Robot 6

‘Feminist’ superhero comic looks promising, but not very superhero-y

V1_P02_cwComics scholar Will Brooker (he’s a top expert on Batman) has taken a step over to the other side and started writing a superhero comic that veers pretty far from Gotham City. As he tells Alison Flood in an interview at The Guardian, his new comic My So-Called Secret Identity takes a “feminist approach from the ground up, in terms of story, character, artwork and production.”

That’s a nice idea but not much of a selling point. How about this: It’s a good story. The lead character is interesting, and the first issue draws you into her world, and then brings in a dramatic twist to hold your interest. Brooker’s writing is witty, and the art, by Suze Shore and Sarah Zaidan, is attractive and easy to “read” visually, something that is not always the case with superhero comics.

Lord knows, as a reader who rolls her eyes at most superheroines (and superheroes for that matter), I like the idea of what Brooker is doing, but Comics With Agendas seldom turn out well. Good comics are all about good stories, and good stories seldom fit neatly into ideological niches. This has the makings of a good story, and I would hate for the “feminist” selling point to be a turn-off for potential readers. I’d prefer see this comic presented as something new, rather than a pushback at a tired genre.

Admittedly, My So-Called Secret Identity uses many of the storytelling conventions of superhero comics—the paneling and the way the character is narrating the story from inside her head, for instance. There’s even a grim edge to Cat’s point of view, as she opines that in her city, if you’re not a celebrity or a superhero, you’re “little people.” But then on the next page she’s thinking about the scent of warm muffins and her favorite bookstore. I’ll go out on a limb here (I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong) and say that no one in Gotham City thinks about muffins.

I don’t think I’d call this comic “feminist,” exactly. I’d call it “smart.” It’s looking, from this first issue, like the story is going to be about Cat solving a puzzle, which means the reader can solve it along with her. That’s awesome if, like me, you like this kind of comic. I can’t follow fighting or chase scenes at all, but I love piecing things together from a couple of clues. That’s not really a gendered thing, though — just a different type of story.

The other big difference between this comic and superhero comics in general is the one Brooker talks about in the beginning: costume and body type. When we first meet her, Cat is completely covered up, in long sleeves, a long skirt and a plaid vest. Apparently she will eventually get a costume, but she doesn’t fit the typical superheroine body type, and it’s hard to imagine her assuming the brokeback pose. I want to say that’s a common-sense issue, or even a matter of taste, rather than a feminist issue, but I suspect that feelings about this fall strongly along gender lines.

I get that Brooker is trying to keep all the good parts of superhero comics and ditch the sexist parts. The question is, will he end up with a non-sexist superhero story or just a good story about heroes and villains that falls completely outside the genre? Is “non-sexist superhero story” a contradiction in terms?

Mostly, I liked this comic, but I do have one kvetch: The pages are vertical—very vertical, as many are split into long vertical panels — which makes it really irritating to read this comic in a browser because you can’t see a whole page at once. My computer has a 15-inch screen, and I can only see about half the page at a time in my browser window. With a comics page that is split into horizontal tiers, that isn’t much of a problem, but the layout of this comic really requires you to see the whole page at once. My solution was to switch over to my iPad and read it there, where I could view each page in vertical format, although it’s a bit on the small side. But it seems to me that if you are going to present a comic digital first, especially something new that may require a bit of selling to the reader, it is important that the comic work well with the medium.

That said, it’s a great comic and well worth a look, scrolling and all.

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Comments

15 Comments

“but she doesn’t fit the typical superheroine body type, and it’s hard to imagine her assuming the brokeback pose. I want to say that’s a common-sense issue, or even a matter of taste, rather than a feminist issue”

good luck chasing down criminals when she is a fat ass (from that image she isnt fat, but i think feminist want to think where horrible people just for not thinking chubby women are super attractive)

good luck dodging laser blast when she cant asume poses that are arguably unrealistic

common sense to me is not ignoring my own likes, interest and turn ons for the sake of prude fuckers who want to run my comics.

you can take you taste and shove them up your ass as long as your bashing my taste, we have different taste, both are just as valid as the other for what should be shown in comics for the people that want them.

you dont like sexy female anti heroes, dont read catwoman.
you dont like cleavage dont read a shanna book, a character who has AWAYS worn a bikini
you dont like gays dont read bat woman
you dont like blacks dont read a black panther book

THE POINT DONT TRY TO TAKE THOOSE THINGS AWAY FROM THOOSE THAT DO LIKE THEM!

Oh dear. T H E totally missed the point.

@catsmeow- luckily it was so eloquently put regardless

I’m in favour of a superhero book that is focusing on character and story rather than “Earth-shattering” events though I agree that labelling it a “feminist” comic could be detrimental to it’s sales, not to mention a title that makes the book sound like a parody or trashy tv show. Still, I wish the creators success!

“I suspect that feelings about this fall strongly along gender lines.” –and you would be wrong.

“Is “non-sexist superhero story” a contradiction in terms?” –no it is not.

Here’s the thing, T H E…no one is trying to take away the comics that you enjoy. You can add almost infinitely to the superhero genre WITHOUT TAKING ANYTHING AWAY.

You have tons of options of comics that fit your tastes, and some of the rest of us would like to see a few more options that fit our tastes.

Oh boy, “THE”, you have a lot of growing up to do.

Catwoman was the series that got me into comics because, aside from being a sexy female antihero, she was a smart, strong, kickass female character.

So don’t take away my smart, strong, kickass female characters just because you want cheesecake. :)

I actually get what THE is saying, but the extra defensive posturing doesn’t help his point.

And labeling something “feminist” CAN be a turn-off to me as a male reader not because I have a problem with a strong, independent, well written female hero (I actually PREFER that) but because “feminist” can mean so many different things to people at this point, and can be interpreted any number of ways. It’s sometimes hard to guess what you’re going to get. I prefer just to know the genre of fiction and if it’s good or not…

Why does someone (the article’s author) “roll her eyes” at super heroes but writes for a comic website?

I love strong woman, but I agree with Andrew that the term feminist is a deceiving and even outdated term that means different things to different people and could be a major turn off. Power Girl, for example represents a strong female who has a volumptous body and isn’t afraid to show it or kick your ass if you stare at it too long. But there are plenty of prudes out there that think her outfit is somehow sexist when they clearly don’t know the meaning of the word. The point is, who is correct? It’s in the eye of the beholder. That said, this book sounds interesting, but if the tag line were “The Newest Feminist Tale!” I’d never look twice at it.

Just read the book. Not bad. I’ll be back for issue two. Totally didn’t get “feminist” from it though.

It’s sad that a ‘feminist’ story is both something the audience worries about supporting, and something the author is putting ahead of the concept. Feminism isn’t something to be scared off by, but nor should it be a selling point. That both are true is the real setback for comics.

Superhero women can dress however they want and still be strong feminine characters, and at the same time there are a lot of characters who are written badly and drawn conservatively. End of the day, what’s important is that the character be real and true to themselves – whether that be whilst wearing a bikini for no apparent reason, or an outfit that actual women might wear. That’s what makes a character feminist, before anything else. That the writing and character are fair and honest.

@T H E wow what an asshole!

I get that people want to shy away from the term “feminist” in comics, but unless you want to read a comic that features its female characters as crime-fighting sex dolls in back breaking poses, that’s the term you have to look for.

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