Six Positive DC Character Role Models for Young Girls
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So What if They’re Not Real…They’re Spectacular!
DC Comics aren't for everyone.
Fans have had to endure some ridiculous plots that came out of their Pre-Crisis storylines that did any of the following:
- Challenge people's sanity that physics could work the way the writers say it did
- Endure derogatory remarks toward women made in a 30th Century Legion of Superheroes storylines that assumed that women would still be second-class citizens for the next thousand years
- Wonder about continuity holes so large a truck could drive through them
1986 marked a turning point for DC when they went from being comics for children to sophisticated science fiction with progressive undertones and a clear difference in writing. Doubters can risk their sanity and spend a few hours reading some silver age stories like I did.
Those plots came from a time that was both good and bad for comics. Those authors came up with really good concepts that became the seeds that modern writers turned into full blown awesomeness. They made some real progressive steps in character development that later served to empower readers in their adult lives.
Many of them served as awesome role models for women.
Recently, I wrote about DC women who weren’t good role models—like Harley Quinn, Looker, and Dumb Bunny (from the Inferior Five).
Here are some characters who are positive role models.
1. Wonder Woman
This should be no surprise to anyone.
Wonder Woman’s beginning years were terrible for her. She started as a naive and submissive hero who could defy reality with her strength and bravery.
In the years that followed, she matured; however, her road to maturity had problems within her genetic makeup.
The man who created the character, William Moulton Marston, was the psychologist inventor behind the polygraph. Max Gaines hired Marston as a consultant for National Periodicals and All-American Publications (which would eventually be DC Comics). Marston was tasked with creating a new superhero after an interview he had with Family Circle magazine about the potential of the comic book medium.
It was Marston’s wife’s idea to make that character a woman.
Originally calling the character Suprema, Marston endowed his character with superhuman strength, yet kept the character "tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are". Unfortunately, the themes that seemed to dominate many of the early stories came from Marston’s love for bondage and his need to give “Wonder Woman” an infatuation with Colonel Steve Trevor.
The other problem was that it was 1942. Psychologists, like Fredrick J. Wertham, were preaching that characters like Wonder Woman and any other woman who had strength and independence, unless they were with a man, were lesbians.
Wonder Woman’s character survived Marston’s writing and survived the golden age.
She got a revamp in the silver age where she received gifts from many of the gods. She then got a second revamp in the sixties where she gave all of them up along with her traditional costume. In this incarnation, she worked under a blind Chinese mentor, I Ching, as she developed new modern fighting skills. Writers modeled her after Emma Peel from the British Avengers show.
She reclaimed her godly powers shortly after Gloria Steinem placed Wonder Woman in her full red, white, and blue costume in Ms. magazine with an essay attached as to why her superpowers needed to return.
Meanwhile, television wanted to get their hands on the amazon princess.
In 1967, around the same time as Adam West was sporting a cowl and fighting a mustachioed Caesar Romero as the Joker, the producer of the show, William Dozier, commissioned a five minute pilot of “Who’s Afraid of Diana Prince”. This was a show that completely departed from Wonder Woman’s comic book origins and became the superhero equivalent of Bewitched. Fortunately, for comic book fans, it never aired on television and died a quiet death.
The second attempt at bringing Wonder Woman to live action programming came in 1974 when ABC decided to work in the non-powered version of the amazon princess. In this version, Kathy Lee Crosby starred as the depowered Wonder Woman and faced off against the evil and manipulative Abner Smith, played by Ricardo Montalban. This show also died due to good but mediocre ratings.
In 1975, ABC did a relaunch of Wonder Woman starring Linda Carter set in the 1940s. In keeping with the original version made by Marston, Wonder Woman was a representative of Paradise Island and came to America to fight for the allies in World War Two. In civilian life, she was Diana Prince, Navy Yeoman Petty Officer First Class.
The show ran from 1975 to 1979. During the second season, Wonder Woman was set in the 1970s instead. The writers explained the setting away to Wonder Woman’s slower aging. Steve Trevor’s character was replaced by his virtually identical son.
Since then, Princess Diana went through a few revamps. By the time DC decided to do its first reboot, the Golden Age Wonder Woman of Earth-2 had settled down to have a baby with Major Steve Trevor. That Wonder Woman’s daughter, Fury, became a member of Infinity, Inc. Meanwhile, the modern day Wonder Woman of Earth-1, did not survive the Crisis on Infinite Earths and her reboot was followed with death and resurrection.
Despite everything, her real character is admirable.
When we look at her archetype, Wonder Woman is based on classic Greek and Roman mythology. Her mother brought her into this world without coupling. This is a virgin birth. Hippolyta wanted a daughter so much she molded a perfect little girl out of clay. Her daughter, Diana – named after the moon goddess and goddess of the hunt—is a goddess of the earth. She is made of the earth to protect its people.
In many senses, she gets her mythology not just from the Greeks and the Romans, but from the Hebrews as well. When we look at what she is, in essence, she’s a well-made Gollum made of clay and brought to life. Her marching orders are to protect mankind.
When we look at her tools, her chief weapon is her lasso of truth. It has an entire mythology of its own as the manifestation of truth in gold. It’s unbreakable and it compels anyone bound by it to tell the truth.
Wonder Woman is brave, strong, and agile.
When faced with gunfire, she doesn’t back down from it, she runs toward it and deflects the bullets with her bracelets. Her bracelets, a symbol of her people's subjugation, work to do this. It is that reminder that keeps her strong and it keeps her on the right path for freedom—hers and her adopted country’s as well.
2. Batgirl/Oracle/Barbara Gordon
Barbara Gordon was made for television.
William Dozier, the producer of the 1966 Batman show, contacted Julius Schwartz, Editor and Chief of DC Comics, to make a new character for the show. The catch was that she had to be Commissioner Gordon’s daughter. Tapping artist Carmine Infantino for a concept, he came up with Batgirl.
While Batman co-creator, Bob Kane, had a Bat-girl creation, a pesky sidekick of the 1950s Batwoman, this Batgirl would be a complete departure from that. She would not be merely a female version of Robin, rather she would be a modern woman, smart enough to have earned her own doctorate as a librarian. A later development retroactively made within the characters origin, was that she had an eidetic memory and once she saw or read something, she would not forget it.
When Batgirl’s character was introduced in Detective #359, she was instrumental in foiling Killer Moth’s kidnapping plot of Bruce Wayne. Barbara Gordon's vigilante career started quite accidentally as her costume was essentially a female Batman costume for a costume ball.
Of course, a consequence of that generation came when Batman tried to get her to stop fighting crime on the sexist reason of her being a woman.
Readers were glad she did not listen.
The character was re-introduced in the television show continuity. Her popularity easily exceeded that of Kane's original comic book version of Bat-Girl with a clean break from the hapless female model to a proper comic book superhero.
The Pre-Crisis Batgirl was popular, appearing in not only Detective Comics, but also The Justice League of America, The Brave and The Bold, Action Comics, Superman, and World’s Finest. Later, her character served as a member of the US House of Representatives and even got a blind date with Clark Kent.
Batgirl had a tremendous impact on the DC Universe until after Crisis on Infinite Earths. In a 1988 story written by Alan Moore, The Killing Joke, Barbara Gordon—while in her civilian identity - is shot through the spine by the Joker. In addition to this, the Joker took naked pictures of her while she was bleeding on the floor.
From that point onward in the continuity, she was wheelchair bound.
Did that stop Barbara Gordon?
Using her immense librarian knowledge, detective skills, and computer know-how, she adopted the identity of Oracle. Oracle was the information source for Batman, the Justice League, and her own team called Birds of Prey. She was the eyes, ears, and communication hub for the entirety of Earth’s DC superhero community.
Oracle’s career has been more dynamic than anything she ever did as Batgirl. However, after DC did their reboot due to The Flashpoint Paradox, Barbara Gordon’s paralysis was cured and she has resumed her career as Batgirl.
As far as her being a role model, she's a woman with determination, strength, and the intelligence to be a pivotal player in the DCU. Obstacles that would cripple others are mere challenges for her to be overcome. Tell her she can't play because she’s a girl and she’ll laugh at you—even if you’re Batman. Take away her legs and she’ll use her head so much that she’ll build the greatest intelligence network for superheroes that's ever been.
Supergirl is great for many reasons but her name is not one of them.
While it is excusable to have a teenage Kryptonian on Earth and call her “girl” in 1959, in 2016, an eighteen-year-old "girl" who can throw practically any disrespecting moron into orbit, the term “woman” just fits better.
Supergirl has always been a responsible character—outside of some terrible writing from the seventies. In the Silver Age, Superman’s cousin, Kara Zor-El (her real name) has always been his secret weapon. When Superman has his hands full, and he needs that extra bit of help, Supergirl is his go-to person.
Batman can do a lot of things but stopping a meteor shower or changing the course of mighty rivers is above his pay grade.
For those of you who are ignorant of her origins, she is a survivor of Krypton. Coincidentally, as the daughter of Zor-El, Jor-El’s brother, she is Superman’s cousin. In her Silver Age origin, she and her parents, as well as a whole community of Kryptonians, survive the planet's explosion when a gigantic piece of Krypton is left intact and the inhabitants use a plastic shield for weather protection as an atmosphere to survive.
The survivors laid down lead foil on the ground to shield themselves from the kryptonite they're standing on. The community of “Argo City” is doomed through the machinations of one of their own citizens when he steered their city into a meteor shower. The meteors tore through the foil and the city was exposed to the toxic kryptonite radiation.
Zor-El created a rocket for his adolescent daughter, Kara, to take her to Earth to be cared for by Superman.
Why is Supergirl a role model for young women?
The simple answer is that she chooses to be good.
Think about it. Superman, on Earth, has the powers of a demigod. Those "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to bend steel with his bare hands" powers—all of that is true for Supergirl as well. Can you imagine if Supergirl decided that she didn’t want to follow her cousin’s lead and not fight the good fight? Who, other than Superman, could stop her?
In many senses, she’s more effective than her cousin. The Silver Age Superman used to use his “super-memory” to remember things that Jor-El might have mumbled about Kryptonian science while he was at home. In some stories, he’s used some of that Kryptonian knowledge that got downloaded into his skull to perform advanced science. As a teenager coming to Earth with that knowledge fresh in her head, she’s probably a lot smarter than Superman about sciency things.
Supergirl could have been incredibly evil and created things that could easily wipe out all life on Earth.
Instead, she has chosen the harder nobler path of playing by the rules. This character has the potential to surpass her cousin. Right now, until her confidence and wisdom improve, she has chosen to take a back seat to her cousin. It is the mark of a great person who realizes that they have more to learn and to play a supportive role when she could easily do something else.
4. Lois Lane
It can easily be argued that this character is not a good role model. The Silver Age Lois Lane certainly was not.
In the fifties, the writers of the Lois Lane comic book made her an obsessed busybody who wanted only two things in life—to discover Superman’s secret identity (presumably to get a scoop on the story of the century) and to marry Superman. The sad part of this is the writers never considered what would happen if she were successful at either goal.
If she discovered her close co-worker and fellow reporter, Clark Kent, was Superman and printed a story about it, she’ll have destroyed his life. Would Superman ever forgive someone who did that—let alone marry that person?
If she married Superman, what kind of life would she have? She would be married to an alien who could never love her properly (not without crushing or killing her by any of a thousand different casual movements) and could never spend any quality time with her as he would probably fly off during any emergency.
What good is a husband who could never give a woman the attention she deserves?
That being said, the modern age Lois Lane has achieved both of her goals—and somehow made it work. She is a career woman, married to the man she loves, and knows that there are times he has to work toward things that are larger than she is—like the lives and well-being of Earth.
The character conquered her own ego and came back down to Earth. Superman’s goal was to get Lois to love him for who he really was – which was Clark Kent. When she finally saw Clark Kent for who he really was, she got what she always wanted.
What makes her a role model?
Conquering your ego for a greater good is a big thing. It’s the first thing you learn when you’re an adult. Being an adult is knowing when you have to take the hard, messy road. Sometimes it’s necessary to go without something in order to help someone else. Sometimes it’s necessary to stick your hand into the toxic waste that accumulates at the bottom of the strainer of your kitchen sink. Sometimes it’s necessary to hold your loved one’s head over a toilet when they’re having a bad reaction to their chemotherapy and hold them until they feel better.
Adulthood is knowing when to place your ego aside.
She’s also a career woman. She saw what she wanted and went out and got it. She worked hard to prove who she is. Lois Lane is one of the best investigative journalists in the DCU. When there’s a story, she tracks it like a bloodhound. There is a lot of intelligence, bravery, and determination in Lois Lane. It didn’t just come from being an army brat who almost single-handedly raised a younger sister. When she has to stand up and be heard, she makes her way and tells it how it is.
Lois Lane got what she wanted and Superman got the wife he needed.
5. Black Canary
Pop quiz—Who’s the best non-powered female fighter in the DCU? Okay, the answer is debatable.
But if you answered “The Black Canary” you’re not wrong.
Depending on which origin story you’re following, Dinah Lance is either a first or second generation superhero who has been beating the hell out of bad guys since the golden age.
The Pre-Crisis origin was that Dinah Drake fought along with the Justice Society and brought her daughter into the family business when she was old enough. When she was, she somehow acquired her “sonic screams” that could annihilate anything in their path.
Her modern origin is almost exactly the same except the current Black Canary is the only Black Canary. She’s an uber-badass when it comes down to fighting. Somehow she swapped life experiences with Lady Shiva (the other best non-superpowered female in the DCU) and trained further in a small Vietnamese village, replicating all that Lady Shiva was taught.
So, in addition to her sonic scream, she can wipe up the floor with practically any other combatant.
The latest origin story, post-52-flashpoint-whatever-reboot-we’re-up-to-now, has Dinah always being Dinah Drake and was a young troublemaker until she found a martial arts instructor that put her on the right track. She got recruited by a group called Team 7 and later helped found The Birds of Prey.
Her powers came from a metagene she inherited from her parents.
Why is she a good role model?
In all cases, Dinah Drake/Lance overcomes great obstacles and comes out stronger because of them. She has a take charge attitude and assumes many leadership roles throughout her career. When she starts at the bottom and has to build her body and skills from nothing, she winds up excelling in everything.
6. Power Girl
What does a woman need to do to get some respect and graduate to “woman” in her name?
In this case, it’s no surprise that she hasn’t changed her name. She's got nothing to prove to anyone.
Power Girl is a character that’s slipped through the cracks. She’s had more origin stories than anyone else. The most consistent story we have on Power Girl is that she is Supergirl, all grown up from another dimension (Earth-2, the Golden Age).
She is a Kryptonian and her natural strength has grown due to her exposure to yellow sun radiation on this earth. She also has one quirk that gives her an edge over this earth’s Superman. Since she’s not from this dimension, the kryptonite here does not affect her.
Power Girl’s alter ego is Karen Star. She’s quite wealthy as she started a software company a while ago and made a vast fortune from it. So she has no one to impress except herself.
Why is she a good role model?
Where everyone in the DCU wants to worship Superman, she has consciously decided not to wear an S-shield of any kind. She is her own woman. She made herself a wealthy entrepreneur and is self-sufficient. When she’s not running a successful business, she’s taken leadership positions within the Justice League. As she is an older version of Supergirl, she is more mature and level headed than her counterpart and has a more confident and aggressive fighting style when in battle.
She knows who she is and knows where she’s going.
That's where you want to be.
I promised I’d do this article. There should be no real surprises on my selections.
These six women are independent, compassionate, self-sacrificing, mature, and strong. They’ve built themselves up with little help from anyone—even Lois Lane was an army brat and had little adult supervision.
There are many others I could have added. Hawkgirl (or Hawkwoman) for being independent. Zatanna for being powerful and disciplined. Queen Mera for her grace. Batwoman for her bravery in coming out as a lesbian. Vixen for being a mature woman with strength of character. They are all good candidates as well, all for different reasons.
I decided that these six best exemplified strong women. Women that didn't take any crap and kicked ass while taking names.
They have guts, chutzpah, brains, moxie. What’s more, they don’t need me to tell them they have it.
These women got where they are by being strong. They got where they are by having goals and then having the strength to achieve them.
My only complaint is that Batgirl, Supergirl, and Power Girl need to claim their “womanhood”.
Say what you want about Sue Storm of Marvel's Fantastic Four. Stan Lee made a character who was initially a nonentity and named her the Invisible Girl. Sometime in the eighties, Susan Richards, adventurer, mother, and general all around badass, changed her name to the "Invisible Woman". She didn’t run it up the flagpole to see if anyone saluted it.
She just did it because fuck you.
Barbara Gordon lost the use of her legs, dropped “girl” altogether, and took the alias of “Oracle”.
Not Oracle-girl or Oracle-woman.
If you ever go to see an oracle, they’re not looking for anyone’s approval. They’ve got enough self-confidence in their own clairvoyance. They don’t need anyone’s validation. Either you believe them or don’t. They have nothing to lose.
These are women to emulate. I wouldn’t go so far as play bullets and bracelets with any woman you meet, but girls should see their strengths and know where they come from.
The girls of today have to make up their own stories—especially when the stories they’re getting from the people around them aren’t the ones that empower them.
If they hear they’re too fat, too thin, too dumb, too smart, too ugly, or too pretty, they need to change their stories to something they want to live by.
The only person they really need to listen to eventually is themselves.
© 2016 Christopher Peruzzi
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