From Damsels in Distress to Dynamic Counterparts: The Evolution of Superhero Love Interests

by Dru Hunsaker 

Many traditional stories feature strong heroes and damsels in distress. Yet, the women of recent Marvel and DC Comics adaptations have taken their respective worlds by storm, creating brilliant, dynamic counterparts that support and challenge their heroes. Amy Adams’s portrayal of reporter Lois Lane is witty, intuitive, determined, and compassionate. Natalie Portman as Dr. Jane Foster is incredibly intelligent. As an astrophysicist with three degrees and a quirky curiosity, Thor’s love interest is beautiful and brave. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the clever, business-savvy, humorous counterpart to Iron Man. Bruce Banner’s leading lady, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), in the movie adaptation of The Incredible Hulk is a cellular biologist who defies her military father and risks her life to try to help him. Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) from The Amazing Spider Man is a high school student working in a top notch research facility who faces down a mutant lizard man to generate a scientific cure to a toxin so as to save an entire city. Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is a British military intelligence officer that works to bring down the nazi group HYDRA alongside Captain America. 

All of these women, and more, are smart, kind, determined, successful women who promote an image that is based on empowerment rather than helplessness. While all of these women are certainly beautiful, there is a plethora of beautiful women that their heroes could choose from. They choose these women because they are deep, interesting, dynamic characters whose selflessness and bravery make them heroes even without superpowers.
In an industry where so much is driven by looks, it’s nice to see writers make some kind of effort to make the characters more substantive than a pretty face. Hopefully this trend continues with an even greater portrayal of women and men who are valued beyond their reflection in the mirror. After all, beauty fades, but heroes are forever.

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