Shailene Woodley and Comic Book Women

Let's face it, the beautiful female has been a mainstay of storytelling for as long as there has been storytelling. Helen of Troy's beauty was central to The Iliad, as were Circe's charms to The Odyssey. Going back even further into history, there is Shamhat from The Epic of Gilgamesh, who civilized the titular hero with her "love arts." Fictional stories almost by definition have a strong element of fantasy, even those fictions that are closely based on reality. These fictional characters have exaggerated (for better or worse) romantic relationships with other characters. This obviously also applies to comic book relationships. How many super hero relationships can you think of where the hero is dating an unattractive partner? I can't think of any. If anything, the heroes partners (and let's face it, most super heroes are heterosexual males) are stunningly attractive. Unrealistically so. Not only that, they always seem to be wearing either skin tight costumes or hardly anything at all. When a real life flesh and blood actress is hired to fill the shoes of a comic book character, she has an almost impossible standard to live up to.

Recently, two actresses have won the roles of two of the most famous female characters in comicdom: Shailene Woodley was (for a time) cast as Mary Jane Watson in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Gal Gadot is set to play Wonder Woman in the Man of Steel sequel. The response from fans has been, by and large, unhappy with these casting choices. Criticism of casting is fair game, as long as the criticism is valid. Sadly, the complaints lobbed at Woodley and Gadot have been largely juvenile. While both actresses are certainly attractive, many fans have been disappointed by the ladies less-than voluptuous figures. One criticism of Woodley is that she isn't pretty enough to be a model, as Mary Jane briefly was in the Spider-Man comics. However, Shailene began her career in the public eye as a commercial model at the age of four. She started acting in 2002, when she was ten years old. Her looks must have been attractive enough if she was able to start a career in the public eye at such a young age.

Gal Gadot has faced double criticism, with many suggesting that she doesn't have the looks or brawn to be the Amazonian Wonder Woman. She responded to criticism of her figure by saying "I represent the Wonder Woman of the new world...Breasts ... anyone can buy for 9,000 shekels and everything is fine." That, and she is a model and former Miss Israel. Looks are not a problem for her and despite her small and thin frame, neither is her ability to handle a fight. She served in the Israeli Defense Force for two years and has been training in swords, kickboxing, Kung Fu, jujutsu and other martial arts for the Wonder Woman role. It is safe to assume that she will be able to kick some ass.

For comparison, let's look at some comic book movies that featured actresses with more typical figures found on comic book women. Remember Uma Thurman in Batman and Robin? What about Jessica Alba in the Fantastic Four movies? Let's not forget Halle Berry in Catwoman. These movies are universally loved by comic fans, right? Oh wait, we are still complaining about Batman and Robin seventeen years after the fact. But Uma certainly filled out that Poison Ivy outfit, didn't she? As did Halle fill hers as Catwoman and Jessica hers as Sue Richards. Gorgeous as these actresses are, their looks couldn't save what were simply bad movies. Poor writing, bad directing and dumb looking sets made for bad movies much more than the women did.

As comic fans, we know that comic books deserve more credit for quality story telling than they are given by the general public. We know that comics, when written well, can be character driven and intelligent. A comic book movie can also be of high quality. However, all that the public sees are ridiculous costumes, impossible superpowers and women that look like they stepped out of a men's magazine. No wonder comics are seen as childish. Let's not add fuel to that perception by whining that an actress doesn't have a chest that is as big as the character she is playing.