Superheroines and the Epic Journey

Mythic Themes in Comics, Film and Television


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About the Book

The heroine’s journey echoes throughout ancient legend. Each young woman combats her dark side and emerges stronger. This quest is also a staple of American comic books. Wonder Woman with semi-divine powers gives us a new female-centered creation story. Batgirl, Batwoman and Black Widow discover their enemy is the dark mother or shadow twin, with the savagery they’ve rejected in themselves. Supergirl similarly struggles but keeps harmony with her sister.
From Jessica Jones and Catwoman to the new superwomen of cutting-edge webcomics, each heroine must go into the dark, to become not a warrior but a savior. Women like Captain Marvel and Storm sacrifice all to join the ranks of superheroes, while their feminine powers and dazzling costumes reflect the most ancient tales.

About the Author(s)

Valerie Estelle Frankel teaches English at Mission College and San Jose City College. The author of 60 popular culture books and more than 100 stories and essays, she lives in Sunnyvale, California.

Bibliographic Details

Valerie Estelle Frankel
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 296
Bibliographic Info: glossary, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2017
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6878-9
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2801-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Foreword: The Heroine with a Thousand Faces by Trina Robbins 1
Introduction: Considering Superheroes and Heroines 3
Chapter 1—Growing Up
Hero Birth: Wonder Woman (DC Comics, 1941) 11
Ordinary World: After the Golden Age (Novel, 2011) 16
Adolescence: Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics, 2014) 19
Call to Rescue: Go Girl! (Dark Horse Comics, 2002) 25
Refusal of the Call: ­X-Men (Film, 2000) 30
Making the Choice: Runaways (Marvel Comics, 2003–2008) 33
Chapter 2—Superhero Tools
Superpowers: Wild Cards (Book Series, 1987–) 38
Talisman: Witchblade (TV, 2001–2002) 46
Self-Naming: Captain Marvel (Marvel Comics, 1977–2012) 53
Secret Identity: Supergirl (DC Comics, 1959) 60
Costume: Miss Fury (Timely Comics, 1941) 65
Shadow Side: Savage ­She-Hulk (Marvel Comics, 1980) 73
Chapter 3—Family Foils
Grandmother-Mentor: Miss Harkness (Marvel Comics, 1970–1989) 79
Evil Mentor: Birds of Prey (DC Comics, 2004–2011) 84
Brutal Patriarchy: ­Spider-Woman (Marvel Comics, 1977) 89
Leaving the Father: Aurora West (First Second Comics, 2014–2015) 96
Finding the Mother: Batgirl (DC Comics, 2005–2006) 101
Killer Mother: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (TV, 2013–2015) 106
Sister Teamwork: Supergirl (TV, 2015) 114
Evil Twin: Black Widow (Marvel Comics, 1999–2002) 119
Chapter 4—Male Influences
Friendship: White Tiger (Marvel Comics, 2007) 124
Animus Growth: ­Spider-Gwen (Marvel Comics, 2014) 128
The Good Boy: Dark Angel (TV, 2000–2002) 131
Shapeshifter Romance: Batman Returns (Film, 1992) 136
Bluebeard: Scarlet Witch (Marvel Comics, 1994) 144
Government Persecution: Echo (Abstract Studios Comics, 2011) 150
Shrinking Down: ­She-Hulk (Marvel Comics, 2005) 154
Take Back the Night: Priya’s Shakti (Web Comic, 2014) 159
Chapter 5—Descent to the Self
Entering the Otherworld: Daredevil/Echo (Marvel Comics, 2004) 164
Into the Desert: Vixen (DC Comics, 2011) 168
Hearing the Inner Voices: Power Girl (DC Comics, 2009–2010) 175
Casting Off Illusions: Donna Troy (DC Comics, 2005) 178
Healing: Jessica Jones (TV, 2015) 182
Empathy: Batwoman (DC Comics, 2013–2014) 190
Chapter 6—Facing the Shadow
Descent into Death: Pretty Deadly (Image Comics, 2013–2014) 195
Dying to Save the World: Kitty Pryde (Marvel Comics, 2004–2008) 199
Shadow Transformation: Dark Phoenix (Marvel Comics, 1975) 202
Embracing the Self: Wonder Woman (DC Comics, 2011) 207
Return to Life: Danger Girl (IDW Comics, 2014) 213
Finishing the Battle: “Call Her Savage” (Short Story, 2010) 217
Finding Balance: Supergirl (DC Comics, 1996) 221
Chapter 7—Motherhood and Enlightenment
Becoming Supermom: Invisible Woman (Marvel Comics, 1968–1973) 225
Evil Child: Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics, 1980–1981) 232
Losing the Child: Scarlet Witch (Marvel Comics, 1986–2012) 236
Death Crone: Claire Voyant (Timely Comics, 1940–1942) 240
Mistress of Dark and Light: Storm and Illyana (Marvel Comics,
1983–1984) 244
Apotheosis: Promethea (America’s Best Comics, 2001–2005) 249
Guiding the Next Generation: Birds of Prey (TV, 2002–2003) 255
Conclusion 262
Glossary 265
Works Cited 268
Index 283

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “A wealth of information about a variety of super-heroines and their comic book stories”—SFCrowsnest
  • “Frankel discusses the journey of the superheroine in contemporary comics, movies, and television”—ProtoView
  • “Frankel uses myth the way it was meant to be used, to help people understand how their lives fit into a larger world. She offers great depth of analysis in understanding how the mythic characters of comics utilize the standard mythic tropes. This is a must-have.”—Matthew Wilhelm Kapell, Exploring the Next Frontier: Vietnam, NASA, Star Trek and Utopia in 1960s and 1970s American Myth and History.