Dec 12 2013 12:45pm

Superheroes for the Ladies? Sneaking Romance into “Boy” Movies

Twisted by Laura K. CurtisToday we're joined by author Laura K. Curtis, whose Twisted is a romantic suspense with a true-crime writer heroine who is trying to solve the true crime in her own life—the murder of her mother—and the chief of police hero who helps her. Laura is here to discuss the evolution of superhero movies, and who they're really aimed at. Thanks, Laura!

Recently, when my husband was out of town, I streamed the entire first season of Arrow, then followed it up with the various Marvel superhero movies. Why did I wait? Because, despite the comic books from which all these franchises are derived being written for young men, the screen versions don’t seem designed to appeal to the same audience at all.

I grew up with an older brother and a younger brother, which means I grew up with comic books. The ones I remember best were Batman, Fantastic Four, and X-Men, but Spider-Man made an appearance on occasion as did several others. We watched both Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk on television. (Naturally, the boys pooh-poohed at Wonder Woman, but we watched anyway.)

Comic books, and the television shows made from them, were definitely designed for boys. Boys from about 13 to 25. Boys were supposed to spend their allowances on comic books, which was part of the price point and their positioning in stores. Girls were…not. Boys got “action figures,” girls got “dolls.” (And, oddly enough, the action figures boys got had highly developed musculature that would appeal to a pubescent girl in the same way that Barbie had overly developed breasts that would appeal to pubescent boys. Despite the marketing, someone out there was thinking of the opposite sex.)

I was thirteen when Star Wars came out. (Damn, a woman is never supposed to reveal her age. Oh, well.) I went with my older brother. Three times the first weekend. I loved it. I loved the giant, sweeping imagination it took to create, the amazing action sequences…and Harrison Ford. Oh, Harrison Ford. He made my tween heart beat faster.

That year, I went with my older brother to a sci-fi and comic convention for the first time. I wasn’t interested in the regular comic books the way he was; I was there for Star Wars stuff. The convention was overwhelmingly male. It was men selling stuff to boys and other men. There were very few girls purchasing things, and the select women in booths were there to attract the males who were shopping; if a customer had a question, the men behind the counter would answer it. (Some would say Comic Con isn’t so different. It is. Really. It’s still male-dominated, but it’s not at all like the cons of 30+ years ago.)

I bought every paper product having to do with Star Wars I could get my hands on. I still have the original movie poster in both the larger, one-sheet style, and a tall, thin style used in the side windows of theaters of the day. I still have the oversized, cost-you-a-dollar comic books, too, because unlike my brothers, I kept track of what was precious to me, so my mother didn’t toss them out when she found my brothers’. But I didn’t get caught up in the fanaticism all around me, the guys haggling over the perfect issue of this or the first issue of this, or the last issue of that. Comic book superheroes, in and of themselves, didn’t interest me.

And they should have. An imagination tweaked by Star Wars should have found the X-Men appealing, but the comics, the movies, the television shows were all designed for the male gaze. They weren’t written for me. Lynda Carter, much as I loved her, was a hormonal boy’s fantasy. Comic books were supposed to convince people with XY chromosomes to spend their money. But today’s movies—and TV shows—seem aimed at a different audience. I am not saying boys and men don’t enjoy these movies. My husband liked Iron Man. Certainly plenty of guys told me they enjoyed The Avengers. But are these movies made for men? Or are they made for women? Sure, the producers will say “they’re for everyone,” but no one actually believes that, do they?

Some movies are made for everyone: Star Wars. Die Hard. The Batman franchise. The original Terminator. Even The Avengers. But aside from the name recognition from any comic books they may read, what appeal do the Thor movies really have for boys/men? I’m not trying to pick on Thor—God knows, I want more Thor movies!—but they are essentially romances, as is the Arrow television series. Sure, there’s a great deal of action, but the main conflict is emotional, not physical. Parents and children, siblings, and romantic entanglements, these are the focus of the movies. And much as I love both my brothers and my husband, none of them are going to find that kind of conflict particularly compelling.

Nor will they find the sight or sound of Hiddleston and Hemsworth nearly as compelling as I do. So I have to ask…who do you think these movies are made for?

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Laura K. Curtis has always done everything backwards. As a child, she was extremely serious, so now that she's chronologically an adult, she feels perfectly justified in acting the fool. She started teaching at age fifteen, then decided to go back to school herself at thirty. And she wrote her first book in first grade. It was released in (notebook) paperback to rave reviews and she's been trying to achieve the same level of acclaim ever since. She lives in Westchester County, NY, with her husband and a pack of wild Irish Terriers, which has taught her how easily love can coexist with the desire to kill.

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1. NellyB
My husband and some guys at work complain about The Walking Dead and how it has too much "story". REALLY?! It's only gripping tv if you care enough about the characters to want them to stay safe from zombies AND, to get that, you need to write in the love stories, family dynamics, etc.! Otherwise it's just episode after episode of blood and gore... kinda gets boring after a while.
Laura K. Curtis
2. LauraKCurtis
Oh, my, Nelly, that made me laugh out loud. Too much STORY in the Walking Dead?? What would they want that space filled with? More killing? More zombie shuffling/running? More special effects?
Clare 2e
3. clare2e
There's definitely a female-friendly amount of emotional angst in a lot of the superhero stuff now. I don't mind it, since my fave kung fu movies always have doomed loves and deeply affecting disappointments, but I do think my husband is slightly less entranced with the trend.
4. SassyT
Even the GI Joe cartoons from back in the day (the mid to late 80's when I was a kid watching them) had romance (Hello! Flint and Lady J....Duke and Scarlett....don't get me started on how they messed this all up in the live action movies). There was even some kissing on the cartoons. I loved them! So, I don't think this is anything new. I think it's just being done better and I think more women are watching now so it's something that's being brought up more (even though it was always there in some form or another).

I have been a sci-fi fan since my dad had me sit down and watch the original Star Trek with him when I was a little girl. I wasn't a big comic book girl (other than Archie, Betty and But I did watch the Spiderman (late 70s, early 80s), He-Man (remember that?!?), Thundercats (Snarf rules!!!), and X-men (I was in college and it was a must watch for men and women alike) cartoons. I enjoyed the original Battlestar Galatica and Buck Rodgers (well, not the original Buck Rodgers but the one from the late 70s, early 80s). I remember discussing these shows/cartoons with my then best friends (who happened to be two boys) when I was like 6 years old. Talking about who was the best, who had the coolest light saber, who'd win a fight if X had to fight Y. All this emotional angst doesn't seem to be stopping any of the men in my family (including my dad who did read the comic books) from watching them. His issue with most of them is that they keep re-making the same one (Spiderman and Superman...I'm looking at you) and that they haven't made enough of the ones he liked as a kid (doesn't really have a problem with the "feelings" aspect). But I guess you can't please
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