Marvel Still Hasn't Learned Its Lesson About Marketing Black Widow

(Marvel Entertainment)In the ever-expanding pantheon of big screen superheroes, Black Widow is positioned as being one of the progressive ones. But after a minor scandal broke out over the way she was marketed in the first Avengers movie, Marvel doesn't seem to have learned any lessons about how to treat her that way.

In her latest character poster for Captain America: Winter Soldier, Black Widow's pose is mostly sexy, and made only slightly action-y by the fact that she's carrying guns. It's hard to see this as a step up from the infamous hand-out photo that found the Marvel assassin unarmed and sticking her butt out. Here's what I thought of when I saw the new poster: Marianne Faithfull in the biker exploitation movie Girl on a Motorcycle — a movie retitled Naked Under Leather in the U.S. because her character is, as the title implies, naked under her leather catsuit.

The whole thing is kind of weird because you don't see male superheroes posed so suggestively. Back when Avengers was being promoted, artist Kevin Bolk made a parody version of the movie's hand-out image to show what it would look like if they did. Here's the original and the parody.

(From flipping comic book characters has become a whole thing. The Hawkeye Initiative is probably the most well-known, sustained, and hilarious example. But it was well-known by the end of 2012. You would think that more than a year later, Marvel might forego giving Black Widow the googly-eyed teenager treatment.

Given any opportunity to talk about the character, Scarlett Johansson will explain how Black Widow is more than just a sex symbol. She's smart, too.

"Joss really set the bar in Avengers to celebrate these female characters that are usually bookends or ornaments in films to sort of sell the sex appeal," she said at last summer's Comic-Con. "He was such a pioneer in really fleshing out Black Widow and making her a character who could get punched in the face, and could deliver the blow, and was an intelligent, complex, strong female character. It's been a real pleasure for me to play those multi-layers, and to be able to act and not just pose."

In the movies that's all true. In Avengers, we're introduced to Black Widow in the middle of a secret mission that finds her pretending to be weak while being interrogated. When she's called in to SHIELD home offices she breaks the charade and makes quick work of the men who were threatening to torture her a moment ago. She was in control the whole time, like a true hero.

Unfortunately Marvel keeps marketing Black Widow like a sex kitten. As the father of a 3-year-old girl who loves superheroes, I'm hoping she grows up with more big screen female options than this sexified vision of Scarlett Johansson. While Marvel's comic books are trail-blazingly progressive, its movies lag behind, and the new Captain America ad campaign isn't helping.
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