DC Super-Heroines

My reading Diana Prince—Wonder Woman got me thinking about the odd way in which DC has played around with its super-heroines.
Let me say before starting that I think has done better by women than Marvel. The line has a greater number of successful female characters and its Silver Age romantic interests were much more professional than Marvel’s (reporters, attorney, geologist, scientist, CEO, cop—most of Marvel’s lady loves didn’t have a job other than secretary).
That being said, DC seems willing to reinvent female superheroes in a way that it doesn’t do with men.
Wonder Woman’s transition to a “swinging kind of chick,” in the words of one house ad, was just the first in a number of changes. When she regained her red, white and blue outfit, she became DIana Prince, United Nations translator. Then (after several remakes of old forties stories), an agent for the UN’s fictitious Crisis Bureau. Then a stint as an astronaut. Then eventually back to military intelligence (I think I may be missing a job change or two).
Each of these involved a complete shift in setting, career, supporting cast. In contrast, when Clark Kent became a TV reporter in the 1970s, he still had Lois, Jimmy and Perry around. Batman switched from Wayne Manor to a Gotham City penthouse about the same time and sent Dick Grayson off to college, but he still had Commissioner Gordon and Alfred.
Example Two: Supergirl. The Silver Age changes in her life were logical, moving from the orphanage to a family, then off to college. Then she left college and went to work for a TV station (which led to a running rivalry with Luthor’s relative and Linda Danvers’ co-worker, Nasthalthia).
Then she went back to college.
Then she became a guidance counselor at a school for the gifted.
Then an actress. And again, each switch meant a move to a new city and a new supporting cast.
Batgirl, likewise, went from librarian to Congresswoman in the early seventies, at which point she hung up her cape. When Barbara Gordon returned to being Batgirl, she had, IIRC, a couple more day jobs before getting shot and reinventing herself as Oracle.
Since DC reworked its continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, Diana’s been consistently the Amazon ambassador, until the past few years, when she acquired a day job as Diana Prince, secret agent, and in her current arc exists in an alternate timeline where everything is once again different.
Supergirl’s been majorly reworked three times post-crisis: First a lab-created superbeing, then an angel of sorts, now the Kryptonian version.
Male super-heroes have gone through a lot of changes in this period, but I don’t think anyone who last picked up Superman or Batman in the Silver Age would have been thrown that much by anything since (other than temporary changes like Supes gaining electrical powers or Batman become “permanently” crippled some years back).
The only comparable change to a male lead was when Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan lost the woman he loved and spent several years drifting and trying to reinvent himself. Yes, Green Arrow went through some changes too (lost his fortune, grew a beard, turned radical) but since he didn’t even have a strip of his own at the time, that’s not in the same category.
The willingness to shuffle around superheroines this way clearly means something … but I’m not sure what.
(Related bonus: Download Jacque Nodell’s The Look of Love here for a discussion of romance-comics themes in the super-heroine books).


Filed under Comics, Reading

11 responses to “DC Super-Heroines

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