Saturday, July 19, 2014

Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Book Review

Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of Golden Age Comics
©2013 by Mike Madrid
Forward by Maria Elena Buszek, Ph.D.
ISBN: 978-1-935259-23-7 (print)
978-1-935259-24-4 (ebook)
Exterminating Angel Press

Madrid's first book, The Supergirls (reviewed here) is a wonderful overview of the women of comics. This book takes a closer look at some of the heroines time has mostly forgotten from the Golden Age*, and includes complete black and white† reprinted stories from some of them.

In the introduction, Madrid confesses his own geeky and nostalgic love of Golden Age comics, and how reader response to The Supergirls made him feel like he'd inspired readers of his book the way some of the '70s nostalgia writers had inspired him as a kid. I know it inspired me to want to learn more about those lesser-known heroines! 

He also gives a brief history of Golden Age comics, but here's a bit that nearly jumped off the page for me:
In these very early days of comic books, there weren't as many established rules about how women characters should or shouldn't act. As a result, many of these Golden Age heroines feel bold and modern as we read them today. They are presented as fearless and unapologetic about their strength. 
(If that doesn't fill your heart with excitement about Golden Age heroines, I don't understand why you're even here, because this is the wrong blog for you...) When comics were young, the art and stories were simpler, but they weren't strictly for kids. This was inexpensive entertainment in a troubled world, and "a time when comics were fun."
  • In the section Women at War, Madrid paints a vivid picture of how American comic book heroes and heroines entered WWII before Pearl Harbor; they backed the war effort before the U.S. entered the war! 
  • In Mystery Women, he talks about the concept of the masked vigilante, something we're quite used to today, but cautions "these women are tough."
  • Daring Dames introduces us a different kind of heroine, ones who didn't wear masks but fought bad guys just the same. 
  • The section 20th Century Goddesses contains superheroines more like we're accustomed to now, super-powered humans who can do extraordinary things.
  • The final section is Warriors & Queens, and according to Madrid, "[t]he heroes of comic book fantasy tales were often women." It's probably just as well this is the last section, because it's just getting depressing to consider all these awesome heroines that just... slipped away, vanishing into history.
I have encountered few people who write with the passion and enthusiasm for these characters as Mike Madrid does. His notes and commentary on the characters he's selected (some of them had 5 or fewer appearance in comics), the history, and the artists are pure gold. The brief biographies he provides for each of the heroines just whets the appetite for more, encouraging his readers once more to seek them out. Plus, of course you should buy this book for the amazing comics inside. But if you're expecting camp, you're in for a surprise. These Divas, Dames & Daredevils don't mess around!

This is more than just an homage to "lost heroines," it's a time capsule§. Crack it open and look inside at what heroines used to be like. Then go look at what they're doing today and tell me he's wrong when he says "how far comics of today still need to go."

I'm really excited and pleased to note that there's a companion book to this one due out very soon. Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of the Golden Age is due out in October 2014! Since I love bad girls more than anything, I can't wait! Edited: I didn't have to; I received an ARC and reviewed it for the Geek Girl Con blog - find my review here.

* The Golden Age is generally considered to have been from the late 1930s through the mid 1950s. The debut of Superman in Action Comic #1 is what most enthusiasts and historians see as the catalyst that started this "golden age" of comics.
† Yes, black and white, no whining. The book would have been at least twice the cost if it had been printed in full color. Seek out color Golden Age comics at the Digital Comics Museum.
§ A note on the comics themselves: they do contain some pretty bad ethnic stereotypes. The comics of the 1940s were not known for their kindness to Asian people especially, so keep that in mind while you’re reading. It was a different time and place. The world was at war, and xenophobia was rampant. (Not that it has entirely vanished today…)

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