‘Women in Refrigerators Syndrome’
The use of the death or injury of a female comic book character as a plot device in a story starring a male comic book character. It is also used to note the de-powerment or elimination of a female comic book character within a comic book universe.
The concept might be slightly skewered but I see this trend happening to the women of Marvel, preferably the first ladies to appear in comics. I thought the idea was obsolete considering these contemporary times and the feminist movement has progressed women to equality, but it subliminally hasn’t. First viewed as flighty women with “less than spectacular” powers during the kooky era of the 1960s with the most vanilla of names and the object of every man’s affection, these super heroines have risen as the strongest and most powerful of the bunch. They’re now regulated as missing in action, de-powered, or dead. Are they being replaced by more multi-faceted (daresay villainous or shady)characters like Emma Frost, Black Widow, Mary Jane, and Spiderwoman? Here are the main five women and their back history:
Jean Grey/Phoenix (first X-Man)
Her powers are telepathy and telekinesis. She could move mountains, change the anatomy of her molecules, and read the minds of every single person on Earth. But her gifts in the 1960s were reduced to moving a log so her teammates didn’t trip. When she was given god-like powers of the Phoenix force, her powers were limitless. Unfortunately, what do you do to a person who is near omnipotent? They’re unstoppable and hard to write for so Jean Grey has constantly died and resurrected and died again. Her death signaled a change for her husband, Cyclops, as a more aggressive leader as he shacks up with the former villain, Emma Frost. I’m all for change, but did it have to result with killing a key figure of the X-Men mythos?
Janet van Dyne/Wasp (first female Avengers)
Her personality was nothing more except to flirt and swoon over her teammates. But time and again, she’s proven her worth as a founding member of the Avengers with insect-like powers of shrinkage and fire energy blasts and probably the smartest and craftiest of the Avengers. But to mess with her history, writers made her a victim of domestic violence against Hank Pym just to make him more interesting. And to top it off, the Wasp hasn’t been used appropriately under Brian Michael Bendis’ pen. After a few cameo stints, he killed her off during the Secret Invasion because he really has no use for her. Why couldn’t they kill off Jessica Jones or Spiderwoman?
Gwen Stacy (Spiderman’s true love)
Gwen Stacy is probably the definitive example of women in refrigerators for the Marvel Universe. She was Spiderman’s true love; the woman Peter Parker would live happily ever after. But Spiderman’s world is filled with misery so she was used as collateral damage when the Green Goblin threw her off the bridge. Spiderman caught her, but might have snapped her neck too. Her death changed Spiderman to more adult-oriented stories. It haunts Spiderman and the rest of the comic book industry to this day.
Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (first female villain/second female Avengers)
A member of Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, her powers was ambiguously explained as accidents happen when she points at things. But as an Avenger, we saw her rose as one the beloved staples of the team. Her powers were then defined as probability hex powers mixed with chaos magic. But in the years intervening, her history has been met with tragedy as she married an android and magically birthed twin only to be taken away from her. Now, she was known for altering reality with a single whim. It doesn’t help that she was the daughter of the mutant terrorist Magneto and that she completely destroyed the Avengers by killing a few teammates. To top it off, she reduced the mutant population to a mere 200 and vanished. She’s becoming one of the most powerful in the Marvel universe, but why did they have to make her unstable and insane?
Susan Storm/Invisible Woman (only female member of the Fantastic Four)
The first woman of Marvel, her powers of invisibility were given as merely escaping her enemies for her male teammates to do the dirty work. Damsel in Distress? Yeah. But as the years have passed, she’s become the most powerful member with limitless skills. Her submissive persona is gone as the feminist movement progressed her importance in comics, and I’m happy to hear that she wasn’t the member who would die in Fantastic Four. That was unfortunately, the Human Torch. Her case defies the formula, but if she was the Fantastic Four member to die, then my point would have been justified.