By Jessica Smith
Take a master class in comic book history with The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen (Quirk Books), a jam-packed anthology of kick-ass heroines by Hope Nicholson. From the precocious yet charming Little Lulu of the 1930s, to the Muslim Pakistani-American teenage revamp of Ms. Marvel in the 2010s, this decade-by-decade guide dives into all the female comic book superheroes, both famous and completely obscure. Even the most ardent of fans can learn something new about favorite heavy hitters like Wonder Woman, and find new role models in characters like the whip-smart, Black career woman, Friday Foster, and feisty Huron warrior, Starlight.
I’ll admit, it’s not always a blast looking back at the past since some of the earlier characters are far from inspirational. A lot of female superheroes got their start in pulp magazines, like the half-human, half-Venusian, Olga Mesmer, whose powers originate from sexual arousal while she continually gets her clothes ripped off in ridiculous plots crafted by testosterone-fueled male writers. Ugh! And some of the more “enlightened” comics still miss the mark by making their leading lady obsessed with men, clothes and catty girl fights. (An actual, eyeroll-inducing quote from teeny bopper title character Lucy, the Real Gone Gal: “That girl makes me so mad, I could peel my nail polish!”) Pretty cringeworthy stuff.
But luckily, the good outweighs the bad in this timely and inclusive collection as we see a decidedly more feminist approach towards the female superhero as time passes and girl power penetrates the male dominated world of comics.
The really fun thing about The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen is that it doesn’t mince words. It gives us a crash course in history and pulls a few surprises along the way. In the words of the infamous Batgirl, “A hero is not measured by what her power may be…but by the courage she shows in living, and the warmth she holds in her heart.” Sometime after dropping that truth bomb, girlfriend also championed equal pay for Robin and won a seat on the U.S. Senate. (Take that, Olga!)
Whether you dig comics or not, this is a recommended read for super women (and men) everywhere.
Jessica Smith is the Senior Editor at Qwerty Philly.