Guest Post: Let’s zap some ladies!

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Ashley Clayson blogs about comics at Blah Blah Witty Comment. She’s contributed to rounds two and three of Women Write About Comics, and today she’s going to make a case for more science-based heroines. It’s worth pointing out that not only is there a dearth of science-based heroines in fiction, real female science heroes tend to get pushed to the margins, while male science heroes are celebrated. Correlation? Causation? You decide.

Let’s Zap Some Ladies: An Argument for More Sciencey Superladies

by Ashley Clayson

Warning: The following post is made without complete historical knowledge of the DC and Marvel multi-verses and without rigorous research and investigation. I spent about fifteen minutes on Wikipedia, y’all. If I’m forgetting someone, please let me know! I want to learn!

So, I made a joking status update on Facebook after seeing the following pin on Pinterest:

Science Bros, by Temporary Glitch.

The status read:

A theory: today’s (still-existing) gender imbalance in the sciences/engineering is because of comics. All the boys are trying to figure out how science can help them become the Flash, Iron Man, the Hulk, Spider-Man, etc….

Of course, such a “theory” is flawed on many levels. There are too many rival hypotheses (shoutout 8012!). But as I thought about it, I realized it was reeeeaaaaalllllyyyyy hard to think of female superheroes who had received their superpowers from “science.” The only two I could thing of are Spider-Woman and She-Hulk, and I’m not even positive about them. I’m assuming they got their powers the same way as their male counterparts. Which is problematic in of itself—I can’t think of a single female superhero who received her powers from “science” who is not a female version of an already-existing male superhero.

[Spider-Woman’s powers result from a botched ‘cure’ for radiation poisoning, while She-Hulk’s powers result from a botched blood transfusion from her cousin Bruce Banner (aka the Hulk). Botched experimentation is kind of a theme with science heroes. –Megan]

Granted, like I said in the above warning, my knowledge of DC and Marvel’s multi-verses is so scant. I’m new to the comics game–only a baby–I mostly read DC titles, and most of the Image and Vertigo titles I read aren’t superhero titles. So I could be forgetting people. A lot of people. My fifteen-minute (again, not incredibly extensive) Wikipedia search of DC’s New 52 titles didn’t yield a single title role for a science-superlady. But I didn’t check out all of the ensemble pieces, so I could be missing some there.

At first I thought, “Hey, we need some more sciencey superladies!” And I do think that. If a little girl can’t put herself in her hero(ine)’s shoes, she may be less likely to actually focus on that hero and aspire to be like them. But then I thought, maybe what we need is more little girls with male heroes, and more little boys with female heroes. Less caring about what gender roles you are or aren’t ascribing to, and maybe even erasing the lines between gender roles, so that people don’t automatically think “man” when they hear “scientist” and “woman” when they hear “nurse.”

But then I remembered that we live in a society that does, in fact, define gender roles from birth, and the only way to begin erasing those lines is to, in fact, do things like making more sciencey superladies.

So come on, creators! Let’s hit some ladies with lightning! Zap them with gamma radiation! It’ll be fun! And it’ll give your daughters, wives, girlfriends, lady friends, and moms some famous female scientist role models, even if they are fictional.

I’d like to end this post with a shout-out to Barbara Gordon, who, in some continuities, is super-awesome as computer genius Oracle.

This post originally appeared on Blah Blah Witty Comment.

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9 Comments

  1. Insofar as I am aware, the only unambiguous female superscientist in Marvel is Monica Rappaccini, who is a supervillain.

    Valeria Richards might get there someday, but at the moment she’s really just reflected light from her dad and Doom.

    Maya Hansen is certainly smart enough to be a superscientist(demonstrably smarter than Tony), but doesn’t think much of the career, so she’s unlikely to put on the costume.

  2. Yeah, other than the three Justin named I’m having trouble thinking of female characters who are presented as implausibly omnidisciplinary geniuses in the same way as Reed Richards, Bruce Banner, Tony Stark, and even Peter Parker are. And many of the ones who come close are civilians, villains, or both at various points in their history.

    The scientist superheroines I can think of:
    – Sue Storm/Invisible Woman got her powers in the same accident that gave the rest of the Fantastic Four theirs — exposure to cosmic rays. In the original comics she dropped out of college to take care of her younger brother, but in the movies and the Ultimate universe she’s a geneticist and a biochemist, respectively. (Marvel)
    – Angela Spica/The Engineer of the Authority is an engineer who replaced her blood with nanotech. (WildStorm/DC)
    – Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird was a biologist who then became a spy who then became a superhero. She didn’t actually get powers until very recently, when she was injected with a combination of Captain America’s super soldier serum and Nick Fury’s Infinity Formula. (Marvel)
    – Melati Kusuma/Komodo was a grad student working with Curt Connors — she stole his Lizard serum, modified the formula, and injected herself. (Marvel)

    Non-scientists with “science”-based powers:
    – Janet Van Dyne/the Wasp got her powers through her then-BF Hank Pym’s experiments. (Marvel)
    – Cassie Lang/Stature (the daughter of Scott Lang/Ant-Man II) dosed herself with Pym Particles on the sly. (Marvel)
    – Jessica Jones was exposed to radioactive waste in a car accident. (Marvel)
    – Julia Carpenter/Arachne was injected with “a mix of spider venom and exotic plant extracts,” according to Wikipedia. (Marvel)
    – Greer Grant’s original powers as the Cat came from scientific experimentation, although she later got a mystical “upgrade” to become Tigra (I’m oversimplifying, I know — sorry, Tigra fans!) (Marvel)
    – Jesse Quick gets her speedster powers from visualizing/reciting the mathematical “speed formula” passed down from her father Johnny Quick (DC)

    I don’t think this list refutes your points in any way, for the record! While I did come up with more female scientist-heroes and science-powered heroes than I expected, male scientist-heroes are far more common, far more prominent in their respective universes’ narratives, and generally more *super* about their science than their female equivalents. If I’d been trying to make a list of male superscientists it’d have taken me half as long to create a list twice as long, and many of the characters would be far better known to the general public than any of these characters (Sue Storm possibly excepted), as much as I love ’em.

  3. I’m very happy to see a post about this. As a girl who loves science and super-hero comics, it has bothered me for some time.

    For me, it’s less a problem of science-based powers (there’s a case to be done for every mutant in the Marvelverse having some science-based powers), there’s the sad lack of female doing science (with or without powers) which is the saddest things. That’s one of the reasons why Oracle was my favourite character in all the DCverse, and one of my big problems with the reboot.
    (There is still Poison Ivy, maybe?)

    In X-men, there was a time in which Kitty Pryde was written not only as a mutant, but as a hacker genius. Unfortunately, it is almost always forgotten in her recent characterization.
    Still in X-men, there were two human women geneticists who were not heroines, only supporting cast, but who are strong, clever, useful, and very dear to my heart, Moira McTaggert in old ages, and Kavita Rao, which plays basically the same role now. I was sad about Moira not being a scientist in the X-men First Class movie.

    So it’s not only the sad feeling that there are no science heroines, but also the suspicion it doesn’t get better at all.

    Also: have hopes for Valeria Richards, who has already be mentioned. She is a child now, but she’s very good at science, she’s already beaten a teenage male superhero in a hacking contest, and I really hope for her becoming a teenage science heroine one day. It’s sad it has more chances to happen if she doesn’t get powers…

  4. It wasn’t a botched blood transfusion that gave She-Hulk her powers, She lost a lot of blood and he donated his blodd. Banner saved his cousins life.