Feminism in Comics

Some people think a “feministic” piece of media simply passes the Bechdel test. Some comics know it takes more than that to impress the ladies these days.

One of my all-time favorite comics that knows this is the Avatar: The Last Airbender Free Comic Book Day chapter produced by Dark Horse Comics. A few of you may be familiar with the idea of the “fake geek girl.” This ten-page installation to the Avatar series deals directly with that scenario. Suki of the Kyoshi warriors—the all-female fighting force of the Earth Kingdom—is shell shopping with her sweetheart Sokka, when another young woman who is obviously interested in shells walks in and starts perusing the shelves …

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As you can see, the shopkeeper isn’t very nice to her, and Suki immediately steps in. When the shopkeeper tries to physically throw Suki out, she defends herself, and due to the shopkeeper’s own poor firebending, his shop burns down. Suki then goes after the girl and offers to teach her how to defend herself, in true Kyoshi warrior fashion. She adds to the ranks of girls who won’t stand for being treated like fake fans, and writer Gene Luen Yang makes a mockery of the “fake geek girl” myth as well. Yang also takes some time to portray what a supportive male feminist/ally looks like in the portrayal of Sokka. Not only does he believe in Suki’s abilities, but he doesn’t try to step in and fight for her. He does offer Suki help at one point, but she turns him down, kisses him, and tells him that it was sweet of him to offer.

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This story is one of my favorites because, for a very long time, I was actually afraid to go into comic book stores because of all the stories I’d heard about the poor treatment of women there. We’re fortunate to have a welcoming and diverse comics community in Portland, so when I finally went, it was amazing. I braved my first expedition in order to get this very book on Free Comic Book Day. It felt like as good a time as any, and the support I found amongst the book’s pages was well worth the risk.

Ms. Marvel has also been doing a fantastic job of bringing up feminist issues. Tricked into coming to the lair of her adversaries by her new crush Kamran, Kamala has a conversation with Kamran that is very reminiscent of the victim blaming prominent in rape culture:

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Kamala’s will to survive and her fight response when Kamran corners her during her escape attempt help Kamala get through her feelings of betrayal, guilt, and failure. It’s important to understand that it’s not as easy as a good plot point for many survivors to get over the victim blaming they deal with, but the fact that Ms. Marvel is acknowledging the problem and bringing it to the forefront of discussion is noteworthy.

Deadpool is also a comic that loves to fit social commentary into its panels—amongst the jokes, of course. One of the most comically executed is the transphobia lecture that Deadpool receives while chasing a shape-shifter.

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Deadpool has been including a lot more women as main characters lately as well. Agent Emily Preston of S.H.I.E.L.D. becomes one of Deadpool’s dearest friends when she’s killed during the battle of the dead presidents and thrown into Deadpool’s mind to keep her alive until a suitable vessel can be found for her to live in again. A ridiculous jaunt through Dracula’s gauntlet finds Deadpool in love with succubus and mighty queen of the underworld Shiklah—whom he later marries! And, on top of all that, an old back issue brings to light an afternoon of passion Deadpool had with a Carmelita Camacho, leaving him with a daughter that he fears endangering through their affiliation, whom Preston can’t help but want to find.

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All around, comics are working for the benefit of gender and racial equality. Not all comics are being so inclusive, and there are definitely a lot of steps to take to true equality, but here are some steady anchors for the staircase. Enjoy!

The Positive Portrayal of Women of Color in Comics

We’ve all heard the cries of how #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Fortunately, the comics industry is listening! Ms. Marvel has been a woman of islamic descent since August of 2013, and the Batman universe finally got a story centering around three women of color with Gotham Academy. October of 2014 introduced the dystopia of Bitch Planet where noncompliant women are sent off world to a prison planet, and only two women could even potentially be read as white amongst the group cast that has been running since December of 2014.

The refreshing part about these portrayals is that they read like real people. Instead of a token black girl in the background, these women of color are the main characters. Kamala Kahn struggles with how to create a superhero costume that will allow her to cover her body in a way that aligns with her religion. Olive Silverlock hates Batman for locking up her mother. Every woman on Bitch Planet has a story and a reason for not complying with their patriarchal dystopia. These characters are not defined by their skin color. Instead, they are defined by their beliefs, their pasts, their values—just like any other human being.

The other refreshing thing about these comics is the lack of prejudice due to skin color. There are a few moments where Kamala is made fun of for being a girl, and of course there is a massive tendency of prejudice towards women in Bitch Planet. However, Gotham Academy seems to be a very diverse setting in which every main character is a person of color. And while one might argue that since the setting for Bitch Planet is a prison and the cast is primarily made up of women of color that there is a racial prejudice that is inferred, there are no racial slurs, and the characters themselves don’t seem to acknowledge it. The respect for these characters is a welcome breath of fresh air.

The authors writing for these stories also warrant a mention. To begin with, all of them are women. Ms. Marvel is a girl of Islamic faith—and her writer is too! G. Willow Wilson has been writing for the new Ms. Marvel series since it started and is an Islam follower herself. Becky Cloonan is the first woman to write for the Batman comics universe. And Kelly Sue DeConnick is a local Portlander who is known for her feministic attitude.

With all that goodness hiding between the covers of these books, it might be time to visit your local comic book store!