We’re only a few short weeks away from the next Marvel film, Captain America: Civil War and I couldn’t be more stoked. For a non-Avengers film, it’s packing one of the biggest cast lists in a long time and we will see a huge amount of superpowered heroes on screen, pounding on each other to decide whether heroes should be registered or not (it looks like it’s going to be more personal than that though). However, as per usual, I see a problem and it’s the desperate lack of XX chromosomes on screen. Black Widow and Scarlet Witch are awesome but they’re supporting characters, introduced while under the shadow of bigger, more prominent male heroes. Despite much support from the fanbase, I sincerely doubt we will ever see them getting their own solo movies as other characters have. Even The Wasp will be coming to our screen by sharing the billing with Ant-Man.
All this will be changing come 2017 when we finally get a Captain Marvel film and we get a truly world class, ass-kicking female hero on screen but for me, it’s not enough. We need more superpowered women on screen and fast. As a geek dad with a little overlord in training, it’s hard to get her engaged with the many superhero films out there when the only characters she ever sees are men. Marvel have already been accused of removing prominent women from their marketing during campaigns for the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, their somewhat pathetic answer being that boys won’t buy merchandise that has girls on it. To that I say ‘hogwash’. As important as it is to show girls that women can be powerful and bold, it’s just as important to get that message to boys as well. Anyone who is any doubt should take a look at how the new Star Wars film has gone down with a female protagonist who is often more capable and intelligent than the men. I don’t see how having a powerful female character has harmed that franchise’s ticket sales in the slightest.
Now credit does need to be given to DC at this point for making their third cinematic universe film about Wonder Woman and so far Supergirl is doing great on TV as well. That said, their cinematic universe seems dark and bleak which I find an instant turn off, a far cry from the colourful world they’re creating with their TV shows. Even so, this is why Marvel needs to step up its game, to stop pussy-footing around and get more empowered women up on screen. We need a role model who’s clever, intelligent and powerful enough to go toe to toe with the other big hitters in the Marvel universe. Someone smart and sassy and yet able to take Thor in an arm-wrestle. We need She-Hulk.
“But we’ve already got a Hulk,” comes the somewhat predictable response which would be acceptable if the characters were similar in some way. But they’re not and although She-Hulk may have sprung from a time when Marvel was churning out female equivalents of its male characters, she couldn’t be more different than her green skinned stablemate. Now I love the Hulk, he’s always been one of my favourite heroes and even helped me to come to terms with my own anger and I’m overjoyed to finally see a definitive version on screen. However making films with him is hard when he barely speaks and is ALL SMASH all the time. I’m clearly not the only one to think that as he hasn’t had a solo outing since The Incredible Hulk in 2008 (plus character licensing rights being tied up at Universal). She-Hulk is much, much different and if we’re looking for empowered, intelligent female characters, then we need look no further.
First off, she’s one smart cookie. Even before the transfusion from her cousin Bruce Banner turned her into the She-Hulk, she was taking on criminals in the courtroom as a lawyer. Once she turned from the somewhat small and quiet Jennifer Walters into She-Hulk, she continued to practice, taking on the murky world of superpowered law. Unlike her cousin, she retains all of her personality when in Hulk form albeit stronger, sassier, more outspoken and capable of punching a hole through an engine block. She uses her brains in the field as well, having talked down villains from destroying the city rather than smashing them into the pavement. Her wit and smarts have gotten both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four out of many sticky predicaments that would have stumped other heroes.
Did I mention she’d been a member of both of those teams? Oh yeah, unlike Bruce who is often kept at arm’s length from the rest of the superhero community, She-Hulk has been a prominent member of both teams, even taking over from The Thing as the muscle for the FF. Whereas people are still scared of the Hulk due to his staggering anger management issues, Jennifer has been much loved by the public for decades, not only for her heroic acts but for bringing villains to justice through the courts of law. When your insurance company declares that Thor using your car as a bowling ball counts as ‘an act of god’, (technically correct) Shulkie would be the one to get them to pay up. This isn’t a character that needed their powers to complete them, Jennifer was a self-made career woman long before she got big and green.
Here’s another difference. While Bruce Banner actively avoids anything that would unleash the Hulk, Jennifer actually loves her superpowers and spends most of her time in that form. Bruce Banner has cornered the market in superhero angst and self-loathing, whereas She-Hulk delights in her powerful form. She’s a role model in acceptance and loving your own body, even if it is bright green and six foot seven. In a world where we’re only just starting to accept that media messages about having the perfect body are dangerous and wrong, we need this kind of positivity, especially for women who get the worst kind of demeaning marketing thrown at them.
One last thing: sex. Yeah, I know, it doesn’t get mentioned much in superhero comics and media but it happens and Marvel is now embracing this with some of its Netflix shows. Jessica Jones covered the topic quite boldly and has been met with positive reviews. In the comics though, She-Hulk has always had quite a sexual appetite to the point where she got kicked out of the Avengers mansion for her constant partying and frequent partners. But here’s the important bit: at no point has she been portrayed in a negative light for it.
What? Surely not! A woman who is allowed to sleep around and have a bold, positive sexuality and not get shamed for it? What madness is this!?
I assure you that it’s true. While other media still lambasts women for being sexually active and yet elevates men for their sexual appetites, comics have been a tad more positive about it. (Ok, I’ll accept that we still need to do something about the revealing costumes and poses but we’re working on it…) Again, this is the kind of positive, progressive attitude we need in our media. An acceptance of female power and sexuality all wrapped up in an intelligent and superhumanly strong package.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has come a long way since its inception in 2008 but in terms of diversity, it still has a long way to go. Marvel seems to have woken up to this (at times excruciatingly slowly) and is now producing films with protagonists of more diverse genders and skin colours. As good as this is to see, there’s still a long way to go although there is a seemingly endless supply of diverse characters in the Marvel pantheon that can be drawn upon if they so choose. Superheroes are no longer the exclusive domain of white, geeky men and if we want our daughters to become heroes in themselves, they need positive role models in our media and on our cinema screen. The amount of women of my generation who cite Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a major influence is staggering and the impact of seeing someone who looks like you on TV and who saves the day rather than the rich, white guy cannot be underestimated, it’s why characters like Miles Morales as the new Spiderman and Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel have proven so successful in comics. While I hope to see adaptations of them on screen too, it’s time Marvel gave us a similar, upbeat role model and I can’t think of a better character than the green goddess that is She-Hulk.