Some Secrets Behind Super-Heroines by Eilis Flynn
Riddle me this, FFPers: Why is building a super-heroine so different from building a super-hero? To get some clues, let’s look at some Qs and As about some heroines in pop culture. These heroines we look at have one characteristic in common. Give me some guesses what it is in the comments section to be eligible for a drawing of a download of Nancy Northcott’s novella Sentinel!
Q: Who was the first super-heroine of the 20th century?
A. Wonder Woman
B. Miss Fury
C. Edith Cavell
The answer is (B). Believe it or not, journalist Tarpe Mills came out with Miss Fury almost a year before psychiatrist Charles Moulton Marston introduced Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is notable because she battled evil through the 1940s and the 1950s and went on from there, never really going away to this day, while Miss Fury fought crime before she went off into the sunset in 1953.
Edith Cavell was a real-life hero of World War I, a nurse who worked on the front. Amazing woman! But not our topic.
Of course, Robert E. Howard also introduced a woman warrior. It wasn’t a very big intro in 1934, and only diehard fans remembered her, but decades later, in 1973, Marvel Comics came up with Red Sonja, based on Howard’s character. There were big differences between Howard’s Sonya and Marvel Comics’ Red Sonja. Howard’s feisty character was based in modern times, while Marvel’s Sonja was a contemporary of Conan the Barbarian and held her own in a fight. Also interesting, but also not our topic.
Q: Who’s the comic chick who went from girl to woman to girl?
A: Wonder Woman
D: Disco Dazzler
The answer, of course, is (B). Before super-heroines were big—and super-heroes had barely come on the scene—there was Shiera Sanders, introduced in 1940, just a while after Superman and Batman. But she wasn’t super yet; she was super-hero Hawkman’s girlfriend. By 1941 she had gained super-powers and she fought alongside Hawkman as Hawkgirl. She faded after World War II, but a new version was introduced in 1963, by then Hawkman’s wife—but she was still Hawkgirl. Twenty years later, Hawkgirl became Hawkwoman, but she was still very much a sidekick. Another twenty years later, she was Hawkgirl again—but there wasn’t a Hawkman in sight. She was also more likely than not to relax by starting a brawl than taking a bubble bath. (Her secret identity moniker went between Shiera and Shayera, but again, not the point.)
Wonder Woman, of course, was always Wonder Woman (A).
Supergirl was always Supergirl (C). There has been a “Superwoman” from time to time, but never for long.
Disco Dazzler (D)…oh, that’s a topic for a whole ‘nother workshop!
Q: For those of you who’ve seen the Marvelverse movies, what about the character that Scarlett Johansson portrays? Codenamed Black Widow, Natasha Romanova (1964) was:
A: A Russian spy
B: A ballerina
C: An actual widow
D: All of the above, depending on whom you ask
Natasha has been a complex and many-lived character (D). That black catsuit she sports? Not original to her. That costume only
began to be her usual outfit in 1970. Emma Peel (1965) of the British TV adventure series The Avengers(!) wore the sleek outfit before the Black Widow. Natasha started off as a Russian spy who later defected, becoming at one point a freelance agent of the government agency SHIELD. At one point she was implanted with false memories of having been a ballerina; at another point it was revealed she was married, but her husband faked his death before he ultimately died; and she dated Daredevil, Hawkeye, and others. When you’re one of a relatively small pool of super-heroines in a mostly male genre, you have your pick.
Q: Why was 1976 a notable year for heroines?
A: Miss Piggy was introduced
B: The original Charlie’s Angels debuted
C: Phoenix of the X-Men was revealed
D: Apple Computer was formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak
A, B, C, and D all happened. (FYI: Jean Grey of the X-Men was first known as Marvel Girl, then became known as Phoenix for a while in the “new” X-Men. Also popping up are Miss Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and Captain Marvel, all female. There was a male Captain Marvel, but he was killed off.)
Q: Why do we remember Supergirl (1959) and Batgirl (1967)?
A: One is Superman’s cousin and the other is not related to Batman
B: From their movies. Whoops, sorry, Batgirl never had her own movie, and the Supergirl movie is not spoken of. Alicia Silverstone as “Batgirl” isn’t spoken of, either
C: The possibilities are endless!
It’s (C)! Remember when I mentioned that “Superwoman” as a character has popped up from time to time, but never for long? Supergirl has been the cousin since her introduction in the 1950s, and she’s stayed that way. (She does have a doppelganger of sorts, Power Girl, the slightly older and more zaftig clone/parallel dimension version.) The same isn’t true for Batgirl. Since the version you’re probably most familiar with is Barbara Gordon (Commissioner Gordon’s daughter or niece, depending on the version and the writer), it may come as a surprise to you that before a recent company-wide reset of the DC universe, Barbara fought crime as wheelchair-bound Oracle, leaving the titles of “Batgirl” and “Batwoman” to others.
Q: Not a super-heroine, but she’s pretty darn super nonetheless: How many incarnations has the declared-dead ex-junkie turned assassin Nikita had since she was first introduced in 1990?
This one’s a gimme (D). La Femme Nikita was the original French film, which came out in 1990 (with Annie Parillaud); Americans came up with their own version under the title Point of No Return in 1993 (with Bridget Fonda); the first TV version was with Peta Wilson (1997–2001); and the latest one on TV just ended with Maggie Q (2010–13). It’s had four incarnations in 20 years. Why is this character so popular? We’ll discuss this question, as well as many others, in my workshop coming up next month, “Building a Super-Heroine”!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Over the years, Eilis Flynn has written fiction in the form of comic book stories, romantic fantasies, urban fantasies, a young adult, a graphic novella, and self-published historical fantasies and short stories (most published under the name of Eilis Flynn). Check out eilisflynn.com if you’re curious about them. As Elizabeth Flynn, she’s also a professional editor and has been for more than 35 years, working with academia, technology, finance, romance fiction, and comic books.
She can be reached at emsflynn.com.
Most days, she hangs out at Facebook at eilis.flynn.
Hope to see you there!
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