As more and more blockbuster superhero movies come out, I find myself getting caught up in the spandex-fever, watching each one in theaters, following related news posts, and getting excited for works still a year or more away (I’m looking at you, awesome Wonder Woman trailer). Each time, I find myself thinking that I may enjoy the movie even more if I knew more about each character’s background, their past iterations, their relationships with other characters, and the choices Hollywood made about what to change or what to leave in. In that light, I’ve decided to enhance my appreciation (not to mention my geek cred) by going to the source: comics.
Last year, I made an attempt to get into comics in general, starting with Rat Queens by Kurtis Wiebe. Since then, I’ve also read some of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Comics and Bill Willingham’s Fables, but that’s about it. This time, I wanted to specifically explore traditional superhero comics, especially those of Marvel and DC’s most recognizable characters or worlds.
So I went to my local library and picked up a few comics, looking for ones with strong female characters and story lines that were stand-alone enough for me to jump right in, knowing only a bit about the characters from TV and movies. These are the three I ended up checking out:
Birds of Prey Vol. 1 (DC Comics) by Chuck Dixon and Jordan B. Gorfinkel — This work focuses on Black Canary, Oracle, and Huntress, with appearances by Lois Lane, Lady Shiva, and Catwoman. I was disappointed to see the writers were both male and the artists were overwhelmingly male as well, but still held out hope. It served as a good introduction to a lot of female characters in the DC universe but I found that the women were still completely over-sexualized with shallow personalities. This was particularly evident in the Manhunt arc, where Black Canary is motivated to hunt down a bad guy simply because he never called her for a second date. Really? You couldn’t think of any worse thing a man could do? Also, the repeated use of the word “mad-on” to describe a grudge started to really bug me by the time a third different character used it. First of all, it’s not even a real word so why do three unrelated characters have the same made-up slang, and more importantly, is anger such a masculine emotion that it can only be described using a bastardized version of the word “hard-on?”
Avengers Academy #14 by Christos Gage (Marvel Comics) — The female characters in this work were much better portrayed, perhaps because they are mostly teenagers. There was still a little bit of improbable contortions and skimpy costumes but not so much that it was distracting form the plot. My only issue was a moment where two of the male students were talking about their instructor Tigra. One of them mentions being distracted from a pep talk by her because he was too busy staring at her boobs and his friend replies, “What kind of teacher walks around wearing a bikini all the [time]?” My first reaction was to dismiss this scene as just characterization of teenage boys, but I decided that it’s still not okay. Though I also found Tigra’s costume to be a rather inappropriate (whether for fighting or teaching). If I was fighting evil, I’d want to be protected by more than just a string bikini.
Batgirl: The Greatest Stories Ever Told by Various Authors (DC Comics) — Unlike the above two, which feature recent iterations of old heroes, this work compiles a history of batgirl comics, from her inception in the late ’60s to the late ’90s. I liked this look at the older world of comics, before the blockbuster films; this was the era of comics my father grew up reading. Plus, being a visual medium, you get to see all the fashion of the era when it was written. Seeing Barbara Gordon in those 1970’s mini-dresses and tall boots, surrounded by others dressed as hippies or in groovy kaleidoscopic colors definitely made me giggle. Although there were still moments of sexism (some of which were at least self-aware), I found these older works to be less blatantly sexy and thus easier to read. It was cool to get a three-decade glance at the highlights of the evolution of a character, and I will definitely be looking for similar collections of other characters of interest.
What do you think of my first impressions? What comics did you start with? Got any recommendations for a feminist reader trying to hop on the superhero bandwagon without compromising her values? Let me know in the comments!
~ Sci-Fi Summer Reading Challenge Updates ~
If you are just tuning in, check out my sign up post for the Sci-fi Summer Reading Challenge to learn more about it.
Books in progress:
Dune by Frank Herbert — Wrote about this in my “Sci-fi Classics” post; finally getting around to actually reading it.
Firefight by Brandon Sanderson — Sequel to Steelheart, which I just finished.
Clockwork Fairytales: A Collection of Steampunk Fables Edited by Stephan L. Antczak and James C. Basset
Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt #1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Young Elite by Marie Lu — I was a little disappointed by the writing style. After all the hype, I was expecting it to be more mature and polished. The world-building and premise were still quite interesting, though.
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson — Such an enjoyable read I had to start the sequel right away.
Current Level: Red Shirt