The best answer I can come up with is that I like to look at things with a sideways glance. I like to think most of the articles I write about diversity and business and feminism and disability stretch beyond the six-panel page, and say something about the American art scene, and our culture at large. Whether others agree is a matter of debate, though I doubt it's a question anybody else spends their nights pondering. But I am a part of a theatre community, and I need to tend to it as much as I tend to my own thoughts.
All that being said, recently Howlround has been putting out excellent articles about gender parity, women, and their role in activating the theatre, pushing it towards equality. I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment, and thank the contributors for giving me much food for thought, and point any interested readers to their great content, including work about theatre in post-feminist America, an interview with the amazing Lydia Diamond, and this gem about leading culture, instead of following it. Give these a read, when you have a chance, and take part in the conversation, if you feel so inclined. I know I plan to get more involved over the coming weeks and months.
Of course, sales should dictate what's in print, but by generating an essential list of what to buy, the DC higher-ups are not only editorializing about the worth of individual stories; they're crafting a marketed opinion about an entire line -- picking what consumers ought to invest in, as opposed to allowing consumer trends to dictate the market. Rather than learn from their customers, they're telling them what to want. Not super surprising in the given "WE'VE GOT A SUPERMAN MOVIE COMING OUT, WE HAVE TO CASH IN!" climate. But problems abound when the bottom line is all that matters to an organization.
Problems such as this: DC devotes a total of two pages to its female superheroes. TWO PAGES. Just to get some perspective, let's look at the page count across the board for iconic DC heroes:
I'm just ... I don't even know what to say at this point. DC has told me repeatedly they don't care about reflecting my experience. I'm used to that. But to then tell me what little reflection of my experience they do offer isn't all that essential ... well, it stings. It's shoddy marketing, and it's shoddy craftsmanship. But like the ladies at Howlround, I aim to do something about it. I have identified the issue. Now I need to force the culture to keep up with female (and hopefully male) consumers.
Outside of continuing to agitate for more female representation in mainstream books, and monetarily and vocally championing independent books that target women and create strong women, I also want to provide a space to talk about where people are finding essential female hero reading, since DC generally ain't providing it (check out its best-selling section to see how many ladies make the top list). With that in mind, I'm going to post my own list of essential female stories -- DC and Marvel-based -- now. My choices are mainstream, mind you, but I'm focusing on some favorite characters whose best works are often left well off the DC essentials program; likely, they can be found by scrounging around at the library or one's local comics emporium, or God help us, via Amazon. Hopefully, I can give women, or interested men, a window into seeking out diverse experiences in a medium that is currently screaming for only teenage boys to buy into its collection.
ESSENTIAL DC SUPERHEROINES (AND THEIR STORIES):
Wonder Woman, Aka, Princess Diana, Aka, Diana Prince, Aka, The Maid of Might
Rucka's Wonder Woman is a flesh-and-blood tower of strength, who fights to protect others, even to the point of losing her sight, and committing murder. Those who claim she is too contrarian, or that she's too old-fashioned to last in today's grim and gritty, "post-feminist" climate, need to read this book.
Essential stories: The Hikitea, Down to Earth, Eyes of the Gorgon.
Full Run: Wonder Woman volume 2, issues 195-226.
What's most engaging about this run of books is how Simone triumphed over some truly terrible editorial mandates prior to the start of her run. She takes Diana's stupid job as a spy, and makes secrecy part of Diana's inner conflict and outer fight. She takes her stilted relationship with fellow espionage agent Nemesis, and lets it bloom organically, while admitting the two come from worlds too different to ever build a life together. She lets Wonder Woman pine for children of her own, and if that's not a step forward for a female character's perspective, I dunno what is!
Essential stories: The Circle, Rise of the Olympians.
Full Run: Wonder Woman volume 3, issues 14-44, Wonder Woman volume 1, issue 600.
Batwoman, Aka, Kate Kane, Aka, Dedicated Solider, Aka, Out and Proud Lesbian
In more recent times, J.H. Williams' work on the character as both artist and author leave Kate always feeling like Kate, even as his current run on the book can get confounding. She is the Katniss of comics for me: always surprising, always brave, always true.
Essential stories: 52, Elegy, Batman: Blackest Knight.
Full run: Detective Comics 854-860, Batwoman volume 1 ongoing.
Batgirl, Aka, Cassandra Cain, Aka Deadly Assassin, Aka, World's Greatest Hero
Cass was the first Batgirl to receive her own solo series, and to date, she is one of the few Asian characters to headline a book. Her evolution from terrified loner to leader and friend to every member of the Bat-family is hard-won, and despite her disappearance from New 52 continuity, her coming-of-age tale pretty much haunts my memory, precisely because every step she takes towards redemption is harrowing and hallucinatory.
Essential stories: No Man's Land, Silent Running, Death Wish.
Full run: Batgirl volume 1, issues 1-73, Batgirl miniseries, issues 1-6.
Batgirl, Aka, Steph Brown, Aka, Kinda Knows Kung Fu, Aka, Sucker for Second Chances
A blonde chick proving she's not quite as dumb as everyone thinks she is may not seem like great grass to mow. However, Miller gives Steph a self-awareness and sense of humor that draws you into her travails right away. More importantly, he establishes a partnership between Steph and Oracle that ends up saving an angry, emotionally crippled Barbara. Steph's Pollyanna attitude infects everybody she meets, and what's more powerful than handing out second chances?
Essential stories: Batgirl Rising, The Flood, The Lesson.
Full run: Batgirl volume 3, issues 1-24; Batman: Leviathan Strikes!
Birds of Prey, Aka, Black Canary, Huntress, & Oracle, Aka, Best Team Ever!
Simone's focus on tiny, human moments make this a go-to reread for me. From Oracle's struggle with her disability, to Helena's quiet rekindling of her Catholic faith, to the sharp stabs of loneliness Dinah experiences when seeing Babs with her father, nothing about these ladies is ever off the table. Simone's books often get really, really crazy, as she adds colorful characters and nightmare situations to the mix, building to climaxes that often require half the DC Universe to save the day. But with Birds of Prey, there's always time for a heart-to-heart. Or a bar fight. That's just how things go.
Essential stories: Of Like Minds, The Battle Within, Endrun.
Full run: Birds of Prey volume 1, issues 56-108; Birds of Prey volume 3, issues 1-13.
Lois Lane, Aka, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist, Aka, Icon of Human Experience
Lois has had some good stories written about her in the past. And some awful ones. My personal favorite Lois stories arrived during Greg Rucka's run on Adventures of Superman (man, his name keeps coming up!). In this series, she is injured in a war-torn country while trying to save an American soldier, and uses her recovery time to rebuild her relationship with Clark, while also seeking out/confronting her sniper. She's just a wonder, this woman.
Essential stories: When It Rains, God Is Crying, Superman: Unconventional Warfare, Superman: That Healing Touch, Superman: Ruin Revealed, Superman: Red Son, Superman: Birthright.
Full run: Uh ... every Superman comic ever?
Linda Park, Aka, Wife, Aka, Mother, Aka, The One Who Keeps The Flash Steady
I'm particularly fond of Mark Waid's work on the character, as her concerns over her man-friend's growing powers mirror many a real-life relationship, where one partner worries the other might outgrow him or her. However, Linda always approaches her feelings with a level head, and despite being trapped in another dimension once, and dying that other time, she always finds her way back to her man, like it's no big deal.
Essential stories: Terminal Velocity, Race Against Time, Flash: The Final Night, Blitz.
Full run: The Flash, volume 2, issues 28-231, The Flash: Rebirth, The Flash: The Wild Wests.
ESSENTIAL MARVEL SUPERHEROINES (AND THEIR STORIES):
Captain Marvel, Aka, Carol Danvers, Aka, Keeper of the Past, Present, & Future
DeConnick seems very interested in how women inspire and influence one another. The supporting cast of Captain Marvel consists mostly of women, women who befriend each other, challenge each other, who are constantly striving towards a sense of achievement and place within their past, present, and future. Perhaps it was no accident that the first arc on the title led Carol on an Easter egg hunt across her lifespan. If she didn't know where she'd been, and who stood with her, she wouldn't deserve her name.
Essential stories: In Pursuit of Flight.
Full run: Captain Marvel, volume 1, ongoing.
Echo, Aka, Maya Lopez, Aka, Expert Mimic, Aka, The Only Deaf Character Around
Echo is a treasure precisely because she is always reinventing herself. Popular opinion might suggest she only becomes a stoic ninja, or gets super in touch with her Native American heritage, or acts out Marc Spector's schizophrenic hallucinations, because writers can't figure out how to let her stand on her own. But I would argue she is a flawed human being, with mimckry powers she barely understands, and a huge chip on her shoulder when it comes to personal responsibility. Watching her come to terms with her destructive actions, as all individuals must, provides a benchmark for all stories about those who live with disabilities. They deal with the same issues as any other person. They simply perceive those experiences through a more personalized, unique lens.
Essential stories: Daredevil: Parts of the Hole, Daredevil/Echo: Vision Quest.
Full run: Daredevil, volume 2, issues 9-15, Daredevil, volume 2, issues 51-55, Moon Knight, miniseries, issues 1-12.
Hawkeye, Aka, Kate Bishop, Aka Young Avenger, Aka, Hero of Her Own Story
And fly she does, under Matt Fraction and Kieron Gillen's hands. Both writers give her the latitude to have a life outside of her fellow champions. In fact, Kate often reminds those around her that she's awesome, even if Clint isn't, and that she is the hero of her own story. Having now watched her leap out of a high-rise to save her fellow Hawkeye, and later on, stop burglaries in the middle of Hurricane Sandy, I'm inclined to agree.
Essential stories: Young Avengers volume 2, ongoing, Hawkeye, volume 1, ongoing.
Full run: Young Avengers volume 1, issues 1-12, Young Avengers: Children's Crusade, Young Avengers volume 2, ongoing.
Miss America, Aka, America Chavez, Aka, WHO ARE YOU?!, Aka, Not PG-13
Suffice it to say, I'm intrigued by her presence among the Young Avengers crew, especially because her major function seems to be the team heavy. She's real good at punching things, and how often is a woman given that responsibility? Outside of Wonder Woman, I can't think of any examples. It's nice to come full-circle discussing our lady heroines, especially with a character as chock-full of fun and potential as America Chavez is. She may be rated PG-13, according to her own rankings, but her journey would make for a great all-ages book.
Essential stories: Young Avengers volume 2, ongoing.
Full run: Teen Brigade, I guess? Young Avengers volume 2, ongoing.
But I've said enough on this subject. Hopefully, it's provided some avenues to explore. Now I'd love to hear from you. Who are your favorite ladies in comics? What are your favorite stories? I've always got room in my library for more female-centric storytelling!