As female superheroes go, I confess they are not atypical. They seem to conform, as it happens, quite strongly to certain prototypes we have for thinking about “strong female leads”.
On the one hand, we have the Dragonfly. She is everything a person could expect from a teenage superhero, plus female and Japanese. Her powers did not come to her from an industrial accident or a meteor shower, though, but from deep inside herself, the result of a confluence of genetics and a pure soul that let her rise above banal mundanity. She has a special relationship to water that allows her to use it in specific ways to annoint things and even people for special purposes. She can even annoint herself with agility, speed, strength, other skills. The power comes from an affinity with an ancient water-God that critics, anthropologists and afficionados might call “nonspecific”, as it does not correspond directly with any existing religion. In all likelihood, she is an orphan, though revenge being anything but a moral motivation, what fuels her should be more of a sense that these sorts of tragedies shouldn’t happen to anyone, and so she uses her powers to fight petty crime, to beat back the Yakuza and expose corruption when it shows its ugly face, first in Osaka and then expanding outward to cover the entire region of Japan.
But what about love? This is the part that troubles me. What sort of mate would be appropriate for a wholesome superpowered girl? And how would she act around him (or her?)? How would that affect her judgment? The first feminist impulse I feel is to place her above all that, as a woman who does not need a man to complete or compete with her, but is that why we take lovers? To fill a void? Such codependence is the mainstay of much popular discourse, but is that all there is? Can’t whole people seek love, too? Does love come only to those who feel an acute need? And what, then, can we expect from him, this lover? That he tie her down to show dominance? That he put her on a pedestal as a reminder of romantic ideal? Or that he debase her as the mere object of carnal impulse, forever to be looked at and never truly seen?
Is this what we expect from a heroine’s love interest? I think we can do better. There is something downright cliché and, in inflatable numbers, dishonest about a girl so heroic she does not long for some form of companion.
But what of the Scorpion Queen? She is a very different kind of superhero, an assassin, first and foremost, for some special interest or other in China. If the Dragonfly is everything we in the West would like from a superhero, the Scorpion Queen is everything we’ve been taught to fear from a villainess, eating men like air, with implants in her fingertips turning them into retractable poisonous claws. A monster, truly, yet lithe and tempting as she leads deserving men to their doom. This, too, could be a cliché. At best, she is damaged goods, sexually promiscuous, making her more like a man in our eyes, and yet not a man and therefore dangerous, usurping male power. Such women should never be women at all, Lilith cannot be allowed to give birth, cannot be allowed to be even seen as mothers, and yet…
And yet consider the true scorpion herself, carrying her just-hatched brood on her back while she hunts, so that she can protect them.
One day, our Scorpion Queen finds herself in the worst situation she can devise: all birth control failed and now she is pregnant with the child of one of her victims. Worse: she soon finds she wants to have it.
And why shouldn’t she? Because she has a career? It is one that makes her wealthy enough to take the time off. Because she has enemies? She has had many, and now she has few. Because she is a monster? Maybe. But that’s not going to stop her from loving her child.
We need better superhero stories. And we need more of them.