Ah, Questions

August 18th, 2009 by | Tags:

There is a theory that female characters aren’t as popular as male characters in comics (and almost every other medium) because while women identify with a male heroic protagonist, men don’t identify with female heroes.

Woah there, don’t tense up just yet.

No one is in control of who they do or do not see as role models.  No one has an obligation to enjoy or identify with one character or another.  On top of that, often there are traits that almost all female characters are created with that can bar men (and women) from identifying with them, looking up to them, or otherwise thinking they’re awesome.

I would like to know:  Have you ever intensely identified with or hero-worshiped someone of the opposite gender in comics.  If so, who and why?  If not, why do you think that is?

Finally, do you find that race, sexuality, age, or some other characteristic commonly pruned out by marketing people affects your ability to connect with a character?

Similar Posts:

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook Post to Reddit Post to StumbleUpon

17 comments to “Ah, Questions”

  1. wonder woman is like a mother goddess, while I don’t read the comics, spirit of truth is just wonderful.
    I respect the idea of the powerhouse who is as strong as supes and prepared to kill. [even though she doesn’t exercise the option very often]
    honestly? Kal El should have given that kryptonite to WW and the flash.
    I don’t like the character despite/because she is a woman [tho’ seeing her as a motherly figure allows me to cut the sexyness and see the concept], I lke her because if handled right she could be the big badass of dc.
    if only she wore pants…

  2. I identified with/liked Yelena in Transmetropolitan. Jessica Jones from Alias/Pulse/New Avengers is also a female character that I’d say I’m a fan of. Let’s throw in Jenny Sparks as well.

  3. I never really liked a character because I identified with them. As a kid I liked Buffy just as much as Spidey. When I got into comics, my favorite X-Man was Marrow and my favorite Gen-13er was Freefall. I always gravitated to the character with the coolest power, rather than the one who was most like me.

    And nowadays… well, I just rewatched a lot of Doctor Who, and I felt it just as easy to connect to bisexual white man Jack Harkness as to straight black woman Martha Jones. The main concern for connecting to characters seems to be “they have to be written well” for me.

  4. I identified with the original Cassie Sandsmark and Julie Power characters (Young Justice and Power Pack respectively), though never ‘hero worshipped’ them for the same reason they rang true to me as a comic book reader growing up: they were fallable and flawed kids (Cassie’s self-image and confidence problems, Julie’s jealousy of women and occasional pig-headedness) who were in the center of the group/familial dynamic but somehow apart from it. It probably helped that the characters were well-realised, articulate, loved reading (sci-fi in particular), were slightly awkward and didn’t always feel they fit in – if that’s not a character that appeals to the average young ‘reader’ irrespective of their gender, I don’t know what is.

    It’s also strange/sad to note that despite being from different companies, as the characters ‘grew up’ in the comics, they became less articulate, more buxom, blonder, more than a little dull in terms of personality, and were almost entirely defined by their relationships with whiny, damaged male characters.

  5. Catwoman and Storm were two of my favorite characters while growing up, and not in a “they’re hot” kind of way, but because I thought they were awesome.

    I’d also like to point out that X-Force, another of my favorites while growing up, for the most of it’s existence had more women than men on the team.

  6. Even though I know I’ll lose points for liking such a cheesecake ready character, I’ve always liked Felicia Hardy/Black Cat from Spider-Man. Not because I identified with her, but because I identify with Spider-Man. Peter’s a pretty big introvert, and weighed down by all of his responsibilities, but actually has a lot going for him in life.

    Felicia is a great counterpart to him, being an absolutely extroverted and carefree bon vivant. I always liked the way Peter lightened up and just had more fun around her.

  7. Tulip from preacher was my dream woman

  8. For years I’ve bought more comics with female leads or a strong female cast than I have male-lead comics — and given the options out there, that takes some doing. Wonder Woman, Secret Six, Madame Xanadu (very good, very underrated) are all among the few books I still buy as floppies. I liked that middling Vixen series a few months ago, and Mr. Brothers got me to check out Black Panther trades, where I find the interplay between T’Challa and Ororo the highlight. I was a big X-men fan until I wasn’t (circa the Lee/Liefeld early 90s). Oh, I kinda like Ron Marz’ Witchblade, which has evolved from poorly written, artistically void toon-porn into a decent equivalent of a TV cop show.

    I don’t find it hard to identify with a female character, and I don’t think “identification” is what I’m really doing, at least, not to some great degree where I can sympathize because she’s “like me.” And sometimes the writers seem to put more effort into making the female lead more than a villain-puncher. Ms. Marvel was supposed to be about Carol trying to live up to her potential, figure out who she is and what her life is. Loved that, and then it was all “punch Skrulls for four months, have a new status quo,” and eventually I bailed. ‘Nother example: The Puckett/Scott original run on the Cassandra Cain Batgirl really worked at the character’s need for redemption and the way she’d always go on a limb for any scumbag who wanted to change and needed a second chance. Redemption issues, not big with me, but come on, who of us at some point hasn’t felt condemned? I miss that character.

    I always regret that more female-lead books don’t get support. Sales are low, they rarely get mentioned in the review roundups I value most. That’s part of why I tend to buy them in floppy when, in general, I much prefer trades. I’m currently sitting out Power Girl ’til the trade rolls around, but as Palmiotti/Conner charm the socks off me with their Supergirl strip in Wednesdays, I’m rethinking that choice …

  9. In comics? There have been plenty of female characters I liked but identified with or hero-worshiped not so much. In regular books and tv yeah. Especially in a lot of YA fantasy and urban fantasy stuff…

    No wait, in comics there is Empowered. Yeah Emp and Ninjette would fall under the identify/hero-worship. Oh and Tara Chace from Queen & Country. Also the female guardmice in Mouse Guard, though because they’re not anthromorphasized so much I don’t really think of gender with those characters…

  10. I grew up reading comics about the same time Captain Monica was introduced to the Avengers, so I always “identified” with her in the sense that we were both newbies in awe of such characters and grew into competent heroes in our own right.

  11. Actually, Cassandra Cain as Batgirl in her own series really clicked with me; absurdly talented at one thing and faced with the realization that she needed (and wanted, eventually) to have more than just that one thing if she was ever going to achieve her goals. Lots of pathos, tons of redemption.

    Which is probably why DC’s shoddy handling of the character since then has stung so much. They threw out everything I admired and related to, and replaced it with…well, nothing that I can identify with.

    Oh, and Jessica Jones, too. I’ll buy any goddamn thing that has her in it, no matter how small the part, because I just love that character to pieces. Alias sold me on her, and seeing how she’s moved on from that through The Pulse and the recent New Avengers run (and how she hasn’t) still grabs me.

  12. Well, to some extent the theory you mention is a bit of an excuse for writers to make their main protagonist male (and thereby comes close to a self-fulfilling prophecy) and so there are fewer female protagonists. But as a young boy I certainly had no difficulty to identify/hero-worship e.g. Pippi Longstocking (who actually is a bit of a superheroine), and if you read “The Wizard of Oz”, then who is there to identify with but Dorothy?

    With regards to identifying with female comics characters, I’d say that I’ve found the “Peanuts” girls extremely easy to relate to. Although I would not identify with a more extreme character like Ludy, I’d say it is easy to get under Sally’s and especially ‘Peppermint’ Patty’s skin. The latter on occasion approached heroine-like qualities in her (mostly passive) resistance to the grownups’ authority (she resembles Charlie Brown in a lot of ways, but is quite a bit more assertive).

    In superhero comics, I tend to be a sucker for characters who are a bit of outsiders to their social group, who feel uncomfortable and have to assert themselves against others, and that maybe even favours female characters to some extent. Certainly I’ve been a huge fan of Rogue ever since she became an X-Man, and she at first was very much the team outcast. (With Rogue you also have a very interesting angle of heroism as a never-ending quest for redemption) and I love and most of the time identified with Kitty Pryde. Perhaps that is why the DC heroine I perhaps hero-worshipped more than any other is Arrowette – here is a young hero who has to find her own way in the world and make difficult choices, such as deciding to give up being a superheroine effectively to save her own soul, even though her mother and her best friend did try to make her take it back. And that scene where she told off the JLA…! (Other superheroines I could say identified (or at any rate heavily empathized) with/hero-worshipped: Spider-Girl (not surprising since I love both her parents, I suppose), Cassie Sandsmark, Dani Moonstar, and Rocket (she certainly was the Milestone character to whom I could relate to the most)).

    Some of these aspects also apply to characters who are not superheroes, but who wield the kind of power that exists in the real world and have to do so responsibly and continually face quandaries of ethics and pragmatism. Thus not only my liking for Lois Lane, but also the curious fact that two of my favourite characters from the X-Men mythos aren’t even mutants: Trish Tilby (who like Lois Lane wields the power of the media) and Val Cooper (one of the few comics protagonists who could be described as a professional politician).

  13. There’s not that many skinny insecure losers amongst Superhero women, so I’ll never relate to them the way I did to Scott Summers and Peter Parker.

    I did think Jubilee was kinda cool back when I was getting into X-men though, and I had a soft spot for Wolfsbane as a fellow Scot, although her upbringing was the diametric opposite of my own.

  14. I realize I may be the only person in the world but – I really like the Wasp. She’s strong, she’s smart, she’s capable – but more importantly, she is almost always underrated and underestimated, even by the people who write her (I can relate to that!). She’s been in some truly god-awful stories, made some regrettable decisions, but I am pulling for her to be awesome every time she appears. Now is not a good time to be a Janet van Dyne fan, but I live in breathless anticipation of the inevitable “WASP REBORN” event coming in a year or two.

    If you think about it, of all the “classic” Stan & Jack Silver Age characters, she has gotten just about the least attention of them all. She’s never, ever had a solo series! Maybe she works better as an ensemble player, OK, but you can say the same thing about Hawkeye and Wonder Man and Cyclops and they’ve all had the occasional solo outing.

  15. It can be a bit difficult to relate to a character of the opposite gender, just it can be harder to identify with any character with a different background, but that hardly makes it impossibility. When Gail Simone was writing Birds of Prey, I recall identifying with Babs, Dinah, Helena, and Zinda at various points, often simultaneously. In the various incarnations of Gen 13, I’ve generally related to Freefall and Fairchild the best. Empowered has a wealth of relate-able characters in Emp, Ninjette, Mind%&^@, and even the formerly one-dimensional queen bee Sistah Spooky. Heck, that’s just limiting myself to books discussed on this very blog. Who else read “Catherine Called Birdy” back in 4th grade?

    So yes, I would say that gender is a piddling barrier to empathy for both reader and writer. Or at least it should be (I’ve had enough internet discussions about Chuck Austen for one lifetime, thank you).

  16. I hero worship so many women in comics (Cass, the BoP, Steph), but one that I really intensely identify with is Carol Danvers – we’re both seen as bland by some, awesome by others, unbearable by more, neither of us have lived up to our potential but both of us are trying to, and neither of us have cats.

    Heh. I more identify with the 20 year old quiet ninja girl learning sociology and how to read then the 15 year old closeted nerd boy. What does that say about me?

  17. I’ve probably only “identified” with a couple fictional characters in my lifetime. I empathize with all the well-written ones, but I don’t use them as mirrors for my own life.