In April 2015, DC Comics announced its plans for the DC Super Hero Girls franchise, which would consist of an animated series, action figures, fashion dolls, and other merchandise focused on female superhero characters in high school. This was exciting news for two reasons. One, if you’ve watched television or seen any movies lately, you’ve probably noticed a trend: superheroes are all the rage. DC Comics has proved this with popular TV shows like Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, and Supergirl; Marvel teamed up with Netflix to create Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and premiering later this year, Luke Cage, in addition to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. On the big screen, Marvel continues their fan-favorite franchises, The Avengers and X-Men, and struck gold with the extremely well-received Deadpool last month. Later in March, DC is releasing Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice in theaters, as well as Suicide Squad in August, and a Wonder Woman feature film in 2017.
The second reason that creating the DC Super Hero Girls is significant is because there is a distinct lack of superhero products for girls. Before we discuss this, let’s take a look at the history of female characters in comic books. At its core, a superhero is a being who uses exceptional skill or superhuman abilities to help the general public. The idea of a “superhero” began in 1938 with the debut of Superman, ushering in the Golden Age of Comics in the United States. A superhero is most often thought of as a strong man or powered male. In general, comic books and superhero fiction – and the cool toys that come along with them – have historically been enjoyed by males. However, female heroes have been included in comic books since their beginning.
In 1940, the first known superheroine was created. Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle, began a surge in the introduction of female superheroes in the 1940s. Most notable of these are antiheroine Black Widow, who condemned evil-doers to Hell; Black Canary, initially lacking super powers but using intellect and hand-to-hand combat to defeat criminals; and the iconic Greek Amazonian warrior princess, Wonder Woman. During the Silver Age of Comics beginning in the 1950s, DC’s superheroines were typically derived from popular male characters, such as Batwoman, Supergirl, Miss Arrowette, and Batgirl. Comics in the 1960s included heroines as the “token female” in superhero groups: Jean Grey in X-Men, Wasp in the Avengers, Invisible Girl in the Fantastic Four, and Scarlet Witch in the Brotherhood of Mutants.
Second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 1970s changed the way female comic characters, super or otherwise, were written and marketed. A feminist theme can be found in the stories of Power Girl, Big Barda, and the Huntress from DC, and The Cat, Shanna the She-Devil, and Natasha Romanoff’s Black Widow from Marvel. Other supporting female characters were put in powerful roles like business owner, statesperson, and decorated military officer. Since the 80s, female superheroes have been the stars of long-running publications and have taken on leadership roles in superhero ensembles.
Despite the strong presence of female heroes in comic books, and more recently, television and movies, toys depicting these inspirational women are not being marketed to young girls. The norm has been that boys play with action figures who can do awesome things, while girls play with dolls who wear pretty clothes. Diane Nelson, President of DC Entertainment and head of the consumer products division at Warner Bros, recognized a problem with this. She saw that there was a whole market that had been underserved; girls want in on the superhero fun. Thus, the DC Super Hero Girls were born.
The franchise, aimed at girls aged 6-12, debuted in Fall 2015 with digital content including animated shorts and interactive games. The website also features introductions to the seven main characters: Wonder Woman, Super Girl, Bumblebee, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Batgirl, and Katana, and supporting characters: Cheetah, Catwoman, Hawkgirl, Star Sapphire, Hal Jordan, and Beast Boy. DC and Warner Bros. teamed up with Mattel to design the line of Super Hero Girl fashion dolls, as well as Mattel’s first line of action figures for girls. Books, apparel, role playing accessories, and LEGO sets will also be a part of the collection.
Aside from economic implications for the companies involved, DC Super Hero Girls will be influential to the children who play with them. Young girls don’t necessarily need to be told that they can be the heroes; in their imaginations, they already are. These toys will serve to encourage that, not just for the girls, but young boys and parents as well. The 12″ fashion dolls and 6″ action figures, which appeared exclusively in Target stores this month, stand out from the other packages in the toy aisle. Instead of the common pink, purple, and pastels, the heroes are cased in red, blue, and gold. The dolls’ outfits are special, too: high heels have been replaced with combat boots and sneakers; they’ve traded in their dresses for athletic wear and capes.
The animated shorts show the characters as students at Super Hero High, as awkward and vulnerable as any high schooler. They are all still learning how to utilize their powers and find their place, cheering each other on all the while. When Wonder Woman fails her flying exam and thinks she will never be a real hero, Bumblebee tells her “Everyone has an off day! I know you’re an amazing superhero.” When Harley Quinn accidentally shares a video of her friends in humiliating situations, Wonder Woman decides to laugh it off, and the other girls follow suit. “Wonder Woman?! More like Blunder Woman!”, she jokingly exclaims. The characters are real and relatable, providing exciting role models for kids. Even the show’s theme song is inspiring: “We can be who we like, get your cape on!”
DC Super Hero Girls are sure to be influential in the pop culture market, a change I am happy to see. Meet some of the revolutionary characters below!
Supergirl is the most powerful teen at Super Hero High with super strength, speed, and hearing among her many abilities. Known as “the kind one”, Supergirl will be clumsily learning to use her powers in Season 2 of the animated series, which premieres on March 19. Her fashion doll and action figure have already flown into Target stores.
The class clown of the bunch, Harley is as expert gymnast who loves throwing glitter bombs. She uses her acrobatic skills to help save the day, and her quick wit to make her friends laugh. Harley Quinn’s doll and action figure are both equipped with her signature mallet and sport her famous two-toned pigtails.
“Wondy”, as her friends call her, is a newcomer to Super Hero High in the first season of the series. Coming from the Greek isle of Themyscira, Wonder Woman must learn normal social behaviors, like shaking hands. She quickly becomes the leader of the heroes, as she is nearly invincible. She arms herself with a shield, bulletproof bracelets, and her lasso of truth. Her doll and figure are wonderful additions to the line.
Student ambassador and all around social butterfly – er, bumblebee – this hero is a stylish addition to the team. Bumblebee developed her own super suit that shrinks and grows as she does. Her abilities include super strength, flight, and sonic blasts. Plus, she mixes really awesome songs! Her action figure and doll show off her eye for fashion with her super suit and trendy hair.
Batgirl is first introduced on the show as Barbara Gordon, a tech savvy girl who works in the IT department at Super Hero High. Barbara is not a student, but her computer genius caught the eye of principal Amanda Waller. Hopefully we will see Barbara transform into her super self, Batgirl, in Season 2. This technowizard is on store shelves as a fashion doll and action figure.
This fierce redhead was given the ability to control plants during a lab experiment gone wrong. Ivy is a genius superhero who gives new meaning to “green thumb” as she explores high school with her friends, both human and plant alike. The Poison Ivy action figure and doll are sure to entangle the hearts of little girls.
The dolls and figures are available now at Target, and will be sold globally beginning in July 2016.