Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Heroine Fix Bonus Round: The Powerful Women of Comiccon

I love strong female characters.  Nothing will turn me off of a series, book or movie faster than a typical "damsel in distress" moment when the character is helpless in the face of something which a typical woman should be able to handle.  (Getting a little shell-shocked in an alien invasion is fair, but it annoys me when otherwise capable women don't at least make an effort to rescue themselves from bad situations.)  There are a huge number of fantastic kick-ass fictional ladies who have inspired a generation of women to believe there is no fate but what we make ourselves.

This is why I get frustrated when I hear people dismissing female characters in comics and science fiction without giving them a chance to show their awesomeness.  The ladies get passed over for their own feature films, find themselves discussed more for their cleavage than their characters, or find their stories pre-empted by male characters.  The justification is that women just don't enjoy the genre and are satisfied with watching male characters, to which I say: Bull<insert expletive>.

Geek girls are here and proud and we'll keep coming back in greater numbers until Hollywood can't ignore us any longer.  So today I am celebrating 20 fabulous and powerful characters and the women who embodied them at this year's Comiccon.

Renee as Agent Peggy Carter
Margaret "Peggy" Carter (from Agent Carter and Captain America: The First Avenger) is one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D.  She served as one of the Bletchley Park codebreakers in World War II, fought HYDRA, saved Howard Stark (and the rest of the world) and did it all in heels and fabulous hats.

Renee chose Agent Carter in part because Carter's forties flair allows her to dress "like a real person."  She also admires how, even though she doesn't have any superpowers, the character uses both her mind and her physical strength, downplaying her physical attractiveness.  As someone who grew up in the military, Renee feels Agent Carter is a good role model for young girls.  She challenges both the male establishment and traditional boundaries.

Breanne as Batgirl
The Batgirl mantle has been worn by Bette Kane, Barbara Gordon, Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown.  The most famous is Barbara Gordon, whose crime-fighting career was not cut short when she was crippled by the Joker.  She continued to work from her wheelchair as Oracle.  Cassandra Cain donned the mantle to redeem her assassin father's crimes.  Stephanie Brown became Batgirl after a stint as Batman's companion, Robin.  In the DC universe, Batgirl is known for her stealth, agility and martial arts skills, regardless of who is under the mask.

A long-time DC fan, Breanne has enjoyed the Batman world since she was small.  She enjoys finding out about the lesser known female counterparts to the traditional male monoliths and finds they often have cooler stories. 

UndeadDu as Black Widow
Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff, has been featured as a supporting member in The Avengers films and the Captain America films.  She was trained from childhood as a Russian spy and assassin.  "I have a certain skill set" she explains in the first Avenger's movie, but eventually she ended up working for S.H.I.E.L.D., using that skill set to protect and help her fellow Avengers.  Without superpowers, she holds her own against the Hulk, aliens and gods.

UndeadDu is a professional cosplayer who chose Black Widow out of admiration for the character's ability to accomplish so much without powers.  She found the recent character arc exploring Widow's infertility to be interesting, as it's a challenge many women can identify with.  She loves the combination of feminine beauty and strength, intelligence and physical domination, cold practicality and determination to do the right thing, all of which make Widow a deep, multi-layered character.

Jade as Capable
From Mad Max: Fury Road, Capable is one of Immortan Joe's five wives who escape with Furiosa.  When Mad Max attempts to kill Furiosa, Capable stands up to stop him, despite having spent her life in complete isolation and pampered slavery.  She also turns one of Immortan Joe's lackeys, Nux, telling him that she believes in him and that both of them will be able to escape their apparent fates.

Jade is a Mad Max fan who loves the post-apocalyptic world.  She enjoyed the strong female presence in the latest movie, Fury Road, and how, in the end, the mothers and wives didn't need a man to rescue them.  They took care of themselves, from their initial escape to their triumphant return to rule in their former captor's place.

Nicole as Catwoman
Catwoman, aka Selina Kyle, is an expert thief and sometimes love interest and sometimes villain for Batman.  She is never predictable but also fiercely protective.  She is an expert in gymnastics, sleight of hand, martial arts and the bull whip.  She is the shades of grey in Batman's black and white world, blurring the lines of his strict moral code.

It's that refusal to be pinned down into one category which attracted Nicole to Catwoman.  "She's strong and interesting" with a complex history with the other characters in Batman's universe, particularly the Caped Crusader himself.

Patricia as Deadpool
After this year's hit film, most people have discovered Marvel's Deadpool, aka Wade Wilson.  the irreverent, fourth-wall breaking and morally challenged hero.  He is an odd combination of lethality and protectiveness, innocence and crudity.  He can clap at a great entrance and slice off a limb with equal glee.  There is a Lady Deadpool, aka Wanda Wilson, in an alternate reality of the Marvel universe.  She goes toe to toe with General America (an evil Captain America).

Patricia was quite clear that she was embodying the male Deadpool instead of his female counterpart.  She calls herself a highly sarcastic and direct person and finds Deadpool fun to impersonate.  She loves his combination of humor and crudity.  "He's super not perfect."  

Emma as Evil-Lyn
Ladies of my generation will remember Evil-Lyn, Skeletor's faithful companion from the He-Man cartoon series.  The most powerful of Skeletor's minions, this sorceress had her eye on an eventual hostile takeover, often working against her supposed "master's" instructions.  She was particularly fond of shape-shifting to trick He-Man and his companions.

Along with her companion, who cosplayed as Skeletor, Emma enjoyed the humor of the original cartoon series.  She liked how Evil-Lyn was a partner with Skeletor, his equal and perhaps his superior.  She enjoys the idea of being a sorceress and getting to play with magic and illusion.

Kimberley as Leeloo
Leeloominai Lekatariba Lamina-Tchai Ekbat de Sebat from Fifth Element is one of the Universe's Supreme Beings.  Awakening in a scientific facility after a horrific attack, Leeloo smashes through a supposedly unbreakable tube and proceeds to pursue her mission to save the world with single-minded determination, rivaled only by her love of chicken and the Multi-pass.  She is able to fight off hordes single-handedly and contains the supreme power of the universe which can blast evil out of orbit.

Fifth Element is Kimberley's favourite movie and she especially loved Mila Jovovich's strong portrayal of Leeloo.  Despite having to learn about a completely new world, she rarely finds herself at a loss.

Kimmy as Loki
As a shapeshifter and illusionist Norse God, Loki has appeared in both male and female incarnations in Marvel comics.  Adopted by Odin after defeating the Frost Giants, in the Marvel movie version, he grows up alongside Thor and sees himself as the best possible ruler for Asgaard.

Loki is Kimmy's favourite character and she sees him as misunderstood rather than evil.  Certainly one can make a persuasive argument that Thor's "smash first, worry later" approach to rulership might not be the best option for the Asgaardians.  

Leah as Mystique
Mystique, aka Raven Darkholme, is one of my personal favourites from the Marvel universe.  Able to take on anyone's shape, she is the ultimate spy and infiltrator.  Add in physics-are-optional fighting skills, including the ability to strangle someone with her bare feet, and her frank sensuality and mysterious history, she is a character who rivals Wolverine for potential character exploration.  

Leah chose Mystique for her uniqueness.  There is no other character quite like her anywhere else in either DC or Marvel.  She's a strong female lead and a kickass character.

Stephanie as Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy is another strong female character from the Batman universe.  Able to manipulate and interact with plants and immune to all toxins, she can dispatch her enemies with a lethal kiss or send them into distracting chemical euphoria.  Originally a botanist, she is transformed when a fellow scientist uses her as a research subject.  She hates humanity for their ecological sins and men for their attempts to use and manipulate her.

Stephanie runs the needles behind Yarn Monster Cosplay, knitting fantastic costumes.  She initially created the Poison Ivy costume when moving but enjoyed being the villainess so much that she's continued to add to and develop the costume over the years.  She likes Ivy for her phenomenal powers and her determination not to be stepped on.

Cailey as Polaris
Polaris, aka Lorna Dane, is Magneto's daughter and has inherited his ability to manipulate electromagnetic fields and metal.  Unwilling to raise her himself, Magneto erased her memories, leaving her to believe her parents died in a car crash.  She served on a number of superhero teams including the X-men and X-factor.  As she grew older, she discovered a secondary mutation, the ability to amplify negative emotions in those around her.

Cailey admits she chose Polaris partly because she loves the colour green but also because she found her abilities fascinating.  Most people aren't familiar with the character, giving her a chance to share something new with Comiccon fans.

Josee as Quorra
Quorra, from Tron: Legacy is the last known ISO (a digital life form) left in the computerized world of Tron.  Protected by Kevin Flynn as a child, she is fascinated by the world outside the CPU, reading books from and about the real world.  She protects Flynn's son, Sam, when he is lured into the digital world and can fight, drive and fly with equal ease.

Josee likes Quorra as a "really cool" character who takes on the usually male-dominated save the day role.  She is the expert who helps to guide Sam and keeps him alive.  Eager and enthusiastic and not ashamed of her desire to learn, Quorra is a fun and cool heroine to personify.

Amanda as Rey
Rey is the heroine of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Abandoned on the planet Jakku as a child, she has survived in a harsh and hostile environment.  When she teams up with the droid BB-8, she saves Finn, flies the Millennium Falcon in an epic Tie-Fighter battle and discovers that she has Jedi powers.  She's able to fix the Falcon with duct tape and a few crossed wires, handle a light saber and go mind to mind with Kylo Ren, despite not being formally trained.

Amanda shares my love of Star Wars and my excitement over such a strong female character in the lead.  What she really appreciates is the depth of story being hinted at for Rey's backstory, suggesting that we will learn even more about her as the Star Wars saga continues.

Karin as Riddler and Gillan as Harley Quinn
The Riddler, aka Edward Ngyma, is one of the Batman villains, who challenges Batman with his obscure puzzles and riddles.  Enigma, a female version of the Riddler, joined the Teen Titans (made up of heroes and villains from the generation after Batman's).  She has claimed to be a daughter of the Riddler but her true identity is still a mystery.  Harley Quinn was originally created for the Batman animated series as a companion and sidekick for the Joker, but quickly became a fan favourite for her quirky psychotic nature.  Originally a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, she fell in love with the Joker, helping him to escape and joining him on a life of crime. 

Karin loved Jim Carrey's portrayal of the Riddler in Batman Forever, where the Canadian funny man delivered a quirky and very physical performance of the question-marked villain.  Gillan likes Harley's badass character and with Suicide Squad coming up, I'm sure lots of people will agree with her.

Heather as Stephanie Brown's Robin
Stephanie Brown was the first female to done the green and red Robin costume.  Initially, Batman refused to train her, but she persisted, becoming a valuable member of team Bat.  She was captured and tortured, but refused to give up.  She escaped and got herself to help, but her wounds were too severe to survive (or were they?  Stephanie might be back for more.)  

Heather chose Stephanie Brown's Robin to draw attention to the character, finding she often gets overlooked as people focus on the men who have stood by the Dark Knight's side.

Vanessa as Rogue
Rogue, aka Marie D'Ancanto, absorbs the memories and abilities of anyone who touches her bare skin, leaving them in a coma if she takes too much.  She is one of the great tragic figures in the X-men universe, unable to control her power and denied the comfort of human touch.  But she is also one of the strongest characters, having permanently absorbed flight and superstrength from Ms. Marvel.  There are hints that all of the memories and personalities which Rogue has absorbed remain buried in her subconscious, creating internal drama and intrigue for this character.

Rogue was Vanessa's favourite X-man (and mine!) and her favourite hero growing up.  She enjoyed the character's teasing relationship with the mysterious Cajun thief, Gambit.

Zoe as Storm
Created as part of a deliberate attempt to increase diversity in Marvel comics, Storm, aka Ororo Munroe, is "a woman, a mutant, a thief, an X-man, a lover, a wife, a queen.  I am Storm, and for me, there are no such things as limits."  Worshipped as a Goddess by her tribe in Africa, raised on the streets as an orphan thief, and able to throw lightning with a thought, Storm is a fascinating character.  She single-handedly beat the leader of the Morlocks in combat for rulership of the subterranean mutants.

Zoe has liked Storm since she was a kid.  As one of the few black female comic books characters, it was a thrill to read her adventures.

Susan as Thor
Based on Norse mythology, Thor is Marvel's God of Thunder.  With his magical hammer, Mjolnir, he can fly, channel lightning and smash through pretty much anything.  In 2015, a female Thor graced the pages of Marvel's comics, her identity secret until she was identified as Jane Foster, who was able to pick up Mjolnir (something that can only happen with the truly worthy) after being diagnosed with breast cancer.  As Thor, she fought and defeated Malekith and the Frost Giants.

Susan admitted she was attracted to Thor's physicality, which allowed her to show off her own impressive physique.  She chose to cosplay as Thor to showcase her own strength.

There are hundreds of similar stories out there: characters who have fought their personal demons (and the more literal kind), who have saved the world more times they can count, who have made personal sacrifices and who have struggled with the duality of ordinary life and being a hero.  And they just happen to be women.

As a girl, joining the boys, I always hated being regulated to the "token" female on the team, doomed to have to sit still and wait to be rescued.  But as I started to read more on my own, I found that their stories were just as compelling as the men and I started to be proud to represent them.  I sought out more stories of strong women and then I began to write my own.

I don't believe in silencing voices, so I have no problem with writers continuing to produce tales about male heroes.  But I want to remind them that the female half of the population is also here, with stories to tell which can delve deeply into different aspects of the human condition.  They can inspire and influence whole new generations.

Don't let those stories go to waste or be forgotten.

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