Superman, Spiderman, and many others follow the hero’s journey of Joseph Campbell, battling the dark supervillain who represents their own darkest impulses and dying to return stronger than before. But this conflict is not restricted to the male hero. In their various movies, Elektra, Catwoman, Sue Storm, and Jean Gray each follow the quintessential heroine’s journey, sacrificing their lives to save their loved ones and gain enlightenment.
Protecting the innocent is the crux of the heroine’s journey, and female superheroes devote themselves to this cause. In the movies, Elektra and Catwoman battle assassins and abusers to save the single young girl who represents their own vulnerable psyches. Sue Storm and Jean Gray die defending their families, preparing to become the ultimate guardians and lifegivers. For Sue in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, this sacrifice echoes the major life change of her wedding, as she prepares to enter a new stage, rather like Snow White or Sleeping Beauty returning from near death to wed their princes. Jean Grey dies to save her friends in X-Men 2, but is reborn asPhoenix, amoral shadow rather than heroine. At last she surrenders to her darkest impulses, unleashing a strength that can end the world, unless she has the courage to face what she’s become.
This is the heroine’s traditional battle: facing the shadow, dark side of the self. To triumph she must battle the child-killer, the wicked stepmother and destroyer of life. Catwoman fights a woman whose face is as motionless as glass, while Sue Storm faces the force of entropy itself as the Silver Surfer. Elektra battles the deadly Order of the Hand, who control life and death. This is the heroine’s traditional adversary: sterility as she represents life and growth. For Jean Grey, the enemy is far more intimate and destructive: the passion and chaos raging within herself.
When the heroine conquers the dark side of her soul, she revives far stronger than before, with the wisdom needed to gain adulthood. There are many others who follow this quest of strong women everywhere: Wonder Woman, Buffy, Xena, Sarah Jane Smith, Charlie’s Angels, Lara Croft, Witchblade, and all their friends and sidekicks. These strongest of women hallmark a new era, not just of feminine power, but of feminine enlightenment as these superwomen confront the dark side of the self and emerge from the conflict as the ultimate defenders of innocents.