Tuesday, August 2, 2022
Superhero Media: The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen
I picked up this book by chance when browsing a sale table at a comic store near work and grabbed it to give to my girlfriend, who is getting pretty deeply into superheroes as our relationship continues. Written by comics author and historian Hope Nicholson, The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen is a rough history of female characters in comics from the 1930s through to the 2010s, divided by decades, with explanations and commentaries. Naturally, the book can't be exhaustive, and even features a few notable exemptions, like Phantomah, Raven and Spider-Woman. In fact, despite the title, The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen features many characters from non-superhero comics, such as Little Lulu and several protagonists from the once-popular genre of Nurse comics. Not that I'm complaining mind, just that the title would indicate a focus on superheroic women, but the actual contents of the book are just as fascinating. The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen not only discusses many of the amazing female characters that have graced the medium of comics, but also the female creators and fans of the medium and how they've shaped the history and culture of the industry.
For all that Nicholson examines the positives and negatives of the history of women, comics, and women in comics with little holding back of the ugly realities of misogyny, marginalisation and objectification of the female form, The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen maintains something of a positive outlook. Things have been both worse and, in some ways better, over the years that comics have been a medium, but the overall trend is a positive one, even with the rise of the, detestable, "Man-o-sphere" through internet broadcasting and social media. In fact, the rise of the internet has allowed more female creators to break into the field through online publishing, like Danielle Corsetto from Girls With Slingshots, and at the same time has given fans better access to older comics with works like Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For being put up online for free. On that note, Elfquest is evidently online for free, including comics from last year back to the 1970s when it started. I'd love to give it a go, but I don't think I'm up for reading all of that given my vanishing reading time.
Though I've read and watched a number of historical retrospectives of comics over the years, I have to admit that The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen is among the best I've come across, with a genuine, honest and enthusiastic take on the medium and its history. It's clear that Nicholson is a fan as much as a critic, with her own, very nerdy, love of Dazzler on full display. Did you know the original Dazzler comics have never been reprinted? Crazy. Naturally, there are now more than a few obscure heroines I'm on the lookout for in miniature, even apart from the fact that I still don't own a Ms Marvel or Spider-Gwen, characters like Tomboy, Black Cat (not the Marvel one) and Superbitch deserve more time in the spotlight, even the small one that is my gaming table. Let's face it, part of me just wants to talk to people about weird and wonderful characters that they've never heard of, but better representation of differing genders and identities outside of the hetero-masculine norm is good for superheroes in general, not just my own games. To paraphrase Frank Miller (of all people); I want your sister to read comics. I want your girlfriend, your grandmother and your kids to read comics. So get reading and look out for some of these dynamic women of comics.