When Marvel announced that its next round of movies would include a Captain Marvel movie, we were thrilled. Yes, a major Marvel movie featuring a popular and wonderful female superhero. But amidst that celebration, let's not forget there are still tons of worthy female superheroes who would make excellent movie stars.
We're at a point in our popular culture in which superheroes are particular powerful, even off the page and the screen. We're fresh off Halloween, when the streets were filled with tiny Iron Men and Captain Americas. In my town, Batman t-shirts and X-Men hats are common wardrobe choices. And, of course, at the box office, superhero movies reign supreme.
One thing that the most recent Marvel movie announcement made clear, however, is that female superheroes are still playing catch-up. When you look at the chart of upcoming superhero movies, things skew decidedly male. That's not to say that the comics movie industry isn't making some strides in the right direction. In addition to Captain Marvel, we've got the much-longed for Wonder Woman movie on the horizon. Peggy Carter and Supergirl are coming to television and Jessica Jones is on her way to Netflix. Sony has announced a female-led Spider-Man spinoff. And the Suicide Squad movie may have cast its Harley Quinn.
We went through a period of female-led action movies where the heroines were a bit...samey. We had a lot of women in skin-tight outfits whose defining characteristic was their ability to kick-ass. Certainly, the current crop of movie superheroes do a lot of fighting, but there's a lot to distinguish them: Tony Stark's quippiness, engineering talents, and devil-may-care attitude; Steve Rogers' sense of duty and adjustments to modern life; Thor's complicated family life; Bruce Wayne's grief and drive. Viewers get to see aspects of themselves in these heroes, and women (of various sexual identities and racial backgrounds) also want to see themselves reflected in a variety of superheroes with female experiences and forms.
It says something about the cultural currency of superheroes that an actress like Jessica Chastain wants to be in a Marvel movie (and not as "a boring civilian") and we have actresses actively campaigning to play superheroes like the Justice League's Vixen. Everyone deserves to be able to see themselves as a superhero.
The more I think about it, the more surprised I am that we don't have a Batgirl movie or TV show. Yes, we had Alicia Silverstone as a Batgirl in Batman & Robin, but Barbara Wilson was clearly not Barbara Gordon. And we did have Barbara Gordon in her Oracle role in the short-lived Birds of Prey TV show. But in a world where we insist on retelling Batman's story over and over again, it seems it's high time to give the rope-swinging, Batarang-throwing Barbara Gordon a go.
It helps that the most recent series of Batgirl comics have a lot to mine. Gail Simone's recently concluded run on Batgirl delved into Barbara's family life, especially the tension between her own role as a vigilante and her father's role as a keeper of law and order. Simone also does a nice job of showing just how damn hard it is to be superhero without any superpowers (save that eidetic memory), especially when your foes sometimes have very weird powers of their own.
And the current run by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher, and artist Babs Tarr feels very aspirational, especially for younger readers. You've got Barbara Gordon with the cool academic research, the apartment in the hip part of town, and the fun roommates. Plus, she starts off fighting an Internet-based harasser, a very timely foe. Hell, give us Black Canary (sans Green Arrow, with the metahuman powers), too, and set up a proper Birds of Prey team-up.
Also looking toward the Batman bench, there's the wonderful Batwoman, Kate Kane. Batwoman offers stories that are tonally similar to Batman's, but with a history all her own. A Batwoman movie would give us not only a big-screen opportunity to show a gay superhero, but also a female superhero with an important military background. Don't Ask, Don't Tell may have gone the way of the dodo, but there are plenty of former military men and women whose lives are still affected by those anti-gay discharges. It would be wonderful to see a character who has come out of that and continued to protect civilians on her own terms on the big screen. And Renee Montoya as a love interest wouldn't hurt.
Plus, we'll take any movie inspired by J.H. Williams III's artwork.
I'd be surprised if Marvel Studios isn't at least brainstorming ways to make a Ms. Marvel movie. After all, G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona's comic starring Kamala Khan is Marvel's top digital seller. And with Captain Marvel and an Inhumans movie on the slate, Ms. Marvel seems a logical follow-up.
While straight, white men tend to be the default in modern superhero movies, Ms. Marvel has proven the mass appeal of a character who looks a lot like the increasingly typical modern American teenager. She's the daughter of Pakistani immigrants and experiences the tension between her life and the expectations of her parents. She experiences small moments of racism born of cruelty and ignorance. And she lives in a diverse city—not the glittering New York but Jersey City—that she adores.
She also adores Captain Marvel, and, in the wake of the Captain Marvel movie, many real-life teenagers may feel the same way.
While Warners Bros. and DC are planning on uniting the Justice League and then spinning them off into their own movies, they might consider spinning a Harley Quinn solo movie off the Suicide Squad film. Yes, there is a lot of fat to chew on when it comes to Harley's relationship with the Joker. (Here I defer to ComicsAlliance's Chris Sims and his excellent essay on the nature of that relationship and how it has been unfortunately romanticized.) But the Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner Harley Quinn solo series reinforces that Harley has an appeal all her own.
So aside from her fervent (and some would argue overblown) fandom, what would a Harley Quinn movie offer? Well, she gives us the opportunity to see a great female anti-hero on screen. Male anti-heroes are a dime a dozen, but female anti-heroes are rarer. (Although that, too, is changing; on TV, for example, we have characters like Orphan Black's Helena and Gotham's Selina Kyle.) And while we're rallying behind a Deadpool solo movie, we'd also like to watch Harley commit some big-screen mayhem.
Adaku "Natasha" Ononogbo's campaign to play the DC superheroine Vixen had me reminiscing about the Justice League Unlimited cartoon. Shows like Justice League Unlimited and Young Justice did a great job of developing male and female characters alike, and I would love the DC Cinematic Universe to look to those shows as a model. As the Justice League is coming together in Batman V. Superman, it's looking like Wonder Woman will be its sole female member. Meanwhile, where an Aquaman solo movie used to be something of a joke played out on the HBO show Entourage, now it is a thing that is going to happen. Give us a Justice League with Black Canary, with Vixen, with Huntress. And give them solo movies.
By the same token, a Runaways movie would be a great opportunity for Marvel to showcase a superhero team with prominent male and female members. An initial attempt to make a Runaways movie fell apart, but we're hoping that we get to see big-screen versions of Nico, Karolina, Molly, Gert, and Old Lace (not to mention Alex and Chase) sometime soon. The Young Avengers (which not only features the female Hawkeye Kate Bishop, but multiple gay and bisexual characters, including Hulkling, Wiccan, Miss America, and Prodigy) would also be immense fun to watch.
DC and Marvel superheroes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to comic book heroines who would work well on-screen. On the non-superhero side, we'd love to see Amy Adams carry her own Lois Lane movie with Superman in the background. Outside the Big Two, there characters like Dark Horse's Ghost, whose backstory comes with a built-in mystery. And while she's more Conan than Wonder Woman, the current Gail Simone-authored incarnation of Red Sonja is just wonderful, a combination of physical strength and compassion who wants nothing more after a fight than a strong drink (and she's not always in that bikini armor). We're happy that we're getting more female-led comic book movies and TV shows, but there are so many more female characters crying out for their own films.
Like Black Widow. She was great in Captain America 2: Natasha and Steve are Awesome Buds, but seriously, give the woman her own movie.
Thanks to Rob Bricken for suggestions and feedback.