Then, combine that legacy with that of superhero comics. As a genre and long-central part of geek culture, they have worn the big scarlet “S” of sexism for about as long as World War II-sprung Wonder Woman has been conspicuously bound, forever roped into more poses of Marstonian bondage than a golden lasso-loving Amazon should be forced to endure. And later, as comics conventions began to spring up in the ’70s, so, too, did the perpetual parade of arrested male development, with fewer “girls” around than a vintage “Our Gang” short.
But then, you knew that. This is all old history, except that in Hollywood, the history is at hand, at present — awaiting a new wave of change.
Enter superheroes, stage left.
The Joss Whedons of the world find themselves defending the comic-book movie — they’re not “ruining” Hollywood, the defense goes — when they’re not defending the narrative of the Avengers’ franchise’s lone female constant: Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow/Natasha (and why hasn’t her own film been at least penciled in)?
But the time has arrived for the comic-book movie to save Hollywood from itself — not just at the global box office, but in terms of diversity. And what art could better poised to do so?
We know female readership of comics is approaching the halfway point of all readers. We know new female stories often dominate the young-reader bestseller lists, topping even the retro books by the Frank Millers and Alan Moores of the world. As comics scholar/cartoonist Scott McCloud said to me recently, the future trajectory of comics, over the next decade, will be determined largely by female readers.
And then, at stage right, you have Hollywood, newly facing ACLU legal action over alleged (a-hem) discrimination of women directors, as the Los Angeles Times reports over the weekend.
Then, as a welcome sign of change, you have days like today.
The Wrap is reporting that Marvel Studios is courting “Selma” director Ava DuVernay for a “diverse superhero movie” — perhaps Black Panther or Captain Marvel. (This so soon after a Wikileaks document dump from the Sony hack reveals a Marvel CEO and a Sony big-cheese dishing on why female superheroes are bad for business.)
Also today, CBS is announcing at the TV Upfronts for advertisers that its new drama “Supergirl” will debut in the fall on Monday nights, with Ali Adler writing episodes alongside producing powerhouse Greg Berlanti (DC’s “Arrow” and “The Flash”).
Now, the one-hour “Supergirl” — which apparently will also allow for a Superman — will face brutal intra-DC competition come November, going head to head against the Fox prequel hit “Gotham.” Meaning that, at least in a tangential sense, Monday nights will mirror the 2016 feature-film title “Batman v. Superman,” but with Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) leading the way.
But if CBS chief Nina Tassler pulls this off, she’ll look like a genius.
(WB/DC has already, of course, begun hiring woman directors for its cinematic universe, ousting Michelle MacLaren from the Wonder Woman director’s chair — but replacing her last month with “Monster” director Patty Jenkins.)
Mainstream Hollywood, naturally, is slow to evolve, let alone really risk. But if the lantern’s green glow is the color of money, and directors like DuVernay and Jenkins deliver superhero blockbusters that pull in the big profits, then comics won’t be viewed by so many as a universe-binding scourge at the box office.
Many will appreciate how at least one facet of Hollywood is leaping long-placed hurdles, bound by single bound.