Quick Post: Gender and Comics (or ‘Why Ms Marvel is now Captain Marvel)

We all know that I bemoan the way video games and comic books are reverting to their adolescent attitudes towards women and masculinity.  There’s nothing new in this story.

Instead, I’ve been thinking about how there’s such a strong association between ‘Female Variant of Character’ and ‘Sexy Variant of Character’.  In a recent post, I gave the example of Pac-Man’s female variant, Ms Pac-Man.  Ms Pac-Man was identical to the original, except she wore makeup and had breasts.

Here’s an interesting example of ‘progress’ in Marvel Comics.  Captain Marvel.

The original Captain Marvel was an unusual superhero.  Like Superman, Captain Marvel was an alien.  Unlike Superman, Captain Marvel’s native-planet name was ‘Mar-Vell’.  The character had a whole host of problems, blah, blah, nobody cares, and through a freak accident, he happened to transfer some of his magical ubermench powers to a human woman called Carol Danvers.  Carol Danvers became Ms Marvel.

Ms Marvel (Vol. 2, 13) [2007]
Ms Marvel (Vol. 2, 13) [2007]
On the above picture, circle all the parts that indicate the ‘Ms’ part of her character.  Breasts, shiny legs, blonde hair. This is the problem that I noted in the earlier post.  Where most male characters have names which indicate some part of their identity — ‘Cyclops’, for example, reveals something about his eye; ‘Wolverine’ reveals something about his character and powers; ‘Beast’ is ironic; &c., &c., &c., — Ms Marvel’s name basically tells us that she’s female.  If you already knew that there was a Captain Marvel, then you know that she’s just like Captain Marvel, except she’s got breasts and skimpier clothing.

The psychic X-Man, Jean Grey, suffered a similar problem.  Her original code name was ‘Marvel Girl’.  Sure, Bobby Drake was called ‘Iceman’, but nobody felt it necessary to refer to other X-Men as ‘Cyclopsman’, ‘Beast Boy’, and ‘Havoc Penis Wielder’.

What is perhaps a bit more surprising about Jean Grey is that when she leveled up her powers and outclassed the guys with whom she fought, she was permitted to drop the ‘Girl’ part of her name, opting for the more comics-masculine, ‘Phoenix’.

Back to Carol Danvers.

In a recent story line, Mar-Vell came to Earth, died, and told Carol Danvers that his legacy is hers.  Marvel Comics renamed Carol Danvers from ‘Ms Marvel’ to…

Captain Marvel (1, Variant) [2012]
Captain Marvel (1, Variant) [2012]
Circle all the parts that indicate ‘Captain’.

It’s a small step and I wonder how long it will last.  Over in DC, a favourite character for young girls, Starfire from Teen Titans, was transformed from a youngish, non-sexualised superheroine into soft core porn.  The comics industry has form when it comes to getting the message regarding gender issues in the community, and then disregarding it entirely in a brazen and craven attempt to appeal to sex-starved young males.


Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

One thought on “Quick Post: Gender and Comics (or ‘Why Ms Marvel is now Captain Marvel)”

  1. The 8 point star may indicate some sort of prophetic powers or fundamental knowledge of the universe. “The eight-point star as a symbol marks early human understanding of the intellegent order that underlies our universe. Today, it carries religous and mystical associations. Known as the khatam in Islamic cultures, it and its variants are found at the center of stunning zillij masterpieces throughout Morocco. Amidst the color and compostion, the khatam stands as a symbol of early astronomy, interconnectedness, and faith in the ultimate harmony of Creation.”
    –From here : http://www.moroccoboard.com/features/92-sarah-tricha/821-origins-and-meanings-of-the-eight-point-star

    The 2 gold bars near on collar resemble the captain’s insignia –http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/96/Captain_insignia_Gold.png

    I don’t know what the pointy nips signify about being Captain Marvel.

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