Superheroes Explain Feminism So You Don’t Have To

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It’s a good week for women in comics, which means it’s a good week for everyone because women make comics great.

Coming up on nearly a year in quarantine, there’s nothing that doesn’t make me nostalgic for the before-times. But this week’s selections in particular twinged my memories of great big wonderful comics conventions, and strolling artists’ alleys to discover fantastic new works I didn’t know I needed in my life. It’s reminded me of just how much I miss the act of browsing, just letting my mind wander as I gaze over tons of bright glittery colors and shapes until one thing grabs my attention — in this week’s case, some books I probably would not have gone looking for but now that I’ve found them can’t stop thinking about.

As always a big thanks to our friends at Phoenix for bringing these titles to our attention, and remember to support your local comic shop, wherever you may be.


OK UNIVERSE

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A perfect double-feature comes to us this week from Drawn + Quarterly, one an engrossing dramatization of a real-life story and the other more of an illustrated explainer-essay. Okay, Universe tells the story of Valérie Plante, the real-life Montreal reformer who stood up to entrenched patriarchy and became mayor of a major city, by adapting her story into that of a fictional political newcomer named Simone. The book traces Simone’s journey from community activist to candidate to victory, and presents her as a pure-hearted idealist who simply wanted to make the world a better place. The book does a nice job of capturing the weird unexpected quirks of an election campaign — one minute you’re talking about street trees and rent control, the next there’s a scandal about what kind of shoe you decided to wear that day — and it humanizes the (often exhausted) faces behind the candidate. The book’s a nice illustration of what it takes to run for office and win, at times reminding me of Clela Rorex, the outsider who ran for City Clerk in Colorado after being told women couldn’t hold office. She won that election and happened to be in the right place at the right time to stand up for equality in an early marriage-equality dispute (I wrote about her in my own book) and I hope Okay, Universe might inspire future heroines to do the same.


THE LEAGUE OF SUPER FEMINISTS

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That book pairs well with The League of Super Feminists, a well-paced feminism 101 primer that touches on representation, privilege, gender roles, capitalism, vulvae, invisible knapsacks — you know, all the stuff you’re tired of having to explain. It’s an excellent book to hand a young person (I’m thinking like 12 is maybe around the age that they’d really grasp the concepts?) but also a great explainer for college students new to these concepts or even adults who somehow have made it this far in life without having to engage with women’s experiences. Author and artist Mirion Malle does a great job of unpacking the often-unacknowledged baggage around tropey princess and superheroes, the harm of catcalling, and the necessity of acknowledging intersecting struggles. Also excellent is the use of empty space on the pages, providing plenty of room for a curious or academic reader to add their own notes as they go.

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The timing is excellent for an exhaustive, engrossing history of The Black Panthers, and this new book from 10 Speed Press is the eye-opener you need to understand one of America’s most important forces for liberation. This excellent work from David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson starts by establishing the foundation that made the party necessary — entrenched racism, toxic power structures, a government that was at best indifferent to and at worst an active participant in the suffering of Black communities. From there, we see the formation of the Black Panthers and meet the key figures who built it into the force for change that it became, with minimal mythologizing and over-simplification of those figures as heroes or villains. The book veers from moments that are triumphant to crushing with a pace that feels like a thriller, but it’s all true and all vital to know about and understand. (Also, bless their hearts for including an index, something that I wish more historical comics did!)

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MISERABLE CLOWNS, ANNIVERSARIES, AND SUPER WOMAN

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DC continues their Future State event with some excellent anthologies this week. For the next two weeks, we’ll be jumping ahead in time for (surprisingly lengthy!) adventures with the DC cast. This week we’ve got some Dark Detective stories, Robin Eternal, Green Lantern, and a particularly intriguing Wonder Woman story with absolutely gorgeous art.

Also good: An anniversary special with Chris Claremont, who’s been writing comics since the late ’60s. There’s a marvelous conceit to this one; Hela sends Dani Moonstar on a trip through time, intersecting with various Claremont storylines from the preceding decades, with different artists capturing the look of each era. And then there’s Haha, a new book from Image about miserable depressed abused grimy clowns. I do not want to take a look at it, but you might.

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