While female fans obviously weren’t as prominent at comic conventions in the past, it’s safe to say that we’ve been seeing more and more–some would say nearly in equal proportion to their male counterparts–at cons these days. As the female geek force has grown, it is evident by the evolving portrayal of the gender in print that comic companies have taken notice. This transformation was a hot topic at WonderCon last weekend, as evidenced by several panels including the one titled “Building the Modern Super Heroine” which we attended last Sunday. Leading the topic was our very own Amy Ratcliffe (also of StarWars.com) and several known female (and one male) figures: Cecil Castellucci (Stone in the Sky), Sarah Kuhn (Heroine Complex), Andrea Letamendi (psychologist, Arkham Sessions ), Jose Molina(Agent Carter), and Babs Tarr (Batgirl).
So, we know super heroines have been evolving, but what does that mean exactly, and what do they look like now? Though it is true that they have developed aesthetically, one of the common answers the panelists gave for this question revolved around character flaws. For a lot of writers, it seems like the days of perfect characters like Nancy Drew are in the past because they just aren’t realistic. Sarah mentions creating a character that wasn’t necessarily likeable, but at the end of the day, was easier to relate to because of her issues.
So how do artists who don’t really have control of the character approach making them more realistic? Babs reveals that the way she poses Batgirl, as well as the facial expressions she has when she is reacting to situations, plays a huge part in shaping the character. She notes that Batgirl has spent so much time wrapped up in being the super heroine we are all familiar with, that she didn’t leave much time to develop as a teen. As a result she is a bit awkward. Also, another way she incorporated imperfection into the character was by dropping the kevlar she’s worn all of these years and opting for a stylish leather jacket. She also changed up the belt, added a thigh strap and let her hair down. To mirror Batgirl’s evolution into womanhood, Babs reveals that she’ll be changing up the heroine’s personal style over the course of the series.
As for a psychological perspective on Batgirl’s story, Dr. Letamendi points out that the way the writers handled how she reacts to a particular event in her life by getting psychological help (by an animated version of Letamendi) was very well done. Batgirl struggled with the idea of whether she could move on without having to deal with and face a traumatic experience–which if you’re familiar with Barbara Gordon’s plight, you’ll know we are referring to when Joker shot her in the spine and paralyzed her. In an attempt to deal with what happened, she seeks the help of Letamendi to begin the healing process. This, she points out, added a lot of humanity and dimension to the character and honored the mental health field. It also suggests that we are making progress in how we portray these sorts of things.
It seems one of the best ways to keep these progressive changes coming, is to speak out about it via social media outputs like Twitter, Facebook or personal blogs. If there is something you appreciate, let the world know. Eventually, the big comic book companies will take notice. Since a lot of the alterations they’ve made–like the redesign of Batgirl for example–are risks that companies take to gage interest.
So what would you like to see next for our female heroines? Let us know in the comments below.