I think everyone can agree that the first issue of Fearless Defenders was a hit. The issues we had on the rack here at the Northampton store sold out in less than a day, and while we are still waiting on official sales results from Diamond, the book is racking up very positive critiques on most review sites. It’s a fun, solid first issue that, despite its minor hiccups, has me looking forward to #2.
It’s been so good, in fact, that some people have said they would like to see the newest Defenders with some male teammates. While I totally see this as a compliment to the Cullen Bunn’s sharp, amusing writing and Will Sliney’s sleek art, it’s also a little disappointing to hear.
Superheroes have always been a male dominated genre, from characters to creators, and, although Lois Lane was introduced in the same issue that Superman was, superheroines (powered and un-powered) were not prevalent or particularly praised.
If you want to get technical, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle debut in 1937, predating Action Comics by a year, and, while back then Sheena was considered a pulp heroine (the first female character to get her own self-titled solo!), by today’s standard we could consider her the first superheroine (nee superhero).
After Sheena, it took four more years before any other heroines saw solo publication with the months apart releases of Wonder Woman’s Sensation Comics and the newspaper strip Miss Fury by female writer/artist Tarpe Mills (awesome aside: Miss Fury is getting a revival next month, thanks to Dynamic Forces).
This brings me to my major point: seeing all-female teams today is really important. The first superhero team, the Justice Society of America, had a total of zero women on it for eight years until Black Canary became a full member (technically, Wonder Woman was on the team circa 1941, but only as the JSA’s passive secretary, who rarely went into battle with the rest of the team).
Superhero teams used to have a huge gender imbalance, where “the woman” was just one role, alongside tropes like the joker, the brawler, and the leader. The Invisible Girl and Marvel Girl both frequently play passive parts, having only protective powers, and often becoming damsels in distress, being the cause for the rest of the team to go in to action. This was the formula for superhero teams in comics, a single woman was essentially the prerequisite to fill a roster. Instead of taking a role based on personality, they were there to fill the spot for someone of the opposite gender.
In the wake of second-wave feminism, the 60’s saw strength in female characters, with the Invisible Girl becoming the Invisible Woman and Jean Gray initial connection to the Phoenix, but it wasn’t until the 80’s, when Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and a number of other visionaries began creating teams. Comics Alliance has a wonderful article that talks specifically about Claremont, and I have touted praise of the way he handled race and gender multiple times, especially in terms of the New Mutants, but the 80’s as a whole saw the reinvention of superheroines in many ways.
Characters were diverse, ranging from Elektra and Catwoman-style deadly anti-heroes, to statuesque strong-women like She-Hulk and Starfire, to girls’ next door like Kitty Pryde or no-nonsense business women like Amanda Waller. Along with the increase of drastic and different superheroine characters, team dynamics began to change, and it became acceptable for teams to be majority female. Yet, it wasn’t until 1996 that an all-female team was conceived: the Birds of Prey. Even then, Birds of Prey was merely a duo book until Gail Simone took over the series in 2003, introducing Huntress to the roster of Oracle and Black Canary.
While the Birds have had occasional team-ups with male heroes in the DC Universe, they remained an all-female team until the introduction and brief roster-ing of Hawk, of Hawk and Dove, in 2010. While I understand that the characters are a package deal, it somewhat denigrated the original concept of BoP (women doing it for themselves) and one has to wonder if it was Simone’s choice or an editorial order.
Marvel flirted with the idea of an all-female team (the Lady Liberators initially appeared in 1970, but it was, in reality, an elaborate trick by the Enchantress), but the Ladies never saw more than a few single-issue stories and a 2009 mini-series.
Now Marvel has two all-female teams, Fearless Defenders and the upcoming Brian Wood X-Men. DC still has Birds of Prey, now under the pen of Jim Zub.
I hope that these teams retain a strong, all-female roster. More and more, its become clear that women tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to comics, whether it’s a character, a creator, or a consumer. Being able to retain a dialogue about the importance of women in relation to comics is huge, and all-female teams help bring that dialogue to the surface. It’s great to see popular and well-regarded writers like Brian Wood taking on these team books, and I am hoping we will see successful sales on Fearless Defenders and X-Men, just as we have with Birds of Prey.
I think the next step in the process will be adding female writers and artists to the mix. We need more Gale Simone’s in the comics world!
If you want to read Fearless Defenders, X-Men, Birds of Prey, Miss Fury, or any of the back issues I mentioned here, come check them out at Modern Myths INC!