“In the first episode of Netflix’s Marvel Comics-based series Jessica Jones, the title character tells her equally superhuman sex partner, Luke Cage: “I don’t flirt. I just say what I want.” A few explicit scenes later, it’s quite clear that Jessica, played by Krysten Ritter, is a very different superheroine than the 1970s’ Wonder Woman or Bionic Woman. Jessica doesn’t get tarted up in lingerie or a suspiciously sexy superhero costume, waste time pining for Luke or shy away from using the word “rape” to describe what a mind-controlling villain did when he used his power to coerce her into sex.
Jessica Jones is just one example of a new kind of superheroine taking over TV and movies: a kind of believable super-powered woman – at least in terms of character and emotion – who inspires female fans rather than titillates young males. When male superheroes took over the box office in the 2000s, women got only a few weak attempts at their own franchises: Halle Berry as Catwoman and Jennifer Garner as Elektra, capable actresses both, suffered from muddled scripts that demanded sexed-up portrayals.
But Hollywood has spent the last few years tiptoeing toward a different type of superheroine. In 2012, The Dark Knight Rises introduced Anne Hathaway as a more capable and clothed Catwoman – not desexed, but she had more to do more than provide eye candy. The same year, The Avengers brought us a more empowered Black Widow played by Scarlett Johansson. And now studios seem to finally be figuring out how to create compelling superheroines.
The newest iteration of Wonder Woman, played by former Israeli soldier Gal Gadot, has stolen the early buzz from the title characters of the upcoming movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – no surprise given the sheer number of Batmen and Supermen we’ve endured over the past two decades. (Wonder Woman will also, at last, get her own film next year.)
Beyond Jessica Jones, TV has brought us Marvel’s post-World War Two spy programme Agent Carter, as well as a Supergirl who’s a self-declared feminist….”