The Boyfriend and I have recently discovered something amazing on Netflix. Superhero Squad, an animated amalgam of Marvel heroes and villains, follows the epic struggles of the titular Squaddies as they battle against Doctor Doom and his Baddies for possession of the Mcguffin of the Week. Which has so far involved such memorable moments as Fing Fang Foom sitting on top of Mole Man and farting him into unconsciousness, Loki and Thor getting into a slap fight, Wolverine as Captain Canada, the Human Torch blowing up the Baxter Building because 'Reed will just fix it like he always does', and the team being trapped inside of a quesadilla and nearly eaten by the Hulk.
Did I mention the target audience for this show is young children? There are fart jokes and booger jokes and heroes pulling pranks on each other. The characters are simplified and treated with delightful irreverence. The plots and motivations are downright silly while surprisingly entertaining. It seems that no one in the Marvel Universe is off-limits either, with cameos aplenty and many recognizable voice actors. Even Stan Lee shows up a few times to lend his voice to the Mayor of Superhero City.
I think my favorite character in the series is MODOK, Doom's head lackey, who has been re-envisioned for the series as a tiny, big-headed version of Starscream. He's always secretly hoping to overthrow Megatron...er, Doctor Doom I mean...and claim all of the power and respect for himself despite being completely ineffectual. Honestly, seeing classic Marvel heroes and villains portrayed in a light-hearted and irreverent manner is my favorite part of the series. Mole Man has flatulence powers. Doctor Doom has no indoor voice. The Silver Surfer is a spaced-out beach bum. It's wonderful.
The main team consists of Iron Man, Thor, Wolverine, Silver Surfer, Hulk, Falcon and Reptil. Falcon and Reptil are minority characters while Surfer and Thor are aliens, so it's nice to see a culturally diverse team roster. There is a rather glaring lack of female characters, though. At first it seemed that Ms. Marvel would be a regular character, seeing as how she runs the SHIELD Helicarrier the Squad operates out of...but she only ever shows up to nag the Squad about cleaning the Helicarrier, even to the exclusion of world-saving. The only women who have gotten any significant screen time so far are Wasp, whom Falcon was constantly trying to protect from being squished, and Black Widow, who instantly turned the entire Squad into lovesick puppies by being female and hot.
The Helicarrier itself is like a giant, flying bachelor pad. The Squad members are constantly trashing the place, burping and making fart jokes, pranking each other and trimming their toe nails in the living room. The more I watched, the more I realized...this wasn't a show aimed at children. It was a show aimed at boys. And while I still find the show delightful, I couldn't help but be a little peeved by that realization.
You see, 'the media' has certain ideas about what boys and young men want in their entertainment. One of the most pervasive of these ideas is that males cannot relate to female leads or powerful women. You would think the huge success of cartoons like Avatar or movies like Aliens and Resident Evil or games like Metroid and Tomb Raider would have done something to dispel this myth, but it has been thoroughly demonstrated that the decision-makers in popular media are slow on the uptake and extremely hesitant to take risks with what they insist is a 'tried-and-true' formula.
So not only is it expected for young boys to only be able to relate to female characters as nagging mothers or love interests, nothing more is ever asked of them. I don't know why more men aren't outraged by how this reflects on them. Who really thinks that boys are too simple and shallow to relate to girls or like girl characters? Does anyone seriously believe that putting female characters on par with male characters will strain their little brains so much that they dislike an otherwise awesome show? Then why do we insist on sheltering boys from half the population in media aimed at them?
A single regular female character would solve just about every problem this show has, and it's not like there aren't any good ones to choose from. Besides...Falcon and Reptil? Raise your hand if you have any idea who those characters are. Ok, I see a couple hardcore fans in the back. Good for you. Now...Ms. Marvel? Wasp? The Scarlet Witch? Storm? Rogue? Black Widow? Psylocke? Emma Frost? Shadowcat? Yeah, that's what I thought.
I am loving this cartoon. It is my newest guilty pleasure and I fully intend to watch each of the 52 episodes available on Netflix Instant. But it frustrates me to no end to know that from a very early age boys are confronted with the expectation that they cannot relate to girls. That girls are only good for telling you what to do or having crushes on them, not that they are peers and equals. Popular media has created it's own self-fulfilling prophecy and is determined to maintain it, even if broadening their appeal is more likely to attract female fans than it is to alienate men.