July 21, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Hero Case Files #100: Maxima

An embarrassingly sexist character that came out surprisingly late all things being equal. Oh, and I somehow did 100 of these things?

The man-crazy woman as a caricature has been around for a long time, but has in more recent years been seen as the sexist trash it is.  Comic book superheroes, creating by a largely male creative process for a mostly young male audience for the longest time, generally had the female characters limited to girlfriends who needed rescuing or just got in the way for the longest time.  Over time, these attributes went away in favor of more positive ones.

And yet, in 1989, we got Maxima.

She looks pleasant.

Truth be told, Maxima did not start off as a hero.  She was, well, maybe not a villain.  Anti-hero might be the best term for her.  She was the Queen of the planet Almerac.  As Queen, thanks to centuries of genetic inbreeding or selection depending on your point of view, she possessed great strength, resistance to injury, and a variety of mental powers.  Telepathy, teleportation, even something referred to as “mind over metal,” which meant she could bend the stuff at will.  So far, so good.

But, she needed a mate to carry on the family line.  That is the primary responsibility of a monarch after all.  As such, she more or less literally threw herself at the mightiest man she could find.  That would be Superman.  She wanted him for a mate and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

Now, there are a lot of pulp stories, I am sure, where the manly man hero had to fend off the advances of an aggressive female trying to force said manly man into that most dreaded of institutions:  marriage.  That’s a rather sexist way to write a woman, assuming she must have a mate and will do anything to nab a husband.  That trope carried over to comics, as a successor to pulp works.  The Silver Age version of the Green Lantern foe Star Sapphire had that as her main shtick when she first appeared in 1962.  Heck that was one of Lois Lane‘s main bits for much of the Silver Age, to trick Superman into matrimony.

Because, you know, a marriage based on deception works out so well.

A character like this just seems way out of place in 1989 or afterwards.

And yet, there she is.

As it is, Almerac was destroyed at least once, leaving Maxima (away on husband-securing missions) to fend for herself.  She ended up joining the Justice League and even had some relationships with teammates Captain Atom and Amazing Man.  Then Superman rejected her again, but before she could get revenge for being spurred yet again, she ended up dying during the Our Worlds at War crossover.

Here’s a question:  how do you handle a character like this?  The Star Sapphire character was retconned a bit, with the violent light of her gemstone being revealed to be another color in the Emotional Spectrum and that there were many Star Sapphires floating around the galaxy all pressed by the violent energy of their rings to feel nothing but romantic love for a chosen mate because colors on the far end of the spectrum do stuff like that.

But Maxima, one of those proud warrior woman types, never seems to get that.  She comes across as a stalker in some ways, appearing on both Smallville and the current Supergirl TV series as, from the sounds of things, someone who just doesn’t take a hint.  Superman the Animated Series used her for one episode but played the character more for laughs than anything else.  Jimmy and I haven’t gotten that far on our rewatch yet, but somehow I just know Paul Dini wrote that one.  There was even an Elseworlds future story where Superman and Maxima ended up together after Lois Lane died of complications of being pregnant with a Kryptonian baby.

But maybe the best version is the New 52/Rebirth version.  This Maxima is a bit younger and meets Supergirl in an academy for planetary protectors.  And, it turns out, Maxima here is a lesbian.  She’s attracted to Supergirl, but knows she has to have a husband to continue the family line.  I can’t claim to have read that issue, but that actually is an interesting and sensitive twist to the character while highlighting homophobia in other cultures since that Maxima was apparently sent away due to her preferring other women.

Sounds better than having her and Superman make out on Lois’ tombstone.

OK, that doesn’t appear to be a tombstone, but…