Picture a chubby, blonde, blue-eyed 5-year-old spinning in circles in the living room. Wonder Woman is on TV, and that little girl is hoping for a flash of light as she spins. She desperately wants an invisible jet, the ability to talk to animals, and super strength. That hopeful 5-year-old was me, and Wonder Woman was my Princess Di. I was fascinated by her power.
Fast forward 20 years. The IT guy at my new job asks me if I’m into comic books. I immediately think of Wonder Woman, and I’m all, “Yeah, sure.” Soon thereafter, a stack of trade paperbacks — Gail Simone and Ed Benes’ entire Birds of Prey run — appears on my desk. This particular series is the best of the best, chock full of ass-kicking chicks, excellent writing and cheesecake. There is something wildly invigorating about seeing Black Canary drawn to physical perfection, talking cash shit, and serving some baddie his last knuckle sammich. SO. MUCH. FUN. A geek girl is born — or, perhaps, reborn.
Girls aren’t new to this comic book geek game, and the past decade has seen a surge in fangirldom and female creators. I give a lot of credit to my darling Gail Simone. Girls were reading and creating comics before she came along, but Simone changed the game 11 years ago with Women in Refrigerators. Simone (Gail to her fans) made a list of female characters who had been “killed, raped, depowered, crippled, turned evil, maimed, tortured, contracted a disease or had other life-derailing tragedies befall her.” It was a long list. For today’s hardcore fanboys and fangirls, the term Women in Refrigerators (WiR) is classic comics industry shorthand.
For those not yet fully initiated into the pantheon of fanboy/girl status, the term “Women in Refrigerators” is an ode to Green Lantern #54 (1994), written by Ron Marz, in which Kyle Rayner comes home to find that his girlfriend, Alex DeWitt, had been beaten, strangled and then her mutilated and contorted body was stuffed into the fridge by the villain Major Force.
Essentially, Gail’s list revealed the dirty little secret (at least to outsiders) of the comic book world: Misogyny. At the time, Gail was an aspiring writer and fangirl. Now, she’s the baddest mamma jamma at DC Comics. WiR started a long overdue dialogue, one that blew the doors wide open. But as necessary as that dialogue was and still is, it spawned a joyless, self-righteous monster of its own. Today, much of the fangirl fodder in the blogosphere is riddled with matriarchal tyranny and navel-gazing.
I respect WiR and all it’s glory, but I am so over it. As psychologist Carl Rogers put it, “When I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Yeah, it’s kinda Deepak Chopra, but there is a point: I accept that comics tend to portray female characters in a way that appeals to every straight guy’s inner 13-year-old. Sometimes, that means ridiculously large boobs (Power Girl) and teeny weeny costumes. Sometimes it takes a darker turn, and female characters are subjected to storylines that weaken or gratuitously humiliate them. It is indicative of the culture that we live in. Art is imitating life. That doesn’t make it OK. However, I’m annoyed by the knee-jerk bashing of expression, which does nothing to break the cycle. A better strategy? Spend your money on the books that do portray women in a more empowered light. The comic book industry is driven by dollars, just like everything else in this world.
Since discovering Birds of Prey, I’ve broadened my horizons beyond Spandex. But nothing compares to the rush of pure enjoyment I get from reading a story about fierce chicks delivering some super-powered justice. Here on Earth-One, the politics, the economy, the epidemic narcissism – It’s all a bit much. Comic books are an escapist fantasy of what I’d love to be — at least in an alternate universe where physics and law enforcement don’t apply. The fantasy is fun, and I’ve grown weary of the angsty fangirl crashing the party and railing at everyone. Lighten the fuck up! Humans like honey way mo’ better than vinegar, and politicians aren’t exactly flocking to Geoff Johns or Brian Michael Bendis for public policy advice. I’ve got plenty to say about the Star Sapphires’ bullshit stripper uniform (It’s just not functional in space), X-23 being a prostitute (She’s too young), and Black Canary’s plot device of a marriage to Green Arrow (I just threw up a little in my mouth), but those things don’t ruin an entire genre. How can you not be moved by the raw creativity – the combination of writing, illustration, inks and lettering?
The comic book world is one of passionate opinions, and being a part of it is more satisfying than I ever imagined. But I refuse to be ashamed of the comics I love, cheesecake and all. There’s power in that.