The Avengers movie universe may be mostly male-dominated, but it certainly is not entirely bereft of strong female characters. Obviously there’s the ass-kicking superspy Black Widow, the second-in-command of SHIELD Maria Hill, the indomitable businesswoman Pepper Potts, the genius scientist Jane Foster, and the composed, before-her-time officer Peggy Carter.
So why, with all of these delightful women to choose from, would the fandom choose to become fixated on a character with no significance to the plot and barely any screen-time?
Because that’s exactly what Darcy Lewis is. She only shows up in Thor, and then only as a very minor character who serves as Jane’s taser-obsessed assistant. She doesn’t even have the advantage of being a character brought in from the comics. And yet the fandom has taken her and run with her. As I’m writing this, there are over 2000 stories on AO3 that feature her as a character. So again the question is: why?
My answer is that Marvel and Hollywood have severely miscalculated their fanbase.
The usual assumption is that most of the people who are really interested in action-packed superhero movies are men. I know dozens of women who would be happy to disprove this assumption. Even operating on stereotypes, I don’t understand how they expect women not to flock to movies that feature such an incredibly attractive group of men. But the fact remains that for some reason, a lot of people seem to think that young women are not going to be that interested in a superhero franchise.
As a result, we see characters like Pepper and Natasha, women who are sexy and mature and have their shit together. That is completely fine with me—as I mentioned above, most of the women in the Avengers franchise are strong in one way or another. But what we don’t see are female characters that are easily relatable for the young women in the audience. Each of the female characters in the Avengers franchise knows exactly what her role is and what she wants out of life, and let’s face it—most people don’t have that figured out until they reach about thirty, if then.
Filling the relatability slot for the young men in the audience is Steve Rogers, who is still young and shoved into a world that he is completely unsure of, and even Tony Stark, whose maturity is questionable at best. But there’s really no one like that for the young ladies who adore the Avengers.
No one, that is, except for Darcy Lewis. Darcy is in her early twenties. She’s a political science major interning for a physicist, so she obviously hasn’t found her niche in the world quite yet. She’s definitely quirky and understands the younger generation. When jackbooted thugs tote away all of Jane’s important scientific equipment and notes, what Darcy is most upset about isn’t the ramifications for Jane’s research—it’s the loss of her iPod. In short, Darcy Lewis represents just about every near-college-aged girl in the audience. She’s someone who they (okay, we) get, who doesn’t have it all together, who isn’t so unfathomably mature and composed. Darcy Lewis has become the everywoman of the Marvel movie universe.
And the fandom has taken to her like Hawkeye to the color purple. She’s become a fandom staple. Most authors agree that she either stays on as an assistant to Jane or becomes an employee of SHIELD, to the extent that often, it’s unnecessary to explain how she ended up at Avengers Tower. She has enough personality in Thor that she isn’t a Mary Sue, but she's been paired with characters from Loki to Nick Fury and everyone in between. It’s kind of astounding how popular she’s become, particularly considering what a truly small part she’s played in the movies so far.
To put it simply, there was a deficiency in the greater Avengers fandom and the fans (as they so often do) seized the opportunity to fill it.
I’m interested to see what happens with her when the second Thor movie comes out, and whether the creators have been paying attention to their fanbase. According to IMDB, Kat Dennings is supposed to be returning, so I for one am hopeful.