Filling a Gap in Comics: DC Superhero Girls

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It’s been a while since I’ve written about any comics, but I’m definitely still avidly reading. Now that I’ve completed my journey through DC’s continuity, I’m able to read more current publications, as well as branch out and read trades that don’t necessarily fall under DC’s continuity umbrella.  One of my favorites so far has been DC Superhero Girls, a new(ish) branding for DC that includes comics, YouTube shorts, as well as a line of toys and accessories.  I first saw it advertised in DC’s comics, and was instantly intrigued. A girl-led series aimed at a younger audience? Not only did that have “me” written all over it, it also seemed like something I could definitely get behind just on principle.

The reasoning is simple: there seemed to be a gap in the DC Comics library when it came to kid-friendly (specifically girl-friendly) comics.  That’s not to say that girls can’t read Batman or Superman, or that none of these comics could be read by a younger audience. While younger girls could certainly read those and other stories, that is an unanticipated byproduct of the stories; they weren’t written with that specific audience in mind.  With DC Superhero Girls, the comics are geared towards a specific audience: young girls. While I (and many others) can and DO enjoy these comics, I’m not necessarily the primary readership these are written for. And you know what? I think that’s awesome.

Sure, there are/have been kid-friendly DC comics on the market, but those are most often gender neutral, focusing on the classic Justice League line-up, which just happens to include both male and female characters.  With DC Superhero Girls, we get a series that focuses almost exclusively on girl characters. Yes, there is a mix of boy and girl characters throughout the series, but just look at those covers: there’s no question who’s running the show in these stories.

Of course, I refuse to support/promote a series based on concept alone. Sure, it’s an all-girl series which helps expand DC’s fanbase, but is it actually any good?  The short answer is HELLZ YES.

The concept of the series reimagines everyone’s favorite heroes as being young students at Superhero High, a school where they train and work on improving their superhero skills.  Amanda Waller is the principal, Gorilla Grodd is the VP, and any number of characters pop up as teachers (Crazy Quilt teaches costume-making, while Wildcat teaches gym).  The focus is on the girl characters, specifically Wonder Woman, Super Girl, Batgirl, Poison Ivy, Bumblebee, Katana, and Harley Quinn. There are plenty of other appearances as well, including Starfire, Ms. Martian, and Big Barda.  Flash, Beast Boy, and Cyborg have guest roles as students too, along with innumerable other characters.  Nobody is a full-fledged villain yet: instead, some historically villianous characters are reimagined as high school bullies (Cheetah) while others are completely rewritten to be good guys in their own right (Lady Shiva).

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Even if they don’t play a part in the story, numerous characters make cameos in each scene. Half the fun of reading is seeing how many characters make special appearances (hi Animal Man!)

Each of the three published trades has a central storyline, with individual scenes or issues contained within.  “Hits and Myths” caught my attention from the get-go: the entire story is based on Homer’s “The Odyssey”, with creative tie-ins to the superhero world (Etrigan teaches the book to the class, reciting everything in rhyme, because of course, while Ravager serves as the “Cyclops” of the story).   This inventive theme was enough to peak my interest, but I was even more impressed to find that the stories were legitimately good.  Wonder Woman is somewhat of the leading lady of the comic, as the story focuses on her, but each character gets her moment to shine, showing readers the individual personalities of each character.

 

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Poison Ivy is one of my favorite examples of character reimagining in the series: she’s a sweet, plant-loving girl with just a hint of a naughty side. She feels more comfortable around plants than people, something emphasized in episode 109 of the web series, in which we see Ivy’s vulnerability and insecurity in trying to make friends with her classmates (perhaps one of my favorite episodes so far).  I love the creative twist writer Shea Fontana brought to the characters, and Ivy is a perfect example of a reimagined character done right.

Also, her outfit is so stinkin’ cute. I think I found my Halloween costume.

“Finals Crisis” (how much do I love these cute puns!?!) shows the girls studying for their finals at Superhero High, while some unknown force begins kidnapping the girls one by one.  Again, each character gets her moment in the spotlight, and although they wind up captured, the story never falls into a “damsels in distress” scenario. Instead, the girls work together and break free from their captor (I won’t spoil who it is), emphasizing the importance of teamwork and how much more powerful they are when they work together:

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The lessons in the comics remind me of the wrap-up lessons from 90s family shows like “Full House”, and while some cynics might call these moments cheesy, I think they’re incredibly necessary, especially in a story aimed at younger readers.  There’s nothing wrong with stressing the importance of friendship and teamwork, and these stories do it in such a way that it feels worthwhile.  After all, when it’s your heroes teaching you these lessons, you tend to listen.

And THAT’S what makes these comics so great.  Sure, the main characters are superheroes, but they’re characterized so that they feel just like regular young girls, complete with all of the worries and insecurities that might go along with that. Of course, that doesn’t mean they fall victim to the classic “weak girl” tropes that appear in media. Instead, these girls are problem-solvers, making solutions for themselves rather than relying on others to do it for them.

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When she damages a smoothie machine during a fight with Killer Croc, Bumblebee immediately offers a solution, and goes off to get the necessary equipment to fix it herself.  This isn’t a big scene in the comic; instead, it’s a quick panel to get the character from point A to point B, but for me it’s an incredibly important inclusion.  Bumblebee A) has clear knowledge about mechanics/engineering, and knows how to put that knowledge to practical use; B) immediately comes up with a solution to the problem before her (she wants a smoothie, the smoothie machine is broken, so just fix the machine); and C) nobody questions whether this high school girl could or couldn’t fix it on her own.  She just does.

Am I reading a lot into this one panel? Perhaps. Even so, it doesn’t change the fact that this type of characterization is incredibly important (and sadly often lacking) in today’s media.  Young girls need to see characters they love as problem-solvers, so that they in turn can have the self-confidence to believe that they could follow in those footsteps.  Not everyone can fly or shoot laser-beams from their eyes, but everyone can find solutions to pressing problems if they work hard enough.  It’s these small details that help elevate the entire DC Superhero Girls branding to a “must buy” in my mind.

The last trade, “Summer Olympus” follows Wonder Woman as she’s invited to spend the summer on Olympus with her dad, Zeus.  Now of course, being a kid-friendly comic, the story leaves out some of the less desirable Zeus attributes, but his general characterization still rings true: he’s the all-powerful but somewhat forgetful father whom Diana doesn’t have much of a relationship with.  On Olympus we get to meet a number of Greek Gods, Diana’s half-siblings. Of course, at the center is Ares, who decides he wants to start a war with humans (after all, it’s what he does).  It’s up to Diana and friends to save the day, and although Ares tries to lure Diana over to the dark side, as it were, Diana and co. win out by remembering the value of friendship:

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To anyone who might dismiss DC Superhero Girls as nonsense or unimportant to continuity, I would point them to this one panel, in which Shea Fontana more accurately characterizes Wonder Woman than many writers of the actual Wonder Woman comic have been able to do in the past.

The fact that these comics are written about some of my favorite DC superheroes is awesome, but honestly I’d like to think I would enjoy the stories even if they were just about random characters.  The concept of Superhero High is great, but what’s even better is the way in which all of the girls are written: they each have their own moments of insecurity or self-doubt, yet at the end of the day they recognize their inner strength and manage to save the day.  There’s plenty of one-on-one moments between the girls that feel all too real, bringing a sense of realism to an otherwise fantastical world:

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After all, who hasn’t gone through this with a friend at one time or another?

Each girl has her own unique personality, close enough to the original characters to please DC fans while still having their own unique spin so as not to feel derivative.  There is a perfect blend between superhero and average teen girl here, giving readers an excellent adventure story that is still somehow firmly grounded in reality.  It’s a fine line that not all writers can balance, yet DC Superhero Girls manages it perfectly.

I can’t recommend these stories enough.  They’re sweet without being treacly, action-packed yet relatable.  Each character brings something special to the table, with enough individuality that anyone can find a character that speaks to them.  I loved every moment of these three comics, and the YouTube shorts are likewise entertaining and fun as can be (fair warning: you WILL get the theme song stuck in your head for days).  I hope DC continues to promote this series with vigor.  I love finally seeing a series that speaks to young girls directly without talking down to them or making them seem inferior in any way.  It’s about time DC broadened its target audience a bit and included an otherwise overlooked demographic, and DC Superhero Girls is the perfect way to do just that.

-Jess

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3 thoughts on “Filling a Gap in Comics: DC Superhero Girls

  1. Pingback: Wonder Woman at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee | Hippo Planet

  2. Pingback: Comics journey #6: Harley Quinn, “Hot in the City” – Ellie Wilson

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