I’ve long discussed the importance of female lead characters, in comics, television and movies, who are as diverse as male leads are. For instance, a male lead can be everything from a scientist to a boxer, including all shades of grey in between.

On the other hand, and this tends to happen among women fans, a female lead needs to be maternal and willing to talk things out rather than resort to action or violence. Otherwise, she is just a “male with tits,” as was described to me.

Recently, an interview with Joss Whedon, who’s helming the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron film, came out in which he said Marvel needed to buck the trend of focusing on male leads in comic-book related projects.

WHAT HE SAID

“It’s a phenomenon in the industry that we call ‘stupid people,’” said Whedon. “There is genuine, recalcitrant, intractable sexism, and old-fashioned quiet misogyny that goes on.

“You hear ‘Oh, [female superheroes] don’t work because of these two bad ones that were made eight years ago,’ there’s always an excuse.

“Hunger Games is a different structure and aesthetic to a certain extent, but these narratives where people are bigger than life and they’re in these terrible, heightened circumstances, it’s all part of the same genre,” he continued.

“Marvel is in a position of making a statement simply by making [a female-led] movie, which I think would be a good thing to do. But it has to be a good movie, it has to be a good character, and most of the best characters in Marvel are owned by Fox, let’s face it!”

Since then, he’s updated those remarks with the following:

He knew a Captain Marvel film was in development at Marvel, although it’s 2018 release hadn’t been officially announced yet. Despite that, he “was not expecting the film to gain any traction.”

The remark that probably has most tongues wagging was when he said he felt Guardians of the Galaxy‘s success may have helped push the Captain Marvel film to production, saying, “Well, let’s put it this way: if a raccoon can carry a movie, then [Marvel executives] believe maybe even a woman can.” Ouch!

“The superhero story – and I do consider [the YA (Young Adult) adaptations] to be superhero stories – It doesn’t have to be about one tortured billionaire. It can be a girl and her community, her crushes, her fears. We can evolve the genre more quickly if we come at it from different ways.”

WHEDON AND WOMEN

Marvel, Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Warner Bros., Captain Marvel, Avengers, Ultron, Joss Whedon, women, female charactersLet me say, right off the bat, that I’ve often – but not always – enjoyed Whedon’s writing. He’s like Grant Morrison in that, when he’s good, he’s great; but when he’s bad, he’s horrid. Still, some folks continue to think he can do no wrong. (I’m always entertained that many who hold that opinion call him “Josh” instead of “Joss” even though that diminishes any respect one might have for such rabid fannishness.)

Mr. Whedon has long been interested in fleshing out female characters, having written famous ones including Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He worked with Warner Bros. for several years trying to get his Wonder Woman script to the big screen, although that never happened.

He’s also written Astonishing X-Men, and focused on many of the lady mutants, including Kitty Pride.

I’ve always enjoyed that he’s taken female characters beyond the maternal instincts, although he hasn’t lessened those, in my opinion.

By the way, I don’t have anything against maternal women … I was raised by one! I just struggle with the notion that that instinct is the main, often ONLY, attribute some folks want to see.

SAFE TO SAY

I respect Whedon’s courage to take on the Marvel establishment (as well as other film executives) regarding female leads.

It’s a good thing he’s in a place where he can challenge his bosses. After all, his Avengers film and its sequel coming on May 1 have helped establish Marvel Entertainment in the lofty perch it’s in now. Sometimes you can bite the hand that feeds you.

A lot of rumors are now circulating that Whedon will take over the Captain Marvel film, but they’re just that – rumors. At least, they are for now. Given his skill at bringing women to life on the small and big screens, that might be a good idea!

MY TAKE ON ALL THIS

I’ve given my opinions on some of this before, so let me share other thoughts on women in fiction.

Do guys, particularly young ones, prefer to read books, particularly comics, focusing on other guys? Yeah, but it’s not a sexual thing. It’s an “I can relate to that” kind of thing. Friendships and other interactions often take place because there is common ground. If female characters are better rounded (and I don’t mean that in the physical way, necessarily), then guys will have more to connect with.

I have to say that I’m growing weary of Marvel’s Agent Carter on ABC. Sharon is the only smart person on the show. All the guys, and even most of the other women, are literally as dumb as rocks. I keep thinking of that old song, “Man Smart, Woman Smarter,” which this program would rename, “Man Stupid, One Woman Smarter.” I guess her alliance with Captain America makes him the only intelligent person around, sadly. I haven’t been surprised to see that the series has been losing ten percent of its audience each week.

See, I WANT more interesting women on TV and in movies. To some extent, that’s already happening, I believe, but we need more.

I’m glad Whedon has been taking on the movie execs in Marvel, but we need to be careful we don’t overcompensate, I think. Making men dumb doesn’t make women smarter. It just makes everybody dumb, in my opinion.

What do you think? Be sure to post your thoughts below!

The Author

Wayne Hall

Wayne Hall

Wayne Hall creates the Wayne's Comics Podcast. He’s interviewed Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, John Layman, Kyle Higgins, Phil Hester, Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, David Petersen, Christos Gage, Mike Grell, and Matt Kindt. Each episode also includes reviews, news and previews. On this site each week, he writes his "Comics Portal" column (general comics comments and previews) and reviews comics.

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4 Comments

  1. justanothergeek
    February 2, 2015 at 10:48 am — Reply

    I agree with you sir, and it’s hard to come by a complex opinion these days of extremes in these issues. It’s undeniable that Mr. Whedon is very talented and his concerns with gender issues are laudable, but his kind of well meaning over-eagerness to be positive could veer into patronizing very easily, and if there something that patronizing is not is empowering. It’s a complex issue that desperately needs reasonable approach but people have grown intolerant to that, you have to take sides apparently, but that’s hardly something new to people.
    However, I disagree regarding Agent Carter, granted the portrait of male characters is sometimes cartoony, I don’t find them dumb, they do have a depth to them, they do demonstrate they earned their positions, they are just very conceited and prejudiced, which fits the context. I’m actually enjoying it more than Agents of SHIELD.

  2. Alisha
    February 2, 2015 at 11:49 am — Reply

    As a female, I will say that personally gender rarely plays a role in the equation for me (it does sometimes, but not on a regular basis). I can relate to Spider-Man or early Kyle Rayner and other male characters just fine because they are dealing with something familiar to me. Feeling like an outcast or feeling like you aren’t living up to your potential is something that knows no gender boundaries. Heck, I’m not a mutant (well, technically I am, but not the super powers kind) and I can relate to the X-Men or the TMNT.

    Do I want to see more female characters? Absolutely! But I want them to feel as organic to the story or setting as any other character. I would rather have fewer female characters with semi-realistic personalities and depth rather than a ton of female characters that have no more depth than a shallow puddle of mud. Give me a reason to be emotionally invested in these characters beyond “Hey, it’s a female character!!”.

  3. Chris Zuga
    February 2, 2015 at 4:20 pm — Reply

    While I do not disagree with his general intent, keep in mind that you are asking Marvel and DC to do this and they are two of the heaviest, ham-fisted entities to beseech on this point. Nothing they do in regards to diversity feels organic or even subtle ever.

  4. Oldcomicfan
    February 3, 2015 at 7:41 am — Reply

    On one hand, I think having more female leads is a good thing, but on the other hand, it can be dreadful. Supergirl has always been given the short shift (in more ways than one), at one point being turned into a creature of Silly Putty. There were whole decades where Kitty Pryde vanished, and Power Girl started out to be Superman’s equal and ended up having the main power of an ever-expanding chest and enlarging breast hole in her costume. And male characters being replaced by female versions is just annoying, nothing more than another version of Stunt Casting, nothing more than a clone of the original character only with PMS. The problem is that most comics are written and drawn and edited by men – and they don’t know how to draw or write interesting women. And if they do, by accident, create a strong female character, they usually end up turning her into a lesbian since, I guess, they feel threatened by strong women. With the exception of Starstruck, by Lee and Kaluta, to find a lot of strong, interesting, well written female leads, you need to go to the manga world. Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell, Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, etc. There you can find dozens if not hundreds of series featuring strong female characters. Or you can go to the indy world where you can find Lenore or Courtney Crumrin, etc. There is hope on the horizon, though. You only need to look at the work of Gail Simone to see what can happen when the publishers lower the barricades and let women creators have a go.

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