Can I call you Mommy? Myths of the feminine and superheroic in Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's Black Orchid

Authors: Round, J.

Publisher: Duncan of Jordanstone College, University of Dundee

Place of Publication: Dundee, Scotland.


This article uses Claude Lévi-Strauss's linguistic theories to examine the intersection of superheroic and feminine myths in Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's Black Orchid. It reveals how this text substitutes traditionally feminine tropes (such as mothering, passivity and purity) and taboos for the more usual elements underlying the superhero myth, and explores the effects of this replacement. It is the contention of this article that, to date, the superheroine myth has followed a similar structure to the superhero myth. Figures such as Wonder Woman fight and lead alongside their male counterparts, using masculine notions of leadership and camaraderie. Elements such as idealised physiques apply equally to both genders and the majority of superpowers seem gender-neutral. Of course the number of male superheroes certainly outweighs the female, and gender stereotypes have been used (the cover of Adventure Comics #401 shows Supergirl 'absolutely terrified of a mouse!'), but overall the same (masculine) notions underpin both male and female superheroes. It often seems that the feminised superheroic has yet to be fully constructed and explored. This article will initially summarise Lévi-Strauss's linguistic model of myth, before applying the same to the traditional superhero myth in order to reveal its underlying binaries and gender bias. It then applies this model to Black Orchid. Areas addressed will include the superhero and violence (via an exploration of feminine passivity and the motif of the climactic battle), the superhero and power (considering myths such as Mother Nature and the motherland), and the superhero and identity (using a case study of the May Queen). It concludes that Black Orchid's subversion of the superhero is achieved by its employment of feminine myths, and that in so doing it is able to resolve the power conundrum and identity fracture that underlie this genre.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Julia Round