Listen: I love superhero comics. I have loved them for most of my life. My desire for more women in superhero comics—writing them, starring in them, drawing them, whatever—is all-consuming. I love the silliest excesses of the genre. I love its history. I love sound effects and ridiculous origins and the Merry Marvel Marching Society. I have six books on comics history in this room with me alone. I love superhero comics.
But I want to emphasize something that I don’t think is said often enough in the women-in-comics sphere: the endgame is not female superheroes. I mean, I want them. Like, really, really badly, with the kabooms and the day saving and the underwear on the outside. But superhero comics, at their core, are still fundamentally masculine. They’re about victory through force, they’re about saving those you perceive as unable to save themselves—they are, as they have always been, male power fantasies. And that’s not all bad! I love fight scenes and rugged individualism—honestly, I still love Lois Lane swept to safety in Superman’s arms. And I want comics about women that involve and even embrace these values—we need stories about competitive women, violent women, brash women, domineering women, even chauvinist women.
But honestly? We cannot operate entirely within the arena of superhero comics as they exist now and consider that “winning.” 50/50 gender parity within that slim slice of genre will be wonderful, but if it exists alone, it will be a failure. I want comics—tons of comics, enormous chunks of the industry—devoted to women and female concerns. I want classically feminine values to be celebrated. I want stories about sisters and wet nurses and cleaning ladies. I want Wonder Woman to save the day through empathy and I don’t want it to be seen as the lesser option when compared to victory through force. I want introspective meanderings devoted to a sixteen-year-old girl’s crush on Penny who lives next door. I comics that look nothing like comics do today.
Victory for women in comics means exploding the concept of “superhero comics” as we know it. It means comics like Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, which look at the genre from a radically different perspective while leaving it intact—but it also means comics like Utena, which burn conventional notions of womanhood and storytelling to the ground. It means “revolutionary,” “transgressive,” and “alternative” comics that feature more than one female character and don’t include a rape scene to up their grit quotient. It means hundreds of pages devoted to Boring Chick Stuff, the type even the most ardent male feminists tend to shy away from. It means hearing about Phoebe Gloeckner just as often as we hear about R. Crumb. It means reimagining what “good” “exciting” and “worthwhile” means. We need to create comics—lots of comics—that maybe don’t appeal to men. We don’t have to have to trash cape-and-cowl fare entirely—but we need to surround it with other stories, other perspectives, and massively different definitions of heroism. Different definitions of story. The rules of the game are rigged. We have to write new ones.