Alex Yarde laments the lack of super-powered, highly intelligent female villains in comics, and longs for a super villain who is more than just a sexy sidekick.
As I surfed my Twitter feed the other day, I saw a question about female DC Villains and it started me thinking. I tried to recall some memorable super-powered female villains or masterminds. Not so easy. Admittedly, I’ve only recently rediscovered comics and the characters I was once slavishly devoted to. This is due in large part to my son and daughter showing an interest in the series and characters I loved as a child.
But I haven’t lived under a rock all this time. I don’t think this should have been so hard. I can rattle off dozens of male villains, but females are another story. Try it. It’s not that easy. Is it possible they were not as memorable as male villains? Or is it because they primarily fought other females or perhaps even more diabolically, they couldn’t be seen as equals or defeating their male hero rivals?
The entire comic book industry historically catered to a white male demographic. And as such, many of the golden age comics reflect this. But as times have changed (more female comic writers, heads of studios, producers and directors, etc.) one would think there would be more super-powered, intelligent female villains out there that can stand toe to toe with, and perhaps even gain the upper hand against, some male superheroes and break the moll/femme fatale/ex-villain-to-new-girlfriend mold.
After thinking it over for a while, I came up with Batman villains like Harley Quinn, the recent moll of the Joker on the animated series, Poison Ivy (the obvious pheromone-secreting femme fatale) and Talia al Ghul (daughter of Batman’s eternal foe, Ra’s al Ghul, and one time love interest of The Batman).
The Superfriends of the late 70’s battled the Legion of Doom, a motley crew of super villains banded together to fight the Superfriends. The Legion of Doom gave us Giganta, who was a natural villain to oppose Apache Chief and Cheetah, the foil of Wonder Woman. In an ingenious episode, Cheetah traveled back in time to compete against Princess Diana on Paradise Island in the contest to choose which Amazon would leave. By becoming champion, Cheetah was able to ensure Wonder Woman never existed.
The DC and Marvel universes gave us Morgan Le Fey (the evil sorceress) and Thor’s Emora (the enchantress). Grounded in Arthurian and Norse legends respectively. (By the way, how old is that powerful “woman as witch cliché”?) There is also The Dark Phoenix, Jean Grey of Marvel’s X-Men, who was the most powerful being in the universe before she went insane (of course she’s a powerful woman, so naturally she goes insane) and Abominitrix, a low rent copy of the Hulk’s foe Abomination.
It would be cool to have female villains in the mode of Lex Luther or Doctor Doom, female heavy hitters that could lean in with all of their ambition, power and plain evil to be a threat to the world. Thoughtful, well-defined Supervillains who are more than sexy sidekicks, henchwomen or femme fatales. Of course there is Catwoman, who has run the spectrum from enemy to ally to love interest of Batman over the years. Catwoman, who is arguably one of the most fleshed-out female comic villains has nonetheless been de-clawed in every iteration since the 60’s.
Why is the female villain so easy to reform once the male hero lays on the charm? Do any male heroes lose their perspective because they fall for a female villain (not due to mind control or pheromones)? In Japanese Anime there are certainly issues with overt sexualization of female antagonists and protagonists but I have seen several series where the “Big Bad” is an intelligent and dangerous female, who is a legitimate threat to males and females alike.
I think the best example of what I’m looking for in a female villain can be found in Tricia Heifer’s Model 6 from the recent (live action series) Battlestar Galactica. Sure she’s beautiful, but she used her looks (with much success) and intelligence to seduce Baltar and gain information that destroys most of the human race. Her motivations and plans were fueled by her zealotry and the need of the Cylon Machines to stamp out the threat they saw as humanity.
The universes of DC and Marvel need this type of super-powered, evil genius villain—a powerful, intelligent, ambitious female of substance to take on the heroes (without automatically falling for their charm).
Lean in villainous ladies—it’s time to take over the universe.