Marketing Superhero Ladies

As a marketing professional and an active superhero fan, I wind up paying pretty close attention to how my favorite heroines are marketed. The poses they choose for the statues, the images they pick for the T-shirts, and the taglines they associate with each one.
In general, Marvel does an okay job of this (despite their recent flub with Ms. Marvel on their limited edition lady hero T-shirt over at the Disney Store.)
However, DC Collectibles have a long history of awful gender labels and I’m getting somewhat sick of it.
Let’s take a look!
Femme Fatales
DC Collectibles have a bad habit of over-using this term to describe just about ALL of their lady characters. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a femme fatale:
femme fatale
noun femme fa·tale \ˌfem-fə-ˈtal, ˌfam-, -ˈtäl\
: a very attractive woman who causes trouble or unhappiness for the men who become involved with her
When one thinks of the noire use of the term, ladies that impose themselves on men’s lives and “get away with it” because they are smoking hot, and then seduce them into some form of peril in order to use them for their own gains… it becomes a really unfavorable description for our favorite lady characters.
Of course, this describes some of the DC anti-hero and villain ladies very well. Poison Ivy of course, Catwoman, Star Sapphire. Perhaps Harley Quinn, though we typically see the men she gets involved with cause trouble for her more so than them. But despite Catwoman’s dubious alliances, she is meant to be an antagonist to Batman, and the rest are villains with anti-hero tendencies at best.
Would you describe Wonder Woman as a Femme Fatale? Does she cause trouble and unhappiness? Does she seduce poor innocent men into doing things for her? No. She’s Wonder freaking Woman.
Batgirl? No. Batgirl is not seducing men into peril.
Zatanna? No.
Black Canary? No.
While comic-book-character-design-law requires that all these ladies be drop dead gorgeous, none of these heroes are supposed to be lascivious seductresses whose defining character trait is how they manipulate men.
And yet…
So here you have Poison Ivy packaged with the New 52 Batgirl, and Suicide Squad styled Harley Quinn. Let’s say for sake of argument that the two villains, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn are definitely femme fatales by any definition of the term. Then you have the hero Batgirl packaged with them under the same label? I guess it could be a mistake. But then again…
Batgirl from the famous Batman: The Animated Series, in all her adorable glory, labeled as a femme fatale?
The truth is, ALL the female characters are under a separate statue line for the Batman TAS merchandise. Does that mean we could potentially see a Dr. Leslie Thompkins femme fatale statue? A Detective Montoya? Are these characters femme fatales just because they happen to be female?
But DC Comics doesn’t always focus on how women are pretty much defined by how much they seduce and ruin men.
Here is the standard go-to statue line for the New 52, called DC Comics Icons.
Here’s the Wonder Woman figure from the same series:
Hm. So the male figures, across the board, are referred to as DC Comics Icons. The female figures, across the board, are referred to as DC Comics Cover Girls.
Let’s unpackage this. An “icon” is perfect when reducing generations of heroism into one quick word. It can take in a wide breadth of heroes, anti heroes and villains. An icon is powerful, something to respect. There’s obviously several definitions of icon in the dictionary, let’s see if any of them align with respect and power.
noun \ˈī-ˌkän\
computers : a small picture on a computer screen that represents a program or function
: a person who is very successful and admired
: a widely known symbol
So there you have it. The above shows that (aside from a computer term) “icon” is a very appropriate term for super heroes that have been beloved for generations.
Now, let’s look at “cover girl.” Ugh. Where do I even start. Let’s go ask Merriam-Webster one more time:
cover girl
: an attractive young woman whose picture is on the front of a magazine
There you have it. That’s the whole package right there. Cover girls are young. Cover girls are pretty. Young enough and pretty enough to have the awesome power of being on the front cover of a magazine! I’m sure that is what Wonder Woman strives for after all. Justice? Love? Peace? Nope. Let’s be pretty and get on the cover of Seventeen Magazine!
My point is this: Marketing is a powerful tool. Movies, tv shows, video games, tech gadgets, whole franchises and whole brands can live and die off of good or bad marketing. Marketing in it’s most basic form is used as a tool to educate the market as to what’s available. We marketers are genuinely trying to do a good job, letting fans know when to expect an update of their favorite tv show or tell an entire audience with one picture and a tagline what new product is out there that they might be interested in!
What does the marketing tell us about how DC Comics views it’s female heroes? Young. Pretty. Seductresses. Defined by their relationships with men. Defined by how young and pretty they are.
What does the marketing tell us about how DC Comics views it’s female audience?
What female audience?

Originally published at

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