This article was originally written for Modern Myths, INC. and was posted on March 16, 2013. This is a reproduction for portfolio purposes.
When you think about the women of superhero comics, pregnancy is probably not in the top five things that come to mind. Probably not even in the top 20. Sure, there are characters like Scarlet Witch, who, despite all odds and her robot-bodied husband, was able to conceive twins (maybe?), Jessica Jones, whose unplanned pregnancy with Luke Cage turned into one of the most endearing Marvel families, and Stephanie Brown, tackling the topics of teen pregnancy and teen death, but on the whole, superheroines don’t get pregnant. At least, not if they want to stay superheroes.
And yet pregnancy consistently finds its way into the lives of many caped crusaders. And often through less-than-savory writing devices.
Yes, I am talking about the magical, telepathic, alien, and almost always invasive pregnancies that heroines faces: plot pregnancies. Essentially stripping a female character of their autonomy, forcing them to become not only magically pregnant, but also coming to term quickly, with shocking and sometimes violent results.
The thing that is most off-putting about these pregnancies is that the woman are shown, not only accepting their suddenly fruitful lot in life, but also embracing it happily and lovingly.
There is no better example of this than Ms. Marvel. In the 1980s, Carol was kidnapped by a man named Marcus (the apparent son of the villain Immortus), and subsequently brainwashed, seduced, and impregnated.
It gets worse.
Ms. Marvel returns to Earth and soon discovers she is pregnant. Having forgotten her time with Marcus, she has no idea what’s happening to get. She expresses her unhappiness with her mysterious pregnancy. Instead of supporting her or trying to help her figure out what happened, her fellow Avengers, Wasp specifically, shun her, saying she should simply embrace, accept, and enjoy the idea of motherhood. After all, what woman wouldn’t want to be a mother?
It gets worse still.
When Ms. Marvel gives birth, her baby ages incredible rapidly and turns out to be none other than Marcus himself! Marcus reveals himself as her lover, and says that controlling her with a “subtle boost from Immortus’ machines” and implanting himself in her was the only way he could escape from the alternate dimension in which he was imprisoned. Worst of all, Ms. Marvel accepts this story of him brainwashing and says that giving birth to him “makes me feel closer to you than I’ve felt to anyone in a long, long time.”
Ms. Marvel then declares her love for Marcus and Thor happily transports them back to Limbo.
This issue (Avengers #197) became wildly talked about by comic book scholars, specifically Carol A. Strickland who wrote an article in LOC Magazine #1 entitled the “Rape of Ms. Marvel.” In the article, Strickland explored the fact that Marvel was, at the time of this issue, staffed entirely by men and that they essentially slaughtered their own “symbol of the modern woman, Ms. Marvel.” And Strickland is right; women in comics have been stepped on, abused, and thrown in refrigerators since day one, but the worst thing you can do to a superheroine is take away their personal voice and end their career as a hero. It doesn’t matter if they fall in love, have children, get married–none of that is any reason for them to lose their personality and stop being a hero.
Chris Claremont expressed this most beautifully when he took over writing duties for the Avengers. The Avengers Annual #10 made Carol a key player: away from Marcus and the brainwashing, she realizes that she was controlled and abused by him. She breaks down in front of the Avengers, sobbing, but Thor misunderstands her tears for sadness: “Be not ashamed of thy womanly tears, Carol. Thou hast lost the one thou didst love.”
“No!” Carol cries out as she slaps Thor right in the face, “I didn’t love Marcus! I never loved Marcus!” Carol explains how she was controlled and used by him, how she essentially had no free will, and Claremont subtle references the very words of the original comic in which Carol was control by Marcus and his machines. At the end of the Annual, Wanda and the Vision reflect and realize that they were wrong and they had failed to help their friend, but that Carol’s return represented a second chance for them. Looking at it meta-textually it not only represents a second chance for the Avengers, but also a second chance for the presentation of Ms. Marvel and woman in comics in general.