Khaleesi, Game of Thrones’ most iconic heroine, is used to flying the flag for kick-ass women everywhere. This is a character who hatched dragon eggs, for crying out loud.
And now Emilia Clarke, the actor who brought Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea to our screens, has stayed true to form to her one-time alter ego – by dreaming up a female-led miniseries that subverts everything we know from the more traditional realm of comic book superheroes.
M.O.M.: Mother of Madness has been created by Clarke in collaboration with comic book writer Marguerite Bennett, and a wider team of women-only designers and producers.
In drumming up a new kind of superhero, Clarke was determined to swerve the tropes that have dogged female comic book characters of the past.
Maya is neither a sexualised sidekick nor a woman in need of saving. Instead, she is funny, flawed and relatable – a comic book ode to “Deadpool meets Fleabag”; two irreverent shows Clarke credits with inspiring her story.
“My girl Maya is a badass single mom superhero,” Clark wrote in a recent Instagram caption. “She’s funny, she’s fierce and she is just a regular woman trying to figure her s*** out.”
“I wanted Maya to have a super suit that she could pee in and undo the fly of when she had a big pizza for lunch,” Clarke adds to Hollywood Reporter, in a new interview on the miniseries.
“I wanted that to be there and all of the things that are truthful. I wanted her to be funny because people think only boys can be funny and that’s just not true.”
Another way that Clarke flips the traditional comic book narrative is by making her protagonist’s perceived weaknesses or vulnerabilities – the things she feels ashamed about – the direct source of her strength.
For example, research has found that almost half of girls aged 14-21 are embarrassed by their periods. It’s perhaps no coincidence, then, that Clarke has made one of Maya’s greatest superpowers her period. Menstruation charges Maya up and makes her “strong as a god”. Similarly when she feels scared, she can disappear.
“One of the biggest bugbears that I think a lot of women have is if you’re not smiling and a man asks you to crack a smile,” explains Clarke. “But we’re also not allowed to be angry. […] Whilst this is an inherently female comic, part of it is talking about shame, emotions, and all the stuff we hate, so we can try to loosen our grip on them and see them as something that shouldn’t be shamed. They’re something to be celebrated.”
Just 12% of mainstream superhero comics feature female protagonists, and characters – whether male or female – tend to be entrenched in stereotypes (think hyper-strong masculinity versus damsel in distress). Historically, there has been little room for vulnerability or emotional shades of grey.
With films such as Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman storming the box office in recent years, female superheroes are slowly gaining more visibility. But with research from BBC America and the Women’s Media Center showing that girls feel more confident when they see superheroes like them, the need for relatable female comic book characters remains urgent.
Clarke is going for exactly this sense of authenticity with her new series. “The relatable and modern way of looking at heroes is that they are like us,” she says.
Image Comics’ M.O.M.: Mother of Madness miniseries is released on 21 July. Find out more here.