What girl comics means to me.

The trade paperback collection of Marvel’s Girl Comics came out this week. I bought it, and would have read it save that I loaned it to a neighbor on Wednesday evening. That’s okay, though. There’s no shortage of girl comics — comics produced by women, featuring women, talking about and to women — in my life.

I bought and read issues of seven different superhero comic book titles this week. Two are named after their female leads, Batgirl and X-23. One is a majority female ensemble cast, Birds of Prey. Two are ensemble books with female co-leads, New Avengers and X-Men Legacy. Captain America and the First Thirteen is narrated by and stars a female lead. And Hawkeye: Blindspot features Maria Hill in the supporting cast.

On the creative teams on these books we have Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda, Gail Simone, Janine Schaefer, Janelle Siegel, Katie Kunbert, Nei Ruffino, Kathryn Immonen, Rachel Pinnelas, and Lauren Sankovitch.

In X-Men Legacy the overwhelming majority of the female characters wore costumes that covered their whole bodies, including on the cover. More men were half-naked than women. The villain in this week’s New Avengers is female. Jessica Jones continues to dress sensibly in jeans and a t-shirt, much like her husband Luke Cage. The two female leads in Captain American and the First Thirteen continually get the emotional drop on a young, naive-ish Captain America. Also, they are fully dressed throughout the issue, even when changing clothes.

Laura Kinney in X-23 continues to struggle with her insanely abusive and horrific past in ways that are emotionally resonant and superheroic. The walking-the-earth plot device gives Liu the space and time to give Laura’s character something besides “Wolverine’s clone.” It has always been an irritant to me that the heroes I love in comics have terrible things happen to them and then they just move on. People don’t work that way. It comes back to haunt you. I approve of Avengers: Disassembled, I approve of Civil War. I approve of Laura needing to get the hell away from all the various people who try to control and manipulate her — and I do most certainly include Scott Summers and the X-Men in this account. Marjorie Liu is writing this journey, this process, with deft grace when it could all-too-easily be exploitative, glib, or offensive. And Sana Takeda’s art keeps Laura in her traditional costume without making the reader complicit in creepy sexualizing of an abused teenage girl. Kudos to both of them.

I liked both Birds of Prey and Batgirl this week. I admit my enjoyment of the issues was marred by the lack of Cassandra Cain. However, Gail Simone has been saying publicly for some time now that there are background things going on, about which she can’t talk, that tie her hands. (And, presumably, Bryan Q. Miller’s hands as well.) I appreciated Gail taking the time in Birds of Prey to mention Cass’s absence.

Setting that aside, though, I am glad to see the developing relationship between Stephanie Brown and Wendy Harris in Batgirl. As much as I joke about my women-together femslash goggles and my shipping preferences, I do not think every female relationship in the comics I like needs to be gay. I strongly prefer that they not be. What I want, and always clamor for, is diversity. I want the rich diversity in women’s relationships — friendships, rivalries, enmities, romantic liaisons, partnerships, all of it — to be represented in the stories I love. And Steph and Wendy are forming a prickly, defensive, genuine friendship. I approve, Bryan, I distinctly approve.

As for Birds of Prey? A delight. Dinah and Helena are a joy to behold. Thank you, Gail, as always.

This is not merely the future of superhero comics, it’s the present. This is what girl comics means to me.

by Sigrid

Email: sigrid @ fantasticfangirls.org
Twitter: sigridellis

  • Caroline

    Great overview. It’s nice to be reminded about things that are already out there even as we clamor for more. It’s nice that there ARE more female-centric titles than I can actually keep up with (even if they pale in comparison to the titles about, say, Deadpool).

    If you didn’t pick up the CrossGen relaunch ‘Sigil,’ you should give that a look as well. It’s about a magical redhead high school girl who gets bullied and then sometimes time slips and hangs out with pirates. It’s both ridiculous and awesome as you’d expect, and I enjoy seeing such a wish-fulfill-y title with a girl at the center. (Though, umm, probably being a magical redhead who sometimes hangs out with pirates isn’t wish fulfilly for everyone. But I would have been all over this fantasy when I was 12.)

  • sigrid

    @Caroline I went *back* to the comic store to pick up Sigil, actually! And it completely delivered on your sales pitch. :)

  • Anika

    Is Sigil kid-appropriate?

  • Caroline

    @Anika — Good question! I don’t have it on me to flip through but my instinct would be yes — for your older one, anyway. I think the CrossGen line has similar standards to mainstream Marvel (ie, it’s not Vertigo or Max) and this one seemed young-teen appropriate. No violence or oversexualization that stood out to me.

  • Caroline

    Err, that is, no *graphic or extreme violence*. There is school bullying-type violence, and, obviously, pirate fights. Because otherwise it would be a lame pirate story, ya know?

  • Anika

    The promise of pirate fights are totally why I asked. I think I’ll try to pick it up today.

  • Caroline

    The pirate stuff is just getting started in issue 1, but my hunch is that this is a good rec for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ fans, among others.

  • sigrid

    I thought that the whole set-up of Sigil was very fairy-tale-ish, including the absent/dead mother, the absent/too-busy father.

  • Secret Six also has a pretty balanced female cast, with different personalities and motivations. Scandal Savage, Jeanette and Black Alice. I imagine it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like Gail Simone, you might like it.

  • sigrid

    @Matt Oh, I ADORE Secret Six! It just didn’t come out last week. :)

  • Catie

    Hi! Nearly seven months after the fact, it occured to me to come back and leave a comment on this post. Why? Because this is the post that I accidentally stumbled across back in March that got me up out of my chair and into a comic book store. And I’ve been going back every week since. It was a perfect coincidence. I’d been feeling grumpy and fed up with the lack of exciting female characters in my life, a friend linked to a blog that a couple of posts down had a link to a blog that had a link to this blog and went, “RIGHT. This industry. I want to give it my money.”

    I’m really glad I did. I mean, comics still aren’t, you know, perfect. There’s lots and lots of mistakes and problems! But there do seem to be more people dedicated to doing better than in a lot of other forms of media.

    But through comics, I’ve met such a wide array of exciting, powerful, wonderful female characters. So I just wanted to say thank you for writing this post! It might just have changed my life.

  • Sigrid

    Catie, that is wonderful to hear! And glad to hear that you are loving what’s good out there.