Another movie based on a comic book. Yawn, right? However, the latest film news from Marvel and D.C. film have provoked wide-eyed interest: Both comic giants recently announced projects featuring a female superhero as the central character.
Historically, female-led superhero movies flop: Remember Catwoman and Elektra? But box office history from this decade shows that The Hunger Games and Maleficent were massively successful and, really, aren’t Katniss and Evil Jolie superheroes in all but name?
Last week, Marvel’s president presented their new Captain Marvel movie. Captain Marvel, as in Carol Danvers. She was once known as Ms. Marvel but someone whose background includes the Air Force, CIA and NASA and who has superstrength as well as the ability to fly, breathe in space and sense the future … you should probably just call her Captain. And salute.
On the D.C. tip, Wonder Woman will appear in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman and Warner Bros. revealed that she will (finally) get her own feature film. In the new book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, author Jill Lepore traces Wonder Woman’s history as badass and pinup but perhaps the most interesting part of Wonder Woman’s story is the man who created her, William Moulton Marston. Marston was a psychologist who invented the lie detector (So that’s where the lasso of truth came from!). He was also a polygamist whose mistress was a magazine writer and the niece of women’s rights/birth control activist Margaret Sanger.
Marston saw the debut of Superman as simultaneous with the rise of Nazism and feared that children would confuse all-powerful superheroes with fascist Übermenschen. In 1943, he said that, “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength and power” and declared his intent to “create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”
And Marston’s vision is still alive in today’s superheroes. Marvel just released Thor No. 1 with a new Thor. There’s been other Thors, but the hammer of Mjölnir has always read: “‘Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” We see a hand grasp the hammer as the “he” becomes a “she,” and the first female Thor rises up in winged helmet and silver armor. No bulging biceps, but no 4-inch heels either. It ain’t Ms. Thor or Mr. Thor: It’s just Thor. And that may be the most powerful statement yet.