Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Building a Super-Heroine

By Eilis Flynn

It’s finally spring, and with spring and flowers and rain (or, in the case of the Pacific Northwest, more rain) comes my workshop for the Futuristic Fantasy & Paranormal chapter of RWA, “Building a Super-Heroine.” It’s loosely based on a panel I presided over for Geek Girl Con (the convention for geek girls! Lots of fun, I recommend it highly) a few years ago, exploring what it takes to build a character who’s specifically female and super-powered. It was an interesting hour, and we built a promising character who was super-powered, but we ran out of time before we truly began to explore why said person was female.

Looking at super-heroines over the decades and seeing which ones survived and which ones walked off into the sunset, though, I had to start thinking about what the difference was. Why are some of them still around after decades, and why are some of them retired, perhaps permanently? And is there a difference in why some heroes survive and some don’t, and do those differences apply to heroines too?

So many questions, so little time. There is one factor that differentiates the survivors from the fossils, and that seems to be the way in pretty much everything. Looking at super-heroines, why did Wonder Woman survive and Miss Fury did not? Wondie battled evil through the 1940s and 1950s and kept going, as opposed to Miss Fury, who retired from crimefighting in 1953. Why did Shiera become Hawkgirl become Hawkgirl become Hawkwoman become Hawkgirl, all using pretty much the same name (although once in a while she became “Shayera”) but different personalities?

For that matter, think of Jean Grey of the X-Men, who was first known when she was introduced in the early 1960s as Marvel Girl, then became known as Phoenix or Dark Phoenix, depending on whether she was threatening to destroy all of humanity, but mostly as Jean Grey. (Also popping up in the Marvelverse are Miss Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and Captain Marvel, all female. There was a male Captain Marvel, but he was killed off. But this is not the subject for today.) What does she have in common with others who have survived?

Anyway, the workshop has just begun over at the FFP chapter so with any luck we'll find out why, as well as how super-heroines are unique in and of themselves. I’ve never given it before, so it’s undiscovered country! But developing a character of any kind is always undiscovered country, isn’t it?

Eilis Flynn can be found to argue with at Facebook, Twitter, or at her website at If you’re looking for a professional editor with 35 years of experience, drop Elizabeth Flynn a line at


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