A matter of some controversy amongst comic book professionals and fans is the often harsh treatment of female characters in comics.

For example: Supergirl, Aquagirl, the original Huntress, Lori Lemaris, and Kole were all killed during the Crisis on Infinite Earths; Batgirl was shot and paralyzed by the Joker; Wonder Woman got shot in the back and died; all of the Savage Dragon's girlfriends have been killed; Peter Parker's girlfriend Gwen Stacy was killed by the Green Goblin (or by Spider-Man himself, depending on how you read the comic); Spidey's Aunt May spent years in and out of hospitals for various ailments and dated Dr. Octopus before Marvel decided she was boring and killed her off; Carol Ferris, girlfriend of Hal Jordan, was turned into Star Sapphire, one of Green Lantern's big Silver Age villains; Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld was blinded and eventually turned into an evil witch; Betty Banner, wife of Bruce Banner (the Hulk), was turned into a harpy and had multiple miscarriages before she was killed, and Bruce's own mother was murdered by her husband; Frances Kane, former girlfriend of Wally West (the Flash), has gone nuts and become the villain Magenta; Jocasta has been deactivated multiple times; Jean Loring, ex-wife of the Atom, became a multiple murderess and the new host of the demon Eclipso; the second Huntress was sexually abused and always seems to be on the verge of going completely insane; Raven seems to spend all her time either demonically evil or dead; Looker was turned into a vampire; the Invisible Woman miscarried, then went major-league evil for a while; Jean Grey got taken over by the Phoenix, went crazy, killed millions of people, then got killed; Rachel Summers got lobotomized; the Scarlet Witch went insane and killed several of the Avengers; Storm, Wonder Girl, Jade, Nightshade, Kinetix, Negative Woman, and Marvel Comics' second Captain Marvel have all lost their powers at least once, if not multiple times.

And many characters have been treated even more savagely. Elektra got her throat slashed and her own sai run through her by Bullseye; Dawnstar's wings were cut off; Dart's legs were blown off; Alex DeWitt, girlfriend of Kyle Rayner (Green Lantern), was murdered and stuffed into Kyle's refrigerator; Mirage, of Team Titans, was impregnated by rape; Spoiler was tortured to death; Daredevil's ex-girlfriend Karen Page got addicted to drugs, made porn films, and got infected with HIV before she was killed; Ms. Marvel/Warbird got mind-controlled, impregnated by rape, got her memories and powers stolen by Rogue (who's got a pretty fucked-up story herself), got depowered, and finally turned fairly pointlessly into an alcoholic; Starfire has been raped, tortured, enslaved, and forced into two marriages; Sue Dibny was murdered, posthumously burned, and retconned into a rape victim; and Psylocke got depowered, had her eyes removed, got mindswapped into a slutty ninja's body and got eviscerated by Sabretooth.

And that doesn't include the list of Merely-Dead-Female-Characters, which seems to stretch on and on: Blink, Jenny Sparks, Bluebird, Celsius, Mentalla, Courtney Ross, Crimson Fox, Girl One, the second Dove, Hellcat, Ice, Element Girl, Looker, Illyana Rasputin, Retro Girl, Jean DeWolff, Infinity, Inc.'s Dr. Midnight, Roulette, Elasti-Girl, Hippolyta, Snowbird, Lady Quark, Katma Tui, Mockingbird, Jet of the New Guardians, Mystek, Nightwind, Frankie (Nova) Raye, Threnody, Redwing, the second Wildcat, Silver Sorceress, Zora, Tomorrow Woman, Wonder Girl, Lilith, Lian Harper, and more...

Now of course, guys also get significantly bloodied in the comics, too. Superman died (though he came back); Hal Jordan went crazy, wiped out the Green Lantern Corps, became a cosmic-powered supervillain, died, and came back as the Spectre; Marvel's first Captain Marvel died of cancer; Barry Allen (the Flash) was killed during the Crisis; Batman got his back broken (though he got better); Aquaman's hand was chewed off by piranhas; John Stewart was crippled and depowered; the Blue Devil sold his soul to Satan, then got dissolved by holy water; Cyclops got killed (but got better); Professor X has been killed, depowered, and turned evil multiple times; Speedy was a junkie; Spider-Man had to go through the Clone Saga; Morpheus, Multiple Man, Abin Sur, Terry Long, Steel, Vibe, Metamorpho, Hawkeye, Aztek, Bucky, and Jason Todd got killed. You can also point out the female characters who had bad things happen to them, but got better: Wonder Woman, Wonder Girl, Jean Grey, and Elektra all came back from the dead, Batgirl became a better character as Oracle, and Blink got way popular after she died and showed up in an alternate universe. But it's hard to pretend that the treatment of the guys is equitable with the treatment of the girls...

So does this mean that all superhero comics are evil and anti-woman? Quite honestly, some comic book writers are pigs, and I'm not just talking about Dave Sim. Though there are stories of writers working through divorce frustrations by having a villain carve up a hapless heroine, my personal opinion is that most of it is not malicious.

The problem, in my opinion, is fourfold: first, most superhero comic books are written for an overwhelmingly male audience. That audience generally wants to read comics about male characters--hence the overwhelming number of comics with male characters as the leads. If you, as the comic book writer, put too much misery, injury, and death on your main character, you run the risk of alienating your audience (guys who are into power fantasies don't want to see their macho heroes getting their throats cut) and losing your book. So when they have a dramatic injury to dish out, they usually dish it onto the supporting cast, and the most prominent and emotionally-involving supporting cast member is nearly always the hero's love interest.

Second, most superhero comic books are written by males, and as I've said elsewhere, most of those male writers have not one clue about how to write an interesting female character. Since they have no idea how a woman's personality works or how to make her interesting to the reader (or, often, to themselves), they (A) make her act "more like a man" (so you get violent, gun-wielding, cigar-chomping bad girls), (B) make her a sex kitten ('cause uhh, ain't that whut all guys wants from their wimmens?), (C) give her a problem to overcome (and nothing is more dramatic than a character trying to overcome a serious injury or trauma), or (D) kill her, thereby solving the writing dilemma and giving the male heroes someone to mourn over for a few issues.

Third, there is a cultural expectation in the West that women are to be pampered, protected, and defended by men, and that a man who harms a woman is worthless scum who deserves a thoroughly brutal beat-down. Or worse. So what more effective way is there to demonstrate a villain's absolute loathsome evil and to stir a stalwart male hero to action than to have the bad guy attack, murder, or defile a prominent female character?

Fourth, in real life, dramatic things like serious injury and death happen to both males and females, and declaring a moratorium on injury or death to female characters would be unrealistic, counter-productive, and quite honestly, profoundly sexist.

So is there a solution? Seriously? I don't think so. More women writing superhero comic books would be a good start, but that's not really something that the comics companies can remedy. "Comic book writer" is already a fringe occupation, which makes it tough to recruit writers who aren't already interested in the medium. Maybe attitudes will change as time goes by...

Source: Gail Simone's excellent Women in Refrigerators website (http://www.unheardtaunts.com/wir/)

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