Chris Hicks: Comic book superheroines are out of luck

Published: Thursday, Aug. 19 2010 5:19 p.m. MDT

Hollywood is all about comic book characters these days. Oops, I mean graphic novel characters.

Actually, that's a little too broad. We probably won't see a big-budget Archie or Uncle Scrooge movie, so let's narrow it further. It's really all about superhero comic books (or graphic novels).

Although the "superheroes" category isn't really all that narrow these days.

So, as reflects all things Hollywood, we can narrow it even further to male superheroes.

Oh, there are plenty of women who hold their own in the superhero universe on the printed page. Wonder Woman, anyone? Superwoman? Catwoman? Vixen? Spiderwoman? Firestar?

But you wouldn't know it to look at the roster of superhero movies.

Female super-empowerment on the big screen is more likely to turn up in the form of a sidekick or a peripheral character, i.e. Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl in "Batman & Robin," Halle Berry as Storm in the "X-Men" movies and Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff (a k a Black Widow) in "Iron Man 2."

Over the years there have been attempts at super-female film franchises based on, um, illustrated books. But they certainly look feeble with the benefit of hindsight, from Helen Slater as "Supergirl" (1984) to Pamela Anderson as "Barb Wire" (1996) to Halle Berry as "Catwoman" (2004) to Jennifer Garner as "Elektra" (2005).

All were super flops. Even a spoof starring Uma Thurman, "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," took a nosedive in 2006.

Of all the superhero movies scheduled for release in the next couple of years, none feature a woman in the lead.

Even Johansson's upcoming performances as Black Widow will be in the ensemble "Avengers" movie, and maybe Samuel L. Jackson's "Nick Fury." Where's the "Black Widow" movie?

Maybe it's because none of these super-powered women are dark and brooding enough.

When I was a kid, my favorite superhero was Superman, who is apparently too sunny for this cynical age. (Although yet another reboot of the legendary Kryptonian's story is reportedly in the works.)

But Batman? The times have caught up with him. He was always a darker character (the campy '60s TV show notwithstanding).

Aside from Batman, other popular 21st century superheroes are led by (the amazing) Spider-Man, Iron Man, the X-Men and (the incredible) Hulk, all battered, bruised and brooding, as well as mistreated and misunderstood.

On a lower movie tier we also have the Fantastic Four and the Watchmen. And upcoming are Green Hornet, Green Lantern, Thor, Captain America and the aforementioned Avengers, which includes Thor and the captain among its ensemble.

Even supervillains are getting their own movies now, as with the upcoming "Nemesis."

So for the moment, female super(ish) heroes in the movies come from sources outside the world of comic books. (OK, OK, the world of graphic novels.)

Arguably, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz as "Charlie's Angels" could qualify, along with Charlize Theron as "Aeon Flux" and Milla Jovovich's Alice in the "Resident Evil" flicks.

And some actresses seem especially suited to put on the Bruce Willis action hero mantle, chiefly Angelina Jolie, as she demonstrates with "Salt" and her earlier roles as Fox in "Wanted" and the distaff half of "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." And don't forget that she was Lara Croft. Twice.

And perhaps Thurman, who was quite athletic in the aforementioned "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," as well as the Bride in the "Kill Bill" pictures and Poison Ivy in "Batman & Robin" (the latter a villain, of course).

And my personal fave, Michelle Yeoh, who shakes off bad guys like flies in almost every film she's ever done. (Best "Bond girl" ever.)

These examples are not characters with unique powers exactly. Most of them don't fly or shoot spider webs from their wrists or rely on a belt full of super gadgets. But their characters are pretty super duper considering the stunts they (and their doubles) pull off. (Only Yeoh does all of her own.)

And these actresses, among others, could certainly handle any super heroine role that came from the printed page.

Let's face it, the only reason "Catwoman," "Elektra" and the other pictures failed is because they were lousy.

Note to Hollywood: Build a better movie and the audience will come.

And with superheroines, maybe teenage girls will fill the theater seats as much as teenage boys.

e-mail: hicks@desnews.com

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