The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Super Villainess

So, this is something I've been pondering. Are there any real female supervillains out there. Okay, I know there are, but I am talking about A-List female supervillains.

When I say A-List supervillains, the following names immedietely come to mind:

Dr. Doom; Magneto; the Joker; Lex Luthor (who I always thought was a jackass); Norman Osborn/Green Goblin; Ra's al Ghul; the Kingpin; Dr. Octopus; Loki; Galactus; Darkseid; Thanos; well, you get the idea.

What is one thing they all have in common? They all have penises.

Honestly, the only A-List female supervillain who operates on that scale that I can think of is Demona from "Gargoyles." There are plenty of other female supervillains out there, but they're all little bads, where as Demona is a Big Bad. And since "Gargoyles" has crossed over from animated series into comic books, I don't mind counting her.

Other female supervillains that I can think of include Catwoman; Talia al Ghul; Emma Frost; Lily Hollister aka Menace; Star Sapphire; Harley Quinn; Poison Ivy; Madame Masque; Scarlet Witch; and Mystique.

Okay... those characters are all either subordinates of a male villain (Harley, Madame Masque, Menace, Talia, Mystique); a hero's femme fatale love interest (Catwoman, Talia, Madame Masque), turned good (Catwoman, Emma Frost, Scarlet Witch), or B-List villains at best.

The one exception might be Mystique. She assembled her own Brotherhood, and was smart enough to get them status as a government-licensed super-team, before everybody and their Skrull-doppelganger was doing that after "Civil War"...

... And then she gets played off as Magneto's token chick subordinate in every media ever. Also it depends on who is writing Mystique this week.

A little bit of trivia, Venom was supposed to be a woman. The idea originally was that a pregnant woman was in a car with her husband in Manhattan as Spider-Man did battle against a supervillain, and innocent people were caught in the middle. Car crashes, husband dies, and the woman loses her baby and snaps. She blames Spider-Man for what happened, and in her grief and rage, she is found by the symbiote, bonds with it, and becomes Venom. That was David Michelinie's original idea. But then Spider-Editor, Jim Salicrup, didn't think anyone would buy a woman as a credible, physical threat to Spider-Man, and at the last minute, we got Eddie Brock instead.

So, is Demona it? I mean, as far as A-List supervillains go, she is a great one. One of the best, and most compelling, without being watered down at all as a threat. You can understand her, and even sympathize, but at the same time, you're not rooting for her to win. She is a credible threat, and can stand against just about any other character I've named. And her gender doesn't even matter as a defining point of her character, period. Well, outside of her being Goliath's former mate, but that just makes their conflict that much more personal.

Yes, I understand that when comic books were taking off, and the Comics Code was in affect, men battling and "beating up on women" was a no no, which is why very few female villains existed then. Very few female heroes either, they were mostly relegated to the status of girlfriend. Obviously, there were exceptions like Wonder Woman; Invisible Woman; Marvel Girl; etc.

Personally, I'd love to see more female supervillains. And not just for tokenism either. We've got some great ones, or ones with potential for greatness that just need more of a push.

At least that's my opinion, I could be wrong.


  1. Nice to see you posting this Greg, it's always been one of my favorite pieces by you.

    I used to blame the lack of A-list villainesses on comics being essentially male power fantasies but looking back I think that's really unfair of me.

    I think it's actually a combination of a lot of different things. One of the key factors being that Marvel, DC and their fans tend to be deeply conservative.

    Now I don't mean conservative in the political sense but rather in adopting a stick with what they know mentality both as creators and as consumers.

    Most of Marvel and DC's big name heroes and villains were created at a time when giving major roles to women or minorities was at best risky and at worst practically heretical. And even though society and comics themselves have(mostly) outgrown such prejudice by the time that happened it became very difficult for new characters to become established.

    Much as I may criticized Bendis I have to give him credit for giving some exposure to new characters like Sentry and the Hood, even if I do have some issues with the execution.

    I think the best approach would be for Marvel and DC to take some of their more promising B or C-list villainesses and promote them a bit more. I've got some ideas for characters who I think have the chops and I'll share them later.

  2. Padraig makes an excellent and very valid point. If you look at both of your lists, all of the characters you mention were either created decades ago or are villains for a character that was created decades ago. The only one I know of offhand who was created within the last two decades is Harley and she had the boost of starting out in the animated series and then transitioning to comics. It is not easy to get a new character off the ground in mainstream superhero comics, let alone an entirely new set of characters. As Padraig points out, the tendency for the hardcore fans who DC and Marvel seem to court to the exclusion of all else is to go "Nooooo! We want the Joker!" So any new villains - female or otherwise - tend to get forgotten as the publisher "corrects course" to give the fans what they want.

    I'm still not realy sure about your logic for what constitutes a supervillain, or even a supervillain in comics. I think the argument can be made for calling Demona a supervilain, but I wouldn't say that she's a supervillain in comic just because Gargoyles transitioned from TV show to comics. By that logic, you should also count any female big bads Joss Whedon indtroduced in Buffy because that became a comics series. While they may not still be big bads in the comic stories, neither is Demona. She's appeared in the comic, but she hssn't really done anything yet aside from lay out a plan that was foiled before it could go anywhere. There certainly have been female "big bads" in other media who could be considered supervillains. And if you get out of the big two publishers or even out of mainstream superhero comics, they're likely around. But the big two are so mired in their own history that supervillainesses don't have much of a chance.

  3. While I wouldn't call Demona an A-list villain, I do think she provides a useful model for what a good liberated super-villainess should be. She's not a minion or a femme fatal, defined in terms of her gender or used for T&A.