Push Comics Forward – The Female Super-Scientist
Recently the head honchos at BOOM! Studios put out the idea that comics needs to change and to not be stagnant as a medium. Long since dominated by superhero stories, the medium has indeed made a number of changed in the past couple of decades and the change is noticeable in some regards. Equally though, comics are somewhat of a niche when it comes to their perception in popular culture. Although there is an increasing amount of female readers, the medium is slower to make the changes to draw in fans of all backgrounds, and especially at the big two publishers instead still focuses on mostly a collection of characters who are both white and male. While the interest in push comics forward doesn’t necessarily lie solely with the big two publishers, change has to happen there as elsewhere in order for the medium to evolve.
Science in comics was a bit of an x-factor until the onset of the silver age. Until that point, science was usually grossly misapplied in order to move along a plot. Gross inaccuracies were made and aspects of scientific knowledge would be presented, leaving what was actually used of the science to be misappropriated and simplistic. As the silver age started, the focus on science is what rescued comics from being a medium for children, and instead allowed the medium to mature. The changes first came at DC, though with the generally more god-like powers of the characters, the science was not as pertinent. Hawkman and Green Lantern became intergalactic police, the Atom used White Dwarf matter to give himself powers, and the Flash became a scientist that gained powers by a scientific accident. While the science was there, it was not until Marvel arrived that it redefined science in comics. Although still unreal, the science was still presented in a way that it could be real, at least in our imagination. Instead of characters that were either given or born with their powers, the new wave of heroes earned it the hard way, by building it themselves. Not every Marvel hero was a scientist, but there were a few – Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, Hank Pym, and Reed Richards. While this did push the envelope forward for comics as a medium, what was left behind were the women. The female leads to these heroes were still sometimes heroes, but they fell back into the template of having powers given to them. Sue Storm was a college dropout, and Janet van Dyne was just an girlfriend. They even did better than Betty Ross, Pepper Potts and Mary Jane Watson, who were often relegated to secondary status as damsels in distress (though Sue Storm also performed this role despite being a power superhero.)
While there are perhaps more men than women in science still as a profession, there is no real clear reason why. Women at younger ages are as adept as their male counterparts, and the interest for science is equally there. Some consider it to be a genderized problem, that the “old boys club” of science discourages women from entering its field in some cases, and that women are taught gender roles by society to be less focused on science as opposed to other ventures. While there is debate on these assertions, it is true that women have no more or less natural inclination to science than men do. So why can’t there be a female version of a super scientist? There are of course some very intelligent women in comics. The female version of the Hulk is an accomplished lawyer, and others have shown an ability to pursue more academic fields than what is traditionally typified by their genders, but there is still a gap in terms of the heroes, and who can do what. Female characters can still be powerful, but it is unlikely that their minds are capable of giving them those powers. In fact a large portion of female characters derive their powers from either magic or the supernatural.
What has been an interesting and worthwhile development in the cinematic versions of comics, is that the women characters are presented in a way which is a lot more progressive. Jane Foster is an astrophysicist and in the previous round of Fantastic Four movies, Sue Storm was shown to a be a scientific genius in her own right. This is because as the characters move to a more popular medium, they are forced into a more acceptable presentation of the role that women play, more so than just damsels in distress, but also as able thinkers on their own. So why is there no female superscientific genius yet in comics? This comes back to the inherent idea behind #pushcomicsforward, that there can and should be such female characters, because the medium simply has not caught up yet to the reality of the world. There is even maybe not a need for as many as Marvel has, but a character that is at least adept at science, and who knows the periodic table from the kitchen table. There is no reason not to, as such a character wouldn’t even have to carry a series, but they could still be there, guiding the scientific discussion to a place that is more realistic.