Can Sailor Moon Break Up the Superhero Boys Club?

The massively popular '90s manga series is about to be re-released in a new English translation. Will it remind comics writers and movie-makers that girls like superheroes, too?

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Kodansha Comics


We are well into the age of the second-string superhero. In the past, to get star billing and a supersize promotional budget, heroes had to actually be iconic. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, even X-Men—they're all marquee stars with decades of pop culture exposure. But Iron Man? Green Lantern? Thor? Unless you've spent the past few decades huffing the effluvia of mylar protective comic bags, you probably hadn't heard of any of those people before their big screen debuts. It makes you wonder who's next. Elongated Man? Ant Man? How long before Bouncing Boy gets his own feature film?

And yet, even as the mighty Man-Thing shuffles out of the swamp for his close-up, one of the best-known superhero properties languishes in development limbo. Thanks to what Dlisted memorably referred to as an "American Apparel latex hell" of a costume and a concomitant surge of internet guffawing, the Wonder Woman TV series followed every other Wonder Woman screen project of the last 30 years into oblivion. Male heroes, no matter how obscure and ridiculously be-tighted, are in with a chance, but the American public draws the line at red, white, and blue stripper-wear packaged as feminism.

This isn't really all that surprising. The original Wonder Woman comic was very popular in the '40s, and the Wonder Woman TV series had success for a few years in the '70s, but it's been a good long time since female superheroes had any kind of widespread success. American superhero comics are, in fact, notorious for their clannish male nerd hermeticism. The scene in Heroes' third season where Hayden Panettierre is scoped out by a comic-shop-full of creepy guys is a stereotype, but it's built on the depressing truth that American mainstream comics are written overwhelmingly for men. Demographic data on comic readers is hard to come by, but several sources suggest that women make up only about 10 percent of superhero comic book readers at best.

The logical conclusion, then, seems to be that women don't especially like superhero comics. Nerdy nothing gains great power and saves the day—that's a story that appeals to guys far more than to girls. Guys want heroism and beating people up; girls want romance and being swept off their feet. Or so you might conclude if you'd never read Sailor Moon.

Sailor Moon—which is about to be re-released in a new English translation later this month—was the '90s Japanese manga/anime that kickstarted the U.S. manga boom and ensured that that boom would be as much about female consumers as about male ones. Moreover, if you don't count Edward Cullen, Sailor Moon was probably the most successful new superhero of the last 30 years. A typical 14-year-old girl who likes sleeping late and playing video games, Bunny (whose name in a new translation is Usagi), like many a superhero before her, one day discovers she has great magical powers. Donning a distinctive costume, she races off to save the world from various bad guys, discovering inner strength she never knew she had and ... saving the day!

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Noah Berlatsky is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He edits the online comics-and-culture website The Hooded Utilitarian and is the author of the forthcoming book Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948.

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