Monday, April 04, 2005

Feminine heroics: from Wonder Woman to Elektra

In The Fray, "an online magazine devoted to issues of identity and community," considers the history of female superheroes, many of whom started out with "feminine" (passive) powers or as muted copies of their male counterparts. Then came the Reagan Era:
Moral ambiguity ruled the day in the 1980s — or so it would seem. Marvel Girl had grown in power, sacrificed herself on behalf of the X-Men, and was reborn as the Phoenix. A sympathetic hero, she was driven insane by her newfound power and destroyed an entire universe. The beloved Jean Grey had gone bad and had to be punished, but at her trial she once again sacrificed herself to save her friends. Whether hero or villain, she was dead.

Catwoman, with a longer history than Jean Grey, gained prominence as well. Always acknowledged as a villain, but with a clear hold on Batman’s affections, Catwoman played a role in the landmark Dark Knight Returns, a story of Batman ten years after his retirement, and in Batman: Year One, the first year of Bruce Wayne’s crime fighting career.

... Into the midst of these longstanding characters came a new woman with a nebulous history: Elektra Natchios was an intriguing romantic interest for fan favorite Daredevil. She appeared out of nowhere and prompted a mild revisionist retelling of Daredevil’s history — a college love of Matt Murdock, she witnessed her father’s killing and lashed out at Matt: “I used to love the world. ... You’re a part of that world. And you love it. You let it hurt you and you love it all the more. I’m not that strong, ” she said in Elektra Saga. Her innocence lost, Elektra channels her rage into a job as an assassin. Even after dying (more than once), Elektra remained a popular character who would ultimately make the jump to film — not simply as a foil for the male hero, but as the center of a storyteller’s universe.