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Feminism Fail: Ms. Marvel Comics in the 1970s

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1977 1st issue

 

It all started out so promising.  The cover to the first issue of Ms. Marvel is full of potential: a superheroine that kicks ass and takes names.  It even proclaims: “This Female Fights Back!” – a tagline you could imagine being attached to a Pam Grier movie. This was Marvel’s answer to DC’s Wonder Woman who was enjoying a surge in popularity thanks to the Linda Carter TV show.  Marvel needed a female A-List superhero – someone who was sexy like Wonder Woman and Charlie’s Angles, but also appealed to the Women’s Liberation movement.  Hence, “Ms.” Marvel – the “Ms.” being a pretty big deal in 1977.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be.  The Ms. Marvel comic books featured one B-List villain after another beating the shit out of our new feminist superhero. Indeed, upon hearing rumors that Marvel may release a Ms. Marvel movie, I took a look through some of her 1970s comics, and was struck by how often she is having her ass handed to her… by bad guys I’ve never heard of.  It’s no surprise that just a year or so later, her titular comic book was through.  She could’ve been Farrah Fawcett with brains and super powers… but, instead, she was terminated in her prime.  Let’s have a look at some examples of this short-lived series from 1977-78…

 

ms marvel (7)

 

Ms. Marvel, in her sixth issue, is, as usual, in the midst of receiving a beat-down by a B-List Bad Guy.  The first few Ms. Marvel comics were ones of utter confusion – not really even clear what her super powers are.  But, through the muddy waters, you can glean a few facts: She’s Carol Danvers – an Air Force officer who is rescued by Captain Marvel from an explosion…. which, of course, causes her to inherit some of his powers (not a satisfying origin story, but she isn’t the first superhero to have a lame beginning).

What are her powers?  I still can’t quite tell you – it’s sort of a potpourri of Superman’s abilities – flight, strength, durability, etc.  The writers even threw in some weird “seventh sense” powers, and an ability to absorb and shoot energy.   Although it’s all a little muddy, it should have been enough to resist the B-List Baddies that put the beat-down on her month after month…

 

ms marvel (21)

 

Here’s Ms. Marvel about to get a fireball to the face, but Spidey is there to save her.  What happened to “This Female Fights Back”?  At least this villain has some degree of credibility.

 

ms marvel (27)

 

Excited about the new Ms. Marvel comics?  Well, get ready to enjoy her getting her ass beat by a no-name Earth Giant, then getting her ass trapped in ice by some chick named Hecate…. or is it Hellion?

 

ms marvel (13)

 

Who needs Wonder Woman, when you can have Ms. Marvel getting shot in the face by someone called Doomsday Man?  Who needs Batgirl when you can have Ms. Marvel being strangled and drowned by Grotesk?

 

ms marvel (8)

 

In an editorial in one of the first issues of Ms. Marvel, the comic’s writer, Gerry Conway, explained why Ms. Marvel wasn’t written by a woman: “At the moment there are no thoroughly trained and qualified women writers working in the super hero comics field.”   One wonders if there had been a highly-skilled, highly-trained female comic book writer, if Ms. Marvel might not have been smacked around quite so much.

 

scn_0014

 

Lest you think things were any better outside the covers, think again.  This issue’s cover featured Ms. Marvel punching M.O.D.O.K. in the face… but inside this issue, feminism is set back 50 years.

“It’s made him a man Ms. Marvel can love and serve. A man she will worship as a god.”

I can’t remember Helen Reddy’s lyrics exactly, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t “I am woman, hear me serve and worship.”

ms marvel (6)

Costume in tatters, legs spread, and submissive at the point of a weapon…. this was Marvel’s feminist superhero?

Something had to change….

ms marvel costume In a sad attempt to change course, Ms. Marvel gets a new costume.  Maybe that will set things right.

Then again, maybe not….

ms marvel (5)

Same story, different costume.  They lost the navel-revealing outfit, but kept alive the shameful beat-downs at the hands of lame bad guys.

What’s interesting is that even in comic books other than her own, Ms. Marvel was a hopeless victim…

ms marvel (18)

Yes, I know – the rest of the Avengers aren’t exactly faring too well here either… but at least they had their moments in the sun, when they were kicking ass on the cover.  Not Ms. Marvel – on her own comic, and in crossover comics, she was never on top.  Would it have killed Stan Lee to let Ms. Marvel shine just once?

 

ms marvel (20)

In both the Avengers comic and the Spider-Man comic, Ms. Marvel is helplessly passed out.  And so, Marvel’s “feminist” comic book series was mercifully retired before the decade’s end….. which is really a shame, because it honestly did have potential. An empowered, intelligent female superhero that also was Charlie’s Angels sexy – it was a dynamite combination.   Marvel’s heart was in the right place, but they just couldn’t make it work.

From here, Ms. Marvel, pops in and out of comics here and there, never really the focal point of any stories.  But the worst was yet to come.  Perhaps her lowest point would come in the 1980s…

ms marvel (22)

In the early part of the decade, Ms. Marvel is a part of the Avengers.  No, she doesn’t save the team and become their leader….. instead, she gets raped.

Yep.  You read that right.  It caused a bit of a stir at the time, and ultimately a brand new story was told which more-or-less “unraped” her.  But the damage was done.  Not even another costume change (above) in the late 1980s could save things.

Then, in more recent years, Ms. Marvel is given a few reboots, returning Ms. Marvel to the stage….

2007

… and this is where yours truly loses track.  Evidently, it’s no longer Carol Danvers, and the whole feminist shtick is long-gone; however, she has gained ground enough for talks to begin for a Marvel movie.  Will Ms. Marvel finally get to be that sexy ass-kicking superheroine she was supposed to be in 1976?  Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” may be ancient history, and Billy Jean King vs. Bobby Riggs long forgotten, but several decades later, Mizz Marvel may finally get to be that “Female Who Fights Back!”

THE END

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  • Sionnach

    None of these turkeys could match Scrooge McDuck.

  • Chris Wallace

    To keep all facts straight, the Thing and FF comic showcase another person with the same moniker. It’s not Carol Danvers, it’s Sharon Ventura who later mutated to a female version of Ben Grimm’s rocky alter ego. She was shown last in prison when Ben was tossed in for trumped up charges.

  • bioadam

    What a droll list. Little does the author realize that Marvel’s comic book covers almost always showed the hero at the mercy of the villain. And yet, the author leaves out the entire plot where Immortus uses Carol Danvers to give birth to himeself and then marries his mother or where Marvel takes Carol Danver’s entire personality away so her powers can be given to Rogue. Tsk Tsk.