Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel: Militarism and Feminism in Comics and Film [1° ed.] 0367894696, 9780367894696

This book explores representations of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel in comics and film, as well as political struggles

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Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel: Militarism and Feminism in Comics and Film [1° ed.]
 0367894696, 9780367894696

Table of contents :
Half Title
Series Page
Title Page
Copyright Page
List of figures
1 Gender, violence, and militainment
2 Military service, empowerment, and diversification
3 The othering of adversaries and refugees

Citation preview

Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel

This book explores representations of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel in comics and flm, as well as political struggles over these works, to illuminate contemporary cultural concerns about gender, sexuality, race, migration, imperialism, and war. It focuses on the only two female superheroes who have long histories grounded in feminist activism and military service, and who have starred in blockbuster origin flms at a time when resurgent progressive activism has been met by an emboldened backlash against movements for equality. Interdisciplinary and intersectional, the book employs insights from political science and political economy, feminist theories, critical race theory, postcolonial theory, and queer theory to explore how these characters’ feminism and militarism render them particularly appealing and proftable in contentious times. This is a concise, accessible text suitable for students and scholars in comics studies, media studies, flm studies, and women’s and gender studies. Carolyn Cocca, PhD, is Professor of Politics, Economics, and Law at the State University of New York, College at Old Westbury. Her Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation won the 2017 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award in the Best Academic/Scholarly Work category, and she has written numerous articles and book chapters on female superheroes and the importance of representation. She is also the author of Jailbait: The Politics of Statutory Rape Laws in the United States and the editor of Adolescent Sexuality. She teaches courses in U.S. politics, law, and gender studies.

Routledge Focus on Gender, Sexuality, and Comics Series Editor: Frederik Byrn Køhlert University of East Anglia

Routledge Focus on Gender, Sexuality, and Comics publishes original short-form research in the areas of gender and sexuality studies as they relate to comics cultures past and present. Topics in the series cover printed as well as digital media, mainstream and alternative comics industries, transmedia adaptions, comics consumption, and various comics-associated cultural felds and forms of expression. Gendered and sexual identities are considered as intersectional and always in conversation with issues concerning race, ethnicity, ability, class, age, nationality, and religion. Books in the series are between 25,000 and 45,000 words and can be single-authored, co-authored, or edited collections. For longer works, the companion series “Routledge Research in Gender, Sexuality, and Comics” publishes full-length books between 60,000 to 90,000 words. Series editor Frederik Byrn Køhlert is a lecturer in American Studies at the University of East Anglia, where he is also the coordinator of the Master of Arts program in Comics Studies. In addition to several journal articles and book chapters on comics, he is the author of Serial Selves: Identity and Representation in Autobiographical Comics. Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel Militarism and Feminism in Comics and Film Carolyn Cocca Batman and the Joker Contested Sexuality in Popular Culture Chris Richardson For more information about this series, please visit: www.routledge. com/Routledge-Focus-on-Gender-Sexuality-and-Comics-Studies/ book-series/FGSC

Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel Militarism and Feminism in Comics and Film Carolyn Cocca

First published 2021 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2021 Carolyn Cocca The right of Carolyn Cocca to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Cocca, Carolyn, 1971 author. Title: Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel in comics and film : militarism, feminism, and diversity in the superhero genre / Carolyn Cocca. Description: Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY : Routledge, 2020. | Series: Routledge focus on gender, sexuality, and comics | Includes bibliographical references and index. | Summary: “This book explores representations of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel in comics and film, as well as political struggles over these works, to illuminate contemporary cultural concerns about gender, sexuality, race, migration, imperialism, and war”— Provided by publisher. Identifiers: LCCN 2020021350 (print) | LCCN 2020021351 (ebook) | ISBN 9780367894696 (hardback) | ISBN 9781000169775 (adobe pdf) | ISBN 9781000169799 (epub) | ISBN 9781000169782 (mobi) | ISBN 9781003019329 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Wonder Woman (Fictitious character) | Captain Marvel (Fictitious character) | Comic books, strips, etc.—United States—History and criticism. | Superhero films—United States—History and criticism. | Literature and society—United States. | Militarism in literature. | Feminism in literature. | Cultural pluralism in literature. | Feminism in motion pictures. | Cultural pluralism motion pictures. Classification: LCC PN6725 .C588 2020 (print) | LCC PN6725 (ebook) | DDC 741.5/973—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020021350 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2020021351 ISBN: 978-0-367-89469-6 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-003-01932-9 (ebk) Typeset in Sabon by Apex CoVantage, LLC


List of figures Acknowledgments Introduction

vi viii 1


Gender, violence, and militainment



Military service, empowerment, and diversification



The othering of adversaries and refugees




Bibliography Index

89 98


0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4




1.4 2.1

Wonder Woman’s first appearance, 1941 (art by Harry G. Peter, All Star Comics #8). Ms. Marvel’s first appearance, 1977 (art by John Buscema, Ms. Marvel #1). Carol’s new uniform in Captain Marvel #10 (art by David Lopez, 2014). Compare to Figure 0.2, Ms. Marvel #1 (1977), one hundred issues before. Diana’s revised costume with silver accents, higher boots, sword, and bracers in Wonder Woman #29 (art by Cliff Chiang, 2014). Compare to Figure 0.1, All-Star Comics #8, from over seventy years earlier. Captain Marvel flies parallel to bombs with American flags on them, a military weapon herself. We are not shown their target (art by Ed McGuinness 2012, Captain Marvel #3). Captain Marvel and one of her teams, the World War II-era time-displaced Banshees, analogous to the all-male Howling Commandos of comics and film, in fatigues and wielding various military weapons (art by Dexter Soy 2012, Captain Marvel #3). Etta Candy in fatigues and sunglasses, holding a military rifle, strategizing with Wonder Woman in the midst of a conflict in fictional Durovnia (art by Cary Nord 2018, Wonder Woman #60). Wonder Woman with Steve, wearing olive green and aiming a military machine gun on U.S. streets (art by Liam Sharp 2017, Wonder Woman #21). Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) with her team: Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Steve (Chris Pine), Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), and Charlie (Ewen Bremner).

10 12 15




35 35 50

Figures 2.2



2.5 2.6 3.1




Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) with her team: Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), and Goose the Flerken. Surrounded by Allied soldiers, a Belgian woman reaches out and pulls Diana to her, saying, “Help, please help.” Compare to Carol in Figure 3.3, also kneeling and comforting a refugee. Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes and Col. Carol Danvers are an interracial military couple in the comics—until he dies, whereupon Carol holds him in a manner much more commonly seen with male characters holding dead female characters (art by Marco Failla 2016, Captain Marvel #7). Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) embraces her full Greek god powers and strikes a glowing cruciform pose. Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) embraces her full Kree powers and strikes a glowing cruciform pose. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) begins her run across No Man’s Land, her hair streaming behind her, white skin stark against the gray-brown mud, American eagle-themed gold, red, and blue costume providing the only color. Wonder Woman shields brown children and women, some of whom wear head coverings, in Middle Eastern “Qurac” (art by Bilquis Evely 2017, Wonder Woman #20). Carol tries to comfort refugees at a camp apparently sponsored by the Red Cross and United Nations; she kneels and holds the woman’s hand in a manner similar to Diana in the film [see Figure 2.3] (art by Ramon Rosanas 2017, Mighty Captain Marvel #0). Carol is confronted by anti-alien, or anti-immigrant, rallies against her by those who fear her Kree origin (art by Carmen Carnero 2019, Captain Marvel #8).




56 57 58



75 79


Thank you to, in alphabetical order, Erika Chung, Matthew Costello, Aidan Diamond, Chris Gavaler, Safyya Hosein, Miriam Kent, Christina Knopf, Samantha Langsdale, Anna Peppard, and Adrienne Resha for their comments on the formation of this project, on the proposal, and on the draft (or two, in some of their cases). I met several of them only a few months ago at the Comics Studies Society conference, and am so pleased to now have them in my circle. Errors and omissions within are mine, as all of them gave me excellent feedback. Thank you, as always, to my family: my mom, Anne; my partner, Steve; our kids, Anna, Amelia, and Theo. I could not have completed this project without their support and encouragement, as well as their editorial comments. And to my friend and colleague families as well, from Talking Comics, Batgirl to Oracle, Old Westbury, and Shaker. I write these acknowledgments on International Women’s Day, and during a global pandemic. Both call attention to longstanding structural inequities and injustices due to sexism, racism, heterosexism, religious animus, xenophobic nationalism, ableism, imperialism, and colonialism. I hope that I communicate within that while we can and should celebrate individuals’ successes within such systems, we cannot and should not be diverted from collective organizing for liberation for all.


The stories of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel are not “just comics” or “just movies.” These works circulate globally, engender intense emotions in fans and immense profts for their parent companies, and are embedded in a fraught historical moment in which the hard-fought gains of multiple civil rights movements have been met by an emboldened backlash against equality and equity. Not unlike other popular, prominent, and proftable characters, they are sites of struggle over numerous cultural concerns about gender, sexuality, race, nation, violence, war, migration, imperialism, and capitalism. What makes these two characters so distinctive is their portrayals as simultaneously feminist and military superhero women, and that is the focus of this book. Much has been written about both the discomfort produced by and the disruptive potential of the figures of the female superhero and the female soldier.1 But the combination of the two, the female superhero soldier, is more than the sum of its parts. This is not only because such a figure can reveal multiple cultural narratives and counternarratives about gender and power through a differently focused lens. It is also because of the ways in which Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel’s military affiliations can ease anxieties about their being feminist superwomen, and their being feminist superwomen can ease anxieties about their military affiliations. The spectacle of female characters using violence in alliance with militaries, and the films’ stars working with real-life militaries, can render the characters’ woman-ness more palatable to readers, viewers, and corporate executives who feel uneasy about women entering the overwhelmingly male domains of the superhero or the soldier. As superpowered women, they negate arguments that women aren’t strong enough for combat. As military women, their potentially disruptive superstrength is contained as they act in concert with a hierarchical and disciplined organization made familiar through its regular

2 Introduction depictions in popular culture. At the same time, military violence performed by female characters who show care for vulnerable others, and by female actors who have publicly identified as feminists, can render the characters’ violence more palatable to those who have anxieties about its authoritarian and military use. These independent, strong, capable, and empathetic women bring feminist values into places commonly constructed as hypermasculinized and unfairly exclusionary, that of the superhero and that of the soldier. Because they assuage concerns about disrupting structures through their conformity and at the same time display inspirational individual female strength, these women superhero soldiers are particularly appealing and profitable across the political spectrum. As such, the feminism performed by these characters is highly contestable and illuminates debates about the diversification of both the military and the superhero genre. They embody the success of advocacy for inclusion in the armed forces as a mark of equality, as they are affiliated with and loyal to military institutions that provide women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people with economic and leadership opportunities and cultivate individual empowerment in service of national and international security. But they also represent other feminists’ critiques that women’s military participation serves an unjust and imperialist nation, as they are affiliated with and loyal to military institutions that discriminate against multiple groups in the U.S. and deploy intimidation and force against multiple peoples abroad. In these ways, and as this book will detail, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel’s military attachments work both with and against their feminist origins and story histories in ways distinct from their male counterparts. Seen through liberal feminist frames, these characters represent women fulfilling their potential through exerting power in ways that had long been denied to them.2 The diversification of the military and other institutions has come in part from successful progressive and organized pressure from marginalized groups who have long advocated for better representation in order to disrupt longstanding societal inequalities. These contemporary women are no longer confined to auxiliary or nursing roles (like Wonder Woman’s civilian identity, Diana Prince, at her origin) and no longer barred from combat (like Captain Marvel’s civilian identity, Carol Danvers, at her origin) due to gender stereotypes. Rather, they are clearly (super)capable, and they work collaboratively within and alongside these institutions, in teams with other women and men, to end war and protect the vulnerable.



In parallel ways, companies that produce superhero fiction have been pushed to become more inclusive, to hire more women as creators and actors, and to feature less stereotypical presentations of female characters. Wonder Woman film star Gal Gadot’s having served in the Israeli military with other women, as well as Captain Marvel film star Brie Larsen’s work with female pilots in the United States Air Force, display the increased inclusiveness of these military organizations as well as the increased inclusiveness of superhero media, and are to be celebrated. Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel’s stories can thereby be received as containing pro-civil-rights, pro-feminist, progressive elements in which these female heroes and their diverse allies represent collective liberatory struggles in a still-unequal world. Seen through critical race, queer, disability studies, and postcolonial feminist approaches, these physically fit, force-wielding, young, white, cisgender, nonqueer, nondisabled superhero soldiers are glamorized via their comic and film representations as well as via the actors’ work with personal trainers and military organizations, while the costs of real-world othering, discrimination, violence, and war are downplayed. Such stress on individualized personal transformation can divert attention from the need for cooperative, collaborative, longterm struggles for liberation. The comics and films starring these characters thereby display postrace and postfeminist sensibilities in that they take into account the ideals and gains of twentieth-century liberal movements for race and gender equality, and they celebrate the inclusion and centering of individuals from formerly excluded populations as fictional characters, as actors, and as soldiers. But they do this only insofar as to suggest that we have moved past the need for such movements, and that marginalized people need only make themselves over and “lean in” to succeed. They tend to elide the differences between diversity and equity, and as such, they do not systematically challenge structural and continually produced inequities, such as women and people of color’s persistent underrepresentation in multiple institutions and in leadership positions, as well as their bearing most of the costs of individual and state violence. The two characters’ stories, therefore, may appear in some ways feminist, but they are more aptly described as white hegemonic feminism that privileges certain women at the expense of others.3 Their portrayals serve less as tales of liberation and more as “militainment,” or entertainment that normalizes military-level violence by individuals or military intervention by a state as ordinary and as necessary.4 They are enmeshed in neoliberal rationalities that posit a singular person and her empowerment as primary, along with a neoconservative enterprise



that embraces the morality of righteous authoritarian warmaking and serve to reify an unequal and often brutal status quo.5 Because of all of this, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel’s contemporary stories, as well as paratextual materials from their producers and actors, encompass elements that can be received as both progressive and conservative, as both fomenting equity and reinforcing longstanding hierarchies. They center women in their own stories in a manner still unusual in the superhero genre. The characters use their strength, based in love, as they protect friends and vulnerable strangers. They work with diverse coalitions in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and ability; they rely on forged families and communities who seek peace; and their film versions starred women who identified as feminists in interviews and on social media. But these same texts can be viewed as advancing only individual women who conform to dominant cultural narratives and don’t disrupt broader structures. The characters remain among only a small number of privileged superheroes that often act indistinguishably from male superheroes, and they use violence to subdue foreign, alien, othered enemies and to safeguard nameless masses of people of color. They lead their allies and save the day as privileged, empowered individuals; they wear red, blue, and gold as exceptional warrior soldiers for the U.S.; and the film’s stars engaged in elite physical training and praised the U.S. and Israeli militaries in uncritical ways. All of this makes the representations of these two characters, their militarism, their feminism, their allies, and their “others” uniquely illuminating, uniquely contested, and uniquely marketable. To explore these woman superhero soldiers and the numerous anxieties they provoke and assuage, this book employs insights from political science and political economy, multiple feminist theories, critical race theory, postcolonial theory, disability theory, and queer theory, particularly as applied in cultural and media studies and more specifically in comics and film studies.6 It utilizes these interdisciplinary and intersectional approaches because they share concerns about inequalities, and they analyze multiple vectors of discrimination and oppression as well as their multiplicative combinations. Dominant cultural narratives enmeshed in harmful stereotypes have been propagated and circulated in ways that undergird the political, economic, and social marginalization of numerous groups, and these approaches seek to analyze and disrupt such narratives as well as highlight and produce counternarratives centering those historically silenced and stereotyped. These approaches are applied to a data set consisting of Wonder Woman comics from their 2011 reboot to March 2020 (144 issues)



and the 2017 Wonder Woman film, as well as Captain Marvel comics from their 2012 relaunch to March 2020 (82 issues) and the 2019 Captain Marvel film. The data set also includes paratextual material from interviews with and social media posts by the creative teams behind the characters, including the film actors. The rest of the introduction situates the characters of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel within the context of the longstanding lack of diverse and authentic representations in superhero comics and films, and the increased but also limited diversification. It discusses the unique origins and contemporary portrayals of these two characters as not just female superheroes but specifically feminist and militaryaffiliated superheroes. These characters are currently much less stereotyped and sexualized than in their pasts, and their military loyalties are more at the forefront. They have more diverse allies than in their pasts, and they continue to demonstrate care for those both like and unlike themselves. The introduction also notes that their particular super-ness is quite exceptional: it is enhanced by their similarities to male characters, their revised origin stories, and their increased use of military violence; and it tends to shore up dominant categories of race, class, sexuality, ability, ethnicity, and nationality. Then, the core of the book is about these superheroes as soldiers, evaluating the comics and films’ centering of female characters and their allies through military and war-related themes. It includes chapters about (1) representations of superhero women’s violence in militainment that employs the aesthetics of military work for entertainment; (2) their personal empowerment and their work with diverse military allies, and these elements’ relation to the increased diversification in the superhero genre and in the U.S. military itself; and (3) the characters’ use of military violence against others via warmaking and other anti-terror actions, as well as their protection of various others such as migrants and refugees. These representations may be read as liberatory due to their inclusiveness and nuance, and their emphasis on the strength of marginalized groups. They may also be read as neoliberal and neoconservative due to their focus on individualized uses of violence against singular othered enemies, and their reinscribing of white savior tropes, in ways that mask multiple structural inequalities. The conclusion is concerned with themes of individualized empowerment versus those of collective liberation in the superhero genre and reflects on how and why, given these two prominent female characters’ portrayals in comics and film, representations and receptions of those themes may change when the central character is a woman. It reflects on the diversity of the superhero genre and of military institutions, and

6 Introduction on the costs of othering and violence to marginalized populations at home and abroad.

Contextualizing the contemporary Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel Female superheroes have been underrepresented, stereotyped, sexualized, and sidelined for most of the history of the superhero genre.7 That one even has to use the descriptor “female” with the word superhero, but would probably not use the modifer “male” in the same way, shows rather quickly that superheroes are assumed male. Given the numbers, this is not an unreasonable assumption. Female characters star in about 15% of superhero comics in 2020, with about the same percentage being written or drawn by a female creator. In 2015 it was about 12%, in 2010 about 6%, and in 2000 about 5%. Women star in about 16% of superhero TV shows on air or in development, and in about 18% of flms scheduled for release or in development.8 However, given that women are 50% of the population, these proportions are quite low. And given that most of the women represented in superhero media are white, cisgender, nonqueer, and nondisabled, they are even more unrepresentative than they at frst appear. From the end of World War II, when women were pushed out of creative roles, almost every comics creator was white and male. While over the last seventy-five years some of these creators produced absolutely excellent stories centering on women, most of them produced stories with small numbers of stereotypical women with their “femaleness” as their main character trait. The 1950s Wonder Woman spent a lot of time entertaining marriage proposals from Steve Trevor, and Batwoman spent a lot of time trying to get Batman to propose to her. The 1960s Sue Storm and Jean Grey designed their teams’ costumes and fainted when they used their powers too much. Wonder Woman was the only woman on the Justice League, Sue on the Fantastic Four, Jean on the X-Men, and Wasp on the Avengers. The 1970s Ms. Marvel would pass out after crimefighting and took time out from it to admire her skintight and skimpy costume in the mirror. Storm, in a similar outfit, would lose control of her weather-based powers when she was emotional. The 1980s Batgirl was the only female superhero in Gotham, and her most famous story was being shot and sexually assaulted in order to show the crimes’ effects on Batman and on her father. Wasp’s most famous story was being hit by her husband, AntMan. The small number of black female superheroes, like Vixen or Storm, were generally exoticized with animal and earth-based powers



or rendered with Blaxploitation elements like Misty Knight and Monica Rambeau. The small number of female superheroes with Asian heritage or appearance, like Katana or Colleen Wing or Psylocke, tended to use martial arts and swords, and Jubilee used fireworks. In the 1990s and 2000s, these characters and others were posed in tight or scanty clothing and with physics-defying broken backs, more eye candy than hero, still usually the only woman or perhaps one of two on a team. There are of course exceptions to these types of portrayals in terms of certain comic runs’ text and/or art, and these characters and others remain beloved by many for their heroism and strength. But several unfortunate trends stand out when one looks over the long time span: underrepresentation, heteronormativity, Bechdel test failures, stereotyping, fridging, exoticization, and sexualization. All of them are narrative devices that—and all of them are conscious choices to—display women as one-dimensional objects rather than portray them as multidimensional people. Decisions to represent women in this way are political in nature. Just as political are the decisions to repeatedly center and drastically overrepresent white, cisgender, nonqueer, nondisabled males as superheroes. There are costs to these politics, to showing repeatedly that certain people are super, and multifaceted, and powerful, and everyone else is not. People of color, people with disabilities, people who are LGBTQ+, women—most of the people in the world—are dramatically underrepresented on superhero comics pages and onscreen, as they are in positions of power in all of our institutions. When almost all of the stories out there exclude that majority or repeatedly show them as stereotypes, it becomes more difficult to imagine them as heroes and leaders and more difficult for others to see them that way. It is, simply, wrong and harmful. This is why pro-civil-rights groups, for decades, have been pushing for visibility for excluded groups as part of their broader goals for equality and equity. Changes in representations in the superhero genre became both more evident and more contested in the 2010s, the decade in which this book is grounded. This occurred against a background of gains of multiple civil rights movements, the rise of social media and the increase in comics conventions that enabled more interactions between fans and creators, the ability to access superhero films and TV shows and digital comics at home, bookstores and libraries carrying trade paperbacks, and some creators and some fans actively pointing out the underrepresentation and stereotyping noted earlier. The number of women behind the scenes and female characters on the page increased



together, and renditions of the latter in general became less objectifying and more nuanced. New characters were launched and old characters were relaunched in comics and on TV. About half of these were women of color, and/or queer and transgender women. New male characters were created as well, such that the proportion of males to females remains roughly the same: out of over 34,000 Marvel and DC characters, there are about three times as many male characters as female characters (Shendruk 2017). Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel were relaunched by their parent companies in 2011 and 2012, respectively. From the relaunch point to 2020, the Wonder Woman comic had eight writers, three of whom were women (38%). Out of thirty pencillers, seven were women (23%). The Captain Marvel comic had six writers or writer-teams, with women represented in each one (100%). Out of twenty-three pencillers, eight were women (35%).9 These percentages are quite high not only compared to other superhero comics, but also compared to past Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel comics, which had been dominated over their roughly eighty- and fifty-year histories by male creators. These teams both picked up on consistent threads in the histories of these characters as well as created new ones. This is also the case with their origin films of the later 2010s. The next section is more specific about the origins of the characters and trends in their portrayals over time, particularly in terms of their military roots, gender stereotypes and subversions in their appearances and personalities, and the diversity of their allies. This serves as background to the core of the book about the military nature of their representations.

Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel’s origins and trends in their portrayals Both Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel were created as feminist and military characters, who worked in military organizations and had military boyfriends and friends. Diana Prince/Wonder Woman would achieve the rank of Major. She would directly work for and/or afliate with the Army, Ofce of Strategic Services, Air Force, Navy, NASA, U.N., U.N. Crisis Bureau, shadowy A.R.G.U.S., Department of Metahuman Afairs, and Justice League, and she would work alongside those on active duty such as her longtime boyfriend, Master Chief Steve Trevor, and best friend Commander Etta Candy. Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel would achieve the rank of Colonel. Her military work would include the Air Force, Air Force Special Operations,



NASA, Department of Homeland Security, shadowy S.H.I.E.L.D. and S.W.O.R.D., Alpha Flight, and Avengers, and she would work alongside her Air Force Special Operations boyfriend Michael Rossi, current boyfriend Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine, and an allfemale military unit called The Banshees. In their initial runs in the 1940s and 1970s, times of burgeoning equality for women, both of these characters were physically strong, white, cisgender, nonqueer, nondisabled superheroes who would rescue themselves and others. Both had professional and predominantly military day jobs, both had (white female) friends, both had (white male) love interests, both would challenge men who underestimated them due to their sex, and both basically wore bathing suits with boots over their hourglass figures. Neither had feminine “pose-and-point” powers such as telepathy or magic, but they would use their physicality when necessary. These representations integrated stereotypically female personality traits with stereotypically male ones in one body, or, one could argue, they were just more nuanced characters than many of their female and male counterparts.10 William Moulton Marston believed that women were not only equally capable but also morally superior to men, and he created Wonder Woman as such in 1941. Diana is shaped from clay by her Amazon mother and given life by goddesses, and goes to Man’s World both to return military man Steve Trevor to the U.S. and to teach peace, love, and equality. As seen in Figure 0.1, artist H.G. Peter drew her with a petite, white body, shoulder-length black hair with a tiara, lipsticked mouth, red strapless low-back bustier with gold eagle, blue split skirt (soon to be shorts), red mid-calf skinny-heeled low-back boots, and bracelets. Iconic and beloved, this outfit is simply absurd in ways that male character’s full-coverage spandex is not. It would be uncomfortable in multiple ways and impossible to keep on if active. But it allowed the creative team to show the main character’s comfort with her body in contrast to the judgmental people of Man’s World. Its skimpiness also allowed them to appeal to what they perceived male readers would like. In the World War II years, she uses her courage, diplomacy, bracelets, and lasso of submission, with force as a last resort. Alone, with other Amazons, or with best friend Etta Candy and her sorority sisters, she would subdue male villains and try to redeem female ones. She loves Steve Trevor and works alongside him in the Army, but rejects his marriage proposals so she can continue her mission and resist unequal gender roles. Her allies were white, like Etta and Steve, and nonwhite characters were portrayed in stereotypical ways. This



Figure 0.1 Wonder Woman’s frst appearance, 1941 (art by Harry G. Peter, All Star Comics #8).

shoring up of heterosexuality and whiteness, along with the contrast between Diana’s slim body and Etta’s more stout and curvy one, softens her challenge to multiple dominant cultural narratives. Many representations of Wonder Woman, particularly those in the mid-to-late 1980s, the 2000s, and late 2010s, would conform to this type of portrayal while also diversifying the cast and further subverting heteronormativity and binary gender roles. This challenge would basically fall away from Marston’s death in 1947, through the forging of the 1954 Comics Code, and through most of the 1960s. The book under Robert Kanigher’s direction would focus on marriage proposals from men, romance with otherworldly creatures, and fighting crime and monsters. He replaced her female



allies with a confusing “Wonder Family” consisting of Diana at older and younger ages, and declared that Diana had a father lost at sea. New artists replaced her boots with sandals, lengthened her hair, and made her eyes and curves bigger and her shorts smaller. This exaggerated femininity, coupled with an emphasis on fighting rather than subduing, reforming, or teaching, would remain another facet in Wonder Woman’s portrayals, particularly in the mid-1990s, and early and mid-2010s. If Wonder Woman embodied a particular strand of First Wave feminism, Ms. Marvel did the same with Second Wave feminism. In 1977, Gerry Conway wrote Wonder Woman as well as the new Ms. Marvel title. His writing in both engendered fan letters praising his portrayals of these women, and also ones that accused him of producing characters with “man-hating tendencies” (Wonder Woman #240) who acted as a “soapbox for women’s lib” (Ms. Marvel #3). Marston had said that he created Wonder Woman to be both a female and a strong character, because soon the “traditional description ‘the weaker sex’ .  .  . will cease to have any meaning” (Richard 1942). Conway wrote similarly in Ms. Marvel #1 that the title character, Carol Danvers, was “influenced by the movement toward women’s liberation.” Writer Chris Claremont would create Carol’s backstory: her father would not pay for her to go to college because she was a woman, so she enlisted in the Air Force, getting her education paid for and working her way up through various military jobs. He would also make increasing references to her stubbornness and temper, which differentiated Carol from Diana. Ms. Marvel’s first costume, as seen in Figure 0.2, was a red, gold, and black long-sleeved leotard with a bare stomach and back, with a long red scarf and black gloves. Like Wonder Woman, she had bare legs and boots. Unlike Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel’s name and outfit derived from that of a male superhero: Captain Marvel. She wore his fullcoverage outfit—minus the stomach, back, and legs. This alien, male, pink (i.e., white) Kree named Mar-Vell had been Carol’s love interest from her introduction as a non-super NASA Security Chief in 1968, and she had received her powers from an exploding Kree machine and Mar-Vell’s Kree DNA while caught between him and his enemy, YonRogg. She lost consciousness and Mar-Vell carried her to safety. This loss of consciousness would recur in her initial adventures—the “feminine” human Carol Danvers would black out to become the “masculine” Kree warrior Ms. Marvel, then wake up later with amnesia. This is similar to perceptions of Wonder Woman as exhibiting “feminine” compassion and care while also being a “masculine” Amazon warrior.

Figure 0.2 Ms. Marvel’s frst appearance, 1977 (art by John Buscema, Ms. Marvel #1).



It also recalls the old trope of women fainting when exerting themselves. Within a year, her personas were unified, and her costume was changed by artist Dave Cockrum to a sleeveless, high-necked black leotard with a lightning bolt replacing the Kree star, thigh-high boots, and the red scarf around her waist. Working at Woman magazine after leaving NASA (where Wonder Woman was briefly in the late 1970s), she has a few female friends, and she goes on dates with a few different men. As in Wonder Woman, all of these characters were white and heterosexual. In the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, the two characters would continue to have parallels. George Pérez’s Wonder Woman returned the character to her mythological roots, surrounding her with a more diverse set of Amazons who he explained to be the reincarnated souls of those killed by intimate partners. He implied that some were in queer relationships, created new female allies for Diana, and made Steve and Etta a couple. In these ways, he did not conform to the prevailing trends in the superhero genre toward hyperviolence and hypersexualization, although her mid-1990s stories as drawn by Mike Deodato did. With the Ms. Marvel title cancelled in 1979, Carol would appear in Uncanny X-Men and in Avengers, where she was put through multiple trials: rape and impregnation, having her memories stolen, increased powers due to aliens’ experimentation on her, alcoholism, more instances of a split personality. Like Wonder Woman, in the 1990s and 2000s she would become more violent and more sexualized, posed in unnatural ways with her curves more prominent and her costume covering less. Both would work in military and security capacities at government agencies in the mid-2000s, Diana at the Department of Metahuman Affairs, and Carol at the Department of Homeland Security. Both would have memorable stories: for Wonder Woman, as written by Phil Jimenez, Greg Rucka, and Gail Simone, in ways similar to Pérez and Marston; for Ms. Marvel, in Avengers as written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Pérez and others, and in a new eponymous title by Brian Reed in ways similar to Claremont. Outside of the main titles, though, different renditions of the characters in the 2000s received more attention: for Wonder Woman, this was the Justice League cartoon, and the Kingdom Come, OMAC Project, and New Frontier comics. These works picked up more from 1950s, 1960s, and 1990s interpretations of Diana as less about peacemaking and more about fighting; less the teacher and more the warrior. Not only are her powers greatly ramped up, but also, she kills people, which she had not before done. The way Carol was written in the Super Hero Squad and Avengers cartoons, as well as the prominent

14 Introduction comic Civil War, was similar: extremely physically strong, more willing to use force, and rather humorless and strident.

Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel in the 2010s It is their 2010s portrayals, after their titles relaunched, that are the heart of this book. Within the context of a broader and more vocal fanbase, new writers and artists with diferent sensibilities, and companies looking to incorporate new customers, the new portrayals of the characters would show them much less often drawn as a “bad girl” or a “sexy lamp,” more often surrounded by diverse allies of women and men, more physically powerful than ever before, and generally centered and heroic in their own stories. The nature of the relaunches was specifc to the companies involved, but both were received with excitement by some and consternation by others.11 For Wonder Woman, the major changes were the initial desexualization of her portrayal albeit still in her usual outfit, the rewriting of her origin story, and her increased use of violence. For Captain Marvel, it was a desexualized portrayal in a new full-body costume, the rewriting of her origin story, and the shedding of the moniker of “Ms.” for that of “Captain.” A small number of vocal fans criticized the character’s shorter hair and covered body; presumably, this was the same population who would feel similarly threatened by actor Brie Larson’s unsmiling face on film posters, and by her statements about equality in media coverage and pay, such that they criticized her as well. But most old fans embraced the modernized Carol, and new and enthusiastic fans were made. Many clearly embraced the 2010s comics and film portrayals of both of these characters, as can be seen in increased sales of comics and record-breaking film ticket numbers, coverage of both characters and their fans not only in comics journalism but also in mainstream media, cosplay and interactions with their creators at conventions, and the volume of social media posts about them. Captain Marvel’s new uniform is grounded in her history as it resembles that of the first (male) Captain Marvel. It was produced by collaboration between editor Steve Wacker, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, and artist Jamie McKelvie for a military-inflected outfit that covered her body and connoted authority, and in which girls could cosplay. The cover to Captain Marvel #10/100 by David Lopez (Figure 0.3), an homage to Ms. Marvel #1 by John Buscema (Figure 0.2), makes the differences in uniform and content clear: her body is now fully covered and her chest-to-waist ratio more realistic, she is posed on the left standing in a flight suit near a jet rather than seated on a desk, her

Figure 0.3 Carol’s new uniform in Captain Marvel #10 (art by David Lopez, 2014). Compare to Figure 0.2, Ms. Marvel #1 (1977), one hundred issues before.

16 Introduction allies on the right are not all white adults, and instead of promising just “All-Out Action!” the later cover promises “All-Action!” that is “All-American!” But it is also the case that the look of a navy blue costume with red accents and a bright mid-chest star, along with prominently shooting light/energy out of her hands and being close to James Rhodes (pictured at right in Figure 0.3), combine elements of Captain America and Iron Man. The new Captain Marvel is more her own woman than she’s ever been in many ways, with a high-level power set, appealing greatly to fans wanting a strong but not perfect woman for whom they can root. But some of her appeal is probably tied to her resemblances to these very popular white, male, heterosexual superheroes. Similarly, Wonder Woman’s post-2011 clothing by Jim Lee references her origin, with her powers and weapons more recent. The costume was basically the same except the accents were silver instead of gold, the red and blue were darker in hue, and her knee-covering boots were blue. For her eponymous title, artist Cliff Chiang said in multiple interviews that he took care to greatly desexualize the character as compared to her past portrayals. The costume was modified in 2016 by Tony Daniel, based on the Batman v Superman movie’s design, with a small paneled skirt, over-the-knee red boots, and again-gold accenting. Her post-relaunch powers make her quite similar to Superman in strength and invulnerability and to Thor in her control of lightning. Further, since this relaunch, she has regularly been depicted with a sword and with bracers from wrist to elbow. These offensive weapons contrast with her original ones, which were defensive: a lasso and small bracelets. This increases her appeal to those who specifically want to see a strong and sexy but not sexualized woman, and to those who find a strong woman more palatable when she utilizes “male” superpowers and weapons and still wears a skimpy outfit. Their origins had changes as well. DeConnick wrote in 2012 that Carol time-traveled to the moment of the Kree machine explosion and chose to allow herself to get the powers via the machine and the male Kree Mar-Vell, giving her some agency in the matter. A more substantial revision, by Margaret Stohl in 2018, was that Carol’s mother was herself Kree, such that the explosion awakened Kree powers within Carol. As the Kree are constructed as a warrior monoculture, this explains somewhat Carol’s tendency to use violence more readily than others; it is “natural” to her. It also ties her more closely to her mother, and her powers now come from a woman rather than a man. The film merges these ideas: Carol is near the machine because of her female

Figure 0.4 Diana’s revised costume with silver accents, higher boots, sword, and bracers in Wonder Woman #29 (art by Clif Chiang, 2014). Compare to Figure 0.1, All-Star Comics #8, from over seventy years earlier.

18 Introduction Kree mentor Mar-Vell, and she chooses to set off the explosion; this increases her agency and ties her to female power. Wonder Woman’s revised origin from 2011 was more controversial. Instead of being born from clay shaped by a loving mother, she is in comics and film the product of her mother’s affair with king of the gods Zeus. Instead of being raised by peace-seeking and loving Amazons, she grows up among Amazons who dislike and fear her, who rape and kill sailors to reproduce, and who keep female babies and sell the males into slavery. Instead of the god of war Ares being her arch-nemesis, he is her mentor. Instead of earning the title of Wonder Woman by working to become the best of the Amazons with their encouragement, she is such because of her demigod powers and Ares’s mentorship, and in spite of how poorly the Amazons have treated her. Her queer, peaceful, and matriarchal origin, unique among all superheroes, was replaced by one that renders her little different from others and makes her increased use of violence, like Captain Marvel, only “natural.” Long-time fans, and particularly self-described feminist fans, were aghast; others felt it was not a big deal, and still others found her more easily understandable due to the male god parentage explaining her birth and her powers. This move was meant to boost sales to men: writer Gail Simone noted that she was constantly pushed to write more male characters into the title when she was writing it for that reason (Simone 2017 (12 July) tweets). The revised origin also undercut longstanding perceptions of Wonder Woman as queer. Before that, as she was from an harmonious all-female island of immortal women, it seemed rather likely that at least some of these women were having relationships with one another. That she fell in love with the first man she saw, Steve Trevor, and continues to be coupled with him on and off through to the present, undercuts her queerness for some but doesn’t erase it. For others, Steve is her primary relationship, and until quite recently she had only been shown with other men, underlining her heterosexuality. From the late 1980s with George Pérez, and then with Jimenez, Simone, and Rucka in the 2000s, other Amazons were implied or shown to have relationships with other women, including Diana’s mother with the black general Philippus. In the late 2010s, Rucka wrote Etta Candy—still stout, still curvy, still military, now African American— as being in a relationship with the white Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva, aka Cheetah. He said in interviews that of course Diana was queer. In text he has Diana tell Steve that she had “someone special” named Kasia. Nicola Scott draws the white and blond Kasia kissing Diana on the cheek, as a few other Amazons say that they assume Diana



had a relationship not only with Kasia, but perhaps with two other women as well (Wonder Woman #10 and #2, 2016). One can also read these two issues as not providing evidence for a romantic relationship. The same is true of the film, when Diana tells Steve that she has read “Clio’s treatises on bodily pleasure” so she knows that “men are essential for procreation, but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary.” This may mean she has acted on this knowledge, or would like to, or perhaps not. Writer G. Willow Wilson introduced the character of “Atlantiades of the Erotes, the living image of desire and union, both male and female” (Wonder Woman #70, 2019). They flirt with Diana, who seems not entirely uninterested but says in reference to Steve, “I’m already in love with someone else. A soldier.” Atlantiades, as a demigod, was surprised to be “rebuffed for a mere man” but accepted this and became a great ally of Diana’s. So while Diana can be viewed as a reader chooses, on-panel depictions of a same-sex romantic or sexual relationship for the character are, across her eighty years, miniscule to non-existent. Her relationships with other women, new or longstanding, are featured in some runs and jettisoned in others. She has addressed female characters as “sister” for decades, which can be read in a variety of ways as well.12 Carol Danvers, in her fifty years of comics, has not been depicted on-panel with a female partner. Some have read her as queer in the film due to her loving relationship with Maria Rambeau, and Maria’s daughter Monica stating that they are “family.” Some have read her as queer in comics due to her loving relationship with Jessica Drew/ Spider-Woman. Before her relaunch she was paired briefly with a few men, most notably Air Force Special Operations man Michael Rossi, and since that point has been mostly coupled with Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes, aka War Machine or Iron Patriot. While this conforms to a heteronormative frame, they are also an interracial couple, which goes uncommented on by the other characters. In contrast to Wonder Woman’s one interracial relationship from the early 2000s, at which time writer Phil Jimenez got negative letters about his pairing Diana with U.N.-worker Trevor Barnes, the Carol-Rhodey relationship seems to have been taken in stride by fans, perhaps because of increased societal acceptance of such relationships, perhaps because they are both military, and/or perhaps because Rhodey is a familiar and prominent character in comics and films. Diana and Carol, on the whole, have not been sexualized or stereotyped or sidelined in their 2010s comics, although there have been exceptions in some Wonder Woman stories. Their romantic lives are basically nonqueer, and they are relationships of respect and care more

20 Introduction nuanced than in their earlier stories. These trends, given the history of female superheroes’ representations, are not to be taken for granted. The moves toward the diversification of characters in the 2000s and the 2010s noted earlier has been carried through the supporting casts for both characters as well, which is analyzed in more detail in the chapters following this introduction. Both of the characters also remain privileged white women who are further centered by their leadership of diverse teams and thereby shore up a racialized status quo while softening their own gendered challenges to power. They tend to use force in ways that position male superhero characters’ hypermasculine responses to threats as a norm. They threaten to question broader structures, but mostly react to and temporarily quash individualized threats from individual villains. All of this embodies postfeminist and postrace sensibilities, or a more neoliberal and white feminism, that celebrate a singular women’s empowerment through self-actualization, as she works in service of the status quo and coexists with other gendered, raced, classed, etc., structural inequalities. At the same time, such characters embody feminist, anti-racist, and queer potential, in their being centered in non-sexualized and nonstereotypical ways in their own stories, in their building of communities of marginalized people as their allies, in their standing up for the vulnerable and against injustices. These are great strides for these characters, but producers of superhero media have far to go to reach parity in their qualitative and quantitative treatment of female superheroes as opposed to male superheroes.

Superwomen as soldiers The next three chapters focus on Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel as both feminist and military women, and the complexities that such an identity engenders. The frst explores gender and violence as portrayed in texts and flms that can be considered militainment, and how such violence might be produced and received diferently when it is employed by a female as opposed to a male military protagonist. The second examines portrayals of military service in the comics and flms in terms of their focus on self-empowerment along with teamwork, the particular diverse teams with which Diana and Carol work, and the implications of increasing diversity in institutions. The third analyzes the ways in which enemy leaders, armies, and terrorists are generally othered in order to reduce sympathy for them, and also notes the ways in which in multiple stories, vulnerable refugees are othered as well,



even as they are protected by the superheroes. These chapters are followed by a conclusion that refects on the promise and peril of these elements of the portrayals of women superhero soldiers.

Notes 1 See, for instance, Brown (2011, 2015), Cocca (2016), Madrid (2009), Enloe (2000), Knopf (2015, 2016), Mesok (2016), Runck (2006), Tasker (2011). 2 I understand feminism as a movement for equality and equity, and against systemic inequalities, inequities, and oppressions, with numerous internal debates as to how to do so, and so, numerous types of feminism. Liberal feminism describes a standpoint that advocates for equal access and opportunities in terms of institutions and rights and laws. But in varying degrees it has tended to privilege the perspective of white, nonqueer, nondisabled, middle-class, professional women of the Global North, and it has also tended to promote and evaluate individual women’s inclusion in formerly all-male institutions as marks of success. Because of this, more intersectional feminists, who take into account the multiplicative efects of various types of oppressions, may label liberal feminism as white feminism, hegemonic feminism, and Western feminism. These terms have different emphases, are not entirely interchangeable, and are more favored in certain disciplines than others. See, e.g., Abu-Lughod (2013), Chowdhury and Philipose (2016), Cohen (2010), Crenshaw (2011, 2013), Eisenstein (2017), Enloe (2000, 2004), hooks (2013), Kanai (2020), Mohanty (2003, 2013), Riley, Mohanty, and Pratt (2008), Shehabuddin (2011), Spivak (1985). 3 I employ the term postfeminist not as referring to a type of feminism (although part of its appeal lies in its “entanglement” with some feminist discourses) but rather as parallel to the term postracialist, or postrace. These are sensibilities that reject the necessity of movements for collective liberation and the necessity of a more robust welfare state because they claim that movements for equality have done enough, such that we have progressed to the point of living in a merit-based, gender-blind, colorblind world. These sensibilities operate in the context of neoliberalism, an ideology sufused in market-based discourses of responsibility and choice, in which we are all entrepreneurial individuals responsible for our own successes or failures, and to assert otherwise is an uppity and unfair imposition on those who are successful. Postfeminist and postrace sensibilities intersect in some ways with what have been labeled neoliberal, popular, celebrity, corporate, and faux feminisms, which have some commonalities with the terms mentioned in note 2: white feminism, hegemonic feminism, and Western feminism. Namely, that they center the most privileged women and tout their successes in ways that not only may harm the less privileged, but also detract from further collective organizing for those less privileged. See Banet-Weiser (2018), Banet-Weiser, Gill, and Rottenberg (2019), Butler (2013), Crenshaw (2011), Gill (2007, 2016, 2017), Gill and Scharf (2011), Gray (2013), hooks (2013), McRobbie (2004, 2009,


4 5


7 8

9 10

Introduction 2011), Mohanty (2013), Mukherjee (2016), Mukherjee, Banet-Weiser, and Gray (2019), Negra and Hamad (forthcoming), Negra and Tasker (2007), Renninger (2018), Rottenberg (2014, 2017), Springer (2007). See, for instance, Enloe (2000, 2004), Monnet (2018), Pardy (2016), Shigematsu, Bhagwati, and Paintedcrow (2008), Stahl (2009), Thomas (2009). Neoliberals employ language such as equal opportunity, freedom, personal responsibility, choice, hard work, and merit. Such language is anything but neutral, as its deployment is grounded in backlash to civil rights movements that expanded not only awareness but also oversight of discriminatory institutions. Neoliberals seek to free these institutions and privileged individuals from government attempts to engender equity, describing those attempts as unfair and harmful to blameless, successful (white, cisgender, male) people. Support for such freedom from government comes not only from elites, but also from struggling people looking for success through their own individual work and choices, and from those who fnd resonant racialized, xenophobic, sexist explanations for their precarity. In privatizing risk through deregulation, in exhortations to individual responsibility for oneself and family, and in eroding support for the public redress of injustices by blaming marginalized individuals for their struggles, neoliberal discourses and policies mask structural inequalities and reinscribe hierarchies of gender, race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and disability. In buttressing these hierarchies, neoliberalism dovetails with neoconservatism and is in return supported by neoconservative praise of tradition and its sanctioning of authoritarian uses of force domestically and internationally. See Brown (2005, 2006, 2019), Duggan (2003, 2019), Hall (2011), Harvey (2005), Mohanty (2013). I employ postcolonial, queer, and critical race theories, in conjunction with socialist feminisms, feminist disability theories, feminist international relations theories, and feminist security studies because I seek to foreground transcultural and transnational feminist solidarities, rather than assume a notion of sisterhood that elides diferences and decontextualizes specifcities of historical experiences. I do not, within, make major distinctions between comics and flms but treat them as distinct texts with the same, albeit fexible characters. This history of female superheroes is covered in much greater detail in Cocca (2016). See also Cocca (2020). Percentages computed by the author from Marvel and DC January 2020 solicits: 21 out of 140 comics star a female character, and 23 out of 140 with a female writer or artist. Almost half of those twenty-three were written by just three women. Six shows out of thirty-eight on TV and nine flms out of ffty star female characters. Adding in media with ensemble casts that have roughly equal numbers of women, the percentages become approximately 20% for comics, 30% for TV, and 25% for flms. Comics numbers from 2015, 2010, and 2005 were compiled from www.comichron.com; see Cocca (2016). TV and flm numbers compiled from various websites. Percentages computed by the author. There is a much more detailed history of these two characters from their origins to the early 2010s in Cocca (2016).



11 These relaunches, particularly fan reactions to them, are covered in more detail in Cocca (2016). 12 While Wonder Woman has always referred to Amazons and other women she encounters as “sisters,” it is a fraught word for feminists. In calls for sisterhood from the 1970s, and particularly for sisterhood to be global, historical contexts and intersectionalities were often elided in favor of privileging white, Western/Global Northern, middle-class, and professional concerns. The concept of “solidarity” rather than that of “sisterhood” tends to be more embraced as requiring listening about and across diferences and forging alliances based on ending sexist oppressions as they intersect with imperialism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and ableism.


Gender, violence, and militainment

This chapter discusses the subversiveness of feminist characters such as Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel using violence that has much more often been the province of male characters, and the ways in which that subversiveness might be eased for those uncomfortable with seeing women use violence. It then discusses in more depth one of those means—surrounding the female fgure with military aesthetics including settings, weaponry, and personnel—and how the actors playing the characters on flm also contributed to alleviating such discomfort. All of this contributes to the characters’ popularity and the flms’ recordbreaking fnancial success, as their simultaneous feminism and militarism invites multiple readings of the politics of the comics and flms’ texts and paratexts.

Gender and violence in the superhero genre Despite cultural narratives of gender that essentialize women as more peaceful than men, or qualify women’s use of violence as deviant or as “personal rather than political,” women have indeed engaged in political violence around the world, particularly anti-colonial violence (Sjoberg 2015: 443). As Enloe has noted, “Most feminists have never said that women can’t be militaristic” (2004: 133). Whether in the name of defense, pre-emption, retribution, protection, democratization, justice, or imperialism, military women and superhero women almost by defnition use violence and the threat of violence to force others to submit. The superhero genre was born in resistance to fascism in the 1930s and yet retains fascist aesthetics for its protagonists, as superheroes tend to be “violently patriotic” in their use of “anti-democratic authoritarian violence” (Gavaler 2016: 82, 85n1). Indeed, “it remains rare for a superhero comic published by Marvel or DC not to feature at

Gender, violence, and militainment


least one fight, or for the resolution of their stories not to involve violence” (Wanner 2016: 177; also Davis 2018: 23). It is a “romanticized vigilantism” and a “romanticized authoritarianism” that is presented as “justified reprisal against immoral behavior,” and it therefore serves “the redemptive function of retributive violence” (Gavaler 2018: 25, 81, 124; Coulthard 2007: 165; see also Brown 2017: 74). Such characters, like in the war and Western genres, “maintain and reinforce specific patterns of masculinity, American exceptionalism, and the notion that violence solves problems” (Kvaran 2017: 222). Most of these media have historically starred white, cisgender, heterosexual men, and through repetition have collapsed these four categories into a singular demographic profile and imbued it with the attributes of “masculine,” “American,” “exceptional,” and “violent.” If male superheroes are exceptional figures, then female superheroes are even more so. Their small numbers reveal cultural concerns about them, why they are sometimes described by a vocal minority in unflattering and even misogynistic ways, and why they carry tremendous weight as representing all women. The same can be said of women in the military. Indeed, female characters star in about 15–18% of superhero media, and females make up about 16–18% of U.S. military personnel.1 Such individuals, who triumph over adversity with their strength and with righteousness, can be very attractive, particularly for those who have been marginalized. The use of violence by female characters onscreen has been written about mostly in terms of its subversiveness of dominant cultural narratives of gender, as well as in terms of viewers’ pleasure and feelings of empowerment. Jeffrey Brown has written that, “Everyone loves an underdog, and to see macho men or superior forces beaten to a pulp by an unassuming character,” particularly a young woman, “is vicariously satisfying” (2017: 217). These works show viewers that “women are capable of being their own heroes” (Brown 2017: 11; see also Cocca 2016; Inness 2004). Tung recounts the reactions of her students watching action films starring women, such as “‘I felt powerful watching those women’” and “‘I don’t really see it as violence . . . I like their . . . power’” (2004: 103). McCaughey writes of her own exhilaration watching the character Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: “I realized that men must feel this way after seeing movies—all the time. . . . I could understand the power of seeing one’s sex made heroic on-screen and wanted to feel that way more often” (quoted in Stuller 2010: 29). Ginn says of Marvel’s Black Widow, Gamora, Melinda May, and Peggy Carter that “these characters live in worlds where women do not have to be afraid of men, where women have agency, where women have

26 Gender, violence, and militainment power. And that gives hope to us all” (2017: 4). Mainstream media articles, blogs, Instagrams, and tweets recounted stories of women crying while watching the Wonder Woman movie. They describe being overcome by seeing themselves as potentially powerful through the strength and prowess of the diverse Amazons (many of whom were played by professional athletes and stuntwomen), and by Wonder Woman’s run across No Man’s Land to liberate a Belgian village. For those for whom the subversion of gendered norms is discomfiting, the palatability or popularity of female violence may lie in conforming such characters to raced and classed notions of gender performance, in presenting them as similar to male characters and as seemingly naturalized to such behavior because they are born to it, and in surrounding them with familiar military tropes and trappings. Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel’s 2010s stories contain each of these elements. First, most female action heroes and female superheroes, like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, are white, conventionally attractive, and almost always portrayed as heterosexual—not women of color, not working-class, not impoverished, not disabled, not queer, not transgender. In this way, female violence is “entwined with discourses of idealized feminine whiteness” (Coulthard 2007: 158; see also Brown 2017; Cocca 2016; Helford 2002; Inness 2004; Springer 2007; Tasker and Negra 2007; Tung 2004). This type of protagonist may not travel so easily across racial boundaries in that a “fierce kickass black woman is more likely read as hyperaggressive, wild, untamable, and vicious rather than as an admirable warrior woman breaking down age-old stereotypes that white women invoke” (Tung 2004: 110, 111; see also Browder 2006; Brown 2015; Helford 2002; Langsdale 2020). Perhaps representations of black female anger are eased for apprehensive white audiences when such roles are supporting rather than starring, or when such characters have subjected themselves to the discipline of the military, as with Maria Rambeau in the Captain Marvel movie and the now African American Etta Candy in Wonder Woman comics (see., e.g., Tasker 2011: 108, 117). These two are supportive sidekicks to the white heroines and can be seen as fulfilling a “black best friend” trope, but they are also fully formed characters working in the U.S. military who use violence to protect their families, their colleagues, their country.2 A second component to the acceptability of female violence may lie in presenting characters not only as increasingly similar to male superheroes, but also as naturalized to such behavior because via their 2010s revised origin stories they are “born” to it through an othered

Gender, violence, and militainment


and exoticized monoculture—Captain Marvel as Kree, and Wonder Woman as Greek god. These moves explain and soften their exceptionality in the male-dominated superhero universe. Captain Marvel has become akin to Captain America in that both now wear a fullcoverage military “dress blues” uniform with red accents and a star in the middle of the chest, like the star painted on all U.S. military vehicles and used in its ads and merchandise. Both have the honorific of Captain and both are called “Cap” by their allies. They sometimes call each other “Army” and “Air Force” in ways that reinforce their military attachments, and their individual stubbornness and strength of character show in their unwillingness to stay down in a fight: one says “I could do this all day” and the other thinks “Always get up.” She has also become increasingly akin to Iron Man Tony Stark, in terms of their confidence bordering on arrogance, hotheadedness, diffusion of tension with humor, closeness to Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes, affiliations with the U.S. government and military, living with alcoholism, ability to fly, and shooting beams of light/energy out of their hands. Wonder Woman, over time and with her revised origin, is now much more like both Superman and Thor. While at her origin she was strong and could run fast and jump far due to her Amazon training, her powers were increased so much over time that, akin to Superman, she now flies and is so strong as to seem undefeatable except by aliens or gods. Her new origin explains these powers in a way that her gender and training apparently could not: she is now the demi-god daughter of the consistently violent and occasionally peacemaking king of the gods, Zeus. Like him and like Thor, she can call lightning to her and then redirect it at others. While Thor carries a hammer and axe, Wonder Woman now carries a sword and uses her newly enlarged bracers as her second weapon. These female characters’ powers and their levels of violence are then rationalized as they are not only framed as similar to popular male characters, but also as they are merely like others of their non-human races. With the former, they have entered the institution of male superheroes and conformed to it; with the latter, their abilities and behavior are explained through their genetics. The two do usually approach the use of violence differently. Captain Marvel is prone to anger and impatience, and tends to use violence first and ask questions later. Iron Man describes her as liking “Star Wars and punching things” (DeConnick and D. Lopez 2015, Captain Marvel [hereafter CM] #1). She agrees, “It’s not that I’m a violent person. It’s just that some things really, really need punching. And I am very good at punching things” (M. Fazekas and T. Butters, and

28 Gender, violence, and militainment K. Anka 2016, CM #1). But after her origin was rewritten, her Kree mother explains to her, “We taught you to love, not to fight. To use your heart, not your fists. . . . But in my heart I knew we were keeping you from who you really were, and I hated it.” Further, she says, “What humans see as Kree powers are just our biological adaptations to a life of combat” (M. Stohl and C. Pacheco 2019, Life of Captain Marvel [hereafter LoCM] #4). This Carol loves stars and wars and is prone to anger and violence because she was born that way; this is who she “really” is, given her biology. This subverts the gendered association of violence as constructed as natural only to male bodies, but at the same time explains away her choosing to use violence through her female body. A “life of combat” and her Air Force training contain at least somewhat her impulsiveness and potential disorderliness. Wonder Woman, from her origin eighty years ago, has almost always been framed as using violence only as a last resort: a unique superhero whose power was rooted in her ability to stop violence through compassion rather than through further violence. This characterization, in line with gender stereotypes but also with a feminist approach to security that promotes dialogue, empathy, subjectivity, and empowerment (Sjoberg 2008: 7, 8) was employed by writers Rucka, Fontana, Orlando, and Wilson in their 2010s comics. The idea of her and the Amazons using diplomacy first and violence only last—the opposite of Captain Marvel—was summarized famously by writer Gail Simone: “We have a saying, my people. Don’t kill if you can wound, don’t wound if you can subdue, don’t subdue if you can pacify, and don’t raise your hand at all until you’ve first extended it” (2008, Wonder Woman [hereafter WW] #25). Rucka writes her as shielding civilians while being asked why she will not allow the men who threatened those civilians to be killed. Because, she says, “We do not kill when we can subdue” (G. Rucka and B. Evely 2017, WW #20; see also #12). Similarly, Wilson writes General Antiope as cautioning her Amazon troops, “Remember our training—do not kill if you can wound, do not wound if you can subdue!” (G. Wilson and C. Nord 2019, WW #75). In stories by Rucka, Wilson, and Orlando, Diana extends a hand to villains Veronica Cale, Barbara Ann Minerva/Cheetah, and Mayfly even as they work against her and physically fight her repeatedly. Her Amazon military training, and later her U.S. military training, keep her potentially unruly woman’s violence in check. However, around half of Wonder Woman issues in the 2010s, by writers Azzarello, Finch, and Robinson, have shown her using violence much more readily, even as they nodded to her as being motivated by love or wanting to end conflict. This follows from her rewritten

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origin from 2011, as the offspring of her mother and Zeus: a warrior who wears superpowered bracers and carries a sword, brought up among warriors who disdain rather than love her and who regularly commit rape and murder. This Diana is written as using violence that is retributive and disproportionate, generally against non-humans in more fantastical settings. Azzarello has her smash a glass and stick it in Strife’s hand, as well as grab Orion’s balls and threaten to rip them off (B. Azzarello and C. Chiang 2011, WW #4; Azzarello and T. Akins and G. Sudzuka 2013, WW #19). He has the god Hephaestus counter her assertion that truth, as uncovered by her lasso, is her weapon, with “No, your weapon is intimidation. You blame the rope” (Azzarello and Akins 2012, WW #7). Robinson has her seek to avenge her father and siblings, saying to the supervillain Darkseid, “You want pain? Here! This is for them!” (J. Robinson and E. Lupacchino 2018, WW #44). Robinson explained in an interview that before he began writing, he saw Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the character on film as having “an enthusiasm for battle . . . that I found very exciting and appealing” (Rogers 2018). He did not say whether that was because of the surprising nature of such a portrayal by a woman, or by its similarity to multiple male characters, or for some other reason. The appeal of such a figure becomes particularly marketable in the third way in which these women’s violence is made easier to receive: surrounding and normalizing the characters with the kind of military accoutrements to which we have become increasingly accustomed in popular culture and in American culture more broadly. Both of these superwomen have been enmeshed with the U.S. military from their origins to the present. For male superheroes, such as James Rhodes/ War Machine, Steve Rogers/Captain America, or John Stewart/Green Lantern, military backgrounds engender no cognitive dissonance as the military is assumed a male-dominated institution engaged in masculinized violence, or militarized masculinity (see, e.g., Bayard de Volo and Hall 2015; Enloe 2000, 2004; Favara 2017; Knopf 2015, 2016; Mesok 2016; Mohanty, Pratt, and Riley 2008; Montegary 2015; Tasker 2011; Thomas 2009; Titunik 2008). But for females, says Tasker, there is “cultural common sense in which the female soldier is a contradiction in terms, in which she is either not really a soldier or not really a woman” (2011: 278). And so portrayals of military women have presented a “particular sort of gender trouble” in which such characters have been “at times normalized, at times deviant, often peripheral, and typically controversial.” As a result, “popular narratives work to address the anxiety that attaches to the military woman’s troublesome gender” (2011: 4).

30 Gender, violence, and militainment Portrayals of female superheroes can be described in these same terms as well. Indeed, multiple authors have written about women as superheroes and the ways in which they highlight this trouble, these destabilizations and normalizations, these contradictions (see, e.g., Brown 2011, 2015; Cocca 2016; Madrid 2009). But none has focused on them as simultaneously superhero women and military women. The rest of the book investigates how “anxiety” over their “troublesome gender” may be both instigated and mitigated in politically polysemic ways through their superheroic military work, and how their discomfiting military work may be made more palatable by its being conducted through a female and ostensibly feminist character.

Female superheroes, military aesthetics, and militainment For decades, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel have been portrayed with military weapons and with military allies who have included their signifcant others and their closest friends, while engaged in righteous violence within and alongside military organizations—and they’ve looked sexy and powerful while doing it. As in the war genre, this connotes the protagonists’ empowerment while also serving to “normalize and commodify” violence, war, and death (Monnet 2018: 1393). This can be the case even as our heroes may be saying dialogue that is overtly anti-war, or engaged in a plot in which they seek to end war, opening such texts to being read as postfeminist and neoconservative, as feminist and liberatory, or as a complicated combination of the two. These characters’ histories, and the specific storylines that illustrate them, are types of militainment, presenting a “liberal fantasy of the military” that portrays violence that feels deserved against the enemy (Forrest 2017: 5; Pardy 2016: 29). Militainment presents not only “entertainment with military themes in which the Department of Defense is celebrated” but also substitutes realistic images of death with “the power and pleasures of high-tech war machinery” such that “state violence is translated into an object of pleasurable consumption” (Stahl 2009: 6, 14; also Thomas 2009). Militainment features “techno-fetishism” that works through “positioning military hardware at the center [of the] drama.” In the Captain Marvel film, set in the 1990s, “Project Pegasus” is a “Joint NASA USAF facility,” with a hangar full of jets, “smart bombs” of the types used in Operation Desert Storm, and a “Stealth Bomber.” Multiple Marvel films and comics, some with this character and some without, feature military assault weapons, helicarriers, fighter planes, and

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helicopters, and the technology and well-armed agents of the federal espionage/black ops/superhuman-liaison agency S.H.I.E.L.D. (Davis 2018: 28). Carol leads Alpha Flight, formerly S.W.O.R.D. in the comics, a heavily armed space station tasked with stopping galactic threats. DC comics and films are similar in terms of the facilities, weaponry, and personnel displayed as Diana is shown working with A.R.G.U.S. in the Department of Homeland Security, a federal agency analogous to S.H.I.E.L.D., and with the U.S. Navy. The Wonder Woman film, in which Diana is embedded with the Allied army, shows analogous vehicles and arms from the World War I era such as tanks, biplanes, triplanes, and machine guns. Such stories make the characters’ military work appealing through a “spectacle that dazzles” (Stahl 2009: 20, 28). One particularly dazzling cover, in Figure 1.1, exemplifies militainment in the way it “turns a weapon into an object of beauty” and thereby illustrates how the “techno-spectacle . . . works through eroticizing weapons” (Stahl 2009: 28). Carol flies downward in the sky, flanked by a dozen olive-colored bombs on which are painted American flags, drawn parallel to her so that in her flight she is a bomb and a phallic object herself (art by E. McGuinness, D. Vines, and J. Rodriguez 2012, CM #3). This cover shows no adversary such that we may almost forget that those bombs will land somewhere, on someone. As with news media coverage that does not show flag-covered caskets returning to the U.S. or military and civilian wounded abroad, but rather features cutting-edge military technology and/or bright explosions, we are diverted from thinking of the human cost of the aesthetically pleasing image. Captain Marvel is portrayed repeatedly as a spectacular, and spectacularly American, “army of one” as well. One cover shows her in crosshairs holding a military weapon with an American flag sticking out of her back pocket, asking “You want to take another shot at an American soldier? You’re gonna need a bigger gun!” (art by McGuinness 2012, CM #4). She has been drawn on covers wearing a leather military bomber jacket with an American flag on the arm, sitting on an Air Force jet, or standing in front of a jet in a flight suit while several more stream in the air behind her (art by J. Quinones 2014, CM #10; art by M. McKone 2017, Mighty Captain Marvel [hereafter MCM] #2; art by Kate Niemczyk 2018, Avengers #4 [Carol Danvers’s 50th anniversary cover]). Others reference World War II propaganda, for example, with Carol flexing her bicep in the “We Can Do It” pose of Rosie the Riveter (art by McGuinness, Vines, and Rodriguez 2012, CM #2). And some mimic recruitment posters, such as David Lopez’s cover with “Come Fly with Us!” in script under a smiling, saluting,

Figure 1.1 Captain Marvel fies parallel to bombs with American fags on them, a military weapon herself. We are not shown their target (art by Ed McGuinness 2012, Captain Marvel #3).

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flying Carol flanked by fighter jets. Similarly, Kris Anka drew “Join the Might that Is Alpha Flight!” in block letters under a similarly smiling, saluting, flying Carol (Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps [hereafter CMCC] #2, 2015; CM #5, 2016). Such art, along with the military aesthetics as noted earlier, circulates an “uncritical acceptance of the military as a viable option for women’s careers” (Mesok 2016: 42) and romanticizes woman’s military affiliations. Both Carol and Diana work closely with military personnel, in uniforms and in plainclothes. The film’s Carol is part of the Air Force and the Kree military and works with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Nick Fury. In the comics, she works with various teams, such as the aforementioned Alpha Flight and the World War II-era time-displaced all-female Banshee Squadron, dressed in olive and armed with military weapons. This group similarly displays the characteristics that might ease concerns about female characters’ violence in that, first, they are analogous to the Marvel Universe’s all-male military unit called the Howling Commandos, who sometimes fought alongside Captain America. They increase Captain Marvel’s parallels to Captain America as the Banshees themselves are parallel to the Commandos: dark-haired Jerri is like Nick Fury, red-haired Mackie like Dum Dum Dugan, blonde Daisy like Rebel Ralston, brunette Rivka like Izzy Cohen, and the FrenchJapanese Bijoux Kawasaki like Dino Manelli (DeConnick and Soy 2012, CM #3). Second, they are relatively light-skinned and traditionally attractive. Third, they are employing familiar military aesthetics. The image in Figure 1.2 is that of a group of fit, strong, and badass women, certainly appealing to those in the audience who have been underrepresented as central characters with agency. Their whiteness eases reception of the image, as wielding guns “has enabled white women to gain privileges by emphasizing their racial identity and freeing them from gender strictures” in ways historically made unavailable to women of color due to multiple racialized fears (Browder 2006: 10). They are “sexualizing weaponry,” such that it is difficult to “separate[e] out messages of gender empowerment and the exploitative use of sexuality,” thereby appealing to a different segment of the audience as well (Browder 2006: 13; see also Knopf 2015). The art and the sound effects place the guns, as Stahl says, “at the center of the drama.” But as with the cover of Captain Marvel flying parallel to bombs (Figure 1.1), we are not shown the human targets at which they aim. Similarly, not only does Wonder Woman fight alongside the Allies in World War I in her film, but also in comics with A.R.G.U.S. and the Navy. God of war Ares himself calls her “Soldier” (M. Finch and D.


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Figure 1.2 Captain Marvel and one of her teams, the World War II-era timedisplaced Banshees, analogous to the all-male Howling Commandos of comics and flm, in fatigues and wielding various military weapons (art by Dexter Soy 2012, Captain Marvel #3).

Finch 2016, WW #50). On one recent cover, Wonder Woman knocks the heads of two uniformed and helmeted soldiers together with the title “A new war begins” (art by T. Dodson 2018, WW #58). In several variant covers for the commemorative issue #750 she is posed above fallen soldiers, defending soldiers from others, and attacking soldiers, all of whom are in uniform and heavily armed (see., e.g., covers by A. Hughes, J.S. Campbell, and A. Ross 2020). A few of these covers feature American flags as well, underscoring that she may have been born elsewhere but affiliates with the United States just like Carol Danvers. She is usually with best friend Etta and/or boyfriend Steve, as in Figures 1.3 and 1.4, posed in her usual costume with her lasso or sword at her side or in her hands, while Etta or Steve are outfitted in fatigues and brandishing military weapons as they either discuss strategy or fight side by side (see also, e.g., C. Nord 2018, WW #58 and #60; P. Renaud 2017, WW/Steve Trevor #1; N. Scott 2017, WW #14;

Figure 1.3 Etta Candy in fatigues and sunglasses, holding a military rife, strategizing with Wonder Woman in the midst of a confict in fctional Durovnia (art by Cary Nord 2018, Wonder Woman #60).

Figure 1.4 Wonder Woman with Steve, wearing olive green and aiming a military machine gun on U.S. streets (art by Liam Sharp 2017, Wonder Woman #21).

36 Gender, violence, and militainment L. Sharp 2017, WW #21). Etta’s military service and her weapon are normalized as ordinary, as she holds the machine gun at rest and looks cool and commanding in her fatigues, beret, and sunglasses. Steve wears no helmet as he easily wields a very large gun, so we can see clearly his blonde hair and handsome face as he tells Diana, whom he has often called “Angel” since she rescued him in 1941, to move a little out of the way so he can fire it. Even though he is wielding this weapon on an American street, his military service and his weapon are framed as necessary. Because Etta and Steve are written as just as heroic and honorable as Diana, the reader is led to trust that whatever they are doing with A.R.G.U.S. and the Navy is righteous. Outside of the texts themselves, the trade paperback collecting the first six issues of the relaunched Captain Marvel series, written by “Air Force brat” Kelly Sue DeConnick, is dedicated to her father, “For Civilian Pilot and Ret. Air Force Msgt. Robert L. DeConnick, II. I love you, Daddy.” In an uncanny parallel, the Wonder Woman film, directed by “Air Force brat” Patty Jenkins, is dedicated to her father, “In memory of Captain William T. Jenkins,” an Air Force pilot who died during a NATO training exercise when she was only seven and on whom she based her direction of the character of Steve Trevor (Setoodeh 2017). The way in which both of these two quantitatively and qualitatively exceptional women, who wrote and directed stories about two similarly exceptional military superwomen, highlighted and celebrated their fathers and their military service blurs the lines between fiction and non-fiction. Such paratextual work is a form of militainment as well. Textual and paratextual militainment intertwines the recruitment interests of military institutions, the capitalist interests of media producers, and the desires of fans to see inspirational and empowered heroes. The focus is on the heroes’ and their allies’ military victories, not on the structural discriminations or structural violence endemic to current military institutions, and not on neoconservative military violence’s effects on vulnerable populations around the world, many of whom are women of color and whose liberation should be linked to our heroes’ own. Their stories present a postfeminist and postrace world in which the work of securing equality is done via their very inclusion, and so they portray individuals who succeed in transforming themselves into heroes if they just choose to work hard and to be loyal to their immediate team. Writers Fazekas and Butters have Carol reflect, “I was a woman in the Air Force. I’ve been around people who wanted me to fail my whole life, my own father included. Doesn’t even bother me

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anymore” (Fazekas and Butters, and Anka 2017, CM #10). Indeed, the core of Carol’s character, for which fans cheer, is that no matter how many times she is knocked down, she always gets back up, including in a memorable montage on film that shows her determinedly, physically rising up as a girl, as a young cadet, as a pilot, and finally as Captain Marvel. This kind of confidence, resilience, personal transformation, and individualistic “leaning in” by individuals who conform to hierarchical institutions are at the heart of affectively appealing neoliberal feminisms, and postfeminist media artifacts (see, e.g., Banet-Weiser, Gill, and Rottenberg 2019; McRobbie 2004, 2009, 2011; Negra and Tasker 2007). As their inclusion is celebrated as fulfilling the goals of feminism, other women around the world are rendered invisible. Militainment also “means cooperation between the military and the media and culture industry on an everyday basis” (Thomas 2009: 106). The Captain Marvel film is one of over 800 films, along with over 1000 TV shows, in which a studio worked directly with the U.S. military to defray costs (Alford and Secker 2017). It was produced at a time when the “Air Force faces a severe shortage of pilots (especially women), a recent ‘readiness’ crisis due to its fleet of aging aircrafts, and a worsening epidemic of sexual misconduct,” and had set a goal to grow by nearly 25% (Braslow 2019). So they lent Air Force historians, a base, and jets, and reserved the right to make changes to the script in exchange for having saved the studio money (Alford and Secker 2017; Baron 2019; Braslow 2019). What the Air Force also got in exchange from Marvel was that the film’s marketing strategy included a military recruitment strategy. “More than anything I hope that young women see themselves as future Air Force members. . . . And I hope they enjoy the show,” said the Air Force Chief of Staff (Insinna 2019). The film’s trailer—released on the Air Force’s 71st birthday—evokes recruitment ads, according to the military and veteran-focused news blog Task & Purpose, by linking Carol Danvers’s transformation and empowerment with her military service (Baker-Whitelaw 2019; Braslow 2019). An Air Force recruitment ad entitled “Origin Story” ran before the film in some cinemas, associating Captain Marvel’s origin story with non-fiction military ones (Baron 2019). The “Origin Story” theme was mentioned on the red carpet, with a corresponding page on the Air Force’s website profiling Air Force women (Braslow 2019). Pilots participated in all parts of the press junket, and Air Force jets flew overhead at the film’s Hollywood premiere and at its parent company’s Disneyland (Baker-Whitelaw 2019). All of this built on comic readers’ knowledge that writer DeConnick grew up on Air Force bases and dedicated the

38 Gender, violence, and militainment first Captain Marvel comic collection to her father as noted, and both consulted on and appeared in a cameo in the film. It also built on the compelling Captain Marvel art and stories over the previous several years that had referenced recruitment ads, military weaponry, and military solutions to conflicts. The film’s star, Brie Larson, spoke about her work with the Air Force in numerous interviews and in the “Taking Flight” featurette posted by Marvel on Twitter. The latter shows her wearing an olive Air Force jumpsuit and sunglasses just like what she and Lashana Lynch/Maria Rambeau wore in the movie, touring Nellis Air Force Base, interacting with numerous people, and flying with the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot. These scenes are intercut with scenes from the Captain Marvel film, muddling the divisions between the non-fictional and the fictional militaries, and between Brie Larson and Carol Danvers. The marketing featurette also has a shot of Larson flying in a jet with framing identical to that of Larson as Carol in the film flying in a jet: head thrown back, wearing a helmet and flight suit, with only sky behind her. Larson says that Carol is just like the people she met: “That sense of humor mixed with total capability in whatever challenge comes her way is really what Air Force pilots are like.” She describes this enthusiastically as “the spirit of the Air Force” in several interviews (Braslow 2019). Gal Gadot’s service in the Israeli Defence Forces was similarly highlighted in her marketing work, particularly to show her physical fitness after a few people online body-shamed her for being thin and neither strong enough nor curvy enough to play Wonder Woman. But her service was received by some quite differently from Larson’s experience due to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and Gadot’s implied support of this via an uploaded (then deleted) picture of herself and her daughter praying with the caption: I am sending my love and prayers to my fellow Israeli citizens. Especially to all the boys and girls who are risking their lives protecting my country against the horrific acts conducted by Hamas, who are hiding like cowards behind women and children. . . . We shall overcome!!! Shabbat Shalom! #weareright #freegazafromhamas #stopterror #coexistance #loveidf. (archived by The Independent, 8/1/14) Indeed, Lebanon banned the screening of the flm because her service coincided with the 2006 Israel-Lebanese confict that left over 1000 dead and an estimated one million displaced (Graham 2017).

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Articles usually described her serving as a “combat trainer,” but Gadot described herself having taught the less martial-sounding “gymnastics and calisthenics” and having learned “discipline and respect” (Maxim staff 2007; Glamour staff 2016). While she may have increased her own strength and discipline, and trained others, “military participation does not empower all women. . . . Any effort at collective liberation and empowerment cannot involve violence, destruction, or the victimization of a great many of whom we are seeking liberation with” (Runck 2006: 17; see also, Montegary 2015: 910). But the focus on the individual actor and her physical strength, along with the dazzling spectacle of militainment, diverts attention away from the work of forging feminist solidarity with the women who live in the communities to which military violence is being done. At the time of the Wonder Woman film, Gadot said, I wish no country had the need for an army. But in Israel serving is part of being an Israeli. You’ve got to give back to the state. You give two or three years, and it’s not about you. You give your freedom away. (Glamour staff 2016) Gadot frames this as more about patriotic duty than an individualized sense of adventure or agency, shoring up the idea of the containment of women’s power through the military, and constructing military service as inevitable and necessary due to an external threat. Further, “All my friends went, my parents went and my grandparents went” (McNiece 2016). While service is compulsory, only about half of eligible citizens enlist, and tens of thousands of Israelis each year refuse to serve for various reasons (New Profle 2014; Segal 2008). But everyone she knows did serve. This type of family continuity is not uncommon there, or in all-volunteer forces such as that of the U.S. (see, e.g., Montegary 2015). Both types of militaries ostensibly allow choice to enter, but other pressures lessen such choice, particularly for those economically, socially, and politically marginal (Ehrenreich 2007; Eisenstein 2008; Mesok 2016; Mohanty, Pratt, and Riley 2008; Montegary 2015; Runck 2006). These celebrities’ linking of military service with overcoming challenges, giving back to a nation, and engaging in individual physical transformation are different from one another, and yet both frame military service as honorable, necessary, and empowering. They are militainment personified as their paratextual work is enmeshed with their textual work, their portrayals of popular feminist military

40 Gender, violence, and militainment superwomen. Indeed, “militarization gains its power from its .  .  . presence in non-traditional spaces, like celebrity” (Forrest 2017: 5). Their simultaneous embodiment of military women, successful female and feminist actors, and comic book superheroes merges these three identities into seemingly unitary and exceptional aspirational figures with no mention of the effects of military state violence or structural discrimination. The integration of people like these women into military institutions— and into superhero movies—can be seen as feminist success stories that incorporate more diverse voices into these organizations and show female strength and ambition as equal to that of males. But they are also shoring up neoliberal capitalism and imperialism, as perhaps only those individuals who work to make themselves over to conform, or perhaps only those who are already privileged and even iconic as celebrities and celebrity feminists, can become visible and can succeed (see, e.g., Banet-Weiser 2018; Gill 2016; Hall 2011; Kanai 2020; McRobbie 2004; Renninger 2018). Such stories tend not to consider that domestic and international security might better be served by structural and sweeping reform of the inequalities that are not natural, but are produced by capitalism, dictatorship, colonialism, misogyny, homophobia, racism, religious animus, and xenophobia.

Conclusion A woman protagonist, disruptive in her use of violence and pleasurable to watch as she uses it, may change the look of the normalization and commodifcation of violence, war, and death. When she is touted as a “badass,” a now-overused descriptor that usually signifes a woman’s toughness and aggression, she may be received more easily because of her similarity to male characters who are expected to behave so, or because she has shown that the label need not be gendered. But “the violent action heroine offers the image of innovative or even revolutionary change while disavowing any actual engagement with violence and its relation to feminism and female solidarity, collectivity, or political action” (Coulthard 2007: 172–173). When she is in uniform wielding and eroticizing weapons of war, or allied with those who do so, she may not only normalize but also glamorize the military. Therefore our celebration of, or rooting for, the use of violence by an exceptional woman in a particular situation does not subvert the ways in which violence has been used against women historically by individuals and by military organizations, nor does it necessarily advance women’s powers or rights as a group.

Gender, violence, and militainment


While Costello described comic art of Captain America posed in front of a militaristic eagle as superhero iconography of “liberalism with a fascist aesthetic,” Pardy twists his phrase to assert that current superhero films are showing us “fascism with a liberal aesthetic” (Costello 2009: 215; Pardy 2016: 25). The woman superhero soldier displays both. The centering of the female protagonist is liberal in terms of its progressiveness, while her violence has a fascist and neoconservative aesthetic. At the same time, her violence and authority are fascistic, but, presented as righteous and enacted through a female body, they appear liberal because women are presumed more politically progressive than men. These two characters may be seen as inspirational and subversive due to their woman-ness, thereby appealing to some, but they are also naturally prone to violence via their biology, familiar due to their similarities to male superheroes and their enmeshment in militainment, and disciplined via their military ties, appealing to others. The combination is an acutely marketable one, made even more so by the ways in which the storytelling and art of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel highlight self-empowerment and working with diverse teammates for a just cause. These elements are discussed in the next chapter.

Notes 1 As noted in the introduction, women star in only about 15% of mainstream superhero comics in 2020, 16% of the TV shows airing or in development, and 18% of flms scheduled for release or in development. Similarly, women are only about 16% of enlisted and 18% of ofcers of the U.S. military. Comics fgures calculated by the author based on January 2020 solicits (n  =  140); thirty-eight TV shows, and ffty flms. Military fgures computed by the author from Pop Rep 2018. 2 Blaxploitation flms may have paved the way for some change in this area. While embodying stereotypes, weak plots, sexualization, and racist assumptions about the palatability of black (as opposed to white) female violence, these flms also featured women “always using intellect” and assuming “protective roles over other characters or entire communities” (Alexander 2019: 3). The protagonist was generally “an independent heroine who was capable of handling her own among men and not afraid to respond to violence with violence against those who harmed her onscreen family” (Sims 2006: 74; see also, Brown 2015; DiPaolo 2011; Whaley 2015). This characterization, without the stereotyping or sexualization, describes the Watchmen 2019 TV series’ character, Sister Night.


Military service, empowerment, and diversification

Militainment may have become relatively common in terms of its use of military imagery, but, Stahl notes, “it takes some work to render war an aesthetic object [because war] defes easy digestion” (2009: 7). That work comes in the ways in which military and war themes are made not only familiar through repetition and palatable through beautiful artwork and directorial framing, as illustrated in the previous chapter, but also inspirational through stories. This chapter explores two recurrent themes in superhero military stories: that of individual empowerment and strength, and that of the bonds of a diverse unit of allies. The focus on the formerly marginalized individual and on the diversity of the group may be read as empowering, feminist, anti-racist work that subverts inequalities, but also as tokenizing, postfeminist, and postrace success stories that shore up the status quo.

Militainment, the individual, and the unit Military superhero stories lean heavily on themes of personal transformation, equal and merit-based treatment, a grand purpose, and teamwork and honor. Diana at her origin earns the title of Wonder Woman through proving herself the best of the Amazons. She embraces the opportunity to go by herself to Man’s World to pursue her mission of ending war and teaching peace and equality. She enters civilian life through the U.S. Army as a nurse, then secretary, then intelligence ofcer, followed by numerous other military and government jobs. Through these organizations, she fulflls her mission both as her civilian and as her superpowered self. Carol Danvers’s impetus is diferent, but the path is similar. After her father’s refusal to pay for college, she sees a poster that says “Women join the Air Force! Opportunity, Travel, College Education” and thinks to herself, “I want an education, a chance to be all I can be. . . . Air Force? Well, why the heck

Military service, empowerment, and diversification


not?!” (C. Claremont and C. Infantino, Ms. Marvel #19, 1978). So, she narrates, “I gave up on Pops and enlisted in the Air Force the very next day. I was a hard worker and my record showed it . . . I found myself” (Stohl and R. Rosanas 2017, MCM #0). Like Diana, she would climb in rank while serving in various military positions. Her story parallels those of female enlistees who describe joining the military for adventure, travel, physical ftness, and camaraderie, as well as access to education, marketable skills, and leadership roles, and then fnding it a “place where they belonged” and felt “great pride in their contribution” (Enloe 2000: 285; Strohmer 2016: 15). Since the 1970s especially, state militaries, paramilitaries, and rightwing militias have appealed to marginalized young women to increase their strength, to “shoot, to take risks, do things that are dangerous and physically demanding.” Young women around the world have said that their joining up is also in part about having “physical capacities that have been underestimated by their fellows and their parents, and now this is their chance to show them. . . . Physicality matters” (Signs 2018). As Carol puts it when she loses her strength and regains it, “Feeling strong . . . I can’t even begin to describe how good it is” (K. Thompson and C. Carnero 2019, CM #11). These physical abilities are another way of feeling and signifying equality, proving women can do the same things as men with their bodies and thus deserve access to formerly all-male preserves. This is on display when Carol and other female superheroes are “building and training an army of women.” Carol decides to share a quote from The Art of War with that army, “‘Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?’” (Thompson and Carnero 2019, CM #3). This echoes the U.S. military’s “Be all you can be” slogan that Carol says aloud in her origin story, and references a later slogan, “An Army of One.” Both are focused on an individual developing their own strength to contribute to a fighting unit. This is followed by panels of formerly ordinary civilian women being transformed as they’re trained as an army: building and flying planes, sparring and shooting at targets, and standing in formation with enormous guns. Amazon General Antiope presides over a training montage as well, exhorting the individual women to use their strength as one, “An army must fight as one body, one mind. Each soldier moving in concert with her sisters. . . . Failure means death. And life, victory” (Wilson and Xermanico 2019, WW #75). The beginning of the Wonder Woman film shows diverse Amazons—many of whom were played by athletes—training in various ways, displaying incredible strength, agility, and battle skills. For those accustomed to having never seen themselves portrayed in these

44 Military service, empowerment, and diversification ways, as noted, such scenes can bring forth strong emotions, feelings of inspiration and empowerment. The real-life training and physical strength of Gal Gadot and Brie Larson, the stars of the Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel films, were on display throughout filming as well. Their transformations can be looked at as feminist undertakings, to have the bodily autonomy to decide to work hard to become the strongest one can, to prove that physical strength is not only for males. It can also be looked at as indicative of a postfeminist rationality, a makeover most available to those with the resources of money and time to have personalized training, to then be closely surveilled and commented on via a social media panopticon. It is a “safely affirmative feminism” whose visibility tends to be limited to those who most conform to what is already deemed attractive via white Anglo-European norms, “visible precisely because they do not challenge deep structures of inequities” (BanetWeiser 2018: 4, 11; also Brown 2015; Gill 2007, 2016; Gill and Scharf 2011; Kent 2016; McRobbie 2004; Renninger 2018). Their particular personal transformations were not through makeovers related to hair and clothes and weight loss, which can be viewed as some measure of progress. But it was through becoming toned and fit in a specific way: remaining trim and without visibly bulging muscles that might be considered too unruly or unfeminine (see Brown 2017: 44, 190; Gill 2007, 2016; Kent 2016: 169; Peppard 2019). Gal Gadot’s casting was criticized by some, as noted, because she was not as buxom as some people pictured Wonder Woman. After her training, she reflected, I’ve gained about 17 pounds, and it’s all muscle. I feel so much better now. When you feel strong, it changes everything—your posture, the way you walk. I look at photos from five years ago and think, “Whoa, I was too skinny.” (Glamour staff 2016) Even after this work to make over her body, she still continues to monitor it in the manner of postfeminist self-surveillance in which women make choices about their bodies that tend to conform to dominant ideals. She had probably done so before for a diferent type of body, having been crowned Miss Israel at 18, just like Lynda Carter was crowned Miss World USA before being cast as Wonder Woman in the 1970s. Gadot also posed for Maxim magazine for a 2007 feature called “The Chosen Ones: Israeli Defence Forces.” Like others, she is in a small bikini alongside a short profle of what she did as a soldier,

Military service, empowerment, and diversification


a juxtaposition of gendered expectations not uncommon in media featuring female superheroes and female soldiers (see, e.g., Brown 2011; Cocca 2016; Knopf 2015, 2016; Tasker 2011; Thomas 2009). But the female superhero soldier of the late 2010s required a diferent body from that one. Her training and workouts were written about in health magazines, and she posted pictures and videos to social media. Actor Brie Larson had her workout written up in magazines while posting her own accounts of it as well. She described herself as having grown up an “introvert with asthma,” but for the film she trained for an entire year. Said her co-star Samuel L. Jackson, She’s like five percent body fat now. She [sent me] crazy dope workout videos. [First] she was lifting . . . like 100 pounds. . . . The last one she sent me was 350. . . . [And] pushing a Jeep up a hill. . . . She’s made a distinct transformation that I don’t think a lot of people would be willing to do. (Eisenberg 2018) This and Gadot’s training can also be considered “celebrity feminism” that puts forward “resilience, fnancial independence, and confdence as feminist in and of themselves” and thereby detracts attention from interrogating beauty standards and other structures (Kanai 2020: 27; see also, Banet-Weiser 2018; Brown 2015; Gill 2007, 2016; Gill and Scharf 2011; Kent 2016; McRobbie 2004; Renninger 2018). At a time in which celebrities have “iconic status” and “paratexts created online make it difficult to maintain a clear separation between the actors and the characters they portray” (Hall 2011: 723; Miller 2018: 208–209), what these women were publicly training for was to play superhero soldiers. Both proclaimed themselves to be feminists as they did so, in multiple interviews and via social media. This paratextual work is a type of militainment too, along with, as noted in Chapter 1, their spoken support of the U.S. military and Israeli military at the same time. In these ways, “the militarization of celebrities masks the horrors of war, making war palatable” (Forrest 2017: 1; see also Thomas 2009). As a former Marine officer noted of her own enlistment, “A large part of me was drawn to these superwomen icons . . . [but] one of the horrible results of the Hollywood version of the genre of the sexy woman killer is that the causes and effects of violence are rarely explored” (Shigematsu, Bhagwati, and Paintedcrow 2008: 100). The paratexts and the texts can be read as individuating structural discriminations and hierarchies down to a singular woman—in a comic book, in Hollywood, in the military—who chooses to train


Military service, empowerment, and diversification

hard in order to fulfill her own potential but tends to maintain institutional inequities and gloss over how the use of force for which they are training affects its human targets. Beyond the stress on the individual is a similar stress on the importance of the woman superhero soldier’s immediate unit. These depictions are unlike frequent depictions of military women as detached from comradeship (Tasker 2011: 16), and unlike frequent depictions of female superheroes as surrounded only by male superheroes (Cocca 2016). Rather, these team relationships are depicted less as frivolous, temporary, and historically dismissed female friendships, and through their military nature, more akin to higher-valued homosocial male bonding.1 Such elements are evident in several writers’ 2010s Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman comics. Like some feminists who argue against the idea that the military is irretrievably hyper-masculinist, such stories circulate the idea that military success is based not on individualized “manly” attributes such as “aggression and bloodlust,” but rather, qualities “associate[d] with femininity: teamwork, submission, obedience, and self-sacrifice . . . comradeship, cooperation, and the rewarding of merit” (Titunik 2008: 147). Carol Danvers describes those with whom she fights, whether Banshees, Avengers, or Alpha Flight, as “people you’re closer to in some ways than your own family” whose job is “to face deadly threats and stop them from harming those we swore to protect, even at the cost of our own lives” (C. Gage and R. Gage, and M. Failla 2016, CM #7). She says she has “forged an unbreakable bond” with her Alpha Flight team (Stohl and Rosanas 2017, MCM #0), and she is a mentor to former assistant and now Lieutenant Wendy Kawasaki, and to the young superheroes Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, and Jennifer Takeda/ Hazmat. When, as noted, Carol along with a group of diverse female superheroes (best friend Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman, Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk, Maya Lopez/Echo, and Hazmat) trains an “an army of women” against their patriarchal and unrelenting captor, she thinks that Watching your friends—who are already soldiers of a sort—train for war is one thing. Watching them train civilians is quite another. But our only way out is through. And it’s freedom for all of us or none of us. It is with this group that she shares the Sun Tzu quote, “‘Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?’” (Thompson and Carnero 2019, CM #3). This frames the coming war as necessary and

Military service, empowerment, and diversification


just, and also individualizes it down to the contribution and growing strength of each empowered woman, and her bonds with her unit. Similarly, describing how Steve reacted upon discovering that men in his unit had died, Diana says to her mother, “He wept for them as we would one of our own. I think he loved them. They were . . . like sisters but of men? . . . That is not so unlike us, is it?” (Rucka and Scott 2016, WW #2). She and the Amazons are shown in comics and on film as a well-trained fighting force, and she, Etta, Steve, and several others work together in and with the U.S. military as well. In both worlds, each is dependent on everyone else’s skills as well as their own, and their work is grounded in love. Steve says, “My job involves running toward people with guns, and if I didn’t have love—for my unit, my country, my family—I’m not sure I could do it” (Wilson and Nord 2019, WW #61). Diana muses, “My mother spoke of peace as the opposite of battle, the end of war. But perhaps there is another kind of peace. The peace we find in battle, knowing we’re not alone” (S. Fontana and D. Messina 2017, WW #28). These thoughts are accompanied by a series of panels in which a wounded, resolved, mohawked Etta is loading a gun and talking about contacting Steve to get more weapons from an armory to protect Diana, intertwining the normalcy of her military solution with the love between these friends. These works portray a kind of sisterhood of soldiering, a solidarity of teamwork, a grand purpose in which women are equal and valued participants. The black lesbian Etta is a Navy commander and can indeed protect Diana from harm; the Amazons, Alpha Flight, and the “army of women” mentioned earlier are diverse, and all of their participants are integral to their efforts against their foes. The Captain Marvel movie has similar sensibilities, indicating that (black) Maria and (white) Carol are of equal rank in that both are wearing the same uniform and flying missions for Mar-Vell/Dr. Wendy Lawson, both have excellent piloting skills, and both are shown to be unflappable and brave and ready, as Maria says, for a “big hero moment.” “Pride,” an increase in “social capital” and “strength,” and “persistence that leads to promotion and greater control over one’s work and life” were motives cited by military women of color for their enlistments and re-enlistments. Indeed, some faced less discrimination in promotion and leadership roles in the military than in the civilian marketplace (Burton 2014: np; Strohmer 2016: 279). While we see Carol being disrespected in sexist ways by male cadets, we see no indication that her male teachers or superior officers did not treat her fairly, and we see no indication that Maria and Carol have been treated differently from one another. They exude competence, confidence, and resilience,

48 Military service, empowerment, and diversification which, as noted, is common in postfeminist narratives. They support each other and take in stride that in the early 1990s, women weren’t allowed to fly in combat, and they shrug off the apparently individual bad apples who root for their failure. And since this is set in our past, viewers may assume that such problems no longer exist in that institution. This assumption would be mistaken, as “female airmen”—as they are designated by the Air Force itself to differentiate them not from a category called “male airmen” but from one called “airmen”— are still only 6% of its pilots (Air Force’s Personnel Center 2019). The U.S. military both provides opportunities for individual women and continues to discriminate against them as a group internally, as well as externally in other countries via U.S. military interventions.2 These representations of Carol, Diana, and their diverse allies, by several different creative teams from 2016 to 2019, entwine the values of love, loyalty, self-sacrifice, protection, courage, peace, strength, and persistence with the use of military violence, while downplaying the last element. The films’ actors echo these values, both in their work with and praise of militaries as noted in the last chapter, and with their focus on increasing their physical strength to play superhero soldiers in this one. There are costs to such portrayals: These popular representations of women’s empowerment through their ability to compete with and outdo men—through acts of physical prowess and militarized violence—have become one of the ways in which representations of token and fantasy women not only misrepresent women’s experiences in the military, but operate to normativize the use of mass industrialized violence. (Shigematsu, Bhagwati, and Paintedcrow 2008: 100) Without consideration of critical race, queer, and postcolonial antimilitarist critiques about discriminatory military institutions and the costs of imperial warmaking, such stories lean more heavily on narratives about access, equal worth, and the integration of hardworking women to look up to. Characterizations of military work as collaborative, honorable, and empowering, along with the regular use of military aesthetics that romanticize and naturalize such work, render it as an alluring, efficient, and rewarding means of problem-solving for multiple populations. Indeed, as noted previously and as will be detailed next, these women superhero soldiers’ allies are much more diverse in the 2010s than in their historical stories. The implications of increased inclusivity in the superhero genre and elsewhere are taken up in the next section.

Military service, empowerment, and diversification


Diversification of institutions and the individual success story Further adding to an engendering of support across the political spectrum is the way in which the characters in comics and on flm are both of the military and the government, and then separate from it somewhat with a diverse band of buddies in order to do the right thing. In the Wonder Woman flm, she works with the World War I Allied command to a point, and after that, she and Steve and the three “Oddfellows” go it alone, or out ahead of regular soldiers. In the 2010s comics, she works with Etta and Steve within or alongside A.R.G.U.S. and the Navy, and sometimes stands outside of it with other Amazons, her new Greek god relatives, and mythical creatures.3 In the Captain Marvel flm, Carol is of the Kree military, the U.S. Air Force, and S.H.I.E.L.D. but is betrayed by all three, so she works with her own small group. In the 2010s comics, she works with the government, particularly S.W.O.R.D./Alpha Flight to a point, but is also alone with her own band of heroes. The alternatereality Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps miniseries also shows Carol and the Banshees working frst with their government, then apart from it. As Nick Fury says to Carol in the film, “I know a rogue soldier when I see one.” This figure conforms to the individualism promoted by neoliberal, postfeminist rationalities, both wielding nation-based violence while also operating to some extent as an independent and exceptionally strong rogue outside of rigid and bureaucratic military protocols (Monnet 2018: 1381). This could easily describe Captain America, Iron Man, War Machine, Wonder Woman, or Captain Marvel on the page or the screen. Such portrayals became common in post-Vietnam and post-9/11 superhero fiction in which the government and/or military were framed as untrustworthy or ineffective (see Costello 2009; Brown 2017). With these portrayals of vigilantes loosely allied with governments, the characters can be seen by those loyal to a given government as allies, and they can be seen by those mistrustful of a particular government as allies as well. They are both of the establishment and anti-establishment at the same time (DiPaolo 2011: 12); both nationalist superheroes representing a particular nation-state (Dittmer 2013) and also independent-minded mavericks. The political commentary may be seen as progressive, conservative, or something in between. These multiple potential readings broaden the audience for such movies and serve as a moneymaking strategy (Brown 2017; Cocca 2016; Hassler-Forest 2018; Monnet 2018). Placing a woman in such a role, formerly dominated by white males, increases representational equality and provides new models


Military service, empowerment, and diversification

of strength to those previously underrepresented, namely women, while also normalizing their behavior as they act in similar ways to those white males. To have them and their diverse teams triumph over imperialist forces re-centers their whiteness, heterosexuality, ablebodiedness, and traditional Anglo-European attractiveness. As seen in Figure 2.1, Wonder Woman leads the rather stereotypical Oddfellows: quiet Native American munitions expert Chief, wily Moroccan actor Sameer, drunken Scottish marksman with post-traumatic stress Charlie, and honorable white American spy and love interest Steve Trevor, who is trying to save his people. Pictured in Figure 2.2, Captain Marvel leads African American spy Nick Fury, African American

Figure 2.1 Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) with her team: Sameer (Said Taghmaoui), Steve (Chris Pine), Chief (Eugene Brave Rock), and Charlie (Ewen Bremner).

Figure 2.2 Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) with her team: Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), and Goose the Flerken.

Military service, empowerment, and diversification


pilot Maria Rambeau, and honorable green-skinned alien Skrull Talos (refreshingly not a love interest), who is trying to save his people. This is not unlike in war movies and westerns in which “teams consist of a diverse group of colorful characters, each having their own crucial area of expertise” (Brown 2017: 106; also Inness 2004: 13; Mafe 2018: 17; Stuller 2010: 92). They are small collectives of underdogs taking on large, powerful militaries.4 But “our” team being led by a white person confirms racial/ethnic superiority and communicates that the white leader must not be racist or sexist as they work with a diverse team (Wetmore 2005: 35 on Star Wars; Ketchum et al. 2011: 200 on Avatar; Brown 2019: 16 on Batman). The Wonder Woman film, with screenplay by Allen Heinberg and story by Heinberg, Zach Snyder, and Jason Fuchs, centers whiteness and shores up maleness in both of the military units that are foregrounded: the Amazons and the Oddfellows. The Amazons are brave, athletic, diverse women. But only four of them, all of whom are white, have more than one line. Another five, all women of color, say about one sentence each and are not named onscreen. The filmmakers chose to have (white) Antiope act as the right-hand woman of Hippolyta, when in comics since the 1980s that role has been played by (black) Philippus. Altogether, the Amazons are in only about one-quarter of the film. Diana then interacts with (white) Etta Candy twice, for a total of a few minutes. After this, the longstanding Wonder Woman villain Dr. Poison is the only other woman in the film, and she answers to the white male General Ludendorff. Diana and Poison do not speak to one another. For over half of the film, Diana is surrounded by new male characters, rather than any of her numerous historical female allies. Given that tens of thousands of British women volunteered in World War I, Diana could have led a group of women dressed as nurses and mechanics and drivers to the front. But the choice to create new male characters is not unsurprising given how male-dominated the superhero genre is behind the scenes, and the anxieties of parent company executives about media starring female characters. Helmed by a female director and written by only men, this 2017 film was the first to star a DC comics female superhero since 1984’s Supergirl. Its credits thank fifteen male comics writers and artists, but no female ones, even though at least ten could and should have been named.5 It has six named-onscreen male characters and five named female characters; in total, nineteen men speak and thirteen women speak. This seems relatively equitable, except that many of those women spoke only one line and the majority of the film’s minutes have only one woman in them, Diana.

52 Military service, empowerment, and diversification The Captain Marvel film—the twenty-first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the first to star a woman—had not only a female co-director, Anna Boden (with her husband Ryan Fleck), but also female screenwriters in Boden and Geneva Robertson-Dworet along with Fleck, with story credits to Nicole Perlman and Meg LeFauve in addition to the first three. It has six named-onscreen male characters who speak and five named female characters who speak, although in total, twenty-four men speak and nine women speak, which is clearly not equitable. Carol’s team is neither all male nor all white, as it consists of not only alien Talos and Nick Fury, but also Maria Rambeau, a more well-rounded role than many such roles for black women. Monica Rambeau here is a child who looks up to Carol and forms a queer family with her; but in the comics, Monica was the first female Captain Marvel in the 1980s (dubbed so by the diegetic media; she was not related to Mar-Vell). That Monica and Carol acted as peers in multiple stories through the 2010s is lost here.6 These moves toward inclusivity are important first steps, but they are not enough because they don’t address longstanding biases or inequities. In this way, superhero genre diversity in some ways parallels military diversity. Both institutions needed to reach beyond those seen as their “traditional” white and male targets in order to thrive, but did so in halting ways (Favara 2017: 2; Titunik 2008; see Bell 1980). In the 1970s after the draft ended, the military looked to white women like Carol Danvers, written since 1978 as enlisting in the Air Force to get the college education her father won’t pay for, and to get airborne. In the 1980s the military focused on African Americans, and by 1986, black women were three times more likely than white women to join the Army—at a time when their unemployment rate was three times that of white women (Montegary 2015: 904; Strohmer 2016: 276). Maria Rambeau’s time in the Air Force in the film is coincident in time with this. When these groups’ recruitment flattened in the 1990s, the military targeted economically marginal Latinxs via advertising on Telemundo and Univision, hiring Spanish-speaking recruiters and giving English lessons to potential recruits (Montegary 2015: 904). These strategies were effective to the point of the overrepresentation of people of color among enlisted.7 In the 2000s, a time of economic downturn and increased military need for the “war on terror,” the military officially embraced “diversity” as its policy, and in the later 2010s, women were allowed to serve in combat, and gay, lesbian, and transgender troops were allowed to serve openly. Specific success stories among these groups individualize structural problems of gender, race, and class that lead those from marginalized populations to enlist

Military service, empowerment, and diversification


in the military, and they also elide the military necessities behind the targeted recruitment. These different groups are still seen as just that, different: “Diversity is viewed as a ‘combat multiplier’” that increases military effectiveness, as “having more women and more people of color allows the military to better ‘blend in’ in urban warfare where engaging the population is necessary” (Mesok 2016: 56; see also Favara 2017). Women are particularly useful because “females can present a kinder, softer face to militaristic global capitalism” (Eisenstein 2008: 44). While no longer confined to gendered roles as nurturing nurses, they are still expected to perform in similar ways. In the Wonder Woman movie, a Belgian woman watches male Allied soldiers pass by her, but when she sees Diana, she pleads to her for help and describes her people’s plight; Diana listens compassionately and holds her hand. This is similar to the “Lioness [all-female] teams” in Iraq and “female engagement teams” in Afghanistan, employed “to search and calm women and children during home raids and at checkpoints.” While people of color and women were ostensibly allowed into the military on the basis of their individual merit, their value has been constructed as being in their difference (Mesok 2016: 55, 56). In this way the language of multiculturalism, of diversity, of a merit-based, gender-blind, and color-blind institution, is not progressive but neoliberal. It can both gloss over and support a militarized, imperial agenda not beneficial to women, people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, and those economically marginal, who are risking their lives for their

Figure 2.3 Surrounded by Allied soldiers, a Belgian woman reaches out and pulls Diana to her, saying, “Help, please help.” Compare to Carol in Figure 3.3, also kneeling and comforting a refugee.

54 Military service, empowerment, and diversification “difference” to be commodified (Davis 2008; Eisenstein 2008; Favara 2017; Mesok 2016; see also Duggan 2003; Crenshaw 2011; Mohanty 2013). Pointing to seemingly postfeminist and postrace success stories—the female pilot, the lesbian commander, the black male colonel—allows the military to claim it is blind to their demographics while simultaneously touting their difference as a measure of the institution’s tolerance and fairness. These individuals are “robust avatars of American multiculturalism,” and their very presence feels like broader reform has occurred, but it has not (Montegary 2015: 902; Crenshaw 2011: 1342; see also Duggan 2003). This then undercuts organizing around structural discriminations, such as the low percentages of women officers, particularly women of color; the high rates of sexual harassment and assault against women; the military academies’ “adversative education” style that stresses unit cohesion and obedience to hierarchy over reporting of gendered abusive behavior; the higher “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” discharge rates for women and especially women of color; the differentiation of women Marines as “WM” and black Marines as “Dark Green”; the differentiation of women pilots as “female airmen” (Gray 2013: 772, 773, 780; see also Banet-Weiser 2018; BanetWeiser, Gill, and Rottenberg 2019; Crenshaw 2011; McRobbie 2004; Mukherjee 2016; Springer 2007).8 Similarly, casting white and black women as female pilots Carol Danvers and Maria Rambeau, redrawing a formerly white character as the now-black lesbian Commander Etta Candy, drawing (and casting for film) the black Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes lend themselves to celebration by groups finally seeing themselves in fiction. Maria, Etta, and Rhodey can be seen as perfectly competent sidekicks, “compelling doubles for the heroes” who as such “constitute important countermodels” of heroism (Mafe 2018: 17, 124, on Doctor Who and Firefly; see also Brown 2017; DiPaolo 2011; Fawaz 2016; Whaley 2015). Neither Maria nor Etta embodies any of the historical stereotypes of black women in fiction: mammy, jezebel, sapphire, matriarch, welfare queen, crack addict, diva, or angry black woman. They are not “magical negroes” who explain everything to the white protagonist, nor the sassy black friends who cheer them on from afar, nor are they more sexualized than their white counterparts, nor are they unmoored from context as we are shown their careers and we meet their immediate families; further, Etta’s same-sex romantic relationship is foregrounded (Springer 2007: 254; Langsdale 2020). All three characters fit the description of respectability that actor Lashana Lynch wanted for her portrayal of Maria: “very resilient and very strong  .  .  . represented

Military service, empowerment, and diversification


positively [and] accurately. . . . I want her to be upstanding. I want her to have a voice” (Coggan 2018). Such diversification of characters and of roles has followed campaigns asserting that increased representation of formerly excluded and then stereotyped groups was a necessary component of securing equality. Their existence indicates some success. But the presence of this small number of individuals from marginalized groups on the page and/or behind the scenes can also lead to neoliberal, postfeminist, and postrace assertions. Namely, that because of these exceptional individuals’ hypervisible presence, any espousal of collective grievances is no longer necessary or appropriate and is even disruptive and aggravating—that difference is acceptable as long as it does not make a structural difference, as long as it stays to the side and makes no broader challenge (Gray 2013: 772, 773, 780; also Mukherjee 2016; Springer 2007; Crenshaw 2011; Banet-Weiser 2018; Banet-Weiser, Gill, and Rottenberg 2019). Even with the lack of structural change to underlying problems such as the underrepresentation of marginalized groups as executives and creators, complaints of sexual harassment, and lack of support for the new diverse heroes and/or their creative teams, there has been pushback about the small percentage of titles led by nonwhite, nonmale, nonheterosexual characters in the superhero genre: some of it surprised, some exasperated, and some threatening (see Cocca 2016). Media producers have responded with slow steps forward and have worked to make these works as broadly appealing and palatable as possible. Visibility is important, but it can be produced and received in multiple ways. In the case of Rhodey, despite his long military service and his excessively armed and armored War Machine suit, recent stories had him gravely injured on film and killed in the comics, recentering the whiteness of his best friend Tony (Iron Man) and girlfriend Carol (Captain Marvel). Figure 2.4, for instance, summarizes the story in which he is cast in the stereotypically female and stereotypically nonwhite position of not having been as strong as his allies, getting killed, and being held by his grieving partner, undercutting his exceptionality and (temporarily) removing his character from the comics. In the case of Maria in the film or Etta in comics, while they do not exhibit numerous historical stereotypes of black women, and they are strong characters, it is also the case that their roles are in support of white women. They can be viewed as “universal” characters who just “happen to be black” (see Henderson 2019: np on Moon Girl). These kinds of portrayals can be more aptly termed “diversification” rather than actual “diversity” (Resha 2019). Difference is more a commodity than a reality, as actual


Military service, empowerment, and diversification

differences in background or life experience, especially those that might engender radical politics, tend to be homogenized toward normative conceptions not only of gender, sexuality, and class, but in particular toward a white ideal: Tony, Carol, and Diana (Butler 2013; Kanai 2020; Kent 2016; Montegary 2015; Mukherjee 2016; Springer 2007). As noted about Carol and Diana themselves, they are female characters finally more often centered in stories, and much less prone to be stereotyped or sexualized, but have had their power and violence naturalized through new origins, through their growing similarities to white male superheroes, and through increased military aesthetics.

Figure 2.4 Lt. Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes and Col. Carol Danvers are an interracial military couple in the comics—until he dies, whereupon Carol holds him in a manner much more commonly seen with male characters holding dead female characters (art by Marco Failla 2016, Captain Marvel #7).

Military service, empowerment, and diversification


The white, cisgender female superhero as rogue soldier, surrounded by the aesthetics of battle and war, leading her diverse military team on a righteous mission, is appealing militainment for those looking for subversive collective action or restorative individual military violence. Brown notes that in films with young female action heroes, the protagonist “ultimately wins because she joins forces with other subjugated people” (2015: 179). Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel’s 2010s comics and the films do the same, and that lends to their appeal. The films ultimately highlight the protagonists in a remarkably parallel way, in which the much-touted teamwork and soldierly bonds fade into the background. As shown in Figures 2.5 and 2.6, both singularly empowered white female leads glow up with outstretched arms in a cruciform pose and obliterate the enemy alone. Such works can be read as feminist and anti-racist as well as postfeminist and postrace. The women work with a diverse group and via cooperative action are victorious. But in the end, one white savior uses superhuman, Christianity-inflected force to intimidate and kill people, without visibly changing the discriminatory and imperialist institutional structures she worked within and then resigned from on film (but continues to work with in comics). They both take into account and repudiate the necessity of civil rights work at the same time, entangling the strategies of solidaristic and liberatory work across race, gender, nationality, and ability, with a less realistic but more affectively appealing individualism.

Figure 2.5 Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) embraces her full Greek god powers and strikes a glowing cruciform pose.


Military service, empowerment, and diversification

Figure 2.6 Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) embraces her full Kree powers and strikes a glowing cruciform pose.

Conclusion The stories of these white female protagonists and their diverse units of allies rest heavily on the very attractive notions of choice and empowerment. Each person takes responsibility for their own lives, working hard within a meritocracy in which more people from marginalized groups are portrayed on the page, cast in flms, hired to write and draw superhero stories, and allowed into the armed forces. Such individualization is inspirational and aspirational to watch as we put ourselves in their places and feel their successes, which are predicated as much on their working together as a unit as it is on the strength of the female leads. In this way, they model solidarity within a united group of demographically dissimilar people, a central tenet of feminist organizing across diference to make change (hooks 1984; Mohanty 2003; Chowdhury and Philipose 2016; Duggan 2019). But the individual hero and unit show little solidarity with those outside of the group, as these bands of diverse sisters and brothers engage in the neoconservative, neocolonial, and “dangerous work of killing other racialized others” (Montegary 2015: 905). That work, done by people whose bodies display the increased diversification of multiple institutions but who conform to their conservatizing ideals, is presented as exigent and goes uninterrogated. Our heroes may have gone rogue in some ways, but their resolution of conflicts through their own self-empowerment as expressed through military violence is not one of them.

Military service, empowerment, and diversification


With few exceptions, there tends to be little background given as to why the main characters, generally Americans, are in a war in a particular place, except to help people or protect people. Left out are the ways in which war requires “distinguishing those lives to be preserved from those whose lives are dispensible” and deciding “whose life is protected and whose is radically unprotected” (Butler 2016: xviii; Curtis 2013: 215). Rather, the focus is on the individual protagonist’s free choices rather than on the lack of choice for marginalized people who may join the military out of economic necessity, or the lack of choice for soldiers who “cannot decide for themselves where to serve or not to serve and whom to kill or not to kill” (Runck 2006: 18; also Ehrenreich 2007; Eisenstein 2008; Kagan 2008; Mesok 2016; Mohanty, Pratt, and Riley 2008; Montegary 2015). Left out are the structural inequalities that gave rise to particular crises, on nonviolent cooperative actions that could alleviate them, or on the fallout to the people in the theater of war who are no less deserving of liberation than our heroes. Rather, the war and superhero genres present the “experience of combat as an exciting battle between forces of right and wrong . . . [and as] deploying righteous violence in an apolitical theater” (Monnet 2018: 1378). That these actions are undertaken by a white woman alongside women and men of color as well as aliens of multiple colors may be received as more even more righteous and more progressive, as they all represent marginalized groups. But those same actions by the woman superhero soldier and her unit also reinforce domestic and international hierarchies of race, ethnicity, class, and nation. Many such stories render invisible how the U.S.’s and multiple European countries’ imperialism and capitalism, enmeshed in racism and xenophobia, have destabilized multiple areas of the world (see, e.g., Chowdhury and Philipose 2016; Dittmer 2013; Enloe 2000; Gavaler 2018; Hosein 2019; Riley, Mohanty, and Pratt 2008; Wetmore 2005). The next chapter will take up the costs of these otherings and these destabilizations.

Notes 1 Thanks to Anna Peppard for phrasing this in this way. 2 Women are 18% of ofcers. Women of color are 63% of enlisted women, but only 23% of the ofcer women (PopRep 2018, percentages computed by author). The majority of military women report having experienced sexual harassment and/or assault; women of color report the highest rates (Burton 2014: np). “Adversative education” also accounts for underreporting of abuse, and reprisals for reporting (Bayard de Volo and Hall 2015: 865).






7 8

Military service, empowerment, and diversification

Air Force Academy song lyrics sexualizing women, “midget tossing” smaller cadets (usually women), labeling women “dykes” or “sluts,” and a “collaborate to graduate” culture means that “women are naturalized as targets of harassment and aggression” (Bayard de Volo and Hall 2015: 866, 876, 878, 880, 882; see also, Strohmer 2016). Women were discharged at a rate double their military presence; women of color at a rate nearly triple their presence (Montegary 2015: 899 fn 4). On “diferentiating ‘real marines’ meaning white males” from others, see Shigematsu, Bhagwati, and Paintedcrow (2008: 96). On the costs to women in countries subject to U.S. military intervention, see Chapter 3. Wonder Woman’s god-related stories by Azzarello, Finch, and Robinson are mostly set apart from the more earthbound ones described here. Azzarello surrounds her with a new and all-white “family” of Zola, Hera, Ares, Orion, Hermes, Lennox, and Zeke (see Figure 0.4), with other gods portrayed as more monstrous. Finch featured the black Amazon Hessia and brought back Donna Troy. Robinson’s stories centered on Diana’s new brother Jason. After this, as noted, writer Rucka brought back Barbara Ann Minerva/Cheetah and Etta (whose 1940s incarnation can be read as queer) as a couple, with Veronica Cale and Dr. Poison as villains. Fontana introduced more of Etta’s family. Orlando featured the Amazon Artemis and introduced Latina Nora Nunes. Both Rucka and Wilson utilized the Amazons, particularly Hippolyta and Philippus. Wilson also created Maggie, a black human woman who becomes an Amazon, and the nonbinary demigod Atlantiades. While the Kree in this flm are diverse, as played by Gemma Chan, Djimon Hounsou, Rune Temte, and Algenis Perez Soto, they are led by a white male, Jude Law, who wears no blue makeup as do Chan, Temte, and Perez Soto, which homogenizes and others them. Some male creators listed had little to do with the flm, while every woman who had worked on the character was left out, such as Joye Murchison, Ramona Fradon, Trina Robbins, Mindy Newell, Jill Thompson, Karen Berger, Jan Duursema, Jodi Picoult, Gail Simone, Nicola Scott, Renae De Liz, and Shea Fontana. The flm’s depiction of Carol’s allies as diverse is similar to the post-2012 comics. Carol works with Alpha Flight (Abigail Brand, Wendy Kawasaki, Aurora, Sasquatch, and Puck, along with a few cadets); the Banshees; a number of superheroes as noted; a few older characters (Tracy and Rose); and a few younger ones (Kit and Tic). See Cocca (2016) on the 2010s CarolMonica stories. Angela Davis points out, “besides the military, another place you might go if you want to see diversity is in the U.S. prisons” (2008: 24). Thanks to Anna Peppard for phrasing this in this way.


The othering of adversaries and refugees

Greg Rucka writes Diana as seeing her truth by putting her lasso around herself and realizing she is both “peacemaker and warfghter” (Rucka and Sharp 2016, WW: Rebirth #1). Not dissimilarly, Kelly Sue DeConnick has Carol declare that, as “a woman of war,” she will secure justice (DeConnick and Lopez 2014, CM #5). This is not that unusual in the genre, given that superhero comics have had links to war since their inception and the flms have continued those links (Costello 2009; Davis 2018). What is diferent is that warmaking is historically associated with men, and these women are waging war through female bodies. Their engagement with adversaries and their protection of the marginalized is in some ways similar to that of male superheroes, while in other ways their actions have been framed quite diferently. This chapter analyzes these characters’ stories’ approaches to war and its costs, particularly in terms of the othering of enemies and of those made vulnerable by those such conficts. The centering of women in such narratives is still novel, but which women are centered and nuanced and which are unnamed and homogenized reinscribes hierarchies of race, ethnicity, religion, and nation.

Making war and making enemies The nature of war has received much attention in 2010s Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel stories and has been written by some as natural, permanent, and endless. In the Wonder Woman flm, the German General Ludendorf says “War gives man purpose” and Ares says that mankind starts wars, not him. Similarly, comics writer Brian Azzarello has Ares say, “The world will be ruled by war. It’s inevitable” (Azzarello and Chiang 2012, WW #4). Such language constructs the idea of war as an unavoidable part of human life—or, mankind’s life, a gendered conception. Azzarello has Diana’s newly discovered

62 The othering of adversaries and refugees brother, the First Born, about to kill Ares and thus take his place as the god of war, such that to avoid that outcome, Diana kills Ares herself to become god of war. This is in line with decades of her stories in which “War” was embodied as her archenemy and she defeated him, but also in great contrast to that long history in that in this storyline she was not only mentored by Ares but also in essence becomes him. As her frst act, though, a subversive one, she refuses to kill the First Born and is told, “You will make an interesting god of war” (Azzarello and Chiang 2013, WW #23). When Meredith Finch took over the series, she sought to center this paradox, saying Diana’s “being the god of war is really a struggle for her because she’s representing something she’s diametrically opposed to” (Romano 2015). She has her vow, “As long as I am god of war I will do everything in my power to prevent it, even if it kills me” (Finch and M. Mendonça 2015, WW #47). Orlando too has her say: “Those who know war best must always be ready for it and work hardest to avoid it” (Orlando and M. Raynor 2020, WW #752). Multiple Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel stories, and paratextual materials, highlight the tension that these writers lay out here, which is basically the difference between traditional just war theory and feminist security studies perspectives. The former tends to assume war’s inevitability and to approach it in a gendered way: it assumes autonomous sovereigns of unitary states who decide they have a just cause for war, go to war as what they consider a last resort, have a reasonable chance of success, conduct their actions with proportionality, and discriminate between combatants and non-combatants (see, e.g., Enloe 2000, 2004; Shepherd 2012; Sjoberg 2008, 2015; Walzer 2004; Wanner 2016). What traditional just war theory tends not to do is to consider, for instance, that women in particular live the conditions of war before traditional theories recognize one has even started, via increased economic austerity or violence in the home. States are not necessarily unitary within and may oppress certain people within, and they tend not to do “everything in [their] power to prevent” war through empathetic cooperation, inclusivity, and equity in listening to all relevant actors’ viewpoints about justice and just causes, dialogue that values local knowledge, and particular consideration to the lasting structural and individual effects of war on the already-marginalized (Sjoberg 2015, 2008). Those already marginalized, those upon whom war’s effects tend to fall most heavily but are often not taken into account, are women, not only in terms of suffering direct bodily harm as “collateral damage” but also as being those who “bear the burden of reconciliation and reconstruction” with the family, with infrastructure, and with care labor for those disabled by violence (Runck 2006:

The othering of adversaries and refugees


17; Sjoberg 2015: 446; see also Enloe 2004; Mesok 2016; Montegary 2015). In this view, war is neither natural nor unavoidable but can be averted through consensus-building, understanding, and a view to sustainability that requires attending to the realities of people’s lives on and off the battlefield. Similar to this approach and to Angela Davis’s notion that “peace cannot be envisioned as the simple cessation of war” (2008: 22), writer Steve Orlando says of Wonder Woman, “She knows peace isn’t something you just find, you work for it, you create it. . . . Compassion is hard. Anger is easy, a warrior’s death is quick,” and that “Diana’s greatest asset isn’t her superpowers, it’s that she never takes the easy way. She takes the right way” because she is, unique among superheroes, driven by love (Gomez 2018). He has her bring an end to war through listening and talking to both sides, showing truth to those fighting until they lay down their arms. Writer Greg Rucka would also foreground the conflict between the character’s mission of teaching and peacemaking with her new role as god of war (along with, arguably, some meta commentary about that plot point), “I think I am the god of war. Yet I think that cannot be true” (Rucka and Sharp 2016, WW: Rebirth #1). Unlike Azzarello’s having her kill the god of war with a sword, Rucka has her kneel to him: “I plead for peace, Dire War. . . . I would give thee anything to spare these mortals thy bloody wrath, Warbringer” (Rucka and Scott 2016, WW #12). Ares tells Diana that her mission to defend the world from him has failed as he points out her diverse military team: See whom you ally with. Men and women of war. That is whom you would call friends. This world was born of my fires. It is enslaved to it. They turn home and hearth to battlefields. They worship me. They profit from me. Their leaders glorify my doctrine. . . . Unto their very children they teach my ways, in stories and schools. . . . This world already belongs to me! As her entreaties were spurned and as per her training, she decides to subdue him with her lasso and replies with resolve, “Then from you we will take it back” (Rucka and Scott, 2016, WW #14). Later, with Ares bound by chains laid on him by the goddess of love Aphrodite, a metaphor for war as being ended through love, Diana appeals to his sons in the same way, saying, “All you are, all you have done, all of it, I accept it and I love you. . . . You don’t have to be afraid any more. You are loved.” Undone by her truth, they surrender (Rucka and Sharp 2017, WW #23). This Diana does not assume war can be avoided in

64 The othering of adversaries and refugees every circumstance, but with her allies, she actively opposes and counters it with dialogue, compromise, and compassion. This conforms to the original conception of Wonder Woman, one that appears laden with gendered stereotypes of women (unlike men) as being innately pro-peace in ways that could appeal to those with more essentialist views of gender. But it could also be seen as embodying learned feminist values that anyone can practice, appealing to more progressive readers. At her origin, she was described as a woman who would teach the values of love and peace and democracy to Man’s World, and through her teachings and lasso engender loving submission to those ideas. And yet to do this, wrote her creator in Wonder Woman #1 (1942) in a very particular historical moment, she would “fight for America.” As mentioned in Chapter 1, Cynthia Enloe writes, “Most feminists have never said that women can’t be militaristic,” but she goes on to say that they cannot and should not “ignore women’s experiences of war all over the world” and “need to listen closely to women in war zones as they try to make sense of war” (2004: 133). Being both “peacemaker and warfighter” contributes to Diana’s complexity and her marketability. Such “listening” to others (albeit mostly to male others) was even more evident after September 11, 2001, when many superhero stories became more critical of the U.S. government, generally with greater nuance in comics than on film (see, e.g., Brown 2017; Cocca 2016; Costello 2009). The Captain Marvel film can be seen as a commentary on the U.S. “war on terror,” for instance, as the Kree Accuser Ronan describes Skrulls as “terrorists” and as an “infestation,” dehumanizing an entire people as animals unworthy of consideration and constructing the Kree as righteously defending themselves. When the Skrull Talos explains to Carol that she and her Kree people have been fighting an “unjust war” against them, Carol protests, echoing Ronan and what all Kree are taught from childhood, “No. Your people are terrorists.” She listens, is shown to be mistaken, apologizes, and promises to help the Skrulls. Only true heroes, like Mar-Vell, Carol’s mother, and Carol herself, turn their backs on this orientation and interrogate their own imperial othering and warmaking, reaching out with compassion to their supposed adversaries. Comics generally have been more direct about the U.S. government, implicating it by name. In the prominent storyline “Civil War II,” Carol is tasked with assembling “the greatest defense force the world has ever seen” and vows to stop “tragedy before it happens” (Gage and Gage and M. Failla 2016, CM #6). She works for the government, as did Iron Man during the first “Civil War,” again increasing the two

The othering of adversaries and refugees


characters’ similarities. Here she employs an Inhuman who frequently predicts events before they happen, and notes approvingly that he is giving her information about “known terror groups, dangerous criminals.” But Black Panther—not American, but leader of a fictional African country that escaped imperialism and is critical of neocolonial rhetoric—pushes back, “By whose designation? One country’s dissident can be another’s freedom fighter.” She replies that they are not profiling any people by their race, religion, ethnicity, or politics, just by their actions. Black Panther then makes the point that “predictive justice” by its nature may tend to round up the usual suspects in a given place (Gage and Gage and Anka 2016, CM #8; see Diamond 2017: 13). But she still surveils Magneto because of what she calls his “mutant supremacist terrorist” ideology (Gage and Gage and Anka 2016, CM #9). Magneto, a child of the Holocaust, observes, “This is how it starts. Next come the detention camps.” Other superheroes become increasingly wary of her as well, as in pursuit of keeping people safe, she begins to bend constitutional guarantees for those accused of crimes. Even Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, who idolizes Captain Marvel, decides to work against what she feels is indeed unjust profiling. The story ends with multiple deaths—including Carol’s military boyfriend Rhodey/War Machine (see Figure 2.4)—and Carol’s reflections on her mistakes and her resolve to move forward from them. It is a cautionary tale about othering the “usual suspects” and using force on them rather than reaching out to them or judging them as individuals. Two further examples in Wonder Woman comics were written by Steve Orlando and G. Willow Wilson. The former’s features Rustam, a man from the fictional Arabian peninsular country of Qurac, who spent his life “fighting its regime to return the land to its people.” He seems at first an unambiguous villain who is fomenting war, but then explains his history to Diana, “You have no idea of what Qurac did to my body, what . . . your government did to my mind!” (S. Orlando and R. Allen 2018, WW #54 and 55). While this implicates a (fictional) Middle Eastern government, it implicates the U.S. government as well. Diana would not have discovered this if she had reacted with violence rather than with listening to all of the relevant parties first, and through compassion for and inclusion of both sides, she brings about an end to the conflict, saying “You all fought bravely for what you thought was just” (Orlando and Allen 2018, WW #54). In a later story by Orlando, she says, “I have ideas of how to help people. But the ideas that matter more are of those being helped. . . . [The truth] is Wonder Woman’s mission, so I cannot ignore the truths of others” (Orlando and J. Duursema 2020, WW #751).

66 The othering of adversaries and refugees Similarly, Wilson’s story involves Diana arriving in Durovnia, a fictional Eastern European country. She assumes Ares has started a conflict there, which involves a covert U.S. mission to back a democratically elected government against an independence movement from within. One man from this movement asks her, “Who are you to interfere? We’re fighting for our independence, for the future of our children . . . no one asked for your opinion.” She responds, “You’re right” (Wilson and Nord 2019, WW #60). But she then fights with Ares there, causing more chaos. She brings the warring sides to the table for negotiation, where they tell her that there will be peace only if she and others leave, “You fought a battle on our land that had very little to do with the people living here. And now we must all live with the consequences.” When Diana worries that they have made things worse, Etta Candy, representing the U.S. Navy, concludes, “Everything we do, including the good, is dangerous” (Wilson and Nord 2019, WW #62). This positions Diana as standing apart from an interventionist U.S. government that still tries to do “good” but may indeed make things worse in other countries, and it also allows the local people to explain their situation and for her to accede to their request. Women in such roles are aspirational and empowering, to be sure, but in the films, the characters are not written as considering the more systemic ways of averting conflict noted previously. Diana tells her mother, “If no one else will defend the world from Ares, then I must . . . I’m willing to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” Carol sends the villain Yon-Rogg to the Kree with the message, “I’m coming to end it, the war, the lies, all of it.” These two, like other superheroes, are like nation-states at war in terms of deploying high levels of violence with autonomy and discretion as they deem necessary (Wanner 2016: 179). The difference is that these are female superheroes, and in general, battles and wars are theorized as and represented as male heroes protecting a feminized community from harm, but here women are clearly capable of acting as those sovereigns as well (see, e.g., Dittmer 2013: 11; Knopf 2016: 44; Curtis 2016: 128). Their adversaries on film are framed as beyond peacemaking such that our heroes must end war with war and with brute force, surrounded by military aesthetics, like many a male character before them. This underlines a contradiction for the superhero fan as well, who is “wishing for the defeat of destructive might through an agent of destructive might” (Gavaler 2018: 105). Or, wanting to see an end to war through consuming militainment featuring war. With both Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, we are shown that “they can be lethal, but only to those who ‘deserve it’ [which allows]

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for the perception of a ‘clean war,’ framing it in a way that makes it easier to obtain public support” (see Pardy 2016: 29 on S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers). Most superhero comics—although not all, as indicated earlier—and these characters’ films follow this formula. In the Captain Marvel film and comics, the alien Kree are othered as having a monoculture driven by violence, war, and imperialism. Carol’s Kree mother explains, “Our parents were generals, our siblings soldiers” and recounts how she was sent off to battle by the Kree Supreme Intelligence, who taught, “A thousand years of war and still the drums echo. . . . We must smother a thousand new threats in the cradles of our enemies. . . . To be Kree is to be at war” (Stohl and M. Sauvage 2018, LoCM #4). In short, while some might receive these words as commentary on what has been called American “endless war,” we are told nothing about the motivations of the othered culture but are led to assume their nationalist, imperialist warmaking is wrong. The film’s Mar-Vell tells Carol directly that the Kree are “bad guys,” engendering our antipathy for them. Such framing makes the heroes’ vigilante use of violence necessary for them to do and pleasurable for us to see. The Wonder Woman film has little nuance about enemies and military intervention, making a clear distinction between “grievable” (Allies’) and “ungrievable” (Germans’) lives (Butler 2016). Steve Trevor says immediately that the Americans and British are “the good guys” and (like Mar-Vell) the Germans are “the bad guys.” He does not explain the Germans’ motivations or if they have been wronged. Rather, the film taps into viewers’ awareness of Germany as having been on the “other” side in two world wars and thus retains the idea of a “clean war,” but plays loose with other historical facts. This conforms to superhero narratives that in some ways follow actual history but in other ways “de-historicize the events to which they refer” (Hassler-Forest 2012: 17). The Germans did indeed use gas in Belgium in World War I, but there is no acknowledgment of Britain’s, France’s, or the U.S.’s use of it. Wounded Allied men are shown returning from war, and Allied soldiers and civilians suffering due to the war, but no German distress. Diana’s teammate, Charlie the sniper, is framed as worthy of compassion when his targets are not. “A murderer of dozens of people, he is made sympathetic through his having post-traumatic stress” (Monnet 2018: 1385 on American Sniper). This is the nod to the costs of war—not the damage to enemy soldiers, but the damage to one Allied soldier for having killed so many of those enemy soldiers. These elements shore up our view of Diana and the Allies’ warmaking as righteous and reduces our sympathy for German soldiers when Wonder Woman and her team wound and kill them.

68 The othering of adversaries and refugees As noted, a more actively violent Wonder Woman is much more exceptional than common. In the film, at first, assuming that god of war Ares has taken over the minds of men, she wraps one man in her lasso and apologizes, “I’m sorry, but you are clearly under his control.” But after that, she fights numerous German soldiers, killing at least some of them. She leaps into a church where a sniper hides, crumbling its roof onto him. When she emerges alone, she is applauded, and she smiles. That she could have pacified or subdued the sniper goes unremarked, as does the fact that she has a sniper on her own team, the sympathetic Charlie. She does not try to extend a hand to, pacify, or subdue the German General Ludendorff or Ares; rather, she kills the first with her sword and the second with her bracers.1 Some readers and viewers may have cheered this badass version of the character, surrounded by real weapons of warfare, little different from male superheroes unleashing violence on others. But it is not similar to most of her long history which embodies the more postcolonial, feminist security studies framework as noted. Easing further audience acceptance of this violence is the ways in which Ludendorff, a real-life World War I German general, and his fictional henchwoman Dr. Poison are framed as particularly monstrous. Not only have they developed chemical weapons, but they also massacred Germans who wanted to sign an armistice, throwing gas and a useless gas mask into a locked room and laughing as the men die. The presentation of these antagonists as isolated individual monsters removes their whiteness from responsibility in a way that seems postracialized and individualizing (McIntosh 2018: 123). Such individualization tends not to occur when enemy armies or terrorists are represented as brown or as Muslim and are represented as more monolithic. Dr. Poison is introduced by Steve as “Ludendorff’s chief psychopath, Dr. Isabel Maru.” Spanish in this telling, although Spain was neutral in the war, she is working in a secret lab in Turkey such that Middle Eastern otherness is implicated in the making of such weapons. Further, unlike her every appearance in comics since 1942, here she is labeled a psychopath and is facially disfigured, wearing an unnatural, inelastic mask over part of her face. This is revealed to cover deeply scarred flesh from chin to ear that gapes open around her mouth and bares some of her teeth in an animalistic way. The effect is to underscore her monstrousness and to reinscribe tropes linking disability and villainy, dehumanizing her, rationalizing violence against her, and reducing our compassion for her (Diamond and Poharec 2017: 403, 404; also Butler 2016; Diamond 2017; DiPaolo 2011; Langsdale and Coody 2020; Worsham 2013).2

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In World War II-era comics, Maru was a Japanese princess who had worked with Nazis, so Diana brought her to the Amazons so she could reform. A variant of this orientalist, exoticizing portrayal is carried through the film in its retention of her name, her ambiguously accented English, and the Euro-Asian location of Turkey as noted. But the film’s Diana does not seek to understand or redeem Maru as she had in comics since her origin, and the way she reaches out to female villains in the 2010s comics such as Hera (by Azzarello), Veronica Cale and Cheetah (by Rucka and by Wilson), and Mayfly (by Orlando). Rather, she almost kills her by crushing her with a tank, but thinks of Steve and stops. We don’t learn Maru’s motivation or her fate, but we do know that Diana puts down the tank because her white American boyfriend taught her to believe in love. This re-centers Diana’s whiteness, traditional beauty, and nondisabled body as heroic, as it others and dismisses Maru. Maru’s poison gas, and the threat of terrorism, was in 2010s Wonder Woman comics as well, in a more nuanced fashion. Rucka writes of the Sear Group, its name an anagram for Ares, and under the influence of his sons. Their “Maru virus” is a “bio-chemical agent based off Sovietera combat drugs [that] makes its victims violently lash out at any and everyone around them” (Rucka and Scott 2016, WW #10). Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva (aka Cheetah) explains their motivations: “Because they resent the way some people worship, or where other people live, or who still others love. . . . At its root it’s all the same thing. They hate.” Far from common stereotypes of Arab or Muslim terrorism, the description of the white males who have used the virus is akin to white supremacist terrorism, determined by the U.S. government to have increased since the election of Barack Obama but downplayed by both the Obama and Trump administrations for quite different political reasons, such that both constructed “terror” as external and brown rather than internal and white. While this storyline might resonate with more conservative readers who may dismiss white supremacist violence as committed by mentally ill individuals whose whiteness is immaterial, for more progressive readers it may underline the threat of systemic racism. Diana listens to and comforts the terrorists, and then military officers direct her and Steve to a number of civilians, including a very diverse group of schoolchildren, to protect them from the Maru virus. She later defeats Ares’s sons with compassion and with her lasso as noted. The protection of children, and of women, from a monolithically othered foe as motivating Diana is clear in the film. As noted in Chapter 2 and displayed in Figure 2.3, one woman from a Belgian village


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holds a baby and tells her about the Germans, “they’ve taken everything . . . the ones who couldn’t escape, they took as slaves.” Diana wants to help them, but Steve explains that they can’t save everyone, and “no man can cross” the battlefield to liberate that village. It is at this moment that Diana basically becomes Wonder Woman, as in the form of a postfeminist movie makeover she shakes out her long wavy hair, dons her tiara, and shrugs off her drab coat to reveal not only her iconic costume but also much of her skin. She takes out her shield and climbs a ladder into No Man’s Land, racing across it to draw fire so she, Steve, and the Oddfellows can lead Allied soldiers across. As in Figure 3.1, the men behind her, the mud, the dead trees, the armaments all blend together in a grayish-brown mass, while the golden stylized American eagle and the red and blue accents of her costume stand out, and her bare face, neck, arms, and thighs gleam white.3 She defies what men think she is capable of, shows her strength, and fulfills the feminist goal of liberation by freeing the Belgian village. She is also a skimpily dressed symbol of white American might, leading the wellarmed Allied military behind her. It is the desperation to save the woman and those like her that pushes Diana into action. Indeed, many British suffragists were particularly outraged by German soldiers’ rapes of Belgian women (Enloe 2000: 7), referenced in the fictional woman telling Diana that the Germans took villagers as “slaves.” British feminists, though, were split about the war effort in the same ways today’s feminists are, arguing whether the

Figure 3.1 Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) begins her run across No Man’s Land, her hair streaming behind her, white skin stark against the gray-brown mud, American eagle-themed gold, red, and blue costume providing the only color.

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more feminist move is to use violence to protect women, or to oppose the war for the inevitable damage it would do disproportionately to women and children. Wonder Woman’s individualized violence at first seems to uphold the former, but it is revealed to do nothing to alleviate the latter, as these same townspeople would later be wiped out by the German gas. As Angela Davis puts it, “Victories achieved by individuals do not necessarily count as collective victories” (2008: 21). Her violence was only a temporary solution, and her heroic run across No Man’s Land did not change the underlying conditions of the war. But her particular concern for women and children, and Captain Marvel’s as well, would recur in their 2010s stories.

Caring for “womenandchildren,” and protecting refugees There is a gendered disconnect between the ways in which, “[i]n the Western media, where one story about war gets told, women are portrayed as helpless, and at the same time as essential to the U.S. all‘volunteer’ military charged with carrying out the war” (Mohanty, Pratt, and Riley 2008: 8). Certainly, justifcations for U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan came to include the protection and liberation of women from their countrymen, and as noted, all-female teams of U.S. soldiers in both countries were part of that efort. These dueling narratives call to mind Spivak’s concern about the subaltern being able to speak, when she memorably wrote that “white men are saving brown women from brown men” (1985: 92). It seems that now white women are saving brown women as well. This has tended to reinscribe the idea that brown women need to be saved from their monolithically oppressive cultures and homogenized brown countrymen (rather than from imperialistic military and economic interventions) by more enlightened people from the Global North, or West (Abu-Lughod 2013: 6, 46; Dai 2016: 88; Mohanty, Pratt, and Riley 2008: 4; Shehabuddin 2011: 103, 105; Wetmore 2005: 183). Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel in the late 2010s are often portrayed as saving unnamed “womenandchildren,” a term coined by Cynthia Enloe (1990) to highlight the oft-repeated phrase describing those in need of protection, used to justify U.S. intervention in other countries. In the comics, these are usually women of color, or outerspace aliens who are often used as proxies for people of color in multiple genres of media. There are four examples of this in 2016–2017 Wonder Woman comics. First, Diana, Steve, and his unit of three American men of color


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rescue young women and girls in the fictional sub-Saharan African country of Bwunda. Liam Sharp draws them with dark skin and dark hair, the younger ones with their heads covered and the older ones’ hair adorned with metal and bone. They are held captive there by the Latino “warlord” Andres Cadulo (Rucka and Sharp 2016, WW# 1, 3, 5, 7). Cadulo’s presence in Africa is unexplained and reiterates stereotypical portrayals of Latinos as criminal and villainous (Aldama 2017), which is worsened by their underrepresentation. Second, Bilquis Evely draws Diana as shielding civilians in the previously mentioned fictional Qurac, as shown in Figure 3.2. Several are women with their heads covered, and a few are women and children with uncovered heads (Rucka and Evely 2017, WW #20). As colored by Romulo Fajardo Jr., they are about the same skin tone as Diana.4 She is telling a foregrounded man and a woman in red vests to take these people “to the trucks,” which implies they are being evacuated from a dangerous situation. Third, Mirka Andolfo draws and Fajardo again colors a U.N. refugee camp in Greece, akin to those overtaxed by refugees in the mid-tolate 2010s. A brown woman with her head covered is telling a white man that she will do anything if he promises not to hurt her boy. When the boy tries to stand up for his mother and the man goes to hit him,

Figure 3.2 Wonder Woman shields brown children and women, some of whom wear head coverings, in Middle Eastern “Qurac” (art by Bilquis Evely 2017, Wonder Woman #20).

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Diana blocks him from doing so, ostensibly saving them. She later reports to a military general, “The refugee camp is secured and the surviving radicals detained. Steve and his contingent remained behind to aid with rebuilding” (Fontana and Andolfo 2017, WW #26). But as Enloe asks, Whose security is being prioritized? . . . Refugee camps can become like prisons, making women inside feel as oppressed by their male camp ‘protectors’ as they do by some of the more nefarious men inside the camp or by the men from whom they escaped. (2004: 134) There is no indication that the man Diana protected the woman and child from was a “radical,” or that people like him were punished or deterred. A fourth example is in an issue released the same week as the film (T. Seeley and C.D. Fernandez 2017, WW: Steve Trevor #1). Steve, Charlie, Sameer, and Chief are working for A.R.G.U.S. in Turkey to rescue a blond, blue-eyed woman named Fatma. Fernandez draws her as near the same skin color as Steve. It is clear from her name, from the storyline returning her to her nearby home, and from her speaking Turkish, that she is native to the country. In all of these stories by different writers and artists, Wonder Woman, Steve, and one or the other of his diverse crews are protecting women who are presented to us as African, Middle Eastern, and/or Muslim. This increases the diversity of women portrayed on the page and represents them as worthy of saving. But as Hosein writes of similar stories, “There is virtually no attention paid to the complexity of hegemonies present in their individual cultures nor the complications of Western geo-politics in their region” and thus, such presentations are “a form of ‘worlding’ about the Islamic world and Muslim women that allows the First World to continue to ignore the imperialist overtones of Western geo-politics in Muslim countries while praising ourselves for being an ‘all-inclusive’ society” (2019: 67). Providing rescue or salvation to an “undifferentiated category” of people in this way does not get at any of the structural or systemic problems unique to individual places; it is not transcultural feminist solidarity but neocolonial, neoliberal, and neoconservative in its assumptions of superiority (Shehabuddin 2011: 103, 111, 126; Dai 2016: 88, 89; see also, Abu-Lughod 2013: 7; Chowdhury and Philipose 2016: 3). These characters are background figures without agency and nuance, their role more as visual tokens than as providing opportunities to engage with specific peoples or cultures.5

74 The othering of adversaries and refugees The focus is not on the particularities of the foreign, only on how the foreign affects the domestic, our heroes. All of this contributes to reinscribing “superheroes’ original Orientation” via an “unexamined repetition of fossilized conventions that encode the colonialist attitudes that helped to create the original character type and continue to define it in relation to imperial practices” (Gavaler 2018: 48). There are feminist actions here, in the protection of the vulnerable, in reaching out to others different from themselves. But the ahistoricism and tokenism are more indicative of a white, hegemonic, Western feminism, or postfeminist and postrace sensibility, that reproduces hierarchies in its focus on the individual privileged hero. Captain Marvel comics and the film are similarly oriented toward refugees, portrayed as variously green- or blue-skinned aliens. The film involves refugees on the planet Torfa, green-skinned Skrulls oppressed by the Kree, the latter of whom, as noted, Carol turns against when she fully understands their imperial ways. The Skrull Talos and his wife Soren, both with speaking parts which indicate their British- and American-accented English, are white actors under their green makeup, while others remain more of a “huddled mass” of one (nonwhite) skin color, so they can be read as white like the refugees in the Wonder Woman film or as people of color.6 At the film’s end, Carol tells these Skrulls, “I’ll help you find a home.” Similarly, when Captain Marvel heads up Alpha Flight, they rescue others who have been treated badly by the Kree. Because Carol still wears the Kree star, though, they tell her that “Nothing could equal the atrocities committed by your people.” Impatient that their leader seems not to understand that she is not loyal to the Kree, she thinks about punching him, but she holds out her hand, “We can help you. All of you.” When challenged by her co-worker about the logistical problems to come, Carol says simply, “It was the right thing to do” (Fazekas, Butters, Anka, and F. Smith 2016, CM #5). Similarly, Stohl’s run begins with the news media covering an “alien refugee crisis” (Stohl and Rosanas 2017, MCM #0). Figure 3.3 shows nameless green-skinned aliens in a refugee camp in Germany, one with her head covered and one wrapped in U.N. flag, near a small tent and a few supplies marked with the Red Cross logo. Carol arrives there, kneels and holds the woman’s hand in a manner parallel to Diana holding the Belgian woman’s hand in the film (see Figure 2.3), and asks to have a medical team deployed. Another, a blue-skinned Kree child that Carol notes is “protected by intergalactic accord,” she nicknames Bean because her father had called her that when she was little, in Boston (i.e., Beantown). This is both cute and also problematic because

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of the association of a similar word as a slur for Mexican migrants and Mexican Americans. A few issues follow Carol’s attempt to help the mostly silent Bean, who is from the now-destroyed Kree homeworld. Alpha Flight remains full of refugees, with more coming. Carol is asked to raise an atmospheric shield to protect Earth, but she says, “I don’t raise the shield if it means trapping defenseless refugees outside, choosing who lives and dies” (Stohl and Rosanas 2017, MCM #1). As with Wonder Woman, the film and these two comics highlight vulnerable refugees at a real-world time of refugee crisis, but except for the film’s Talos, each undercharacterizes the refugees themselves and explores their effect on the protagonist. In an earlier comics storyline, the refugees are more individualized as sympathetic characters with agency. Carol reads Emma Lazarus’s poem from the Statue of Liberty to a child, her little friend Kit, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe

Figure 3.3 Carol tries to comfort refugees at a camp apparently sponsored by the Red Cross and United Nations; she kneels and holds the woman’s hand in a manner similar to Diana in the flm [see Figure 2.3] (art by Ramon Rosanas 2017, Mighty Captain Marvel #0).

76 The othering of adversaries and refugees free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” setting up the arc to come (DeConnick and Lopez 2014, CM #1). It is centered on the displaced, green-skinned Tic, whose people are on the planet Torfa (which has the same name as the planet in the film, but this plot is different). Torfa, however, is poisonous to them. When Carol brings Tic there, the refugees’ female leader, Eleanides, questions Carol’s claim that she is there to help, and implies Carol is arrogant for thinking she could just walk in and fix everything “where others have failed” (DeConnick and Lopez 2014, CM #3). This is similar to the Durovnians who confront Wonder Woman about her intervention there. It is revealed that despite the Galactic Alliance having fought on the side of the Avengers and Tic’s people, that same Alliance’s governing Council settled the refugees on the planet. One member of the Council, an emperor of his own world, is responsible for the poisoning because of the way he is extracting its natural resource, vibranium, too quickly. This is a more nuanced story of imperialism and its aftermath. While the refugees may have been once allied with the Galactic Alliance, they are now being exploited and sickened by a dictatorial Emperor sitting on that Alliance’s Council who seeks only to enrich himself. Further, several of the refugees are given names and show agency, such that they are not an undifferentiated mass of people to be saved. Not unlike in the film, Carol works with a diverse group (Eleanides, Jackie, Tic, Gil, and Bee) and then is more of an individual and foreign force in the final confrontation, announcing alone to the enemy fleet, “I stand as one with the settlers of Torfa. . . . They are a peaceful people, but I am a woman of war. If you move against them, you move against me. I am willing to die here today, for this cause” (DeConnick and Lopez 2014, CM #5). The Emperor continues to threaten them, with more overt xenophobic language, “That you live at all is an affront to nature. I tolerated your existence as long as it did not inconvenience my empire. Now it does.” Despite not leaving when she was asked to, and making her singular stand in space, Carol then tells Eleanides, “You are going to save them, Madame, and I am going to help you,” and that she will listen from this point, “I’m a soldier, Madame, I can take an order” (DeConnick and Lopez 2014, CM #6). Eleanides signals Carol to blow up the vibranium mines with her powers to cut off the profitable but deadly extraction, and for “closure.” When Carol then tells the Emperor and his fleet to leave or else, he leaves. Despite Eleanides’s initial questions about her arrogance, Carol’s singular, white savior superpowers do save the day in the end.

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All of these stories, by several different writers in the mid-to-late 2010s, focus on Diana and Carol seeking to help others in a humanitarian way, and to protect women and children of color and/or refugees. For some, this is a demonstration of feminist values, of empathy, listening, and cooperation in wartime. For others, it shows the characters’ conformity to gendered stereotypes, not uncommon historically in portrayals of military women (see, e.g., Knopf 2016; Tasker 2011; Thomas 2009), or superhero women (see, e.g., Brown 2011, 2015; Cocca 2016; Madrid 2009). In either case, their displays of caring for others in military milieus may ease acceptability of these women’s escalations to violence and war. However, Dittmer notes that “cultural understandings of masculinity as entailing the protection of women are central to an understanding of nationalist superheroes—even female ones” (2013: 35; also Knopf 2016). Perhaps “protection,” then, like compassion and dialogue, need not be labeled the province of masculinity or of femininity, but just of heroes. Despite these subversions in terms of gender, the narratives for the most part involve constructing most others as nameless, undifferentiated, helpless womenandchildren to be protected by a white, Western/Global Northern, individual woman savior. There is little to no acknowledgment of imperial powers whose colors our heroes wear as causing or contributing to destabilization through sanctions or violence or any other actions that could have facilitated such crises in the first place. Such intervention might be empowering for that individual privileged woman, who is trying to help, but in its re-marginalization of others it reinscribes an imperial, neocolonial standpoint historically harmful to multiple peoples of the Global South.

The marginalized and othered superhero Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel’s whiteness is on display in yet another parallel in their 2019 comics, after both characters had their origins rewritten in ways that allow them to be framed as migrants, refugees, and aliens themselves. As noted, Carol’s mother was not human but Kree, and thus, the explosion that gave Carol her powers awakened her own Kree-ness. This change to Carol’s ancestry makes her more parallel with the contemporary Diana, whose new origin makes her the daughter of her mother and Zeus, half-Amazon and half-Greek God. For both, this means that their powers are not chosen or earned, but inherited from their non-human parent, with their unusual biology explaining and thereby making more palatable their gender role-subverting strength and exceptionality.

78 The othering of adversaries and refugees Their new hybrid identities and their alienness means that both of these superheroes can now be even more easily positioned as others. Their mothers are not American, and neither can return “home” in the comics: Diana because that is the choice she made when leaving her island of Themyscira, and later when the island seems to have disappeared; Carol because the Kree homeworld is destroyed. Diana in particular is told directly, “You’re not an exile anymore. You’re a refugee” (Wilson and J. Merino 2019, WW #64). With this framing, G. Willow Wilson and Kelly Thompson both wrote stories in which our heroes face the brunt of anti-immigrant sentiment. Such stories can serve an educative function for readers, but they also transfer onto a white and privileged face a real-life situation that affects disadvantaged women of color most heavily. Diana is quite saddened that she cannot return to Themyscira. But as is pointed out to her by fellow Themysciran refugees—a Pegasus, a Faun, and a Minotaur, which conflates foreignness with monstrousness7—things are different and easier for her than for them in the U.S. because they stand out and are feared due to their appearances. But she passes, “You look like they do—tall and hairless!” Unlike her, they are subject to angry restaurant patrons who say that animals like them should not be allowed to be there (Wilson and Lupacchino 2019, WW #63). When they tell an officer of the Customs and Border Patrol they are from Themyscira, he asks, “That near Tijuana?” connecting to reallife American ignorance and fears ramped up by Donald Trump, who labeled migration from Mexico as akin to an “invasion” of “animals.” Similarly, anger and fear are on display when Captain Marvel is revealed to be half-Kree. A white male newscaster asks, “If Captain Marvel is an alien, is she even an American citizen?” while on another talk show, a darker-skinned woman says, “Even if she is half Kree, she’s still half human. And should it even matter?” Figure 3.4 shows how within a few days, people are in streets the streets throwing tomatoes at her and are holding signs that say “LIAR,” “ALIEN,” and “TRAITOR” while chanting, “Send her home! Send her home! Send her home!” referencing chants at Trump rallies about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a naturalized American citizen who arrived in the U.S. as a child refugee. The Air Force pushes Carol to resign, and when she refuses, she is dismissed. Although her friends rally around her, she is so saddened by her dismissal as to buy a bottle of liquor and lament that the “world will no longer let me be its hero” (Thompson and Carnero 2019, CM #8). But she continues to act as one, such that only three issues later, over 80% of Americans polled support her reinstatement. The Air Force agrees, and she destroys the liquor bottle.

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Figure 3.4 Carol is confronted by anti-alien, or anti-immigrant, rallies against her by those who fear her Kree origin (art by Carmen Carnero 2019, Captain Marvel #8).

Positioning these two prominent characters as aliens, migrants, and refugees on the side of justice taps into our rooting for them as representing the strength and perseverance of the marginalized and underestimated while also reinscribing their privileges as they remain self-sacrificing and honorable heroes and are recognized as such. This is not dissimilar to the ways in which white male superheroes have been positioned as marginalized (Brown 2017: 117, 119; see also Wetmore 2005: 20), such that “Those who are truly marginalized in our society, notably women and people of color, are further eliminated from these narratives” (Kvaran 2017: 224). Here, though, the protagonists are women who have been shown to face gendered challenges, which makes the representation more resonant for readers who have experienced such treatment themselves. But while the displacement of discrimination onto their white and privileged bodies may make a story about marginalization more palatable to a white audience, it detracts attention from how people of color and particularly women of color experience and navigate oppression because they are backgrounded as nameless, and undermines consideration of the complicity of white heroes in maintaining the status quo.8 As Gavaler notes, “The superhero absorbs elements of the racial other, disturbing but not


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overthrowing the imperial binary as a dual identity character who uses otherness to maintain empire” (2014: 108).

Conclusion Stories framing these white, female, cisgender, nonqueer, nondisabled superheroes as vulnerable individuals themselves can be read in multiple ways. This is parallel to the ways in which one can receive how they work with diverse groups and also win battles alone, how they ally with military institutions and governments and also separate from them occasionally as rogue soldiers, and how they seek to protect women and children of color while also engaging in violence that tends to fall most heavily on those same populations. They are simultaneously anti-sexist and anti-racist heroes organizing collectively for the liberation of themselves and other vulnerable peoples, and postfeminist, postrace neoliberal subjects who employ individualized, neoconservative, authoritarian violence against (and white savior tactics on behalf of) those whom they have othered. The implications of all of this are taken up in the concluding chapter.

Notes 1 The bracelets as channeling lightning bolt energy when clashed together was originated by Gail Simone in a 2009 comic, taken up in a few issues of the Azzarello-Chiang run, and then shown in the flm. The omission of Simone’s name from the flm’s end credits is as inexplicable as it is infuriating. See note 5 in Chapter 2. 2 Similarly, Brian Azzarello’s 2011–2014 run involve a division between a humanized “us” and a monsterized “them.” Diana guards blond, blue-eyed Zola and Zeke and allies with several white humanoids. By contrast, her adversaries are the ebony-black Apollo, the faceless fery Hades, and the amphibian Poseidon. The artists drew all of these characters beautifully, but the white fgures have complex motives and heroic arcs, “while bodies of color are confned to the monstrous threats/villains/terrorists/criminals ascribed to them” (McIntosh 2018: 134). Further, Azzarello has Diana beat her brother, the First Born, calling him a “monster” she would not hesitate to “destroy” (Azzarello and Chiang 2013, WW #23). Finch has her attack Swamp Thing before trying to talk frst, and do the same with insectoid beings she calls “monsters” before stabbing one (Finch and Finch 2014, WW #36, 2015, WW #39). Robinson has her refer to Grail as a “disgusting witch” for whom she feels “hatred” (Robinson and S. Davila 2017, WW #34). In all of these situations, she labels these others in dehumanizing ways in order to justify her own violence as necessary. 3 Thanks to Miriam Kent and Anna Peppard for pushing for more detail about this scene.

The othering of adversaries and refugees


4 Diana’s skin tone until the 1980s was quite pale. George Pérez colored her slightly darker in the 1980s, and while some artists have followed suit, others have not. The casting of Mexican-Spanish Lynda Carter and Israeli Gal Gadot as Diana both precede and echo Pérez’s intentions for her to look more “ethnic,” as he said (see Cocca 2016), but both of these women and the character in print tend to be received as white. 5 Thanks to Erika Chung for phrasing this in this way. 6 Thanks to Adrienne Resha for stressing how the Skrulls could be read in multiple ways. See Cocca (2016) on aliens in Star Wars reading as “diversity” within mostly white casts. 7 Thanks to Samantha Langsdale for phrasing this in this way. 8 Thanks to Erika Chung for phrasing this in this way.


The Wonder Woman flm ends with Diana’s voiceover: I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light, and learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. A choice each must make for themselves. Something no hero will ever defeat. And now I know that only love can truly save the world. So I stay, I fight, and I give for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever. With this, and swelling music, she suits up and leaps of a roof to fulfll that mission. In these statements one can hear diferent messages: that violence and war are natural and endless; that a hero lets people make their own individual choices even if the choice is for war; that people can be taught that love is the answer; that mankind can decide to pursue peace. This “mission” to “fight” and to “give” can be received differently across the political spectrum. For some, it is in line with the kind of inspirational talk and dynamic action that they expect from superhero stories. For others, it is an empowering moment from a strong and nuanced female character who shows that women can be heroes too. For still others, it is mealymouthed feminist talk from a woman who is at least pleasant to look at with her long dark hair, curvy white body, and strapless bathing suit. For still more others, its stress on the “love” and the “fight” of an individual privileged woman papers over the systemic injustices endured by multiple marginalized groups. All of these people paid to see Wonder Woman, and to see Captain Marvel too—two billion dollars in total to Warner and Disney. And they all got something they liked out of them. There is little doubt that many readers and viewers feel empowered and inspired when they see these women superhero soldiers and their



allies exerting strength that they were long barred from displaying. While the superhero genre may gain some of its popularity through its narratives about standing up for oneself, for justice, and for the vulnerable, it no doubt also gains some from its use of violence that is framed as righteous, redemptive, and retributive against a monolithic and deserving foe. It is vicariously and emotionally satisfying to see a literal personification of sexism, heterosexism, ableism, racism, imperialism, or fascism (or all of these at once) in one individual body get physically defeated by a literal personification of heroism, goodness, and justice. The superhero genre has portrayed conflicts in this individualized way since its beginnings (Brown 2017: 120; Pardy 2016: 25; Gavaler 2016: 77). As wish-fulfillment stories and power fantasies, they are by their very nature suffused with politics—who is centered and overrepresented as heroes is political; who is excluded, sidelined, and stereotyped is political; who is demonized as an other is political; what is presented as right and wrong is political; how conflicts are begun and resolved is political. The slippage in these politics between individual victory and collective success, between upholding a status quo and changing it, makes the militarism and feminism performed by Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel complicated. Feminism, like other movements against oppression, is grounded in the goal of collective liberation. But in a time of backlash to solidaristic ideas and actions, in a time of economic precarity, some of feminism’s key points have been transmuted by conservative neoliberals: from power to empowerment, from rights to responsibilities, from autonomy to choice, from collective liberation to personal transformation. These seemingly small discursive changes, that place greater responsibility and risk on an individual and their choices, that tell a person to just lean in and make themselves over to achieve an empowering transformation, are affectively appealing to those struggling to navigate multiple inequities. But such individualization frames everyone as starting on an equal footing in a color-blind, gender-blind meritocracy that doesn’t exist, so those who succeed tend to be those who already have economic, social, cultural, and political power, and those who fail are blamed for not trying hard enough. The kind of friendly and visible “popular feminism” or “celebrity feminism” or “equality feminism” that is entangled with neoliberal, postfeminist, postrace sensibilities and that applauds the inclusion of an individual from a marginalized group—on a page, on a screen, in a boardroom, in the military— tends to equate inclusion for one with equity for all. They are not the same, but a narrow focus on those success stories can displace

84 Conclusion efforts toward political organizing for broader structural, liberatory change.1 When the central character of a film or comic is a military superwoman, she may defuse critiques of the superhero genre as problematically violent or overwhelmingly male by virtue of her female-ness. That female character/actor, and the supporting characters/actors that represent other demographics formerly excluded from or stereotyped in the superhero genre and multiple other institutions, work to make the story and the parent company appear more progressive in their inclusion of them. Further, because women, people of color, and queer people are statistically more likely than white nonqueer men to be politically progressive, they are often assumed to be so. At the same time, the superstrength of the protagonist’s attractive white female body and the military aesthetics surrounding her can be seen as militainment, further fostering the acceptance of military work that undergirds multiple inequalities and neocolonialisms. She and the diverse supporting characters are allowed to be visible only as long as their individual inclusion does not mean equity, as long as they conform in appearance and politics to conservatizing structures, as long as they fulfill the mission to impose violence on others with whom they might otherwise forge solidarity. This is not to say that new representations of the formerly excluded and stereotyped should no longer be a goal. Indeed, as I have written and said aloud in multiple forums, representation matters. We can celebrate growing inclusion while not losing sight of the fact that qualitatively and quantitatively, there is much more work to be done. We can celebrate more nuanced representations of increasingly diverse central characters while not losing sight of the fact that their difference is being both flattened and commodified by relatively homogenous groups of privileged people at profit-oriented companies. We can celebrate these diverse characters’ superheroic valor when it deters people from war, or when it brings a nonviolent or even violent end to oppression, while not losing sight of the fact that militainment can work to inure people to militarism, and that our heroes’ adversaries as well as those whom they seek to protect can and should be portrayed in nuanced ways. What is currently the center can be pivoted to tell their stories too. As this book has demonstrated, some creators do indeed strive to portray the protagonists’ foes with nuance and detail, while others tend to show them as an undifferentiated mass of monsters or terrorists. Similarly, some portray those suffering the effects of violence with specific and historicized backstories, while others portray



them as animalistic savages, or as helpless womenandchildren, or as unworthy of interest or care. Some artists and film producers make frequent use of the aesthetics of real warfare accompanied by staggering levels of violence, while others root their stories in science fiction or fantasy, and/or focus on character studies and conflict resolution through dialogue and other types of compassionate, solidaristic actions. Sometimes, all of this happens in one issue of one comic, or in one film. There is a continuum of violence. War is certainly on one end of it. But othering lies along it as well, and its repetition and circulation has an impact. If brown and black people are underrepresented as protagonists in Anglo-Euro-American fiction, and when they are represented it is only as needy refugees or evil terrorists, it can contribute to shaping the mindset of people who have never met someone who looks like “those people.” Indeed, one of the strongest predictors of a voter’s support for Donald Trump was living in a racially isolated county—i.e., a more homogenously white county, with a larger number of white people with little to no exposure to nonwhite people. The costs of othering explain why so many in the U.S. are unmoved by brown immigrant children separated from their families. Why they’re not outraged by the pardoning of soldiers who killed Afghan civilians. Why they’d cheer Trump telling four Congresswomen of color to “go back and fix the totally broken and crime-infested countries” they supposedly came from. Why they’d believe that former Barack Obama was born in Kenya and is Muslim, or that most Mexican immigrants are “bad hombres” and “rapists,” or that a virus itself is “Chinese,” and that these are threats that can be stemmed by building a border wall. The costs of othering explain why it feels easier to see some people get killed rather than others, in fiction and non-fiction, particularly when we are told and shown that both the violence and the war are necessary and just (Diamond 2017: 33). Via Judith Butler, we should ask, “Do those lives not count?” (2016: xxviii). It is more difficult to have empathy for those being othered, and to think about how those lives count, when the framing of a female superhero’s military participation focuses on her individual empowerment, her personal bonds with her immediate diverse unit, and her fulfilling a grand purpose amidst a stunning spectacle of sexualized weaponry and technology. What may look and feel liberating for a woman soldier within the U.S. military can be profoundly oppressive to a woman abroad who suffers from U.S. military intervention. If one is not thinking about that, then one is subverting the potential

86 Conclusion not only for authentic storytelling, but also for feminist transnational solidarity that is based on cooperation and collaboration, that takes into account specific historical and local contexts, and that struggles to deal with structural inequalities and injustices (Chowdhury and Philipose 2016; Dai 2016; Enloe 2000, 2004; hooks 1984; Mesok 2016; Mohanty 2003; Nguyen et al. 2016; Sjoberg 2008, 2015). Some particular women, or people of color, or queer people, or people with disabilities may one by one diversify an institution, but, “undocumented immigrants . . . [and] people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent live outside the embrace of diversity” (Mohanty, Pratt, and Riley 2008: 24). As one can see in this book, theirs are not generally the nonwhite faces in Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel comics; with some exceptions, most of those are black or green or blue. A few new faces on the page or behind the scenes, who conform to those around them, may make it seem like equal treatment has been achieved when it has not. A seat at the table may be a start, but what is really required is a new table supported by a structure suffused with equity and empathy. This is why counterstories and authentic representation are so important, because they help to build that structure. They “bridge the gaps in imagination and conception that give rise to [prejudice and discrimination]. They reduce alienation for excluded groups, while offering opportunities for members of the majority group to meet them halfway” (Delgado and Stefancic 2017: 52; see also, Cocca 2016). Stories can be and have been harmful, but their power means they are also full of potential. They can show us truths about ourselves and about those who may (or may not) be unlike us, encouraging self-reflection and imagination and fostering empathy. They can help remind us that we are all connected, that we are all interdependent, that we need not be divided by fear and hate. We take pleasure in the violence meted out by the superpowered women and their diverse allies as they embody groups who have had violence done to them repeatedly and so we now root for their oppressors’ comeuppance. We root for their finally getting justice, and we hope it will bring about broader change in power structures. It may be that only some have the “luxury of principles,” as was said to Captain Marvel, or that only some have the privilege, as was said to Wonder Woman, to “afford such compassion” to avoid violence, because it was not their communities that were suffering, not their communities that needed faster, more decisive action taken to end oppression (Thompson and Carnero 2019, CM #10; Orlando and Raynor 2020,



WW #752). This is in line with Fanon’s argument that colonialism has no “reasoning faculties” and “will only yield when confronted with greater violence”; that strategic anti-colonial violence may have to be a precondition to liberation (1963: 61).2 Pacifism need not be absolute but can be contingent. But perhaps the superhero soldier is just playing in the oppressors’ sandbox. Perhaps by using her power to enact individualized violence—especially via an imperial, neocolonial, neoliberal U.S. government—rather than working for collective liberation, by forcing submission to violence instead of bringing about loving submission through changing someone’s heart and mind, she is merely reiterating that using violence to get an adversary to temporarily submit due to fear and pain is both the norm and the goal. Nonviolence isn’t inaction; it is a strategy that has produced massive changes in multiple countries, while using violence just puts more violence into the world, harms the person committing it and the person receiving it, and invites retribution. A punch to one white man’s jaw from a glowing female fist doesn’t dismantle multiple and overlapping systems of inequalities. The master’s tools, as Audre Lorde told us decades ago, will never dismantle the master’s house. It may be that “while the images of war are meant to recruit us to the waging of war, they also solicit us in other ways [perhaps] to an understanding of the equal value of life” (Butler 2016: xvi, xvii). Exposure to such images, as to any image, may rebound in unpredictable and perhaps oppositional ways as well, spurring us to more collective, feminist, empathetic, empowering actions. Portrayals of violence in superhero comics specifically can “offer explicit meditations on the problem of sovereign violence and its dangers;” they can provide a “space for tactical resistance to hegemonic discourses of superheroic violence” (Curtis 2016: 180; Dittmer 2013: 180). Multiple authors have written about superhero comics’ conservative orientations, but also about their “subversive spirit,” and their “democratic political orientation toward the world” (DiPaolo 2011: 38; Fawaz 2016: 15). This lends to their appeal across varied audience groups and produces more profit for the characters’ parent companies in these contentious times. As we receive the stories of these feminist military superwomen in multiple ways, we can act on what we have seen in multiple ways both individualistic and collective. When we do act, we should remember what Emma Lazarus said, the same year she wrote the poem quoted in Chapter 3 that is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”



Notes 1 For more detail and extensive citation on these concepts, see notes 2, 3, and 5 in the Introduction. 2 Thanks to Samantha Langsdale for suggesting incorporation of arguments about the strategic uses of violence for those marginalized and threatened.  


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Afghanistan 53, 71, 85; see also Middle East Africa 65, 72, 73, 78, 85 Allied army (World War I) 31, 33, 49, 53, 67, 70 Alpha Flight 9, 31, 33, 46, 47, 49, 60n6, 74, 75 Amazons 9, 11, 13, 18, 23n12, 26, 27, 28, 42, 43, 47, 49, 51, 60n3, 69, 77, 78 Andolfo, Mirka 72 Anka, Kris 33 Antiope 28, 43, 51 Ant-Man 6 Aphrodite 63 Apollo 80n2 Arab 65, 69; see also Middle East Ares 18, 33, 60n3, 61–62, 63, 66, 68, 69 A.R.G.U.S. 8, 31, 33, 36, 49, 73 Artemis 60n3 Asianness 7, 69, 86; see also orientalism; race Atlantiades 19, 60n3 Aurora 60n6 Avengers 6, 9, 13, 46, 67, 76 Azzarello, Brian 28, 29, 60n3, 61, 63, 69, 80n1, 80n2 badass 33, 40, 68 Banshees 9, 33, 34, 46, 49, 60n6 Barnes, Trevor 19 Batgirl 6 Batman 6, 16, 51 Batwoman 6 Bean 74–75

Belgium 26, 53, 67, 69, 70, 74 Berger, Karen 60n5 blackness see race Black Panther 65 Black Widow 25 Blaxploitation 7, 41n2 Boden, Anna 52 Brand, Abigail 60n6 Britain 51, 67, 70, 74 Brown, Jefrey 25, 57 brownness see Arab; ethnicity; Latinxness; Middle East; Muslim; orientalism; race Buscema, John 14 Busiek, Kurt 13 Butler, Judith 85 Butters, Tara 36 Bwunda 72 Cadulo, Andres 72 Cale, Veronica 28, 60n3, 69 Candy, Etta 8, 9, 10, 13, 18, 26, 34, 35, 36, 47, 49, 51, 54, 55, 60n3, 66 capitalism 1, 36, 40, 53, 55, 59 Captain America 16, 27, 29, 33, 41, 49 Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) see Mar-Vell Carter, Lynda 44, 81n4 Carter, Peggy 25 Chan, Gemma 60n4 Charlie 50, 67, 68, 73 Cheetah see Minerva, Barbara Ann Chiang, Clif 16, 80n1 Chief 50, 73 cisgender see gender

Index Claremont, Chris 11, 13 Cockrum, Dave 13 Comics Code 10 Connor, Sarah 25 Conway, Gerry 11 Costello, Matthew 41 costumes 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 27, 34, 40, 47, 70 Daniel, Tony 16 Darkseid 29 Davis, Angela 60n7, 63, 71 DC 8, 22n8, 24, 31, 51 DeConnick, Kelly Sue 14, 16, 36, 37, 61 De Liz, Renae 60n5 Deodato, Mike 13 Department of Homeland Security 9, 13, 31 Department of Meta-human Afairs 8, 13 disability 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 21n2, 22n5, 22n6, 26, 62, 68, 69, 80, 86 diversifcation see diversity diversity 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21n2, 25, 26, 36, 37, 38, 40, 41, 42, 43, 46, 47, 48, 49–59, 60n4, 60n6, 60n7, 63, 69, 73, 76, 80, 81n6, 83, 84, 85, 86 Drew, Jessica 15, 19, 46 Dr. Poison 51, 60n3, 68, 69 Durovnia 35, 66, 76 Duursema, Jan 60n5 Echo 46 Eleanides 76 Enloe, Cynthia 24, 64, 71, 73 ethnicity 4, 5, 22n5, 51, 59, 60n3, 61, 65, 81n4, 85, 86 Evely, Bilquis 72 Fajardo, Romulo, Jr. 72 Fanon, Frantz 87 Fantastic Four 6 fascism 24, 41, 83 Fatma 73 Fazekas, Michelle 36 feminism 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 11, 18, 20, 21n2, 21n3, 22n5, 22n6, 24, 28, 30, 37, 39, 40, 42, 44, 45, 57, 58,


62, 64, 68, 70, 71, 73, 74, 77, 82, 83, 86, 87 Fernandez, C.D. 73 Finch, Meredith 28, 60n3, 62, 80n2 First Born 62, 80n2 Fleck, Ryan 52 Fontana, Shea 28, 60n3, 60n5 Fradon, Ramona 60n5 Fuchs, Jason 51 Fury, Nick 33, 49, 50, 52 Gadot, Gal 3, 29, 38, 39, 44, 45, 50, 53, 57, 70, 81n4 Galactic Alliance 76 Gamora 25 Gavaler, Chris 79 gender 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 20, 21n3, 22n5, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 33, 40, 45, 47, 51, 52, 53, 54, 56, 57, 61, 62, 64, 66, 71, 77, 79, 80, 83, 86 General Ludendorf 51, 61, 68 Germany 61, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 74 Gil 76 Global South 65, 68, 69, 71, 72, 73, 75, 77, 78, 85, 86 Grail 80n2 Greek gods 27, 49, 57, 60n3, 77, 80n2 Green Lantern (John Stewart) 29 Grey, Jean 6 Hades 80n2 Hazmat 46 Heinberg, Allen 51 Hephaestus 29 Hera 60n3, 69 Hermes 60n3 Hessia 60n3 heterosexuality see sexuality Hippolyta (Diana’s mother) 18, 29, 47, 51, 60n3, 66, 77 Hounsou, Djimon 60n4 Howling Commandos 33, 34 immigration see migration imperialism 1, 2, 22n5, 23n12, 24, 38, 40, 48, 50, 53, 57, 58, 59, 64, 65, 67, 71, 73, 74, 76, 77, 80, 83, 87



inclusion see diversity Iraq 53, 71; see also Middle East Iron Man 16, 27, 49, 55, 56, 64 Islam see Muslim Israeli Defence Forces 3, 4, 38, 39, 44 Jackie 76 Jackson, Samuel L. 45, 50 Jenkins, Patty 36 Jimenez, Phil 13, 18, 19 Jubilee 7 Justice League 6, 8, 13 Kanigher, Robert 10–11 Kasia 18–19 Katana 7 Kawasaki, Wendy 46, 60n6 Kit 60n6, 75 Kree 11, 13, 16, 18, 27, 28, 33, 49, 58, 60n4, 64, 66, 67, 74–75, 77, 78–79 Larson, Brie 14, 38, 44, 45, 50, 58 lasso 9, 16, 29, 34, 61, 63, 64, 68, 69 Latinxness 52, 72; see also ethnicity; race Lawson, Wendy see Mar-Vell Lazarus, Emma 75, 87 LeFauve, Meg 52 Lennox 60n3 liberal feminism 2, 3, 11, 20, 21n2, 21n3, 37, 74, 83 liberation 3, 5, 11, 21n3, 36, 39, 59, 70, 71, 80, 83, 84, 87 Lopez, David 14, 31 Lopez, Maya see Echo Lorde, Audre 87 love 4, 9, 18, 19, 28, 29, 38, 47, 48, 63, 64, 69, 82 Lynch, Lashana 38, 50, 54 Maggie 60n3 Magneto 65 male superheroes 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 16, 20, 25, 26, 27, 29, 33, 41, 46, 49, 51, 56, 61, 66, 68, 79 Man’s World 9, 42, 64 Mari-Ell (Carol’s mother) 16, 28, 64, 67, 77

marketability 1, 2, 4, 29, 41, 49, 55, 64, 84, 87 Marston, William Moulton 9, 10, 11, 13 Maru, Isabel/Marina see Dr. Poison Marvel 8, 22n8, 24, 30, 33, 37, 38, 52 Mar-Vell 11, 16, 18, 37, 47, 52, 64, 67 May, Melinda 25 Mayfy 28, 69 McKelvie, Jamie 14 Mexico 75, 78, 81n4, 85 Middle East 53, 65, 68, 69, 71, 72, 73, 85, 86 migration 5, 75, 78–79, 85, 86 militainment 3, 5, 20, 24, 30–48, 56, 57, 66, 84, 85, 87 militarism 4, 22n5, 24, 29, 40, 41, 45, 48, 53, 64, 83, 84; see also United States military Minerva, Barbara Ann 18, 28, 60n3, 69 monstrousness 10, 60n3, 68, 78, 80n2, 84 Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) 6, 11, 12, 13, 14 Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan) 46, 65 Murchison, Joye 60n5 Muslim 68, 69, 72, 73, 85; see also Middle East NASA 8, 9, 11, 13, 30 nation 1, 2, 5, 22n5, 39, 49, 57, 59, 61, 66, 67, 77 neocolonial 58, 65, 73, 77, 84, 87; see also imperialism neoconservative 3, 5, 22n5, 30, 36, 41, 58, 73, 80 neoliberal 3, 5, 20, 21n3, 22n5, 37, 40, 49, 53, 55, 73, 80, 83, 87 Newell, Mindy 60n5 No Man’s Land 26, 70, 71 nonviolence 59, 62, 84, 87 Nunes, Nora 60n3 Obama, Barack 69, 85 Oddfellows 49, 50, 51, 70, 73 Omar, Ilhan 78 orientalism 69, 73, 74; see also Arab; Asianness; Middle East; Muslim



Orion 29, 60n3 Orlando, Steve 28, 60n3, 62, 63, 65, 69 othering 4, 5, 6, 20, 26, 58, 60n3, 61, 65, 67, 69, 71–74, 77–80, 80n2, 83, 85

Ronan 64 Rose 60n6 Rossi, Michael 9, 19 Rucka, Greg 13, 18, 28, 60n3, 61, 63, 69 Rustam 65

paratexts 4, 5, 24, 26, 36, 38, 39, 45, 62 Pardy, Brett 41 Pérez, George 13, 18, 81n4 Perez Soto, Algenis 60n4 Peter, H.G. 9 Philippus 18, 51, 60n3 Picoult, Jodi 60n5 Poseidon 80n2 postfeminist 3, 20, 21n3, 30, 36, 37, 42, 44, 48, 49, 54, 55, 57, 70, 74, 80, 83 postrace 3, 20, 21n3, 36, 42, 54, 55, 57, 68, 80, 83 privilege 3, 4, 20, 21n2, 21n3, 22n5, 23n12, 33, 40, 74, 77, 78, 79, 82, 84, 86 Psylocke 7 Puck 60n6

Sameer 50, 73 Sasquatch 60n6 Scott, Nicola 18, 60n5 sexuality 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 16, 18–20, 21n2, 22n5, 25, 26, 33, 48, 50, 52, 53, 54, 56, 60n3, 80, 83, 84, 86 sexualization 5, 6, 7, 13, 16, 19, 20, 33, 41n2, 54, 56, 60n2, 85 Sharp, Liam 72 She-Hulk 46 S.H.I.E.L.D. 9, 31, 33, 49, 67 Simone, Gail 13, 18, 28, 60n5, 80n1 Skrulls 51, 64, 74, 81n4 Snyder, Zach 51 solidarity 22n6, 23n12, 39, 40, 47, 57, 58, 73, 83, 84, 85, 86 Soren 74 Spider-Woman see Drew, Jessica Spivak, Gayatri 71 Stahl, Roger 33, 42 Stark, Tony see Iron Man Star Wars 27, 51, 81n6 Statue of Liberty 75, 87 stereotypes 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 14, 19, 20, 26, 28, 41n2, 50, 54, 55, 56, 64, 69, 72, 77, 83, 84 Stohl, Margaret 16, 74 Storm, Sue 6 Strife 29 Supergirl 51 Superman 16, 27 Swamp Thing 80n2 sword 7, 16, 17, 27, 29, 34, 63, 68 S.W.O.R.D. 9, 31, 49

queer see sexuality Qurac 65, 72; see also Middle East race 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 13, 16, 18, 19, 20, 22n5, 22n6, 23n12, 26, 33, 36, 40, 41n2, 44, 47, 48, 49–58, 59, 60n2, 60n3, 60n4, 61, 65, 69–74, 76–77, 78–80, 80n2, 81n4, 81n6, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 87 Rambeau, Maria 19, 26, 38, 47, 50, 51, 52, 54, 55 Rambeau, Monica 7, 19, 52, 60n6 Reed, Brian 13 refugees 5, 20, 53, 71–79, 85 relaunch 5, 8, 14, 16, 19, 23n11 religion 22n5, 40, 57–58, 61, 65, 72, 85; see also Muslim Rhodes, James “Rhodey” 9, 15, 16, 19, 27, 29, 49, 54, 55, 56, 65 Robbins, Trina 60n5 Robertson-Dworet, Geneva 52 Robinson, James 28, 29, 60n3, 80n2 Rogers, Steve see Captain America

Takeda, Jennifer see Hazmat Talos 50, 51, 52, 64, 74, 75 Tasker, Yvonne 29 teams 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 20, 30, 33, 34, 36, 42–43, 46–48, 49–59, 60n6, 64, 71, 76, 80n2, 83, 84, 85, 86



Temte, Rune 60n4 terrorism 5, 20, 52, 64, 65, 68, 69, 80n2, 84, 85 Thompson, Jill 60n5 Thompson, Kelly 78 Thor 16, 27 Tic 60n6, 76 Torfa 74, 76 Tracy 60n6 transgender see gender Trevor, Steve 6, 8, 9, 13, 18, 19, 34, 35, 36, 47, 49, 50, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 73 Troy, Donna 60n3 Trump, Donald 69, 78, 85 Turkey 68, 69, 73 underrepresentation 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 22n8, 25, 33, 41n1, 48, 50, 51, 55, 59n2, 72, 83, 84, 85 United Nations 8, 19, 72, 74, 75 United States Air Force 3, 8, 9, 11, 19, 27, 28, 30, 31, 33, 36–38, 42–43, 48, 49, 52, 60n2, 78 United States Army 8, 9, 27, 31, 42, 43, 52 United States government 8, 9, 13, 27, 30, 42, 49, 64, 65, 66, 69, 87 United States military 4, 5, 8, 9, 25, 27, 28, 29, 33, 36, 40, 43, 45, 46, 47, 52, 53, 59n2, 67, 71, 83, 85; see also United States Air Force; United States Army; United States Navy United States Navy 8, 31, 33, 36, 47, 49, 66

violence 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 16, 20, 24–30, 36, 39–41, 41n2, 45, 48, 49, 56, 57, 58, 59, 62, 65, 66–68, 69, 71, 77, 80, 80n2, 82–87 Vixen 6 Wacker, Steve 14 Walters, Jennifer see She-Hulk war 1, 2, 3, 5, 25, 30, 34, 40, 42, 43, 45, 46, 47, 51, 52, 57, 59, 61–73, 76, 77, 82, 84, 85, 87; see also World War I; World War II War Machine see Rhodes, James “Rhodey” Wasp 6 white feminism see liberal feminism whiteness see race white savior 5, 57–58, 76, 77, 80 Wilson, G. Willow 19, 28, 60n3, 65, 66, 69, 78 Wing, Colleen 7 womenandchildren 69–77, 85 World War I 31, 33, 49, 51, 67, 68 World War II 6, 9, 31, 33, 34, 69 xenophobia 22n5, 23n12, 40, 59, 76 X-Men 6, 13, 65 Yon-Rogg 11, 66 Zeke 60n3 Zeus (Diana’s father) 18, 27, 29, 77 Zola 60n3