Shows like Arrow and The Flash on CW, and Netflix's Daredevil, as well as Jessica Jones, the first popular female superhero character television show, are great examples of the oversaturation of screen-versions of superheroes. Of course, Jessica Jones is not your run-of-the-mill superhero. At least part of the popularity of the show is due to how Jessica wears pants, swears like a trucker, drinks whiskey, and fucks whoever she wants. Basically, Jessica Jones is a man. A very pretty man, played by Krysten Ritter, who ironically started her acting career with a Dr. Pepper commercial. But it's 2016 and definitely time for a kick-ass female superhero who doesn't wear a mini-skirt while flying over men's heads. Still, these are TV shows. In film, all the popular supes have already been exhausted. Guardians of the Galaxy and Dr. Strange are now being dug out of the vaults. And true comic book fans, like me, couldn't be happier. Except...I am a little concerned that the original comic books (and their storylines) may be getting lost in the superheroic rush toward both big and small screens alike.
As The #PopCultureProfessorTM, I've had the pleasure of meeting every living icon within the comic book industry, and yes, that includes Stan "The Man" Lee, as well as Neal Adams, Michael Golden, Chris Claremont, Gail Simone, Rob Guillory, Kody Chamberlain, Nate Edmondson, Mark Waid, Matt Kindt, Mike Raicht, Charles P Wilson III, Chrissy Zullo, Mark Texeira, Hope Larson...heck, the list of who I've worked with in "the biz" is super-long. Those are just a few of my favorites. Superheroes are still very much a boys' club, but as you can see, there are at least a few ladies represented. Speaking of ladies in comics, I happen to be one of them.
No, I haven't published a comic book. At least, not yet. Though Kody Chamberlain and I did talk about collaborating on a future project the last time we saw each other. Women aren't just under-represented in "the biz", we're also few and far between in terms of scholars, researchers, and writers on the subject. According to Thomas Wagner, the Emmy-winning writer and producer of PBS's American Master Series on Lucille Ball, I am the first American female scholar in comics. Tom found me in 2009 after a comic book expert at San Diego Comic Con sent him my way. I helped Tom with his script for a documentary called "Paper Heroes," as well as an NEH grant for the project. Then, in 2014, Donna Davies of Ruby Tree Films interviewed me at Austin Comic Con for her internationally-released documentary on fandom, specifically surrounding comics. And hey, Wizard World, the Los Angeles-based company that puts on Comic Cons across America, hired me as their first professional female moderator for not only fun celebs like James Marsters from the Buffyverse and Jason David Frank from Power Rangers, but to host every comic book panel at every Comic Con for half of my three-year tour. I opened every Comic Con during my tenure with my show on 12,000 years of human history on the first superheroes, connecting it to twenty-first century pop culture. Emmy-winning stars like Michael Madsen would get 65 people in his Q&A while my shows filled 500-person rooms on a Thursday afternoon during rush hour. It was crazy. And, so much fun!!!
Women have a much greater presence today in both comic books, superhero television and film, as well as comics-genre writers, authors, scholars, speakers, and illustrators. It's great to see, but if we want to keep seeing it, we have to keep buying those comic books!
One of my best moments on the Wizard World tour was when a mom brought her 13-year old daughter to see me perform; they followed me all weekend, attended each of my twelve shows. After the last one, which I believe was with John Barrowman in Philly, the mom brought her daughter to the stage as I was packing up. She introduced herself, and her daughter. The next thing she said was, "Thank you for existing. Now, Elizabeth knows she can one day do what you do...."
I'll never forget those words. As a feminist scholar and social theorist best known for her books on pop culture, and with chapters on subjects like the women of X-Men and how Edward Cullen of Twilight is nothing but a sparkly stalker, it was the epitome of everything I have literally scratched and clawed my way to create: My niche as the one and only #PopCultureProfessor. That title and trademark are mine. I not only created the brand, I own it. Superheroic humans like Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony helped inspire me to accomplish everything I have done in the last 30 years. No cape required...and, no Botox either.
Happy #NationalSuperheroDay! And for fuck's sake, go buy some comic books!!! By the way, the 15th anniversary of Free Comic Book Day is coming up May 7th...might be a good time to start your collection if you've only ever seen superheroes on a screen.
Up, up and away, y'all...