Corey Dulin: On my lead

Wednesday, December 6, 2017 - 1:19pm

Most people grow up watching football or basketball, but I grew up on comic books. My dad spent most of his time reading comic books, and I grew up learning about the characters in them.

When I was little, my dad read comics at the kitchen table and constantly warned me not to touch them. He still reads them today; there’s always at least one in the kitchen or living room, and he’s always sure to bring one on car rides. In elementary school, my family would sit down together to watch the newest superhero cartoon movie or TV show. Some of my favorite shows were “The Batman,” “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited.”

Shows and movies like this formed my childhood but unfortunately only included a few female superheroes. So, when I did get to see a woman fighting bad guys and saving the world in the movie, I held onto that image. As much as I liked Batman and as much as I saw him in movies and shows, Wonder Woman was always the superhero I looked up to most. Any cartoon featuring her was my go-to whenever my family tried to make a decision on a movie night. Movies in which she was the main character, like 2009’s cartoon movie “Wonder Woman,” were played over and over again at my house.

She stood out; whenever you saw her, she was in a space dominated by men. The idea of “hero” seems to link itself with masculinity — there are only a handful of women who have a seat at the table. This is constant in most comic books, cartoons and movies, including “Justice League.”

We constantly see figures like Batman, Spider-Man and Superman in major movie roles and in the toy section, but only recently have we seen Black Widow or Wonder Woman on-screen and in the media. I’m especially angry with Marvel. Is Marvel going to make and remake movies about each male hero (like with the Spider-Man franchise), then eventually film a movie with Black Widow as the main character instead of one of the supporting characters? It’s made Wolverine movie after Wolverine movie; I’m left wondering when it’s finally going to make a movie about Storm and her origin.

Producers seem to prioritize recycling narratives about male superheroes instead of creating films about the backstory of strong female superheroes. Superheroes like StormVixen and Hawkgirl have biographies that are just as interesting as Superman and Spider-Man (their backstories may actually be more interesting because they aren’t as well-known), but we never get the chance to learn about these characters in movies.

With the release of this year’s “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League,” I finally got what I’ve wanted for over a decade, and a female superhero finally got some credit. I say some because while “Justice League” and “Wonder Woman” included Themyscira, Wonder Woman’s birth place, the movies don’t include other shots of women fighting and of women in positions of power.

Women in these movies are still mainly supporting characters, while men continue to be some of the main characters. Besides seeing the Amazons in Themyscira in the beginning of the film and Etta Candy (Steve Trevor’s secretary), Wonder Woman is the only woman who speaks in the film. “Justice League” features female characters (Hippolyta, Martha Kent, Lois Lane and Mera), but very few conversations involving these characters pass the final part of the Bechdel test.

The lack of women in influential positions and the constant ignoring of them is not specific to comic books or action movies. We can see it play out in the modern world in Congress, where women comprise less than 25 percent of either house, and globally on corporate boards. Unlike in “Justice League,” women are not seen as a force to be reckoned with, but just something people think they can put their hands on when the mood hits them — take the stream of sexual harassment and assault allegations against writers, directors and even an editor at DC Comics.

But in “Justice League” and “Wonder Woman,” unlike reality, people took women seriously. The characters saw Wonder Woman as someone who is strong, intelligent and played a pivotal role in the groups she worked with. She often acted as a peacemaker, cooling tensions within the group. Unlike Batman, who was ready to jump to a decision without adequately evaluating the risks, she exercised caution when making difficult decisions and considered how her actions and decisions would affect others.

Near the end of the movie, when the fighting was tense and I stared wide-eyed at the screen, Wonder Woman says, “On my lead.” With this statement, she makes it clear that she is in charge, that she’s someone the characters look to for guidance and that she has the strength of character to call the shots. She gives herself permission to be “bossy,” to be assertive, an action that is both subversive and inspiring considering our society constantly tries to push women into the background and as far from any position of influence or power as possible.

Corey Dulin can be reached at cydulin@umich.edu