12 Horrible Superhero Comic Stories for Women
Given recent topics of discussion, KC and I started talking over some of our “favorite” bad superhero stories when it comes to the treatment of female characters. These are the stories where, months or years later, you find yourself wondering “who thought THAT was a good idea?” or “did the writer just get dumped by his girlfriend?” This is just an approximate ranking, and I welcome discussion/debate in the comments. Especially if we’ve forgotten some real doozies.
12. The blase’ death of Triplicate Girl. In one of Braniac 5’s stupider moves, he creates Computo, a controlling robot computer. While battling it in Adventure Comics #340 (1966), in a story written by Jerry Siegel, Triplicate Girl (with the power to split herself into three) is thought to have been killed.
But never fear, only one of her three bodies died! It’s ok, no worries, she’ll just change her name and everything’s fine, tra la. Look how happy she is. Ah, the comic 60s, when no one felt anything bad.
11. Supergirl as Superman’s secret. Imagine this: you are the only survivor of a remote, advanced civilization. You think you’re the only person like you left in the galaxy. Surprise! A girl cousin shows up. You’re no longer alone, so how do you treat her? You dump her in an orphanage and tell her to hide from the world because she’s going to be your “secret weapon” until she can prove her abilities. Three years later, in Action Comics #285 (1962), she’s finally allowed to be known to exist.
10. Superboy becomes a man — with the help of a girl brainwashed by robot. In DC Super-Stars #12 (1976, written by Cary Bates) appears “Don’t Call Me Superboy“, one of several stories intended to show why and when Superboy decided to become Superman. This one is decidedly the creepiest, though, as a Kryptonian Robot Teacher returns to test his manhood. One of the methods involves dating Misty, the most popular girl in school. She’s also super-smart, and she figures out Clark Kent’s secret identity. The two are talking, then kissing, in her otherwise-empty house… then cut to the next morning, where Ma Kent is talking about how Clark’s bed is still made, indicating he never came home. The implications are clear, and that’s understandable enough for teens in love.
It only turns nasty later, when the Teacher reveals that Misty was selected and brainwashed to be Superboy’s perfect girl. She’s had no free will the entire time, making Superboy a date rapist, since he made out with someone incapable of consenting. She’s returned to her life with her memory erased, her role as a lesson prop done.
9. Was Black Canary raped? When Mike Grell ushered Green Arrow into the modern grim’n’gritty age with The Longbow Hunters, part of the story involved the hero rescuing his girlfriend Black Canary, who had been captured and tortured at knife point. The writer reportedly said she wasn’t raped, but since one of the side effects was her inability to have children, readers will be forgiven for understandably being confused at just what Grell was implying. A classic example of torturing the girlfriend to motivate the hero.
8. The Scarlet Witch destroys the world in revenge for her children disappearing. This example should probably be higher, actually, but with all its details, it’s frequently too confusing to figure out how bad it really is. Apparently, while married to the robot Vision, she magically created two sons for them, but Thomas and William were later erased from existence. She freaks out and starts killing her Avenger teammates out of grief, and when the X-Men try to kill her in return, she first makes mutants rule the world in the House of M event, and then casts the “No more mutants” spell that depowers 90% of them. In between, she goes catatonic every so often, when various characters (such as Wolverine) aren’t sneaking off to find and sleep with her. The current Avengers: Children’s Crusade miniseries is now picking the same scab, with two characters who might be her kids after all out to rescue her from marrying Dr. Doom.
7. Don’t be a Batgirl. Either you’ll be shot and paralyzed as a plot device (Barbara Gordon, The Killing Joke) to annoy your adopted father, or you’ll be denied a voice, raised mute and illiterate to be a better assassin (Cassandra Cain, No Man’s Land), or you’ll be treated as a joke and a beard for Robin so no one will think he and Batman are gay partners (Bette Kane, Bat-Girl, 1961), or you’ll wind up a teen mother tortured to death (but not really) as a lesson to others (Stephanie Brown, aka the Spoiler). Then a clueless editor will insist girls aren’t as worthy of being memorialized as boys are.
6. Power Girl’s magic baby. During Zero Hour, she had an “immaculate conception” that turned out to be mystically created by her grandfather Arion (ick!), resulting in a rapid-aging magic baby who never even got a name, until he later temporarily returned as Equinox, only to vanish in Justice League America #108 (1996). Everyone, fans and creators, have unspokenly agreed to never think about it again — it’s that pointless and unnecessary a plot twist.
5. The lesson of Ms. Flash. In this one-shot story from the 1977 Five-Star Super-Hero Spectacular (again written by Cary Bates), we meet Patty Spivot, Barry Allen’s lab assistant. She gets powers the same way he did, by standing in front of a shelf of chemicals struck by lightning, but deadly side effects made her a destructive force. By the end of the story, we’ve learned that this was all Barry’s imagination, and he pushes her out of the way to prevent her gaining super-speed. Even as a kid, I got the message that girls couldn’t be trusted with guy powers (since Barry’s accident had already been repeated to create Kid Flash), because they’d just screw them up.
4. Green Lantern Arisia Rrab. When told she’s too young to date Hal Jordan, she subconsciously uses her ring powers to age herself into a hottie with really bad taste in costume (Green Lantern Corps #201, 1986). After some protest, Hal then shrugs and begins romancing her, regardless of the fact that she’s still mentally a teenager. She’s also being mind-controlled as a weapon to destroy him. She later winds up depowered, regressed to her mental age, amnesiac, and killed by Major Force, but not before Geoff Johns retcons her planet’s orbit as a way of making her old enough that Hal’s not committing underage date rape (Green Lantern #13, 2006).
3. Where to start with Identity Crisis (2004)? With the evil, jealous ex-wife who turns out to have taken a flamethrower into someone’s head and left footprints on her brain? How about the murder victim, Sue Dibny, one of the few active partner wives in the Justice League, tossed away as a plot device? Or the rape by Dr. Light inserted into her background just to make things seem more “adult” (and whose consequences were ignored)? (I’m still astounded we didn’t have parents’ groups up in arms over a rape story featuring the Super Friends of the Justice League, especially the way it was shown in the comics. Just another sign that no one reads the funny books any more, I guess.)
Then there’s the way Zatanna is ordered to mind-wipe bad guys whenever it’s convenient. I think, though, the worst part is the motive for all this: The Atom’s ex-wife Jean Loring just wants him back, and she thought this insane plan (courtesy of writer Brad Meltzer) would do it. It’s basically just an example of “bitch crazy” plotting, where no other explanation is needed. Those jealous women, amiright?
2. The rape of Ms. Marvel. In The Avengers #200 (1980), Ms. Marvel is, as Wikipedia has it, “kidnapped by a character named Marcus — the apparent son of Avengers foe Immortus — and taken to an alternate dimension, where she was brainwashed, seduced, and impregnated. The character gives birth on Earth to a child that rapidly ages into another version of Marcus, who takes Ms. Marvel back to the alternate dimension with no opposition from the Avengers.” With four credited writers/plotters — Jim Shooter, George Pérez, Bob Layton, and David Michelinie, it’s hard to know who to blame for this mess, or to understand why at least one of the four didn’t realize that impregnating a woman against her wishes is called rape. The next year, the storyline was revisited in Avengers Annual #10, in which Ms. Marvel tells off her comrades for letting her go when she was obviously mind-controlled. That followup is also the first appearance of Rogue.
1. The character of “Superman’s Girl Friend” Lois Lane throughout the 50s and 60s. Although we’re told that Superman loves her, this love is exercised by Superman getting his super-friends to mislead, trick, and lie to her to “teach her a lesson”. Featuring the worst kind of paternalism and woman-hating, these stories were about showing Lois how she should stay in her place and not try to find out anything Superman doesn’t want her to know, like his obvious secret identity. Even better are the lettercolumns, in which every so often the editor would run missives in which fans say they want to see Superman spank Lois. I’m not sure if that was a fetish among burgeoning teen boys or some kind of revenge fantasy among those who’d had a hairbrush taken to their hindquarters, but it’s odd, either way.