Superheroes are so dominant in culture that we just made a whole timeline to keep track of the next three to five years of movie premieres. But if there's one thing the market has yet to be saturated with — much less oversaturated — it's women with superpowers.
Except this fall, where we're getting two shows featuring women who can throw cars and leap tall buildings in a single bound.
And yes, in a year when the Flash, Green Arrow, John Constantine, Daredevil, Jesse Custer, Lucifer and Luke Cage — and probably some more male comics characters I'm forgetting — have series about their adventures in some stage of production, two shows is a significant increase from zero.
In fact, it's pretty remarkable.
Strength, invulnerability and flight is the purest superhero archetype
It's the power set that most flashier superheroes have, under the eyebeams, the energy blasts, the shapeshifting or the telekinesis. It's Superman, Captain Marvel, Hawkman, Iron Man and Wonder Woman. If you want your story to have a stand-in for the superhero archetype as a whole, you give them strength, flight and invulnerability. That's Shazam, Apollo, Captain Amazing from Mystery Men, Diamond of Powers. It's the powerset that Syndrome of The Incredibles chooses for himself.
If nothing else, it's a testament to the enduring legacy of Superman
And if you doubt the place of "flight, super strength, and a corresponding durability" as widespread cultural shorthand for supernaturally powered heroism, ask yourself why the final shot of The Matrix — of Neo stepping out of a phone booth and rocketing into the sky — made any sense to you at all.
But if you want to turn on a television and see a woman with that powerset, the powerset that is our signal that means "superhero," you're hard pressed. Jessica Jones is the first film or show in the Marvel Cinematic universe that focuses on a woman with superpowers. And even if you widen the net to any female character with superpowers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the list remains surprisingly short for a series with a dozen films and a handful of television shows.
CBS' Supergirl is the first comic book superheroine to get her own show since the short-lived Birds of Prey series 13 years ago, and if we want to wind back further we have to take it back 27 more years to 1975's Wonder Woman.
Photo by CBS via Getty Images
Those are big, big gaps. When I was a kid, you could see movies and television shows about heroes like Batman, Superman or Spider-Man, team stories about the X-Men or the Power Rangers. (Supergirl had come out and flopped two years before I was born.) But if you wanted a story about a woman who fought evil with weird powers, you had to read comics. Or, you had to forget about superheroes entirely and watch Buffy, or Alex Mack, or Dark Angel. Which I did.
I can't wait for Supergirl and Jessica Jones
But there's something undeniably special about the archetype of strength, flight and invulnerability in the context of costumed crimefighting. If nothing else, it's a testament to the enduring legacy of Superman as the very first superhero. Supergirl and Jessica Jones could not be more different as shows, but their characters both share those basic abilities. And, for me, seeing a woman with that powerset outside of comics, striding into mainstream view just like all the male characters who've gone before her, is very exciting.
Even though it shouldn't necessarily be so
Yeah, I'm a woman who's deeply invested in the idea of superheroes, but my favorite superhero will always be Batman, and he doesn't have any superpowers at all. I'm a very late fan of characters like She-Hulk and Wonder Woman, because for most of my childhood I actively avoided female superheroes because I had decided that they were "pandering." I ranted to friends in high school about how the Birds of Prey TV show was depicting a blasphemous version of the Batman mythos to television audiences.
And yet, the roughly three minutes that Jamie Alexander's Lady Sif spends kicking the collective butts of an entire bar in the Agents of SHIELD episode "Yes Men" stands out as one of the more memorable moments of that season for me. And every time Melissa Benoist soared through the air in the Supergirl pilot, my heart soared into my throat. I don't even particularly like Supergirl! I know virtually nothing about the Thor mythos!
Maybe it's that so few superheroines make it to film adaptation compared to their male counterparts. Maybe it's that now that I've gained an adult appreciation for superheroines, I'm looking forward to Hollywood catching up with me. Maybe it's that I live in a society that tells me all the time that men are bigger, stronger and more aggressive than me ... and also tells me that it's my responsibility to make sure that none of them physically harm me.
Maybe it's that in an online world where we regularly see women subjected to a death of 1000 cuts on Twitter, invulnerability could be the greatest superpower of all.
In any case, I can't wait for Supergirl and Jessica Jones. I want to believe a woman can fly.