Geek Girl Power Comic Book Holiday Shopping Guide (Part Two)
By Valerie Estelle Frankel
Runaways is a delightful series, as a group of young heroes discover their powers and immediately flee their evil parents. As they meet many Marvel heroes they learn to trust no one except each other. Their lineup include leader Nico, whose magical staff can only cast each spell once; wisecracking techy Chase; Victor, son of Ultron; lesbian couple intergalactic princess Karolina and her Skrull lover Xavin; and the youngest, Molly, with terrible mutant strength. On a trip to 1907, they rescue a girl Molly’s age who was abused by her husband and carry her with them into the future. While Brian K. Vaughn’s original run has the most energy, the Runaways continue forward, meeting with many other teams in crossovers.
Black Widow: Deadly Origin
Paul Cornell’s Black Widow: Deadly Origin is an excellent retrospective. The heroine, infected by nanites, must revisit every past friend and lover, every past phase of her life, to discover whether any have been harmed. While the plot of Natasha as “poisoned woman” is problematic, it’s lovely seeing the Widow’s life revisited and put in context, even as she discovers her true enemy is the one person who’s always been closest to her.
Captain Marvel #1 (2012) reboots the series with Kelly Sue DeConnick and Dexter Soy, with a promotion for the former Ms. Marvel. The captain is much tougher this time around.
“My pitch was called ‘Pilot’ and the take can pretty much be summed up with ‘Carol Danvers as Chuck Yeager,’” says DeConnick. “Carol’s the virtual definition of a Type A personality. She’s a competitor and a control freak. At the start of our series, we see Carol pre-Captain Marvel, pre-NASA even, back when she was a fiercely competitive pilot. We’ll see her meeting one of her aviation heroes and we’ll see her youthful bravado, her swagger. Then over the course of the first arc we’re going to watch her find her way back to that hungry place. She’ll have to figure out how to be both Captain Marvel and Chuck Yeager — to marry the responsibility of that legacy with the sheer joy being nearly invulnerable and flying really [expletive] fast. (Beard, “WonderCon”)
She flies into space and teams up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, earning geek points across the board. Her earth friends too are lovely, with the child sidekick Lt. Trouble to help her whenever she needs inspiration. Avengers: The Enemy Within follows Captain Marvel and Spider Woman as they seek a solution to Carol’s brain tumor that threatens, as she thinks, “my memory, my sense of identity…everything that makes me me.” She saves New York but also finds a way to regain all she’s lost.
The Captain Marvel comic Higher, Further, Faster, More sees Captain Marvel flying out into space, and brokering peace on far-off worlds. Meanwhile, her biggest fangirl, Lt. Trouble, draws crayon comics of her hero’s great adventures. Her full suit is modest, though with a sash to nod back to her pervious outfit. As Carol squabbles with the Guardians of the Galaxy (and her cat takes on Rocket), the adventures are delightful.
Thor, Goddess of Thunder
Thor: The Goddess of Thunder revolutionized the comic. Thor has lost his faith and with it, his ability to wiled the hammer. A young woman steps up, and when she grasps the hammer, she is covered in armor and mask with long blonde hair like Thor’s. “Mjolnir…let us hope you knew what you were doing, mallet, when you deemed me worthy of hefting you. For I am not putting you back down just yet,” she thinks. She defeats enemies of earth with heroism, though many supervillains stop to make sexist remarks. At last, she meets the original Thor, who tries to discover her identity. He fails, but acknowledges that she has become more Thor than he is and should take his name. It’s a comic that blends epic and true, human emotions as Thor’s parents deal with all the revelations and Thor quests to eliminate every woman he knows until he can determine the new heroine’s identity. While the second collection unveils this secret, it stays strong, lively and humorous, emphasizing that a woman can take even an icon’s place.
♫ Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl! She’s a human and also a squirrel! Can she climb up a tree? Yes she can, easily! That’s whyyyy her name is Squirrel Girl! Is she tough? Listen, bud: she’s got partially squirrel blood! Who’s her friend? Don’t you know: that’s the squirrel, Tippy-Toe! Surprise! She likes to talk to squirrels! At the top of trees, is where she spends her time like a huuuuman squirrel. She enjoys fighting crime! Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl! Powers of both squirrel and girl! Find some nuts, eat some nuts! Kicks bad guuuuuys’ evil butts! To her, life is a great big acorn! Where there’s a city crime-torn, you’ll find the Squirrel Girl! ♫
— Doreen Green, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Doreen Green is a delightful superheroine. She is at least a bit full figured with “a conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt” — or at least that’s how her tail makes it look, and broad, chubby cheeks. She “secretly has all the powers of both squirrel and girl.” First was created in 1992 by Will Murray and Steve Ditko is a teen wannabe superhero who nonetheless saves Iron Man with her squirrel army, Squirrel Girl is leaving Avengers Mansion for college, squirrel buddy Tippy-Toe at her side. For she’s a completely normal college student, yes, nothing to see here. Readers are quite impressed by her nonviolent, cooperative solutions, in which even the worst of supervillains get what they wish, and everyone leaves happy. As such, she’s a great model for young readers, and funny too!
Though she joined the Great Lakes Avengers for their rather ridiculous comic, this is her first solo comic, by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, collected as The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power. This is actually being rebooted along with the rest of Marvel, giving it two volumes in its first year. North explains:
She’s effectively a Silver Age character in the modern age, so she stands out a little. She’s not sad she has squirrel powers: having squirrel powers is awesome! And unlike a lot of mutants I could direct you to at a certain school for gifted youngsters, she’s never wished she never got mutant powers. She gets to go out and fight crime with nuts! How awesome is that? So to answer your question, I am excited to write scenes of her fighting crime with nuts. (Beard)
DC: The New 52
In 2012, DC relaunched all their titles. They all started together as plots of Superman, Wonder Woman, Superman/Wonder Woman (who are dating) and Justice League, for instance, became interwoven. With Katana, Madame Xanadu, and so on, there are vague attempts at multiculturalism.
Katana of The New 52 features a woman whose husband’s dead soul lives on in her magical sword. Using it, she devastates the enemy. Of course, the DC reboot is clearly trying ot bring some of their multicultural stars front and center. This is all about Japan, from tradition to gang warfare in San Francisco. However, this comic is filled with violence and revenge, as a young woman tattooed all over with prophecies is maimed and seeks out all her attackers. Meanwhile, as Katana struggles to fix her sword and recapture its spirits (by force if necessary), she’s haunted by a prophecy on the tattooed girl — one that she will bring the apocalypse. Grim and disturbing, but a useful addition to the DC universe.
Harley Quinn has gotten the fastest-growing fanbase of any superheroine, it seems (at least at cons and costume stores). While created for Batman: The Animated Series, it was Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham Asylum video game that made her gritty and sexy, engaging popular imagination. The New 52 gives her her own comics. This time, she chooses the Joker for his lack of convention, becoming his willing partner rather than his dupe. She only lets him seduce her to his side after he gives her the severed thumb of the man who killed her father. In her new comic series, however, she’s completely frivolous and driven by whim to the point that her adventures are zany rather than epic. Her casual brutality towards those she doesn’t like don’t endear her as heroine or antiheroine She’s strong enough to have storylines without him, but she’s more malicious than sympathetic.
The New 52’s Supergirl crashes onto earth and appears maddened by the loss of her world: she battles Superman, the earth military, Wonder Woman, and the Flash, even as they all offer to help her. As she falls under the control of Simon Tycho, a supervillain who wants to use her, then H’el, a Kryptonian who plans to restore Krypton by destroying earth, she seems like a precarious bomb, one that can be used by enemies more easily than by her friends. She approaches every situation with violence, making her a terribly problematic teen heroine.
Batgirl returns, as Barbara Gordon miraculously regains the use of her legs. Her first volume has her tackling survivor’s guilt, as she meets a terrible supervillain determined to murder people who miraculously survived — like herself. While she’s a superhero, she also deals with finding a job and roommate, repiecing her life, even as her problematic mother and brother return to it. However, many fans truly appreciated her struggle as Oracle, to become a wheelchair bound superheroine who can defend herself and manage a team of heroes. Thus her struggle to readjust to being perfectly healthy again is a bit jarring.
Batwoman, though an obscure figure invented as a fifties girlfriend for Batman, has come a long way indeed. Demure Kathy Kane is now a far tougher Kate, drummed out of the army under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and dating a policewoman. As a child, Batwoman lost her twin, who resurfaces years later as the violent criminal Alice (speaking only in lines from the Carroll novels). In Batwoman: Elegy, Kate tries to save her but is forced to let her fall. Now Batwoman is rebuilding her world by finding her true calling, even while dealing with the repercussions of that terrible act. She’s wonderfully strong and sure, while also conflicted about her relationships with father, girlfriend, and lost sister…as well as the organizations tracking her.
The Birds of Prey are back, now featuring Katana, Black Canary and Starling fighting evil mind control. Even Poison Ivy joins up, adding a stir to the famously all-female team. The best-known run features Gail Simone as writer with Oracle, Huntress, and Black Canary, along with a few others. There are guest appearances by Big Barda, Hawkgirl, Batgirl, and many other superheroines. In The New 52, Duane Swierczynski and Jesus Saiz do a solid job. But Katana is creepy and Poison Ivy unlikely. They still haven’t beaten Simone’s run.
Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang are the new creators of Wonder Woman, now in volume 4. Her new origin story casts her as the daughter of Hippolyte and Zeus — — a classical patriarchal tale lacking the independence of her original virgin birth. Ares is now her masculine mentor. Amazons dress skimpily, and this time strip naked and “go on raids like pirates” and seduce the men “like a dream” to produce children, of which they abandon the boys (Vol 2: Guts). As one critic responds:
Much of what Azzarello is choosing to use has basis in Greek Myth, however A) the myths vary greatly; B) to take on all of the absolute worst qualities of a group of people at once while showing none of the other attributes that might offset some of those abhorrent qualities presents a drastically unbalanced portrait of an entire people which feeds into the absolute worst “Femi-nazi” stereotyping; and C) Regardless of the roots of Greek myths, The Amazons of Wonder Woman were certainly never intended to be presented this way. The Amazons of DC Comics, though warriors, were never intended to be monsters. (Thompson)
The comics’ art has turned far more violent, with blood dripping down the pages. She wields Greek swords and even a pair of magical guns. This strong women’s comic, generally known for pacifism, has turned savage.
The nudity and empowerment are also disturbing as Wonder Woman first appears naked in bed, and the comic’s male pandering continues from there. As is foretold by Apollo’s oracles: “There is a storm gathering just beyond the horizon and the one responsible shall rule in fire … . It wears a crown of horns and a cape of blood, flowing from its shoulders onto a naked woman at its feet … Your family is broken, beaten and betrayed. By blood” (Vol. 1: Blood).
Finally, Diana must kill Ares, skewering him with a lance. “War, there was no other way but the warrior’s path you took. I’m proud of you. I would have done the same,” she tells him (Vol. 4: War). By killing him, Diana becomes the new god of war, leaving behind her former identity as an Amazon of peace.
Superman/Wonder Woman has the two most powerful superheroes a romantic item at last. On the cover of the first collection, Power Couple, they kiss and embrace, loops of her lasso surrounding them both. Hanley notes, “Wonder Woman gets second billing, and the book may as well be called Superman’s Girl Friend Wonder Woman” (233). Indeed, the story’s villains are Superman foes Zod and Doomsday, emphasizing Superman as the central figure. “We’re trying to find a way to beat two of the most dangerous beings I’ve ever fought. People from my planet. As strong as I am. All I can think about is how to protect you,” he tells her, ignoring her own superpowers. Zod leers, calling her Superman’s woman and noting “Fiery, beautiful. Nothing like a strong woman. Your father liked them strong too.” All this makes the powerful Wonder Woman this story’s flimsy love interest. She gives her hero pep talks and fusses over what gift to get Superman for his holiday, Christmas. As his clingy girlfriend, she takes him to see her family (the Olympian gods) and tries to persuade him to reveal their relationship publicly. She does have strong moments as she offers him a gift of fighting training, noting, “You’re so strong, Clark. But you’ve never been trained to fight. Power isn’t everything. I on the other hand studied under the actual god of war since I was a child” (Power Couple).
As for her art, Wonder Woman slinks along the ground, rear end in the air, or always has an excuse to flimsily have a leg cocked. Her classic outfit is tight enough to divide her butt-cheeks, while her bosom appears ready to pop out of her low-cut top. Some camera shots focus on her legs as she in one panel sexily unzips her boots while talking to a fully dressed Clark Kent. When she takes Clark dancing in a club, her tank top pulls up when she dances. Clark in civilian clothes and as Superman is much less objectified. (Frankel, Wonder Woman)
Basically, Straczynski’s Wonder Woman: Odyssey or Simone’s Wonder Woman run are more epic stories with much more girl power, overt and hidden.
Gail Simone, queen of girl power comics, recently restarted Red Sonja. Under her care, Sonja puts on real clothes over her chain mail bikini (some of the time anyway). More seriously, Red Sonja and her friend are released from a horrific prison, only to discover how the world has degraded in their absence. Sonja is determined to redeem her people, while her dark sister from prison plans to destroy it. To save everyone, Sonja must humble herself and kneel. Her rival, Dark Annisia tells her, “You are no longer Sonja, the devil. You are nothing. You are no one. Someone mark this wretch.” With the shadow of a dark bird painted over her eyes, Sonja goes into exile up in the mountains and there faces her past to emerge triumphant. Inherently something of a violent comic, but clear and well-presented.
For something different, Madame Xanadu traces the mystical fortuneteller from when she was Nimue in the days of Camelot. After, she advises Genghis Khan and Marie Antoinette, then investigates the murders of Jack the Ripper. As the series continues towards modern times, she meets the ancestors of the DC superheroes, all while facing a mystical adversary across time and space. An interesting tie between magic, history and the DC universe, all with a mystic and elusive heroine.
In Batgirl of Burnside, Barbara Gordon is a college girl in Burnside, dealing with her stolen thesis, an algorithm. She also has giggly roommates (including a temporarily homeless Black Canary) and college parties — in fact, she begins the comic terribly hungover after making out with a guy half the night. Her friends include black lesbian handicapped roommate Frankie and Muslim officemate Nadimah. Qadir, her new friend, builds her a Batgirl-weapon-phone. Social media is a major plotline as Batgirl’s popularity rises and falls. She battles bratty reality TV star Justin Berber on motorcycles. He’s a creep who crippled a girl by drunken drag racing through the streets but “was back on the street before sundown.” She also battles supervillains who seem to be cosplaying the old Anime show Atomina. All these elements bring in teen/twenties culture, certainly, along with a younger, girlier artistic style. But Kamala’s angst and the Runaways’ rebellion against corrupt authority are missing — the comic lacks the teen substance and soul.
DC Bombshells recasts the superheroines in World War II, based on a series of popular figurines. Despite this irregular start, they’re fun reimaginings, much like widespread Elseworld comics.
Batwoman is a baseball player in a goofy pun…and she wears a mask. As the radio proclaims, “Fire stations, factories, welding, and riveting are all manned — er womanned! — by our little ladies — as is the great American pastime. Not everyone is happy about the change though, and anonymity is the name of the game — don’t let those masks slip, ladies!” Of course, she also fights crime in her disguise. Cop Maggie Sawyer is her girlfriend, as in the comics.
Wonder Woman’s origin story is about the same as the original (unsurprising as she’s from World War II). Giving her a motorcycle and bandana doesn’t change that much. But under pilot Amanda Waller, they find themselves banding together. Kara (Supergirl) and Kortni (Stargirl), two Russian stepsisters of soviet special air forces, soon join as well.
In Germany, the sexy Joker’s Daughter is singing to entertain the troops, complete with boa and skimpy outfit. She introduces star performer Zatanna, compelled to work for the forces of evil rather than be revealed as Jewish. There are twists and turns in this world of retro-gril power, and it’s a fun series, if a little contrived. Writer Marguerite Bennett explains:
It really started with the variants and the cosplay! I loved [all that] so, so, so, so much. And I’d been sort of vocal about it on Twitter. Then after last August, when we had the month of DC Bombshells variant covers, there was such an enormous fan response that it really got DC’s attention, and they were interested in maybe seeing where this could go, and seeing if there was character potential while staying true to the design. And so [I was approached by DC], and I made no disguise of how much I was a fan of these, and that I was highly interested in working on this project. I put together this enormous outline — I really think that I might have kind of steamrolled [them] where [they] were expecting six pages…and I turned in, you know, an outline for eighteen issues? [laughs] And we’ve just been rolling since!
Based on the anime-inspired figures from DC Collectibles, Ame-Comi Girls is a world of only the superwomen. The series is written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, amd the latter notes: “I keep saying how important the digital landscape is to reaching a wider, and hopefully younger, audience that both embraces the new format and is unencumbered by a ‘been there seen that’ familiarity with the comic industry” (Rogers). Each Monday (rather than the traditional Wednesday) a new digital chunk appears.
Beginning it all is Wonder Woman, followed by Batgirl, Duela Dent (the Joker), Power Girl and Supergirl. It continued as a team comic. There are many character flips as Gray describes the fun of making Diana “a brash and rebellious young princess who is forced into a position where she has to represent her people in a strange culture that she doesn’t like very much. Other smaller things like making Jimmy Olsen into an older sexy Sebastian Junger type photojournalist in love with Power Girl. Or the idea that Batgirl and Robin are enthusiastic teenage girls with their hands on this incredible technology and sneaking out at night to pick fights with criminals” (Rogers). However, inside the comic, Wonder Woman’s already skimpy outfit is far worse:
Her top has been sliced to a bra, and golden sandal lacings wind up her bare legs, accentuating all the bare skin. From the back, she appears dressed in a bikini or less. One leg has a thigh-high red stocking, the other is bare. Her hips are slim in tiny thong and breasts have achieved double-d or more proportions. The intended audience of this all-girl, girl power comic seems clear. She and Cheetah spend her third comic in an extended fight scene that lets Wonder Woman twirl upside down and stretch into other unlikely poses to show off all her skin. This is the entire plot.
Poison Ivy’s butt hangs out from her green thong, and Harley Quinn has many strategic holes in her own suit. Characters like the female Joker burst from their corsets. She also notes to Catwoman and Poison Ivy, “All you girls think about is money and diamonds and precious metal.” The girls agree in airheaded fashion, with Poison Ivy adding “man slaves” to the list (Ame-Comi Girls: Wonder Woman #3). Batgirl recalls “boring” biology class as she saves the world with science, however reluctantly, as the camera zooms in on her rear end, not her words. Joker calls Brainiac “The alien queen of PMS” (Ame-Comi Girls #1). Palmiotti and Gray insist the comics aren’t targeted to a specific gender or age, but label it as “hopefully 13–80.” As Gray adds, “The hope is that we can present these characters in a way that makes them appealing to everyone” (Rogers). Nonetheless, the art and writing seem to speak for themselves. (Frankel, Wonder Woman)
DC Comics digital first series, Sensation Comics featuring Wonder Woman tells stories from past, present, and future as Wonder Woman journeys into space or trains young children, in anthologies of short comics by many authors. Diana has heroic team-ups, becomes a rockstar, visits London and Apokolips, tours Afghanistan and helps India’s space program.
The first issue, by Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver, sees Wonder Woman substituting for an absent Batman in Gotham. “Batman wouldn’t approve of my choice. So Batman doesn’t get a vote this time. This is war. It’s all-out war,” Oracle thinks. “I’ll put your house in order, Bruce. And I won’t even need a car,” Wonder Woman notes in a perfect zinger. Simone explains that Diana’s an inspiration to all types of people:
I’ve traveled a lot around the world, and I was doing a lot of traveling while writing Wonder Woman. I saw how people in other countries would respond to her compared to people in America. There are a lot of similarities, but there’s something even deeper there. I think that anyone who has ever felt repressed or helpless in any way, Wonder Woman becomes their inspiration to get out of that. I think that’s a really powerful symbol on top of all of the surface stuff.
I think there’s something deeply rooted in her character. I’ve heard story after story about how Wonder Woman and her comics helped people get out of an abusive relationship or fight their cancer, things like that. I think her character in particular has really grown beyond the company who owns her or anyone who writes, draws or films her. (Beedle)
“From the shackles of mortal death, we Amazons were raised in the waters of justice. Our mission was peace,” Hippolyta tells young Diana, taking her to see ancient cave paintings in the tale of how she earned her bracelets (“Brace Yourself” #4), written by Jason Bischoff, art by David Williams. This childhood tale of Diana’s initiation is sweet and priceless as Diana must actually defeat her mother to succeed — without getting a spanking. It’s a delightful series, though individual stories vary widely.
Valerie Estelle Frankel is the author of many books on pop culture, includingDoctor Who — The What, Where, and How, Sherlock: Every Canon Reference You May Have Missed in BBC’s Series 1–3, History, Homages and the Highlands: An Outlander Guide, Empowered: The Symbolism, Feminism, and Superheroism of Wonder Woman. and How Game of Thrones Will End. Many of her books focus on women’s roles in fiction, from her heroine’s journey guides From Girl to Goddess and Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey to books like Women in Game of Thrones and The Many Faces of Katniss Everdeen. Once a lecturer at San Jose State University, she’s a frequent speaker at conferences. Come explore her research at her site.
The final part of her guide will be up on Monday!