After I wrote this post about Laurie Juspeczyk, I got to thinking about Alan Moore and female characters more generally. And it occurred to me — is there a male writer in any genre out there who has written about such a diversity of female characters, and with such thoughtfulness, as Moore has? From army grunts to policewomen to monster-lovers to cavewomen to spies to cab drivers to mystic saviors… I’m sure there are people out there who have a comparable record, but examples don’t exactly leap to mind. (Jack Hill, maybe…though his career was so short he didn’t really get a chance to compile a comparable record. Charles Schulz in his way, perhaps.)
It would be one thing if it were just the main characters — Halo Jones, Laurie, Abby, the women in From Hell, Promethea, Evie, and on and on. But the thing about Moore is that more often than not he’s got a whole cast of female characters in each work. Virtually every character in Halo Jones is a woman; you can only see Laurie as the token women in Watchmen if you ignore her mother, and Joey, and Joey’s girlfriend, and the Comedian’s Vietnamese girlfriend, and the Silhouette. Top 10 has a ton of major female characters, from lesbian cops on the prowl to conservative Christian cops to the main baddy of the original series. Even “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” — there’s Lois, but there’s also Lana, who actually gets to sacrifice herself to save Superman, a nice, and even moving reversal.
Not that every female character is brilliant, and he’s perfectly capable of stumbling over the odd misogynist trope or stereotype. Shooting Batgirl in the stomach to add to her dad’s angst was a low point, (and one Moore has since expressed regret about, I believe.) And the more erotic stuff he’s done in recent years hasn’t worked out especially well; Mina Harker could have been a lot more interesting if Moore hadn’t gotten obsessed with having her screw and screw and screw…and the less said about Lost Girls maybe the better. But when you look at his work as a whole, you really get the sense of someone who respects and cares about women. He doesn’t idealize them, he doesn’t turn them into guys, he doesn’t constantly point out how clever he’s being in treating them like people (as Brian K. Vaughn is prone to do.) Instead, he just has all these really interesting, complicated, fallible people, who can surprise you and themselves (as the bitter, tough-as-nails Sally does in loving Eddie Blake, for example, or as the noble Halo Jones does in coldly murdering her lover.)
Of course, women write intelligent, rounded male characters all the time, so it is somewhat grading on a curve, I know. But with that caveat, I’ll admit it; I find Moore’s willingness and ability to not write women like idiots kind of inspiring. It’s like he’s single-handedly trying to prove that American (and or British, I guess) comics by men don’t have to be synonymous with misogynist douchebaggery. Maybe he doesn’t always succeed, but, as a guy who spends way too much time thinking about comics, I really appreciate the effort.
Update: Several folks in comments point out that my sweeping condemnations are too sweeping, citing the Hernandez Brothers, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison as other male writers who have created a range of interesting female characters. I’ll accept that..