Women of the Berlantiverse

Spoilers for current seasons of Arrow and The Flash are lurking here underneath the Supergirl picture, so reader beware after that...

That sound you are hearing is my inner fangirl shrieking.

As reported by Comic Book Resources, the four Berlanti-produced shows—which now all call the CW home—will take part in a 4-way crossover sometime before December.

The massive crossover event will span all four episodes for that week. Despite moving to the CW, Supergirl will keep her Monday night timeslot, so the event will likely start there before moving on to The Flash on Tuesday, Arrow on Wednesday, and Legends of Tomorrow on Thursday. Since the event is still in development, no word yet on what exactly is behind it all. Already fans are speculating it will be a Crisis event to merge the two Earths together, but who knows.

But this news gives me a perfect excuse to dive into the topic of feminism and this particular universe of popular shows. Despite its many issues, I am a fan of the Berlantiverse. This crossover definitely appeals to my inner comic book nerd and I really am excited.

Still, I can't help but examine the sometimes problematic way the Berlantiverse treats its female characters.

Supergirl is by no means perfect, but it has been the best of the four.

Our girl Kara is flying in to join the CW Berlantiverse. Welcome home!
This writing team has generally done a great job in the way it treats its female characters. From little details like that Earth's God being referred to as "she," to having a female President of the US, to showcasing the very real ups and downs of a relationship between sisters, Supergirl has been consistently feminist. If anything, it is the male characters who suffer the least favorable depiction: Maxwell Lord isn't sinister so much as plain weird, and the way Winn lays his puppy-dog romance at Kara's feet is positively awkward. Winn has improved and grown as a character, at least. Max is just... Max.

The next, least problematic of the four has been Legends of Tomorrow, although not without a few major glaring flaws. I could go on all day about everything that's wrong with this show, but despite the many times I've rolled my eyes at the writing, it's treated its female characters well overall. All two of them that are regularly in it, I mean.

Sara Lance is, hands down, the Berlantiverse's resident badass—frankly, I think it would be epic to see her and Kara meet. But not only is White Canary a powerful and fearless fighter, she is also one of the only representatives of the LGBT crowd in the comic-book TVverse (mostly of the L and the B: she's been paired with Oliver Queen more than once, and then just recently there was a hint that Leonard Snart had a thing for her, though that isn't going anywhere, apparently). I figure she skews more L, judging from the near-romance she had with a cute nurse in the 1950s.

Sara is perfection in every way...
Besides Sara, there's Kendra, aka Hawkgirl. Kendra has so much potential. I mean, bad enough that Kendra was written into the ground from the get-go with her stupid "destiny" story where she reincarnates with Carter Hall (aka Stalkman *cough* I mean Hawkman) throughout history. But she actually does remarkably well as a character as soon as she gets rid of Carter's dead weight—that is, until she gets entrenched in a love affair with Ray Palmer. I thought that was awkward at first, but I warmed up to it. Of course, just when that seems to be working out: Boom! Carter is back! Uggh, love triangles.

Stalkman is the albatross hanging around her neck.
Moving along to The Flash, this show (full disclosure: this is my favorite of the four) has had some serious problems this season. Mostly the writers simply don't seem to know what to do with the women. Case in point: the whole awkward exit for Patty earlier this season. I still don't understand the way she was written off the show.

Iris West had a decent arc involving her new brother and dying mom, but as soon as all that was settled, she faded into the background. There was an awkward moment where she was going to date her creepy boss, but that thread suddenly disappeared (not complaining). Instead, she has suddenly switched on her "I think I love Barry" mode, edging closer to having one of the most iconic comic book 'ships set sail. For several episodes in a row, we never saw Iris actually doing anything beyond acting as Barry's cheerleader as he moped about losing his powers (again). She had one shining episode of late where she was a powerhouse, as she was the driving force behind dealing with the Freak-of-the-Week while Barry was "gone."

I only hope it's a lot more often than "now and again."
And poor Caitlyn Snow—supposedly a brilliant scientist—spent the bulk of this season moping over men, and not doing a whole helluva lot otherwise. This past week, Caitlyn was able to actually affect the show's plot (for the first time in the entire season, it seems) by cosplaying as her evil Earth-2 doppelganger Killer Frost. It was kind of awesome; here's hoping she's back full time on Team Flash.

After this season of Arrow? God I hope not...
The most problematic of all the Berlanti shows has definitely been the one that started all the magic: Arrow. This is the show that saw fit to kill Sara Lance not once but twice, had Nyssa al Ghul "marry" Oliver against her will, and caused Laurel Lance to mope over Oliver for what seems like forever before she finally grew into a decent character—only to immediately fridge her, for reasons. The killing of Black Canary has caused a lot of fan rage (including right here at the Writ).

Oh, Laurel. You deserved so much better. 
Fan-favorite Felicity has been horribly treated, especially of late. Poor Felicity spent most of season 3 in tears over Oliver being a jerk, and then when Oliver appears to grow up in season 4, she gets written into being an obnoxious girlfriend who whines a lot, all in the name of drama. Felicity was even saddled with what could have been a really great arc about losing the use of her legs, but because I guess we can't show a hot actress wearing a wedding gown in a wheelchair, she magically regains the ability to walk in the span of a couple of episodes. There were a lot of disabled fans who were crushed by the representation-that-could-have-been. And plenty of fans who lamented the fact that we almost had an Oracle-like character on comic-book TV.

Spoiler Alert, Oliver:
I'm about to get up and walk on out of here, just to piss off the fans
I know it sounds like I'm in full-hater mode right now, but I actually do love these shows (well, I don't love Legends of Tomorrow; I just like it. Kind of). And by no means am I suggesting that this multiverse has failed these women 100% of the time.

In fact, their presence in comic book tv is vitally important. These women are various levels of brilliant, and they also represent a variety of character flaws and backgrounds (Alex Danvers is in the military and sometimes a jealous sister, Iris and Lucy Lane and Kendra are women of color, Patty was a cop, Caitlyn is a scientist, Laurel was an addict and a lawyer, Sara is gay/bi, Felicity came from a single-parent home and she's a geek, Thea's father is a sociopath, etc). What I find frustrating is that they visibly have so much potential, but we just aren't getting those stories—not as often as we get the male stories. It often feels like the default stories for female characters are romantic subplots and little else.

It is okay to love a thing and admit that it is flawed and problematic; doing so allows us to formulate expectations. These shows can do better by their female characters and female fans; their writers could put in more effort. They could make these shows truly amazing TV.

Ivonne Martin is a writer, gamer, and avid consumer of all things geek—and is probably entirely too verbose for her own good.