The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson

The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters From Comic Book History is a fun, informative, and inspiring encyclopedia of female characters from the comic books of 1930s to the 2010s. Each character description includes an illustration, the name of their creator, information about their first appearance, and where to find their comics now.

Each decade from the 1930s on is represented, and the women featured include many heroines of color as well as LGBTQ heroines. It’s fascinating to see how characters evolve through time and how art styles changed decade by decade. Each decade gets one “Icon of the Decade.” While many characters are well-known, other are a delightful surprise, like Torchy Brown, a Black woman in a comic strip of the same name written and illustrated by a Black woman (Jackie Ormes). The surprise factor here is that this strip, which tells the story of a young woman who moves from the South to Harlem, dates from 1937.

Torchy plans to get in line early for a job

Here’s a random sampling of some of the heroines you’ll find in these pages, both well-known and obscure.

Meet Maureen Marine, a tween girl who lives with mermaids and rides sea turtles as she rules the seas from her underwater city of gold! May I introduce the barely dressed Vampirella, who has a blonde twin sister named Draculina? Admire the independent and resourceful Gail Porter: Girl Photographer, who fights werewolves, Nazis, and the Mob using her investigative skills! Give an “awwwww” to Street Angel, a homeless thirteen-year-old who fights ninjas using nothing but a skateboard! Fight conformity with Penny Rolle, of Bitch Planet!

black and white drawing of Street Angel on her skateboard

Every character is given thoughtful but also funny analysis. The author talks about the character’s history in context with what was happening in comics as an industry, and any ways in which the character left a lasting mark. She also talks about both problematic and progressive aspects of characters. It’s a fascinating examination of how cultural ideas about race, class, gender, and sexuality are explored in both independent subculture and mainstream culture.

Maureen Marine is crowned queen of the underwater realm

This collection does include some nudity and quite a number of heavily sexualized characters that were primarily marketed to men, so it’s not for kids. It also contains a few characters from comics that were marketed as porn/erotica. Ultimately, it’s the mix of characters as well-known as Wonder Woman and as obscure (and body positive) as Pudge (from Pudge: Girl Blimp) that make this collection so informative, so fun, and so special. This book would make a great gift for your comics loving friends, but you’ll want to keep a copy for yourself too!

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The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen by Hope Nicholson

May 2, 2017

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