Guest Column: Reflections in a Funhouse Mirror – The Joy of Superheroes

This week’s Inside Out is a guest column by the wildy brilliant Katherine Keller, Editrix in Chief of Sequential Tart. Next week, I’ll be back with the gory details of why I missed Comic-Con–which are nowhere near as cool as what Katherine has to say here:
So, I’m trying to put into words why I like superhero comics so much, explain why I still care when, in the past three years, it seems that Marvel and DC have repeatedly crapped on women characters (and the fanbase that follows them), why I think these issues are worth speaking up about, why I haven’t said ‘Oh, to Hell with it,’ and left the building as so many other readers have.
At the end of the day, as awesome and fulfilling as comics like Wet Moon, Fun Home, and Persepolis are, they aren’t–and never will be–that gloriously cracktacular bastard hybrid amalgamation of science fiction meets fantasy meets crime fiction that the superhero genre is.
Superheroes: the genre where anything can, and frequently does happen. (Hey, there’s a reason for that old fandom joke that ‘the letters DC stand for Delicious Crack.’ The power of Shazam used as a defibrillator. Jaime Reyes’ deep dark dental fantasy. ‘Nuff said.) No other genre is so wonderfully ripe with potential. And sometimes, that potential is even realized.
But that’s not the only reason I love superhero comics.
Before I discovered comics, I hated the token women character in most movies or TV. She existed only as the love interest of the week, would never be seen again, didn’t matter. I hated her for being pasted in. For stealing valuable screen time from my guys who could be doing something useful instead of trying to get up her skirt. And then she’d do something stupid and have to be rescued by the guys. Why even bother having a woman character?
But then I found comics. And I found Jean Grey and Psylocke and Rogue and Polaris … yes, the X-Men were my first big fandom, as they were for a lot of women. (And no, I didn’t have any problems getting up to speed on the plot threads and continuity, despite the fact that I jumped in right in the middle of a crossover event. I loved that there was so much back story for me to discover.) I finally found the women who mattered–and it was much-needed manna from heaven.
Right now (despite all the things I see that irritate the hell out of me), comics are pretty much the only visual mass media in town where one gets images, visuals of women being something other than the sidekick or pasted in love interest of the week, of women putting foot to ass, of women being as big, as bad-ass, and as important as male characters.
Really, as far as current TV is concerned, outside of Heroes and Friday Night Lights, where are the cool, empowered women as important characters with significant screen time? (Note to readers: I don’t do much anime. Invariably there’s a nasal, whiny female voice so insanely irritating that it drives me from the room.)
Looking at current TV, I see there’s Teyla on Stargate: Atlantis, but I could only stand so many plot holes I could fly a fleet of 757s through, not to mention the constant ‘deus ex Rodney’ story lines, before I bailed.
Buffy is gone.
Firefly is gone.
Xena is gone.
Babylon 5 is gone.
Alias is gone.
The less said about–hack! spit!–Lost, the better.
Yes, I am up in arms about the lack of a memorial for Stephanie Brown, and displeased about Power Girl being drawn looking like an inflate-a-date, but at least in comics, I’ve got a Power Girl, a bad-ass chica who’s the head of the JSA and could go to toe with anybody in the DCU.
And I’ve also got a White Tiger, and a Sasha Bordeaux (and the rest of the cast of the severely underrated Checkmate), and a Black Widow (two of those, actually), and the Birds of Prey.
Nowhere else do I see so many repeated images of women who stand up for themselves. Women who make a difference. Women who matter. Which is why all the stupidity and pandering to the lowest denominator I’ve seen in the last few years makes me and a lot of other women (and some men, too) so very angry.
But, I am still finding things to love, which is why I (and a lot of other women) are still here and why we’re not going to quietly slink away anytime soon.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, writing about what I love about superhero comics has gotten me all psyched. So, I’m going to re-read some of my Green Lantern Corps back issues. I love seeing Dr. Soranik Natu outwit her enemies and save the day–again. And only comics gives me that.
Discuss this column here.