingly without regard for whether they lived or not.
I think Man of Steel does what you say the Morrison stories did: show him growing (albeit incompletely, so far) into the hero we know. He DOES save people — for instance, the people on the burning oil rig early in the movie — but it also seems to be the “mistakes-making” part of his story, where he kills his enemy and realizes the devastating cost of that choice. The next movie apparently will deal with the consequences of all the civilian casualties and collateral damage he allowed to happen in the first film. The writers may or may not pull it off, but I’m interested in seeing where they take the story, and whether they let Superman learn from his mistakes and become a better hero in the process.
It’s certainly not the only way to write Superman; I love Christopher Reeve’s upstanding citizen hero, too. But there’s room for more than one version.
I welcome both approaches.
Except this is the only approach we’re getting.
That’s not technically true (I cited some examples), but we certainly need much MORE of the second approach. But I also wouldn’t mind seeing more of the “big-name titles with franchise potential” led by women for a change. I’d love to see a female Bond and a female Doctor. I’m glad that Supergirl exists, that the new Star Wars has a woman in the lead role, and that we’re getting an all-female Ghostbusters. These are all positive developments, in my opinion.
Joss Whedon could combine both approaches and make a new Serenity movie, just to confuse everybody.
(I posted this mainly to annoy RogerBW.)
Um, rar? :)
I think I’m more interested in seeing a female Bond/Doctor/etc. than in a “separate but equal” new franchise like Supergirl.
You cited TV. Not the same thing.
And we still do not know what role the female character is going to play in the film.
All true, but the article does feature a picture of Supergirl, from the TV series.
I was responding to the quote in your post, and didn’t read far enough into the article to realize it was specifically about movies. My bad.
Based on the fact that she is clearly the focus of both the D23 teaser poster and the official poster, and that she’s the first to get significant attention in the trailer, I’m pretty confident she’s the lead, or co-lead at the very least. Unless, of course, the marketing has been horribly misleading in this regard, but I can’t think of why it would be.
I hope this is the case!
This is actually why I’m not for a female doctor who. Equality is not taking good male characters (which the doctor was up until he decided to start shooting people when they disagreed with him. Previously he’d had many friendship with a single woman while single that were never romances, he’s solved problems creatively rather than physically, he often took advice and better ideas from the women in his life, he was unafraid to feel fear, to cry, or to be really excited about life in generally… all really rare things for a male sci-fi character) but about getting some equally kick ass female characters. Having a token female regeneration, and watching Moffat screw it up because writing females is not his strong suit, writing Sherlock is (hence why 12 is basically Sherlock) is not my idea of good times.
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