Friday, September 13, 2013

The Supergirls: Book Review

The Supergirls: Fashion, feminism, fantasy, and the history of comic book heroines
©2009* by Mike Madrid
ISBN: 978-1-935259-03-9 (print)
978-1-935259-00-8 (ebook)
Exterminating Angel Press

The Supergirls is a marvelous book by Mike Madrid (you may remember him from the Wonder Women! documentary if you watched that), and it tells the stories of some heroines you know already (but maybe didn't know some of the early history) and some who were groundbreaking (and since forgotten). Madrid shines a light on the dark corners of comic book history and the ladies who've been there all along, but who certainly haven't had the same recognition.

Madrid divides the book by decades, beginning with the 1940s, with colorful histories separating one decade from the next. In these eras, he shows us how current events and social movements are directly tied to comic books and their heroes and heroines. It's by no means exhaustive; instead you get a taste of the way things were (and are), which should make you want to go find more, and from the original sources! And if wanting to know more about obscure heroines -- or obscure histories of well-known heroines -- isn't your thing, I can't imagine why you're here reading this blog...

His own fascination with superheroines started young, when he first recognized that Supergirl was not treated the same as Superman. Later, he noticed how most of the women were named: Supergirl, Invisible Girl... even when the women in question were adults, their alter egos were demoted to "girl" status, when teenage Peter Parker was Spider-Man. Not only were their names diminished, but their powers weren't as impressive either, and they often required rescuing from the more powerful male characters, at least in those early years.

Not all of the book is a social/historical look at superheroines. The chapter "Heroine Chic" is a rather biting commentary on the practicality -- and lack thereof -- of superheroine costumes. This chapter in particular should be required reading for every writer and artist working in comics. "The world is your gynecologist," indeed...

The Supergirls is a well-written look at the convoluted and sometimes baffling world of superheroines. They are both mirror and lens for how women are perceived in society, and it's not always flattering. Anyone who is interested in superheroines should have this on the shelf right next to Trina RobbinsThe Great Women Superheroes. Feminists, people who study women's history, comics geeks of all stripes, should read this book.

For all their problems, I love these heroines. They have complicated histories, bizarre twists in plots to contend with and weird reboots. It's because I love them that the disrespect shown them by publishers and creators makes me angry on their behalf. (Yes, yes, I know: fictional characters, blah blah blah. Don't coming whining to me if they change something about one of your beloved male characters. Superman isn't a killer, right? Right?)

It's pretty clear that Mike Madrid loves them, too. And because The Supergirls is written with such care and affection, I am all the more exited about his forthcoming title, Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics, due out this October. Madrid will also be signing books at Geek Girl Con in October, and I look forward to telling him in person how much I enjoyed his book (and hopefully getting a copy of the new one).

Read my review of his book Divas, Dames & Daredevils here. The villainess companion book, Vixens, Vamps & Vipers, is due to be published October 2014.

* The copy I have is the 3rd printing (in 2013), and he notes that Ms. Marvel took the name Captain Marvel in 2012.

No comments: