Thursday, June 5, 2014

Women's Lib comes to Marvel!

 "Come on in, the revolution is fine!"
calls out Valkyrie to her Lady Liberators.

Art by John Buscema
Marvel was very progressive when it came to race as demonstrated by Black Panther's July 1966 appearance in the Fantastic Four and Bill Foster's September 1966 appearance in the Avengers but as good as they were with blacks, they were a little slow when it came to the women's liberation movement. The first we see of it is in Avengers #83, Dec. 1970. Valkyrie was created specially for it, an empowered woman warrior out of Norris mythology.

Art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer
In the mean time Black Widow was getting a liberation of her own, sharing a double billing in the Amazing Adventures anthology (Aug 1970), the first Marvel heroine to have a regular solo feature.

Cover by Jack Kirby (the Inhumans) and Marie Severin (The Black Widow)
The Black Widow began as a Russian spy trying to steal Tony Stark's secrets in the pages of Tales of Suspense. Later she became Hawkeye's love interest in the pages of the Avengers. But with Amazing Adventures she shed all the romantic entanglements and became truly her own woman. 
From the Amazing Spider-Man #86, July 1970, with art by John Romita and Jim Mooney
Unfortunately the comic reading public weren't ready for an emancipated woman in her own title so her solo stories ended with the eighth issue.

It took Marvel a few more years to dip their toes in the woman's lib waters again but they did and did it in a pretty big way. They introduced three new titles all centered around woman and all written by woman!
Marvel writer-editor Roy Thomas recalled in 2007 that editor-in-chief Stan Lee...
...had the idea, and I think the names, for all three. He wanted to do some books that would have special appeal to girls. We were always looking for way to expand our franchise. My idea ... was to try to get women to write them.

There was Shanna the She-Devil, created by Carole Seuling and George Tuska;

The cover was done by the amazing Jim Steranko.

Night Nurse created by Jean Thomas (wife of Roy Thomas) and Winslow Mortimer;

and my favorite, Beware! The Claws of the Cat created by Linda Fite and Marie Severin with the great Wally Wood on inks.

The Cat was Greer Grant Nelson, a girl who was tragically widowed at a young age. Having to fend for herself, Greer went back to school and got a job as an assistant to a professor who was doing experiments on heightening peoples strength and senses. The comic was a good concept executed by great creators.
The Claws of the Cat #1 with art by Mary Severin and Wally Wood
Unfortunately the art team changed with every issue and eventually, with issue 4, the title came to an end.

It seems that the idea of what an emancipated woman was a bit of an enigma to some of the Marvel bullpen as demonstrated by a few missteps they came up with. One was Thundra who appeared in the Fantastic Four #129 (Dec 1972).

from Marvel Two-In-One #56 9Oct. 1979) with art by George Perez.
Thundra came from the future where woman are superior to men and, to prove her point, she wished to fight the Thing, believing him to be the strongest man ever.

Another poor example of a liberated woman is the Spider-Man foe who goes by the subtle name of Man-Killer.

Marvel Team Up #8 (Apr 1873) cover by Jim Mooney
She was given an exoskeleton by A.I.M. that gave her enhanced strength and duped into attacking Spider-Man and the Cat. When she found out the truth behind her powers, that they came from men, she went into shock and was institutionalized.

In January of 1977 Ms. Marvel showed up. Sean Howe said, "Ms. Marvel had been conceived as a trademark strategy (and an empty gesture toward feminism)," Gerry Conway initially took the reins of this book making her a magazine editor like the feminist Gloria Steinem though 2 issues later Chris Claremont was on the book bringing new life to this mediocre book but then again Chris Claremont had a way with female characters.

Ms. Marvel #1, Jan 1977 with cover art by John Romita
Chris Claremont would fill out the private life of Carol Danvers in a way that made you really admire her as much or even more so than her super powered alter ego, Ms. Marvel. Of all the attempts Marvel made to depict empowered women in comics, it was Chris Claremont who actually succeeded because he didn't just make stereotyped clichéd feminists but rather knew how to make interesting, well developed characters. Just look at his X-Men.

picture from X-Men giant sized annual #5 with art by Art Adams.

Jean Grey/Marvel Girl/Phoenix - Is reborn from telekinetic Marvel Girl to the Phoenix an immensely powerful being.

Ororo Munroe/Storm - She is worshipped as a goddess when her powers appear before being recruited by Professor X for the X-Men.

Kitty Pride/Shadow Cat - At 13 she was the youngest member of the X-Men. She was at first mentored by most of the X-Men but has since grown into her own person and become a formidable fighter.

Rogue - Her powers to absorb peoples memories when she touches them isolated her from people. Under Professor X's tutelage she has developed more confidence and control of her powers and created some tight bonds with the rest of the group.

Marvel was very early in portraying superheroines of color in their books. Storm, an African mutant who can control the weather first appeared in Giant Size X-Men, May 1975.

This is an early pin-up of Storm by her creator Dave Cockrum.

Some other great women characters of Chris Claremont's are Misty Night and Coleen Wing, the Daughters of the Dragon who started off as supporting characters in the comic Iron Fist and worked their way up to having solo stories of their own in places like Bizarre Adventures #25 (Mar. 1981).
Coleen Wing is a half Japanese, half American martial arts master while Misty Knight is a tough black ex-cop with a bionic arm. Together they have a private detective agency called Nightwing Restorations, Ltd.. Not only are they great examples of strong women but they also have interracial relationships with Luke Cage/Power Man and Danny Rand/Iron Fist. These guys are great role models for all kinds of minority groups.

Misty Knight and Coleen Wing - the Daughters of the Dragon from the pages of Power Man and Iron Fist  #66. Dec. 1980, by writer: Mary Jo Duffy; Penciler: Kerry Gammill, Inker: Ricardo Villamonte
The 80's went on to have many more interesting things happening with women heroes like John Byrne making the Invisible Girl into the Invisible Woman and Roger Stern making first the Wasp and then Captain Marvel, another African American woman, leader of the Avengers. There is still sexism in the world of comics; it still has it's boys club that objectifies women, but we have come a long way from the time when a heroine was around as a token air-head, fashion plate who flirted with the guys or supported her man.

1 comment:

  1. Re: "my favorite, Beware! The Claws of the Cat created by Linda Fite and Marie Severin with the great Wally Wood on inks."

    My favorite too! I'm always glad to see Greer get the recognition she deserves!