One quick glance at the wall of new comics displayed every Wednesday at your local comic shop is enough to tell you that there just aren’t many comics being made specifically for women. Superhero comics are only just now coming around to the idea that perhaps Thor could be a woman or Captain America could be a black man. And yet, sometimes the two big publishers, Marvel and DC, will put out an excellent superhero book that also happens to be specifically aimed at women, not girls. Right now, that book is Spider-Woman by writer Dennis Hopeless and artists Javier Rodriguez and Veronica Fish.
Hopeless and Rodriguez’s redesign of Spider-Woman’s costume drew a great deal of attention a few years back by reinventing her as a street-level hero and deemphasizing the sexual overtones of her costume. This all came at an inopportune time for the book, as a sexually suggestive variant cover by erotic artist Milo Manara reignited the always present criticism of how women are portrayed in comics.
Manara’s variant cover aside, Spider-Woman remains one of the most progressive books about a female superhero in Marvel’s line. Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman) is never sexualized within the pages of the title and is presented as a tough-as-nails, action-driven protagonist who acts first and asks questions later. She’s tired of playing the typical superhero game, abandons the Avengers, and spends time figuring out exactly what it is that she wants out of her life.
It came as a shock when the book was relaunched that Jessica was eight months pregnant. Again, the book became mired in controversy, and concerns grew that Jess’s pregnancy was being used as a plot device to cook up sales instead of a development born naturally from her arc as a character. Yet, Hopeless’ Jessica reveals that she decided to have a child through artificial insemination because it was her desire to become a mother on her own.
Spider-Woman continues to be a book that zigs when everyone expect it to zag, often being put under the microscope as a book rife with potential to be the exact kind of writing and artwork that the superhero comic industry is criticized for. Yet it always proves itself to be the exact opposite. The latest volume of Spider-Woman starts with a story of a pregnant Jess fighting her way through an alien spaceship/maternity ward, defeating waves of enemies and delivering her baby. The book is now telling the story of how Jessica balances her life as a superhero and mother, without sacrificing either.
If superhero comics are going to try and tell stories for women, Spider-Woman should stand as an example for all the others to follow in its footsteps.