Female Superheroes Dominate Print Comics but Can’t Catch a Break in Hollywood

Newly debuting heroines are outselling their male counterparts in stores around the U.S.

Silk. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Apr 9, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Male superheroes have long dominated comic books and their blockbuster movie counterparts. But these days, the stars swooping in to save the day are no longer only heroes with the word “man” in their name.

That’s thanks in large part to comic giant Marvel, which launched two new superhero series with female stars this year: Spider-Gwen and Silk. Both are spin-offs of the Amazing Spider-Man series, with Silk and Spider-Gwen each equipped with powers similar to Peter Parker’s after that radioactive spider bite.

The series have found success for Marvel, with Silk its top-selling comic for online shop Comixology in the month of March—even after taking into account sales for Marvel series with male stars. Orphan Black—which is published by IDW Comics—was the top-selling comic overall in February, according to Comichron. Marvel’s Spider-Gwen, Silk, and the newly female Thor all fared well in North America early this year, taking spots three, nine, and 11, respectively, for the highest number of issues sold in February.

The success of Thor is a welcome surprise; there was originally backlash from male readers over a woman taking hold of the mighty hammer to become the hero back in October. The new issues have far outsold those featuring the story’s male predecessor, with a roughly 30 percent rise in sales, according to figures compiled from the first five issues released this year.

Despite the success of female powerhouses in comic book shops and online, we’re still a long way from women heroes headlining the big screen. While Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of Black Widow has proved a force to be reckoned with in films like The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Russian spy hasn’t scored a title film. Her male cohorts may rely on her stealth moves, but she’s still the femme-fatale sidekick. Her lesser status is made all the more apparent with the marketing of next month’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Ads remain focused on the film’s predominantly male lineup, including the art on the film’s IMDb page promoting images of Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, with Johansson nowhere to be seen.

Hollywood’s small screen is attempting to incorporate strong female characters into the comic world, with women included in the ensemble cast of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Netflix also has a couple of new Marvel series in the works, including one starring a female superhero turned private detective, A.K.A. Jessica Jones. While the series is reportedly in the works, it has no official release date on Netflix’s 2015 schedule, while another Marvel series, Daredevil, is set to be released in its entirety on Friday. In this male-dominated series, the love interest, Claire, is more of a superhero assistant, but she does not appear to have any super powers and, much like Black Widow, she may contribute to the worthy cause but won’t get credit for saving the day.

While female characters have certainly grown from playing damsels in distress to become worthy allies and confidants, the success of heroines in Marvel’s print series indicate that fans are itching for Hollywood to begin a blockbuster female superhero franchise. And moviemakers are indeed taking notice, albeit at a glacial pace. The first major motion picture starring a female superhero is currently in the works with Captain Marvel—but you’ll have to wait until 2018 to see it.