Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Women problems: the comics of 1968 had them

1968 was not a good year to be a woman in superhero comics.

Ever since Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne returned to the Avengers in #28, the team has had both the Wasp and Scarlet Witch as members, plus the Black Widow working with them occasionally. Pretty gender-diverse for a Silver Age book.

Roy Thomas, however, had Natasha retire as Black Widow in favor of becoming Hawkeye’s nagging girlfriend. Then in #53—
— Pietro and Wanda ditch the team following the wrap-up of the Avengers uninspired Magneto plotline. During that plotline Wanda was little more than a damsel in distress, sitting around passively while Quicksilver and Magneto debated the Maximoffs’ future. Now she’s gone completely and wouldn’t return for more than two years. That left the Wasp as the sole woman on the team.

And jeez, while I admit the Wasp was never the team’s heavy hitter, the coming issues don’t give her anything to do other than be in love with Hank and scream helplessly. She screams when she’s facing the Vision for the first time. She screams when she’s being crushed by a python. A lot more times besides those, too. If Thomas had made the team a boys’ club it wouldn’t have annoyed me quite so much.

Over at Fantastic Four, Sue is now pregnant and therefore sidelined. Worse than sidelined: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby treat the woman who’s stared down the Super-Skrull, Doctor Doom, Galactus and a mid-warped Ben Grimm as a fragile porcelain doll. Better Crystal lie to her than Sue know there’s danger afoot!It would be several issues before it occurred to anyone that Crystal has powers of her own and could do more for the team than look worried.

Over at DC, after Julius Schwartz handed off Hawkman to other editors it became much more Hawkman than ever before. Sure, he’d always been the star of the book but Hawkgirl was his partner in Thanagarian law enforcement and she fought alongside him. Now she spends way too much time captured or hiding out. For example, in “Last Stand on Thanagar” (scripted by Raymond Marais, art by Dick Dillin) they’re captured on Thanagar as suspected traitors but Katar breaks free. He spends almost the entire issue fighting alone before Shayera rejoins the fight at the end of the book.

The same was true of Aquaman. Bob Haney wrote Aquaman and Mera as a crimefighting team; Arthur was definitely top dog but Mera got her share of the action (that she has such a different power set undoubtedly helped). When Dick Giordano took over with #33 all that changed. In Bob Haney’s last script on the series, “How to Kill a Sea King,” Aquaman and Mera have a stupid fight, then a female alien criminal contrives to fan the flames.

Aquaman spends most of the book hanging out with the alien hottie. Everything gets sorted out but the following issue the Queen of Atlantis disappears and Aquaman launches the “Search for Mera” conveniently free of any girls demanding an equal share of his adventures.

Now, a few random stories. In Adventure #368 the agent of a matriarchal female dictatorship amps up the powers of the female Legionnaires, then turns them against the guys. That feminism is some scary shit, isn’t it? Jim Shooter’s script does emphasize that 30th century Earth believes in gender equality but it still has an air of “women in charge=bad news”
In Metal Men #32, Doc grants the Metal Men’s wish to get robot girlfriends like Tin’s sweetheart “Nameless” (Tina gets a Platinum Man who unfortunately proves completely rational and unromantic). Doc makes the mistake of not programming them with girly personalities; the robot women insist on fighting alongside the guys and outperform them.

With the guys’ feelings hurt they become easy prey for a race of evil fembots who steer the male robots into a trap. The robot women follow and defeat the amazons but conveniently they and Platinum Man all die in a volcano (he returned in Brave and Bold #187, written by a friend of mine, Charlie Boatner). Admittedly most of the robots Doc Magnus created over the years wound up destroyed, but it still feels sexist.
Last and most appalling we have Bob Haney’s “In the Coils of Copperhead” in Brave and the Bold #78. Copperhead is the most diabolical, most cunning foe Batman has ever faced (on “Earth-B” anyway) and Batman’s consistently losing their battles of wits. Batman’s solution is to have Batgirl and Wonder Woman pretend to fall in love with him, competing for his affections so aggressively Copperhead will think the Caped Crusader distracted and attempt The Big Score. Everything works as planned except that when the time comes to bust Copperhead, those two crazy chicks start competing for real! They’ve really fallen for Batman and can’t think about anything else because they’re girls and that’s what chicks are like, amiright?

Somewhere the ghost of William Marston is crying softly.

#SFWApro. Art top to bottom by John Buscema, Jack Kirby (x2), Dick Dillin, Nick Cardy, Neal Adams, Mike Sekowsky and Bob Brown.


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