The HISTORY of Female Champion icons

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brettjett

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#1  Edited By brettjett

Okay, I know Wonder Woman is our main girl here...but in order to understand her significance, what makes her so special, I thought it'd be fun if we take a tour through the history of fictional female champion archetypes of the 20th Century and beyond.

Don't feel left out if I don't mention your favorite champion.  I am only skimming over history and going over just the eminent icons.  But remember, this is all about female CHAMPIONS, as opposed to bimbos...like "I Dream Of Jeannie".  And no, someone like Marge Simpson doesn't count as a champion....

 

   

First, in 1904,  there was storybook character Rima the jungle girl, which presented the idea of a woman as the subject of interest (spotlight).  It wasn't till decades later that Rima got her own comicbook. 

In 1912, Tarzan’s Jane provided a female figure in the action spotlight, even tho she didn’t hold the same heroic independence as Rima.

1927 saw the debut of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marples, the first well-known female detective of the 1900’s.

And then Nancy Drew ghostily followed right behind.  Again, we see the female taking center stage here, as opposed to being the lowly assistant or the damsel in distress.

In the same year, The Shadow also had his distress damsel in Margo Lane.

Then came Sheena, queen of the jungle, who was modeled after Rima, but had her own comicbook before Rima did. 

In the next year, altho not the first "Lane", Lois Lane made her debut.  She was the archetype damsel in distress of the urban modern age.  Altho not quite a champion per se, Lois was a potentially very fightingly strong character and would provide possibilities in decades to come.  But not all girlfriends of male heroes were created equal.  In 1939 the Spider’s girlfriend, Nita Von Sloan held her own as a secret agent.

Then in 1940, Hawkgirl became the first female superhero.  However...she was a sort of "token female counterpart" to the guy superhero, rather than being the main one.  That same year, Catwoman debuted.  She was a personification of the well-known cat-like qualities in women.  Although not traditionally noted as a superHERO, she's an icon of women power, independence, & feistiness...very liberating to some.  Remember now, the early 20 Century mentality was at a time when women were socially repressed.  She was followed by a slew of other female champions that did not reach quite the notoriety that Selina Kyle did...these included Bulletgirl, Invisible Scarlet, Black Widow, Woman In Red, and even a Selina copy-cat in The Black Cat.  But these women didn’t quite have the liberating qualities that would set one free.  Its as if they were repressed by the powers that be, which is evidenced by their large amount of clothing worn and low comicbook sales.

Then finally, over a year later, our girl debuted right after Pearl Harbor!  Okay, technically she wasn't the first female superhero, and definitely not the first female champion, but she was the first female comicbook superhero who was independent of a male counterpart and had her own comicbook title.  She was THE liberating icon for girls to look up to (more so than Catwoman was at the time).  And her female enemies each represented other negative symbolic aspects of women.  Chief among those is Cheetah, William Marston's answer to Bob Kane's Catwoman.  Again, we see a metaphor to the cat-like qualities in women.

More female comicbook superheroes debuted in the following years of the 40's, including Black Canary & Huntress.  And on the pro wrestling circuit, a woman has emerged to later become the longest reigning woman wrestler in history, the Fabulous Moolah.   While in children's books, 1945, Pippi Longstocking began thrilling young girls.  Pippi is one of two female champion icons from the 20th Century onward that were created solely by a female.

In the 50's, a flurry of female-counterpart superheroes debuted, including Supergirl & Batwoman.  The introduction of female-counterpart superheroes (rather than independent ones), was a token effort to include the girls in a male dominated enterprise.  This is also when the idea of a Wonder Girl came out. 

In the 60's, the trend started to transform, with debuts of more independent female superheroes, such as Phoenix and Zatanna.  The introduction of Barbara Gordon, who would one day become Oracle, an independent superhero taking care of herself despite a handicap.  Even the X-men had their flurry of individual female superheroes...although the Teen Titans only had one girl, it was our beloved TROIA!   This was the civil rights decade.  It was also when our girl was de-powered and put in the role of secret agent...and this theme would be explored in her upcoming TV show, and popularized in later female champion TV shows.  Starting, apparently, with Cathy Gale of the Avengers...but she wasn't as memorable as her succeeding Avenger, Emma Peel, who outshined her male counterpart.  The 60's was the secret agent decade.

Then the 70's came...the decade following the American Civil Rights Movement.  Its a time when the Women's Liberation Movement was going strong, and sly producers/writers everywhere were jumping on the bandwagon to cater to that need.  Even in the horror genre featured a female prey (in Laurie Strode) who fought back.  From out of a 1934 novel came the independent Red Sonja...albeit from the Conan mythos, she wasnt his counterpart.  Spiderwoman made her debut, but female comicbook characters (villains & heroes), who were NOT counterparts to males, were also popping up.  Batgirl even had a makeover in the form of Flamebird.  It was truly a "Lilith Fair"... Lilith, Talia, Lady Shiva, Storm, Fire, Mystique, Psylocke, Isis, etc.  (Although some would argue that Isis may have been Captain Marvel's female counterpart, and even made her TV debut on his show before getting his own).

Back in TV land, our girl got a weird interpretation in Cathy Lee Crosby which bombed.  Jaime Sommers (the Bionic Woman), like Isis, made her TV debut on a male icon's show before getting her own.  Then our girl came back into mainstream eyes with a popular hit show (& less clothes than Crosby).   And the premiere queen, Rima, finally got her own comicbook.  But no matter how many more independent female icons pop up, Wonder Woman would always be the original archetype of female independence. 

Then Elecktra Woman & Dyna Girl electrified kids (both genders) each Saturday morning, giving them something more positive to have come out of September 11th.  Along with this Women's movement bandwagon was the premier of Charlie's Angels, and girls everywhere were striking the handgun poses.

This decade was also one of the female secret agent, as we saw in the above TV icons...It would make a return 20yrs later.

The 70's Women’s Lib Movement got over its peak, and although real life girl champions like the Guerilla Girls tried to hype it up again, it didn't have the same effect.  Because by the 80's arrival, it wasn't a special "Lilith Fair".  The Movement had already taken is effect, as female icons were integrated & no big deal.  All genders equal, seeing female champions such as Teela or She-Ra wasn't a special spectacle anymore, but just a regular normal thing (like the guys).  Thus producing a diverse array of female icons.  It made way for even the female American Gladiators.  The comicbook heroes all embodied this too...She-Hulk, Raven, Elektra, etc...although Starfire embodied more of a male fantasy.  Red Sonja even got her own movie, so did Sheena.  GI Joe had Scarlett and Lady Jaye (altho she later died).

In pro wrestling, another major female icon emerged, even beating the Fabulous Moolah...Wendy Richter, who brought a female eye to Hulk Hogan's hooyah.  And in 1987, the first independent female fighter-videogame character debuted (as a cameo), Chun Li, of StreetFighter.  Then Tank Girl came out from down under.

The term "Girl Power" came out of the Riot Grrl movement in 1993.  But the eclectic 90's started out with a French assassin named Nikita, who showed a struggling inner turmoiled female mentality, rather than a hero.  It also helped re-jumpstart the precedence for the female-champion-as-secret-agent angle (a trend that was originally set by Diana), which would later in the 21st Century become popular during an era of shadow warfare & turmoil in the midst.

In videogames, Sonya Blade joined Chun Li as chief female fighter-videogame icon.  And of course Joss Whedon released his vampire slayin creation into the world, and girls everywhere were climaxing in their theatre seats, delighted to see a female actually fighting back vampires instead of being bitten.  Although mostly heterosexual boys scoffed at the idea, and then in the years that followed, thinking that this "Buffy movie" is a long forgotten memory, they were not prepared for her return later in the decade.  

Then soon after, more female fighter-videogame icons (hero & villain) emerged from the two rival fighter-videogames...Kitana, Cammy, Jade, Mileena.  Young girls were given the WhoopAss Girls, but the networks were uneasy with their names, so it was renamed the Power Puff Girls.  The lonely tough girl image was projected through Anima, a comicbook character that could only have been co-created by a woman.   Diana now had a distorted image in the form of Artemis (which is the Greek name for Diana) who would soon temporarily serve as her replacement, hopefully showing fans what a true Wonder Woman should be & shouldn't be (just as Azrael did for Batman). 

No doubt by the time Gwen Stefani showed off her belly in a sports top, the Spice Girls served as a bullhorn popularizing the term "Girl Power" to the masses with their loud mouths & nauseating songs, heralding a third wave of Women's Lib movement. 

And as in the 70's, of course sly producers/writers took advantage of this, knowing it's female icons that sell these days.  So that same year brought us Laura Croft.  By now, more idolizing girls everywhere were wearing sports top like their idols (ie. Gwen or Sonya Blade).  In pro wrestling, a newer, bigger, and more powerful female emerged...Chyna.  Often compared to Xena, Chyna did things no other female wrestler has done before, including taking on the men!

But this third wave was not without some T&A type of "Girl Power".  Characters like Black Scorpion or Barb Wire were mainly visual tantalizers.  And Black Scorpion was even pathetically modeled after a certain chiro male...A sign of lack of originality.

This third wave produced a movie for Tank Girl, a TV show for Buffy's return on the scene, thrilling both girls & boys alike, a TV show for Nikita, Witchblade's debut, and Xena's debut.  She wasn't quite Wonder Woman's replacement...Xena was even more savage than Sheena, and lacked the virtue & finesse of Diana, but she still became a very popular adrenaline raising icon among females, perhaps as a sign of the darkening times.  But there were other uplifting girl power movies out, including Mulan and The Avengers with Uma as Emma Peel.  But what's up with Anne "Mrs. Robinson" Bancroft begin casted in a girl power movie like GI JANE?  Hmmm.  Odd.

The Spice Girls went out with a bang with their feature film & their MTV specials.  The Charmed Ones was an attempt to not only follow in the wake of Buffy's success, but a last ditch effort to cash in on the Girl Power climate.  But the new Millennium was approaching, and there were other things on people's minds.  A new uncertain century, a greater awareness of Big Brother, apocalyptic scenarios, distrust of government, New World Order, Y2K, doom prophecies, where you'd be during the Millennium Party, etc.  These things took center stage, which is why movies like The Matrix were more popular than any Girl Power icon.  Although 1999 did give two more major female icons, it was without the Girl Power hype...it wasn't about Women's empowerment in particular, it was about survival.  Padme Amidala and Trinity...two very liberating female icons that were actually GOOD guys true to the name!   And yet their popularity did not compare to the more brutal & lethal icons, both thus far and those to come in the next Century.

The third wave came to an end.  And throughout this time, our girl Diana was nowhere to be seen in the mainstream spotlight.  It was the other female champions' turn to get their 15 minutes of fame before our girl finally gets a HUGE welcome back with a much anticipated movie that never came.  How sad, and how indicative it was of the new direction of the century….

As quick as the white Rabbit year came & gone, the New Millennium was upon us.  And it was time again (like the 80's) where Woman's Lib had been integrated (thanks to the Third Wave), thus there was no special spotlighting of the Girl Power thing.  Although some have made attempts to respark it.   The XMEN movie had its females but they weren't especially celebrated with Girl Power, any more than the male characters...all being equal. 

Although Sheena got her own TV series, it wasn't as highlighted as Xena was back in the girl power 90's.

And the dark apocalyptic themes were the new, true, and unshakeable direction pop culture was going, girl or non-girl, as evident with the intro of Dark Angel, and Witchblade getting her own TV series.

Now here is the turning point that I've wanted to emphasize in this thread....

After 9/11, pop culture took a turn toward government favor, thus a new wave of secret agent fervor.  Thus producing another secret agent female icon, Sydney Bristow.   Even though there were many other girl champions, Bristow's popularity outweighed them all due to the new political climate.  A shadowy climate that seemed to have lost all zeal for true honorable superheroes (ie.Wonder Woman) as we knew them. 

And for the little kids, it brought them Kim Possible.  Which even influenced commercials in the form of the Kim Possible rip-off, the E-Surance gal.

Like the 80's there's gender-blindness.  The emphasis is no longer Girl Power.  But yet some producers, writers, and promoters still tried to cash in on the fervor of the 90's...but with little effect...no more than with the introduction of a male champion...Such as when MTV spotlighted surfergirls in 2002. 

Among those attempts was in 2003 with Heaven Kogo (aka Samurai Girl), the only other female champion who was created solely by a woman (author Carrie Asai). 

Another attempt was in 2004, Veronica Mars, which is a modern (& more cynical) take on the girl detective mold started by Nancy Drew...whom had her own movie in 2007 (78 yrs after her conception) but did not have the same popularity.  In 2005, Elektra also got her own movie.

The Girl Power celebrity that Carrie Asai and all the other writers or producers were hoping for their characters never happened.  Carrie's book sales were paltry...pathetically all bark no bite.   Altho I read all of them and found'em to have certain potential.  The problem was she & all the others came out a decade too late.  But that doesn't mean their characters can't be as popular as any other.  Its just that Girl Power isn't the main dish.  Now once again, its equal...gals or guys.  Its about just the character, not their sex.

What's interesting to note about Bristow's popularity outweighing Trinity or Padmé is that most of Trin & Pad's girl fans were minorities, while mostly mainstream whitegirls favored Sydney.  This indicates the reality, the separation of differences that were always there but were covered up by the shallow "unity" of the Girl Power hype.  The reason why Trin & Pad became very admired by mostly minorities is that these icons represent what minorities needed all this time...strong symbols who stood up to the system, and who had virtue while taking positions of power, whether they were girls or guys.  Whereas mainstream/whitegirls were bored and needed some excitement while totally disregarding the struggling minority realities.

So as you've just seen, there has never really been a shortage of female champion icons...only different mainstream spotlighting.  And now in the new Millennium, its solidfied.  You know, without the extra girl power hype.  Its already there.  Now its more like "What's next?".

Sure, there will be more female champions introduced and re-introduced.  And as you see producers/writers introducing them in the spotlight, they will again be met with equal interest as a male champions.

Red Sonja and Tank Girl are slated to have their own revival movies in 2008.  Scarlett will make a return appearance with the GI JOE movie slated for 2009 release.  And the Spice Girls are rumored to make a return in 2007.  And Carrie Asai is in talks with ABC Family who want to make a Samurai Girl TV show.  I will be involved with the audition process. 

THE TRUE ULTIMATE

But you know what?  I personally do not want the rest of this new century to be about secret wars & secret agents, glamorizing savage brutal champion icons (female or male), government controls, or even apocalypse.  Too much emphasis was put on Girl Power in the 90's and pathetic attempts in 2000's, when it should be about compassion...about teaching virtue...ending suffering & injustice for all peoples...its about PEACE!   All the things that a true superhero would do/ stand for.   And NO female icon thus far embodies all those things as our girl Wonder Wonder Woman (& Troia)!!

So, what will the future hold for female champions?  Well hopefully the appearance of the champion of female champions, Diana, on the silver screen, setting things right by making it more about heroism rather than feminism.

The thing is, women in this world talk too much about being like Wonder Woman but DON'T live up to it!  Not only do they not meet or match her fortitude, but her attitude!!  Additionally, most females are totally delusional with this Girl Power thing, not realizing that Girl Power is just one thing in itself and not to be confused with Superheroic Morals...For instance, what good is a female president, without the morality?  Its not about girl power, its about superhero power!

And so, you see why a perfect screenplay featuring our girl is so important to the consciousness of the world?  In a time of war, THIS is the role of such a movie about Wonder Woman!  But we better not kid ourselves.  No such movie will be made.  Instead, we'll get a mediocre, not-up-to-par, just-short-of-TRUE, version of a Wonder Woman movie...and that's after they "introduce" her via a Justice League movie.

Which is why I have decided to introduce ALL you fans of the world to my perfect Wonder Woman Screenplay (written by Diana's true #1 admirer), so that you will at least get to know what the perfect movie would have looked like.

UPDATE:

(Note:  I originally wrote & posted all the above in December 2006, somewhere else)

Altho I forgot to mention it, the whole point of the thread above was to illustrate the role of the perfect Wonder Woman movie today...Even though we will never see it take form.

Again, you can discuss it amongst yourselves, but if you have questions or comments for ME, email them at my website, because I wont be here.  Dont usually come here.

More female champions were put out there, including David Eick's pitiful attempt at a Bionic Woman revival, and TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR that has more emphasis on Sarah than the protective Terminator (which now is a girl).   And the Spice Girls did make a return...a very short return, thank gawd! 

The Samurai Girl auditions started in August of 2007.   I had been heavily involved with the process.  But certain things were disagreeable to me.  Reading the books several times since they were published, I know the entire story very well.  And I can tell you the TV producers/writers changed things around!  For one, the character Hiro was totally altered, including his race!   They made changes I just felt were so unnecessary.  I am unhappy about the script not staying true to the storybooks.  But their choice in the actors to play the parts were okay.  The girl they chose for Heaven fits well with the TV version of Heaven, but not the storybook version.  Which is good because the storybook version can be nauseating. 

And recently this September, they finally released a mini-series, and are deciding whether or not to continue with an ongoing series.  So, I hope you folks enjoy Samurai Girl, and please support an betterongoing series! 

In either case, if you are interested in this character, you can still read the books.  I still have all six of my fresh original copies, which are now all out of print.  I don't plan to sell my copies (even tho they may be worth LOT$ more if the TV series is a hit), but you can try to check'em out at your local library.

And if you email me at my website, I will even send you scans of the Samurai Girl logo!!! 

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fesak

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#2  Edited By fesak  Moderator

Great writeup, though i think the first superheroine was Fantomah. Hawkgirl didn't appear as Hawkgirl until june 1941.

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#3  Edited By brettjett

First DC superheroine.  DC...the premiere comicbook company.

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