Superheroes’ Common Motivation

The motivation and reason why heroes fight is of course to make the world a better place, etc. However, there is another eerie, upsetting and interesting similarity of heroes that makes them fight even harder. The death of their beloved girlfriend/wife.

Now, I’m not saying this motivation does not work and that it is simply the females who are killed off because that is not true. One major example being Uncle Ben for Peter Parker’s motivation. Nonetheless, Peter Parker also has this female death mentioned that furthers his superhero career: Gwen Stacy.

The Refrigerator Monologues

I have recently read a novel entitled The Refrigerator Monologues  by Catherynne M. Valente. It tells the tale of these deaths in the perspective of the dead. The novel focuses on how many times the females in particularly die in a manner that is out of character or makes them appear as a damsel in distress when that is not actually their characteristic. The book is angry, in your face and tells it how it is with a sarcastic tone that efficiently gets the point across to the readers while also providing an intriguing universe and story.

The girls are all trapped in Deadtown until the writers decide to bring them back for a few issues or re-tell the same story in a slightly new way. While the author writes with names changed it is evident who is who if you are a comic book fan. In fact, for me it was fun to read the story and be able to figure out who it was about.

Gwen Stacy

The death of Gwen Stacy (Paige Embry in the novel) is one that forever shaped Spider-Man. Fun fact: Stan Lee did not have intentions to kill her. They wrote the death while he was away traveling. While it is commonly heard that she died from whiplash from Spidey’s webs catching her from a fall, Green Goblin claims she actually was dead before the webbing even touched here.Spiderman's motivation

Jean Grey

In the novel, she is described to be multiple versions of herself at different times and different days. She only has around 15 minutes to her self, away from the torture of the writers constantly using her. This highly correlates with Jean Grey’s character constantly re-written with as each comic series and movie goes on. In comics Jean Grey is constantly killed, resurrected and re-told. Interestingly, in the novel Jean’s story is in the perspective of benefiting a character representing Professor X.

Harley Quinn

In the novel, Harley Quinn and Alexandra DeWitt’s (discussed later in blog) death hit the hardest personally. I am personally not too familiar with the DC Comic Universe but because of this novel I do want to read more into their stories.

When I looked up to find comics and the storyline of the Joker killing Harley Quinn or her death I did not find one definite event but rather a series of ways the Joker has abused Harley. I knew they were a toxic couple and not “good” but what I found was quite shocking personally. Some examples of horrific things the Joker has done to her are shown below in the comic panels:


The author creates Blue Bayou (represents Mera) who has a heartbreaking story of having a child with a half Atlantean half human hero and that son dying. The hero does not take her grief seriously, makes fun of her to his league of heroes and dismisses her suffering. Blue wonders Deadtown searching for her son who died so early in his life. In the comics, the death of Mera and Aquaman’s son caused many issues between the two. 

Karen Page

Karen Page’s story in the novel is interesting in which her life falls apart completely and she takes on a persona of Delilah Daredevil hence the story’s reference to Daredevil’s impact on Page. Her character does not die from a villain like in the comics but rather from an overdose. The concept being the same that her death heavily impacts the hero is still present. In comics, she dies from Bullseye (my favorite villain) as seen below:

motivation daredevil

What I found interesting is the fact that Electra is the name of the book’s font. Usually there are no coincidences when it deals with stuff like this and due to the manner of the topic of the book, I feel it is intentional. Clearly, referencing Daredevil’s other dead love Elektra.

Alexandra DeWitt

The best, saved for last in the novel and in this article. I could not stop reading the last chapter.Her death led Gail Simone to coin the phrase “Women in Refrigerators” and the inspiration for this entire novel. Quite literally, she was stuffed into a refrigerator and left for Green Lantern to discover her.Motivation Green Lantern

The Message

I highly recommend the novel. After reading, I see a different perspective and this strange occurrence that happens a lot. I can already think of more examples and none the other way around (men dying as a motivation to be a better hero of sorts for a female hero) while there must be.

Are the writers just killing off females in a sexist manner? I don’t think so, at least in most cases probably not. Perhaps a long time ago but as mentioned these characters keep coming back which suggests the comic book world wants more of them.

What does this suggest then? I personally think it is just an overused and cliché plot point in the story arc of many superheroes.

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