Founding Women of The Avengers : 1960 vs 2012

I have numerous philosophical problems with how women are so often presented in media, including sports and entertainment.  For example, I don’t collect risque photo shoots of women athletes.  I believe very strongly that successful women athletes should be celebrities because of their abilities and not have to resort to the sex symbol formula.  I’m rational enough to realize these women do these shoots because the are damn proud of their physical bodies, but it nonetheless rubs me the wrong way.  To me, sport is purer without the sexuality.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not preaching about using women as sex objects.  In the past I have bought playing cards or calendars based on the scantily clad beauties.  My concern is whether or not there is a place in athletics for sex symbols.  I simply don’t like my favorite athletes selling their sexuality.

And I also carry the same view with comic books.  Far too many depiction of women in comic books is “cheesecake”.  So many of our comic book heroines show way too much flesh.  I feel that these women are part of our modern heroic mythology and throwing as much cheesecake as possible on the page does not further that goal.  And so I come to the founding women of the Avengers, The Wasp of 1963 and Black Widow of 2012.  Take a look at these pictures:

Black Widow 2012 and The Wasp 1963

Neither of these women are in cheesecake mode. These are good looking women wearing uniforms that are sharp but utilitarian.  I love this.

The Black Widow of the modern film has much in common with the 1963 Wasp.  Neither has the big splash powers of their male counterparts.  Black Widow is very, very good with weapons but Hawkeye is godlike with his bow.  She is also a sound small unit combatant but she doesn’t have the battlefield brilliance of Captain America.  So in my opinion she is MORE COURAGEOUS than her male counterparts because she is going into a fight to the death with less resources.  Despite fewer resources, it is the Black Widow that closes the gate.

The Wasp in the 1960’s was written as a little ditzy.  Her powers were often belittled when compared to Hank Pym and her mood was more of that of an adventurer.  By all measures, the writers made it clear that she wasn’t as powerful as her male teammates.  But that doesn’t stop her from saving the day her fair share of times.  In one absolute must read (Avengers #8, Sept 1964), it is her quick thinking and tenacity that defeats Kang.  The men have Kang pinned down in Kang’s spaceship but can’t break through his forcefield.  The Wasp flies to Hank Pym’s lab, spots a weapon she thinks would be the right one for the job and then cybernetically commands some flying insects to carry the weapon back to the battle.  Her guess is right on the money and Pym uses the weapon to destroy Kang’s uniform – which unfortunately for Kang is the generator of his forcefield.  Kang flees.

I have always been a huge fan of The Wasp in comics.  Over time she grew into an excellent chairperson for the Avengers.  My favorite moment for her in the 80’s is during Secret Wars.  She is technically chairperson of The Avengers and yet she defers leadership to Captain America.  She knows that they are in deep doodoo and that the Captain America’s power of “Heroic Icon” is more important than the skills she brings, regardless of how superb they are.  It takes wisdom too realize when to relinquish command, and it is contrasted nicely in that series by Storm chafing at being outranked by Cyclops and Prof X.

Scarlet Johansson’s portrayal of Black Widow was phenomenal.  She has mad skills and she uses them effectively throughout the film.  When do or die time comes, she realizes that she is closer in power to the people she is trying to save compared to her male teammates.  But while she frets, it doesn’t interfere with her giving it her all and showing that even a mere mortal without enhancements can help save the day.  Her move to get to the gate is pure heroism.  She goes based on the simple premise that if raw power can’t close the gate, so perhaps finesse can.  And because she decides to go the finesse route, she is the perfect person to send.  She won’t be one to waste time trying powers, get a straight answer out of Selvig is the plan.

These are the portrayals of women I crave.  These are highly competent women without the gee-whizz powers.  Yet they are mission critical because of their heroism.  And they do so without having to show a bare midriff, huge expanses of cleavage or more thigh than you can shake a stick at.  Make no mistake, these are beautiful women and their beauty is part of their selling point.  But it is heroism and beauty they are selling to us, not sexuality.  This preserves the purity of the mythology and for this I am so pleased to have been able to soak in both.

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