My Twitter friend, fellow “superhero academic,” and all-around terrific guy Will Brooker treated me to an advance preview this past week of the forthcoming online comic book project My So-Called Secret Identity, which he co-authors with Suze Shore and Sarah Zaidan. I’m surely not the best person to judge the first issue, which I enjoyed reading a few days ago, mainly because I’m neither an expert on superhero comics nor a big fan of the genre. (My favorite quotation on superhero comics is from Art Spiegelman’s introduction to the City of Glass graphic novel, when he praises David Mazzucchelli’s work on Batman: Year One for the fact that it showed “a grace, economy, and understanding of the form that made the superhero genre almost interesting.” High praise indeed!…)
But since I’ve been known to complain about the depressingly institutionalized sexism and misogyny of the superhero genre now and again, I gladly and wholeheartedly support efforts like this that attempt to do something that should surely be far more common than it is in real life: simply having popular stories exist in which female characters are neither marginal/subordinate characters nor sex objects. The first issue of MSCSI (the acronym that also serves as the new series’ Twitter hashtag) introduces main character Cat Abigail Daniels, who resides in Gloria City, a comic book alternate-universe metropolis where terrorist attacks are more common than usual, and whose superpower is basically that she’s super-smart. Brooker’s writing builds on familiar superhero tropes in a way that makes the reader instantly comfortable with this new environment, while the comic’s female-centric narrative is handled in a matter-of-fact way that mostly just makes one wonder why on earth this type of comic book isn’t more common. I wish My So-Called Secret Identity every success, and look forward to finding out how the story develops in subsequent issues.
Speaking of female-centric popular narratives, this recent TED-Talk by Colin Stokes discusses the lack of female role models in our popular mythology, taking The Wizard of Oz as a productive exception to a general rule that sees women relegated to secondary roles in most popular fantasies. This short but very compelling and perfectly illustrated lecture also connects nicely to this much longer essay on the same topic, which takes Pixar’s generally underrated Brave as a starting point for an in-depth discussion of the importance of strong female characters in popular fiction, not just for girls, but also –and perhaps especially– for boys.