There’s this stereotypical image of a superhero that goes like this: male, muscular, non-emotional, usually Caucasian, and possesses no flaws. But when you look at the current storylines being churned out by major comic book brands as well as smaller, independent properties, it’s clear the archetype for a super hero has changed. A LOT!
Marvel re-writing ‘Thor’ as a female character, who discovers she has breast cancer, is a great example showing the inclusion of flawed, complex female characters in the mix. The 1978 Devil Dinosaur has been re-imagined to include the presence of a young, black female protagonist, and is now called ‘Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur’. On the independent scene, a comic book called ‘Raising Dion’ from acclaimed writer/director Dennis Liu follows the story of a young boy who has super powers, but it is his single mom navigating the day-to-day pressures of raising such a son who is actually the hero of the story.
This idea of thinking outside the box and allowing readers to challenge their own notions of what a super hero should look like is important. Which brings us to Marvel Comics’ new Spider-Woman series, which is a far cry from the controversial image released in 2014 showing a version of the superhero wearing a barely-there outfit pointing her ass in the air. The reason it became a problem was because it was a blatant objectification of a female character, the kind of treatment which male superheroes never have to fear.
It was probably also a major bummer for some fans, as Spider-Woman hasn’t had her own solo, non-limited comic book series since the 197os. Nevertheless, it seems Marvel have started to pay attention to the multiple outcries about some of their creative decisions on a number of platforms (especially in relation to female characters) and ended up releasing the first of the new series in November which was not what we were expecting.
Spider-Woman, aka the crime-fighting Jessica Drew who is a retired Avenger, doesn’t just have to battle alien Skrulls, she also has to take care of the little human growing inside her. Yep, she is pregnant, AND a single mom. In an interview with People magazine, writers Nick Lowe and Dennis Hopeless, along with Marvel’s director of content and character development, Sana Amanat, explained how this specific story line came about and in an awesome way show just how real life being reflected in media and entertainment can be so powerful.
“When it was pitched in a creative meeting, I immediately became excited. This is the kind of story that is very much in line with the Marvel mission and motherhood is probably the most important and relatable experience we can share. After all, aren’t mothers the real super heroes?” asked Sana.
Dennis was the writer who first ran the idea by colleague Nick, who initially laughed at the concept of having a crime-fighting pregnant superhero but then changed his mind.
“It hit me that I’d never read a comic that dealt with pregnancy and childbirth in any way that resembled the experience my wife and I had with either of our two kids. Characters had been pregnant before but it was usually in the stereotypical TV/movie fashion that skims through it. So the thought of digging into that here…seemed too good to pass up,” said Nick.
Dennis said he thought of the pregnant story line after him and his wife decided to have a family. They never intended to have kids when they first got married, but as the years went by they decided it was something they wanted to do, which then became something Jessica Drew was going to experience in the comics.
“My kids were maybe five months old when Nick Lowe asked me what big change we should give Spider-Woman for our new #1. I was joking when I asked if she could be pregnant. Nick laughed. But the more we thought about it, the more it just made sense. Jess was a lot like I had been. She never wanted kids. Not even a little. But we had just done ten issues on Spider-Woman’s pursuit of normal. Now we could hit her with a tidal wave of normal,” he said.
The fact that Nick, Dennis and illustrator Javier Rodriguez all had families of their own helped immensely to identify with what they were writing about.
“This wasn’t a gimmick cooked up to try and sell books. We pitched it because we had a story to tell. A sincere, personal story based on this very human experience. We did talk a lot about how to tell an action-packed super hero story that didn’t make Spider-Woman a wildly irresponsible parent. In the end I think we found a good balance. It seems to make people very uncomfortable to watch pregnant women do almost anything physical, but in my experience there’s no one stronger. Instead of shying away, we made all of that part of the story,” said Dennis.
Sana said the reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive, adding that Marvel’s intention was always to tell relatable stories that are representative of the real world in an honest, meaningful way. There is much more to come from Marvel in this vein of thought.
“Issues of disability, gender-identity struggles, to name a few. We’ve tackled a lot at Marvel, sure, yet there are still so many more experiences to better understand and explore through the lens of the super hero story. We just have to make sure we take the care and consideration to tell those stories honestly,” she said.
On the website ProjectFandom.com, writer Nina Perez says the new Spider-Woman story line just gets better and better and can’t find a negative thing to say about it. She also shares her thoughts, as a fan and avid comic book reader, on the significance of the pregnancy story line.
“Her pregnancy is a bold new direction for the series, and one that could draw as much criticism as that variant cover. I won’t even get into how absurd it is for parents to allow their children to get their moral cues from fictional (adult) characters, but if they must, I can see nothing wrong with a grown-ass woman who decides to become a mother (without naming the father because it’s no one’s damn business) and still wants to help those who cannot help themselves,” she writes.
Over on Yahoo Parenting, former DC Comics editor Joan Hilty says these types of story lines reflect the comic industry making a concerted effort to reach the growing number of female readers.
“There are plenty of examples throughout the history of superhero comic books of heroes having children…but there have been very few instances where we follow a hero working to raise a child from day one. Having that be an integral part of the story could be a great thing. Because, of course, parenting is an epic story in and of itself,” she said.
She also says it could bring in additional aspects of real life pregnancy, such as how to balance motherhood and work, and whether the father will be revealed.
“That is often the reality for modern parents, that their career or their family structure does not fit the traditional definition. This has the potential to reveal where society is at right now. I hope they stick to the story of what it’s like on both sides of the coin. In superhero comics you always try to keep things constantly changing, but you can’t undo having a child, so I hope they make the most of it,” she said.
We hope this type of inclusive story line and expanding the definition of a superhero continues, because we are loving it! The idea of portraying a pregnant, working single mom as a superhero has a powerful message, and speaks directly against some of the harmful stigma often attached to women in the real world. Well done Marvel for flipping the script!