Monday, May 27, 2013

She's got a brain, a super-brain... wait... no, she doesn't

So... where are all the super-smart superheroines?

For that matter, where are ANY super smart super-women at all?

Super-smart supermen are as common as water molecules in comics, on both ends of the morality spectrum.  There are dozens if not hundreds of male supertypes who employ their superhumanly keen intellects in various fields of science -- Lex Luthor, Bruce Wayne, Ray Palmer, Barry Allen, Dr. Doom, Reed Richards, Hank Pym, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Charles Xavier -- super scientists who put on costumes and punch out other super scientists in their spare time are simply all over the place.  These super scientists routinely invent way out whacky stuff like artificial intelligence, anti gravity rays, force field projectors, gateways to the Negative Zone, teleporters, nuclear powered battle armor, size changing gas, and humanoid robots that cannot be easily told from real people... and every single one of these brilliant boffins is a guy.

Every.  Single.  One.

I'm not saying superwomen are dumb.  I am saying, however, that while it's almost routine for male superheroes to be superhumanly intelligent in their secret identities, there are absolutely no female super scientists or inventors... not that I can think of, anyway.

No, wait, I've thought of one.  In Marvel's long ago, very short lived CLAWS OF THE CAT series, there is a female super scientist, Joanne Tumolo (I think).  She gives Greer Larsen her cat-like powers and a supersuit that turns out to be full of movement enhancing microcircuitry.  However, later on, she turns out to be a disguised cat-person who actually uses magical powers rather than super science, so I'm not sure she counts.

And even Dr. Tumolo was not a super-player herself, merely a supporting player and plot device.

As a general rule, superheroines created in the Silver Age largely fall into one of two generally demeaning categories anyway -- they were either created to be the Inevitable Girl on an otherwise all male superteam, or they were created as female copies of a commercially successful male character, in hopes of exanding that character's appeal to female fans.  (The Golden Age of comics was a looser, freer, more flexible time and Golden Age superheroines who still exist today, notably, Wonder Woman and Black Canary, do not have to fit into this mold, although both of them have, at some time or another, fulfilled the seemingly mandatory role of being the only female member of an otherwise all male superteam.)

Yet even superheroines created as female versions of male characters are never as smart as their male progenitors.  Spider-girl does not have Peter Parker's scientific savvy, nor does She-Hulk have Bruce Banner's superhuman brain power, simply to list two of many, many examples.  Superman often displayed 'super intelligence' when a storyline required it; Supergirl has rarely or never made use of such a power, presuming she even has it.

Now, super women tend to be smart... I mean, they ain't stupid, as a general rule.  Black Canary, Wonder Woman, Sue Storm, Hawkgirl, Ms. Marvel, the Wasp... these chicks are bright as hell.   But it seems that they are never allowed to be SUPER smart, like so many of their male peers are. They do not invent wondrous super-devices, they do not expand the boundaries of whatever field of superscience they may work in... in fact, they do not  have intellectually demanding jobs at all.

In fact, when you think of it...

Wonder Woman, in her secret identity as Diana Prince, has generally been a secretary.

Black Canary, in her everyday ID as Dinah Drake, own her own flower shop.

Sue Storm Richards is a housewife and mother.

Ms. Marvel, AKA Carol Danvers... I don't know what she's doing these days.  She's been in charge of security at an Air Force base in Florida that kept getting attacked by Captain Marvel villains, and she was managing editor for NOW Magazine.  God knows what she's doing now.

The Wasp/Janet Van Dayne is a rich heiress.  (Well, apparently she's currently dead in Marvel continuity, but I don't care.)

She-Hulk's alter ego of Jennifer Walters is a lawyer, although She Hulk hates being Jennifer Walters and rarely turns back into her.

There are, in fact, only two really amazingly super smart women I can think of in comics:  Dr. Moira MacTaggart in the Marvel Universe, who is sort of a female Scottish equivalent to Professor X, without any mutant powers, and Oracle, otherwise known as Barbara Gordon, who become a supergenius computer hacker after being paralyzed by the Joker and losing her ability to physically fight crime as Batgirl (yet another female version of a male character designed to hopefully appeal to female fans).

It's notable that Dr. MacTaggart is not a super-player, she just hangs out with them -- essentially, she's a plot device.

It's even more worth noting that when Barbara Gordon (herself the daughter of a notable male character, Police Commissioner James Gordon) was Batgirl (a female version of a stronger, more competent, obviously smarter male superhero) she fought crime physically, and was not only never as smart as Batman, she never seemed particularly intellectual at all, despite the fact that in her secret identity, she was a librarian.  It was only when her capacity to kick bad guys into unconsciousness was removed that she suddenly demonstrated superhuman mental prowess.

Along this tack, also let us look at Sue Storm Richards, i.e., the Invisible Girl/Woman, and Janet Van Dyne, the winsome, wonderful Wasp.  Both have demonstrated enormous competence and intelligence over the years, and both have been depicted as hiding their undeniable brains and ability out of fear that their boyfriends/husbands won't like them if they act too smart.

It would seem that in superhero comics -- an industry dominated by male creators, specifically targeted at an overwhelmingly male audience, it is taken overwhelmingly for granted that a smart woman is not a desirable woman/character/market commodity.  And even when female characters are created specifically to appeal to female comics fans, those female characters are never defined as being particularly intelligent... meaning, male creators not only assume male fans don't want or like smart women, but female fans share this distaste for intelligent female characters as well.

Essentially, there are very very very few female characters who have ever been introduced into comics and been shown to possess the kind of superhuman intellectual capacity that is common to many, many male comic book characters.  And when I say 'very very very very few', I mean, like, three.

And out of those three, none of them are allowed to be actively, physically superhuman.

So, as an almost universal rule, women can't be super smart in superhero comics.  On the extraordinarily rare occasion that a supersmart woman does show up... she's not allowed to really do anything.  She is allowed to exist only as a supporting character.

Women who do get to play in the superhuman theater of operations -- trying to conquer the world, or save the world -- villainesses and heroines, in other words -- aren't allowed to demonstrate great intelligence while they do it.  They can be smart... but they can't be REALLY smart.

Which is another way of saying, women are not allowed to be of primary importance in superhero comics.  They are not allowed to be dominant.  They are not allowed to be in charge.  Oh, women can take their turn leading superhero teams -- that was something that became very trendy back in the 80s and 90s; everyone from the Invisible Woman to the Wasp to the female Captain Marvel got a turn to be team leader for a while.

But they still can't really... RUN it.

Marvel even has an Illuminati group now of the most powerful characters in various different areas that run things from behind the scenes.  Who's in it?  Iron Man, Black Bolt, Dr. Strange, Reed Richards, the Sub Mariner, and Professor X.  All men.  (For that matter, they're all WHITE men, but that's a different topic... if only a slightly different one.)

So, essentially, the super people who are really the movers and shakers, the people who pull the strings and make all the important decisions behind the scenes in the Marvel Universe... are all guys.  No women need apply to be Illuminati members (no non whites, either, as previously noted.)

It's like, seriously, this is 2013, dudes.  WTF?

Where are the female Brainiacs, the female super scientists inventing cool futuristic stuff, the female super-warriors who also happen to have galaxy class intellects?  Nowhere.  Apparently, they don't exist.

I think it's about time superhero comics had a few.


  1. Re: "In Marvel's long ago, very short lived CLAWS OF THE CAT series, there is a female super scientist, Joanne Tumolo (I think). She gives Greer Larsen her cat-like powers and a supersuit that turns out to be full of movement enhancing microcircuitry. However, later on, she turns out to be a disguised cat-person who actually uses magical powers rather than super science, so I'm not sure she counts."

    You're right about Dr. Tumolo (although her assistant's name was Greer Nelson). Greer too, after the treatments, was supposed to have a superhuman intellect. Sadly, she never got much of a chance to display it. So many missed opportunities in that short-lived series!
    (BTW, there was no micro-circuity in the Cat uniforms. That was implied to exist in the Hellcat's costume (which superficially resembles the Cat's). Dr. Tumolo's treatments are what empowered Greer and the other test subject, Shirlee Bryant.)

    Perhaps you're familiar with Superia, aka Dr. Deirdre Wentworth? She used a student of her colleague, Prof. Suzanne Polukort, to prove women could become the Femizons her Time-Probe had revealed ruled the world of the 23rd century. (The student, Cathy Webster, became the super-heroine known as Free Spirit.) More recently, she worked with Norman Osborn in his second incarnation of the Dark Avengers (impersonating Ms. Marvel) in New Avengers.

    Speaking of the Dark Avengers, that story arc also features Monica Rappaccini, the current Scientist Supreme of A.I.M. (which should put her on a level with Dr. Pym, at least).

    Also, re: "Carol Danvers... I don't know what she's doing these days." Carol was going through a bad time when she was at Cape Kennedy (see for a conjecture why). Currently she's been assigned to take up the Captain Marvel nom de guerre (which is something of a demotion, since she was a USAF Major!)
    Hope this helps!

  2. Thanks, Darci. I gave up on contemporary comics nearly a decade ago, so was unaware of recent developments. Stupid of me to get Cat/Tigra's last name wrong, though.

    I'm not entirely sure it was ever made anything remotely like 'official', but when the Avengers found the costume Patsy Baxter/Walker originally donned to become Hellcat, both Iron Man and Captain America recognized it as being the costume of The Cat, and speculated that perhaps Roxxon/Brand had simply bought the costume somewhere after the Cat disappeared.

    I don't know where it was established that the suit had movement-amplifying microcircuitry in it, although Patsy herself noted that normally she was pretty limber, but in this suit, she was Olympic material -- strongly indicating that the suit had some kind of augmentation capacities in it.

    Now, it's very possible that after Dr. Tumolo supposedly died and the Cat effectively shut down her patron's "hypnotized superwomen slave-soldiers" project, Roxxon/Brand (who may have surreptitiously been backing the project) wound up with the projects effects... and possibly among them, there was a version of the Cat costume that had movement enhancing microcircuitry in it, which Greer never used.

    And, yes, it's a pity we never really saw ANYthing to indicate that Greer, in any of her personas, was 'super intelligent'. That would have been interesting. Apparently, super horny was the best Jim Shooter and Alan Weiss could come up with. Kinda figures, don't it?

  3. I read the Danvers write up you pointed me to. Interesting. Marvel actually has relatively few female characters whose histories extend back to the early Silver Age, and Danvers is without a doubt one of the most absurdly contrived and otherwise messed up. You do nice work trying to straighten it out, although personally I suspect Danvers has been mind controlled a few times and perhaps even replaced by alien shapeshifters or mutants or something for long stretches.