Have superhero comics outgrown a pre-adolescent fear of women? Not in the slightest, argues critic Abhay Khosla. In fact, he argues, Marvel Comics' last few linewide storylines have been all about why women are terrifying and need to be destroyed.
Over at the Savage Critics, Khosla puts Marvel Comics' fear of women into some worrying perspective:
"Man Versus Castration Anxiety" has been a recurring theme for this generation of Marvel Comics "events". The first major "Event" Civil War began when Captain America was asked to submit to the authority of a woman named Maria Hill.
Captain America then initiates an all-out superhero civil war rather than take orders from a woman. At the conclusion of the comic, Iron Man has won that contest; however, the comic goes bizarrely out of its way to assure the reader that the patriarchal order has been restored: the comic's celebratory final three pages feature Iron Man forcing Maria Hill to get him coffee.
The Civil War can only truly end once a woman is put back in her "place". Civil War was then followed by a comic called— oh God, here I go again— Secret Invasion, in which an alien Queen attempts to institute a matriarchy on Earth. In response, the Earth's superheros murder the Queen, specificially by repeatedly destroying the Queen's head. In issue 7 of the series, her head is shot through with arrows. In issue 8, it is revealed that she's survived the arrows, but then her head is blown off by the Green Goblin. In the same panel as her head being blown off is a drawing of Wolverine, poised to slice into her head with his adamantium claws.
The comic takes a perverse glee in damaging this woman's head, basically. Freud often suggested that the head was a symbol of the repressed desires of the lower body, that is to say, he often associated the female head with a vagina. As David D. Gilmore explained in "Misogyny: the Male Malady": "Freud wrote a paper specificially on this subject, 'The Medusa's Head' published posthumously in 1940. [...] Freud argues that Medusa's head represents the vagina in general and the mother's vagina in particular, the archetypal 'hairy maternal vulva'. Here is the Oedipal terror displaced to the head: Medusa embodies both mother and woman, and the hairy vulva typifies incestuous temptation." The Secret Invasion can only end when the offending vagina has been destroyed.
Lots more at the link, including the comic that started off his observation, in which the monster is a woman who became a monster because she was horny. And, no, I'm sadly not even exaggerating.
It's worth pointing out that Khosla doesn't mention House of M, Marvel's superhero crossover event prior to Civil War, where the plot was essentially "That woman is too powerful and must be stopped before she destroys reality." Which was also the plot - and the same woman, for that matter - as the event prior to that, Avengers Disassembled. Ironically enough, March 2010 starts a year-long program called "Marvel Women" at the publisher, which according to Marvel Snr. VP of Sales David Gabriel, is intended...
...to celebrate the women of the industry, whether they are super-heroines, super-villainesses, artists, writers, editors, colorists, inkers, proofreaders, models, and on and on.
Here's hoping there'll be less disturbing undercurrent to Marvel's stories for that year, as well...