NINE DECADES OF FEMALE COMICS HEROES
From the 1934 debut of Sally the Sleuth to last month’s Gal Gadotstarring “Wonder Woman” movie, which has raked in nearly $350 million at the domestic box office, female comicbook characters have come a long way in popular culture. »
From the 1934 debut of Sally the Sleuth to last month’s Gal Gadot-starring “Wonder Woman” movie, which has raked in nearly $350 million at the domestic box office, female comic-book characters have come a long way in popular culture.
So exactly how many have there been? And who else deserves some of the love being directed toward Diana Prince (Wonder Woman’s alter ego)?
Canadian comics scholar and Bedside Press founder Hope Nicholson knows. Her slick, gorgeously printed new book on Quirk, “The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen,” was conveniently published about a month before DC’s big-budget “Wonder Woman” movie. As such, it deserves every bit of ancillary publicity it may get from the “Wonder Woman” hype.
Starting with Centaur Comics’ Jane, The Magician of Mars, “Sisterhood” dives into nine decades of female comics characters, with a helpful decade-by-decade format and chapter-ending “Icon of
the Decade” summary (Wonder Woman, who was introduced in 1941, naturally rules the 1940s).
The point of the book, of course, is to look beyond the most recognizable female superheroes — Supergirl, Catwoman, Batgirl, Ms. Marvel and “Watchmen’s” Silk Spectre — to appreciate the equally inventive but less iconic creations that say as much about the era in which they were created as their creators.
When times called for romantic heroes or go-go girls, 1960s characters such as Barbarella or Bunny Ball delivered. When indie comics began to rise in the 1970s, sexually charged characters like Superbitch and Zelda the Witch appeared. A lot of it is overtly sexist and offensive; looking at it unflinchingly is part of the fascination.
I particularly enjoyed the 1980s chapters and on, given the explosion of what are commonly referred to as alternative comics (i.e. ones not based solely on superhero, sci-fi or fantasy themes). Even as the industry grows increasingly digital, and comics-culture becomes popular culture, there's still a lot of great, hand-drawn art and writing being overlooked in the comics world.
In other words: If you like comics or graphic novels and don’t already know who Ramona Flowers, the new Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), Blaze or Beth Ross are, you’ve got some catching up to do.
This is a handy, image-driven guide — not an academic treatise or catalog — so the snappy writing, helpful “further reading” recommendations and plenty of colorful panels maintain an admirable momentum over nearly 250 pages jampacked with information.
It’s encouraging to see this long-ignored topic get such a professional yet approachable treatment. It’s even better for this busy comics fan to realize he learned a few things while being entertained by this book.
Undercover Girl was Starr Flagg, a female American secret agent who first appeared in “Manhunt #1 (1947). From “The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen” by Hope Nicholson (Quirk Books, May 2017)
Throwing punches with one of the many heroic women featured in “The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen” by Hope Nicholson.
After Maureen’s death by drowning, Father Neptune revived her and gave her the ability to breathe underwater. She first appeared in Blue Circle Comics #1 (1944).
Starlight was a warrior maiden of the Huron people and first appeared in Indians #2 (1950).