Friday, December 10, 2010

Marvel's Disturbing Women

Marvel has been releasing digital back issues of Ms Marvel. While reading them I got to thinking about how solo women have fared in the Marvel Universe. It isn't pretty. Most of them end up going through transformations, both mental and physical. Many have been victims or had some form of mental problem.

As far as I know, the first Marvel woman to be featured in a solo story in the Silver Age or later was the Wasp in a back-up story. It was pretty forgettable. The Wasp was on her way to meet Henry Pym while wearing a coat over her costume. She saw someone lifting a man hole cover and investigated. He turned out to be an escaping robber. The Wasp didn't have her sting with her (back then she needed her costume to shrink and her sting came from a device she wore on her forearm). She got the robber to surrender by rolling up a piece of paper to make a megaphone and impersonated the Invisible Girl. The robber was afraid that the Thing and the Torch were following and surrendered to the police.

Compared with the other women I will cover, the Wasp did fairly well - right up to her death. She even led the Avengers for several years. Henry Pym had enough problems for both of them. He was initially interested in her because she resembled his dead first wife. They married while he thought that he was someone else. He had several breakdowns and became abusive.

The next woman to go solo was Medusa in a one-shot. The Black Window had her own half-book for a few issues and also went on to lead the Avengers. Her life up until the Avengers Disassemble plot was straightforward although her life became bumpier later.

This is where things get creepy.

In response to the Woman's movement, Marvel introduced The Cat, the first character created, written, and drawn by women. The comic flopped and an effort was made to bring her back. To do this, she was transformed into the half-tiger, Tigra. That also failed and she ended up in the Avengers. Besides going furry and growing claws, she has had periods where her personality was taken over by her cat impulses. She also grew a tail.

The Cat's costume was found by Patsy Walker who put it on and became the Hellcat. She eventually married the Son of Satan who turned abusive.

One of Robert E. Howard's creations was Red Sonya - a 16th century mercenary. The story she appeared in was adapted as a Conan story and she became Red Sonja (with a "j"). In her first few appearances she dressed similarly to Conan with a mail shirt, silk shorts (hers were tighter and shorter), and high boots. She was immediately popular and was given her own comic. He outfit was changed to a scale-mail bikini and she was given an origin. It seemed that she had been a farm girl who was raped. A goddess appeared to her and gave her skill with the sword. The catch was that she could only make love to a man who defeated her. This came close to saying that she could only have sex when raped.

The She-Hulk was created for trademark reasons. Unlike her cousin, the She-Hulk didn't have two personalities although her personality was different when she was green. She eventually stopped using her human form and for a while she lost it completely. Later she went crazy and destroyed a town before being turned back into her human form. From there she worked back up to being the She-Hulk most of the time. I don't think that she used her human form in the last few years.

More important is how the She-Hulk's personality progressed. She became a party-girl who would sleep with anyone. In a lot of ways she is the perfect male fantasy - a beautiful, sexy woman who wears very little and will hop in bed with men with no strings attached.

The Scarlet Witch has never had a solo strip but she did share a comic book with the Vision for a while. Regardless, she deserves special mention. She started out as a reluctant member of Magneto's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. When the Stranger took Magneto to another world to study, she joined the Avengers and was a member off and on for decades after that. She fell in love with the Vision, an android (or synthazoid) and eventually married him. She had a few false starts about her parentage before learning that her real father was Magneto. While practicing magic, she managed a virgin conception and had twins. It turned out that the twins were actually a product of her magic and eventually vanished. Over time this drove the Scarlet Witch insane and she began using her reality-warping powers unconsciously. She broke up the Avengers, killing or maiming different members in the process. Next she completely rewrote reality in an attempt to recreate her children. Eventually she lost her powers and her memory (for the moment).

After the Cat flopped, Ms Marvel was created as the company's flagship female character. There were issues from the beginning. The character was created around Carol Danvers who had been a supporting character in Captain Marvel. When she first appeared, Ms Marvel had complete amnesia. Her powers were similar to Captain Marvel's and she wore a costume like his except with a scarf, bare legs and cutouts over her stomach and back. The cut-outs were controversial and a pain for the artist so the were quickly dropped. At first neither Carol Danvers not Ms Marvel were aware of the other. When they did become aware, they resented each other. They regarded each other as different people. It took months before the two personalities merged. After that she adopted the sexy costume she wears now.

Ms Marvel's comic lasted a couple of years. After that she joined the Avengers (I think I see a pattern here). She left after a virgin pregnancy. She came to term quickly and delivered a child that grew to adulthood in hours. She married him and went to live with him in a different dimension. Does this sound wrong? Her husband continued to age rapidly and quickly died of old age. Ms Marvel returned to Earth realizing that she had been the victim of mind-control and angry that none of the Avengers saved her. Not long afterward, the mutant Rogue attacked her, stealing her powers and memories.

Carol eventually regained most of her memories. After being kidnapped by aliens she was subjected to some experiments that linked her with a white star. This put her in the cosmic hero class. Taking the name Binary, she left Earth for some time and joined the group the Starjammers. Eventually she returned to Earth and rejoined the Avengers. Her powers as Binary faded and she was back to a variation of her Ms Marvel powers. For a while she called herself Warbird. She developed a drinking problem and had to drop out of the Avengers.

More recently Carol went back to being Ms Marvel in her own book. During the Civil War she was on Iron Man's side. Afterward she was asked to form a new team of Avengers. All well and good except she also sort of merged with an alien and later died (at least for a while). She was replaced as Ms Marvel by Moonstone who has her own issues despite being a trained psychiatrist.

Even though she did not have a solo book, Jean Gray's life deserves some examination. She was a new recruit to the X-Men in X-Men #1. Eventually she and Cyclops fell in love. In X-Men #100 she sacrificed herself by piloting a space shuttle through a solar flare without shielding. This should have killed her but a cosmic being was attracted to her act of self-sacrifice. It took her place and put her in a healing cocoon. The cosmic being's own powers manifested and it called itself Phoenix. The power of the Phoenix was too much temptation for the Jean Grey construct and it killed itself (after killing a world of asparagus people and threatening the Earth). When the original Jean finally finished healing and emerged from the cocoon she discovered that Cyclops had married her clone and they had a child. Cyclops abandoned both to be with Jean. After a few years, all three versions of Jean merged. She and Cyclops married and spent their honeymoon raising Cyclops's son in different bodies in the far future. Jean broke up with Cyclops, regained her Phoenix powers and moved on to another plane of existence.

Update - I forgot Jessica Drew, Spider Woman. At first she thought that she was one of the High Evolutionary's human/animal creations, a literal spider-woman. She spent several issues convinced that she was inhuman and the people were instinctively repulsed by her. It later turned out that she was a normal human who had obtained spider-powers through the High Evolutionary. The reason that people disliked her was because she gave off pheromones that repelled people. Charming.

Like the She-Hulk, Spider Woman mainly existed to tie down copyright. When the character didn't prove popular she was forgotten for years and replaced by a Spider Woman in a black and white costume. Jessica didn't make a come-back until the 2000s.


Ask A Bisexual Guy said...

I ma actually trying to figure out who the first female superhero was to have her own comic as a solo and wasn't part of a team and wasn't a spin off of another male character or team.
Such a she-hulk (spin-off of Hulk) or Storm (originally part of a team) For DC it would be Wonder Woman but for Marvel I was thinking Dazzler. I would like your thoughts on this.

Mark said...

I'm pretty sure that the Cat (Greer Grant) was Marvel's first solo female comic. It ran for four issues in 1972-73. The Cat was an all-new character created by women writer and artist (I think that Jim Starlin did one issue).

The Black Widow had a solo strip for eight issues of Amazing Adventures from 1970-1971 but she shared the book with the Inhumans and she might count as an Iron Man spin-off.