Mike Madrid is a lifetime comic book and pop culture fan, and the author of “The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines,” and “Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics.” I was honored to hear him speak at GeekGirlCon about his latest book* “Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics.” The next day I bought his book and attended the 1:00 signing.
We had a very short discussion about female heroes in modern comic books — he asked me if I was reading She-Hulk.
I said, “No. I got the first issue and didn’t like it. I’m reading Captain Marvel.”
“Hmm,” was his response.
He explained that he was thrilled with She-Hulk because, unlike Carol Danvers who is supported by Tony Stark, Jennifer Walters supports herself.
After this and other positive comments regarding She-Hulk, I went back to my comic store and bought issues #002 and #003 and reread from #001.
I still don’t like it. And I take issue with Madrid’s self-supporting-female qualifier.
First of all, it’s an aesthetics thing. I do not like Javier Pulido’s interior art. The cover art by Kevin Wada is wonderful (I’ve used numerous adjectives here; pick your fav). There’s so much character and strength in Wada’s She-Hulk. In contrast, Pulido’s features are so geometric and flat they’re inhuman to the point of distraction. Very subjective, so let's look at Madrid's reasoning.
I interpret Madrid’s comment to mean that Jennifer Walters is a better female protagonist because Carol Danvers is supported by a rich man.
There are several possible arguments here, so let’s be fair and cover the bases. Does working for anyone, for a rich person, or for a man make a female character a lesser representation?
WORKING FOR ANYONE
Most people work for someone and Walters is no different. In She-Hulk #001, “Motion,” Jennifer Walters quits a demeaning job and opens her own law firm. Technically, she works for her clients. Without clients she has no business. She also hires Angie Huang as a paralegal and Hellcat as an investigator (#002). If working for someone makes you a lesser character, then Walters character would be inflicting this on other women, subordinating them.
Yes, this is a ludicrous argument. Utterly self-contained female heroes are not what make women strong, accomplished, and equal. The configuration of working for someone, when done correctly, creates a team where you share your talents and make a stronger force. You can see that happening with the principled Walters, the mysterious and astute Huang, and the energetic Hellcat.
WORKING FOR THE RICH
As a lawyer, Walters needs clients. At the end of issue #002 Walters is hired to work for someone as rich, powerful, and arrogant as Tony Stark: Kristoff Vernard, the son of Victor Von Doom, ruler of Latveria. She takes the job. He needed help and she helped him.
If being rich is an issue it's an argument of fiscal equality. Being rich, I have no problem with. If I had the choice to be rich, I’d take it. If fiscal equality is Madrid’s issue, we will simply disagree politically but that’s all I’ll say about that.
WORKING FOR A MAN
My guess is this is what Madrid believes makes Captain Marvel a lesser female character than She-Hulk. It’s the only one of the three arguments that really has meat.
It is historically true that women in the work place have been seen as subordinate to men and are depicted answering to men instead of being the ones in charge. Jobs have been given to men because they aren’t women. Women have been disrespected, discriminated, and depreciated. This does not mean that every representation of a female character in patronage to a man is inequality. It would mean that, to represent equality, a woman should never be shown working for a man.
Equality doesn’t mean elimination. A working relationship of mutual respect, elevation, and appreciation represents equality, no matter the sexes.
Besides, She-Hulk does work for a man by choice — Vernard (#003).
Even though She-Hulk plays out quite nicely as a female protagonist I will not be reading the title. I'm not attached to the world because the art work pushes me away. When choosing titles to purchase, I’m about 70% artwork and 30% story.
For the story, a least, I understand the fans of She-Hulk. I mean, what's up with Angie and that monkey?
I’ll Give You a Topic
- Is there another interpretation of Madrid's comment I missed?
- Can someone tell me why Jennifer Walters is green all the time where Bruce Banner is only green when he’s the Hulk? I’m new to comics so I’m sure there’s an explanation for this.
*Doing research for this article I discovered that “Vixens, Vamps & Vipers” has a forward written by my current Coursera teacher, William Kushkin, Ph.D.