28 June 2010

"The Supergirls" by Mike Madrid

Mike Madrid
Date of publication: 1 September 2009
ISBN: 1935259032
334 pages

The thesis for The Supergirls is obvious; Mike Madrid explores the depiction of women in the superhero world, and as one might expect, he concludes that more often than not, they have been mistreated.  The text is presented in a very accessible fashion that does not pre-suppose much familiarity with the characters and stories he cites throughout, though I do feel he should have done a clearer job explaining a few major industry-wide events.  For the most part, the book is structures chronologically, beginning with the late 1930s/early 1940s, and concluding in the 21st Century.  Wisely, though, Madrid has constructed each chapter around a theme specific to each era.  This means that each chapter is, essentially, its own thesis essay within the frame of the overall book.

I do wish Madrid had been more specific in naming the creators and editors of the stories he referenced.  Most citations simply lay the blame for mishandled characters at the feet of their publisher, but more often than not he doesn't even identify which publisher was responsible for a character's woes.  Maybe it's just a by-product of earning my degree in history, but I felt this was relevant information that the reader shouldn't have to supplement on his or her own.  After all, it was individual men and women who made the choices about the content of the issues that hit the stands; Madrid suggests by omission of their names that some faceless order simply decreed how things would go.

Also conspicuously absent are any insights from anyone within the industry.  A spattering of quotes taken from previously published interviews appear, but it seems that either Madrid was uninterested in, or more likely unable to, interview anyone for the purpose of this book.  It may not seem to matter, but it gives this the feel of one of those "unauthorized biographies," where the subject is not actively represented to defend against any accusations against it.

Madrid bandies about spoilers for characters's fates throughout.  You may never have read a single comic book featuring Ms. Marvel, and while Madrid may rouse your interest, he will likely quash it by the book's end, because there's a sense there's nothing for you to find in the material itself that he hasn't already told you.  So, while this is written with the non-enthusiast in mind, it rather perversely lessens the need some readers will feel to explore the subject material for themselves.

Finally, it's worth mentioning that Madrid's scope is largely confined to a few characters from the DC Comics and Marvel Comics rosters; indie characters are largely ignored.  And, strangely, Madrid discusses Batman as much as, or more than, any other character throughout.  Batwoman, Catwoman, Batgirl and Wonder Woman are all evaluated vis a vis their relationships with the Caped Crusader.  Which, really, is ironic given that Madrid argues throughout that women characters have been unfairly defined by the sensibilities of their male creators for their male readership.

Addendum
DC Comics is celebrating the 600th issue of Wonder Woman by giving the Amazonian a new costume.  There's a brief blog entry from How Stuff Works about it here.

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