February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Comics and Graphic Novels: Strong Female Protagonists Win the Day

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Step aside, boys! The ladies are running the show in these comics and graphic novels that feature strong female characters in leading roles.

DECONNICK, Kelly Sue. Captain Marvel, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. illus. by Dexter Soy, Emma Rios, and Filipe Andrade. Marvel. 2014. pap. $1.95 each.

Captain MarvelCarol Danvers is a longtime Marvel character who got a well-deserved promotion from Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel two years ago; as Captain America says to her in a quiet moment in the kitchen of Avengers Tower, “You have led the Avengers. You have saved the world. Quit being an adjunct… Take the mantle.”

Strong leading ladies are rare in superhero comics, but Carol has been so successful that she has her own following in real life, a loose-knit fan group called the Carol Corps. She’s a skilled pilot who can fly without a plane to the edge of the atmosphere, and while she battles dinosaurs and spaceships on the job, she also has a real personal life and is intensely devoted to her friends. Like most Marvel superheroes, Carol has a complicated backstory that ties in with other comics and characters, but readers don’t need to know it to enjoy this series. Anything that’s needed for the story is explained along the way.

Captain Marvel 2014Marvel started renumbering the series with a new issue #1 in 2012, when Carol became Captain Marvel, and they have published two collected editions. In the first, which collects issues 1-6, Carol travels back to 1943 and fights aliens alongside the all-woman Banshee Squadron, then shoots forward to 1961 and tangles with a group of women pilots who want to be part of the Mercury program. In the second volume, she discovers an undersea trove of wrecked planes and boats that comes alive and becomes a Transformer-type robot. The second story in this volume starts out as a breezy tale of Carol going through a complicated day, then takes a turn for the serious when her doctor tells her she has a brain lesion (which may be the work of an enemy who is trying to weaken her).

The series was rebooted again after issue #17, starting with a new #1 in March. DeConnick stays on as writer, and this time she is sending Carol to space to join up with the Guardians of the Galaxy—who just happen to be getting a film of their own next summer.

Ms MarvelWILSON, G. Willow. Ms. Marvel. illus. by Adrian Alphona. Marvel. 2014. pap. $24. ASIN B00I4BXW3E.

Kamala Khan is the 16-year-old daughter of Pakistani immigrants. She is also an Avengers fan who writes stories about her favorite superheroes rescuing magic ponies. She mostly obeys her strict Muslim parents, she worries about her popularity and her looks, and she has a sharp eye and a biting wit.

Kamala is a normal teenager until the night she sneaks out of her house to go to a party. Things go awry, and as she runs home, a mysterious fog rolls over Jersey City and Kamala has a strange vision of Carol Danvers and other Marvel superheroes, and some oddly cute animals, singing a folk song. When Carol asks Kamala who she wants to be, Kamala replies, “I want to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated. I want to be you. Except that I would wear the classic, politically incorrect costume and kick butt in giant wedge heels.” Kamala gets her wish, but she struggles not only to master her superpowers, but also to know when to use them.

While Captain Marvel is an adult comic that is accessible to teenagers, Ms. Marvel is written and drawn for teenagers. It’s set in their world and deals with teenagers’ concerns, such as fitting in with friends and breaking away from parents. Alphona’s art is looser than most superhero comics, and there is plenty of sly humor in the background details, such as Kamala’s breakfast cereal, which is labeled “GMO Flakes: Listen to your gut, not the lawsuits!”

Three issues of this comic have been published so far, and the first collected edition is scheduled for the end of September.

NOVGORODOFF, Danica. The Undertaking of Lily Chen. First Second. 2014. pap $29.99. ISBN 9781596435865.

Undertaking of Lily ChenThe title character in this book is supposed to die, but she didn’t get the memo. Deshi Li is a security guard at an airbase; one night his brother, Wei, pays him a drunken visit and is killed in an accident. Deshi’s family blames him for the death and sends him to find the corpse of a woman to be buried with Wei, so he won’t spend the afterlife alone. Even with the help of a professional grave robber, Deshi can’t find a fresh corpse.

Lily, meanwhile, is the daughter of a farmer and is desperate to escape her rural existence. When Deshi’s quest leads him to her home, Lily runs away with him, hoping to find her rich cousin in Beijing. Deshi is a bit of a sad sack, but Lily pushes him forward, prodding him toward what she thinks will be a better life. Eventually Deshi does try to kill Lily, but they end up falling in love instead, and it is Lily who comes up with a way out of their dilemma. Sharply drawn characters and beautiful watercolor landscapes make this book a joy to read. (There are a few sexual situations, but nothing explicit.)

EDGINTON, Ian. Brass Sun. illus. by I.N.J. Culbard. S. & S. Dec 2014. Tr $25. ISBN 9781781082843.

Brass SunBrass Sun is a quest story with a twist: The world of the story is a giant orrery, a mechanical universe of metal planets rotating on long arms. The universe was created by a blind watchmaker and designed so that all the inhabitants of all the planets would have to work in harmony. To ensure that no one group would dominate, he gave the people of each planet a part of the key that operates the brass sun at the center of the universe. Human nature being what it is, however, some of the planets have taken the keys of others and are causing strife. At the same time, the brass sun at the center of the universe is winding down and the planets on the periphery are starting to freeze up. The hero of the story is Wren, a young girl who is sent off by her grandfather, as his final act, to retrieve the pieces of the key and hopefully save the universe. This comic originally ran in the British science fiction comic 2000AD and is being reformatted and re-released for American readers. The first issue will be out at the end of May, and a collected edition is planned for December.

LumberjanesELLIS, Grace, and Noelle Stevenson. Lumberjanes. illus. by Brooke Allen. BOOM! Studios. 2014. Vol. 1 ASIN B00JFEH2GC.

Lumberjanes is a good old-fashioned girls’ adventure comic, set in a summer camp and featuring not one but five girls–or, as they are described on the camp sign, “Hardcore lady types”–in the lead roles. The story jumps right into the action with the Lumberjanes fighting a pack of three-eyed foxes out in the forest. It seems that some sort of supernatural game is afoot, although it’s not entirely clear what, as there is only one issue of this comic out so far. What is clear is that this comic is going to be a lot of fun, with snappy writing and an energetic art style that is a great fit for the goofy characters, including the cheerful, ax-wielding camp director.

Visit Brigid and her fellow bloggers at Good Comics for Kids, at slj.com.

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Brigid Alverson About Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, the editor of the Good Comics for Kids blog, has been reading comics since she was 4. She has an MFA in printmaking and has worked as a book editor and a newspaper reporter; now she is assistant to the mayor of Melrose, Massachusetts. In addition to editing GC4K, she writes about comics and graphic novels at MangaBlog, SLJTeen, Publishers Weekly Comics World, Comic Book Resources, MTV Geek, and Good E-Reader.com. Brigid is married to a physicist and has two daughters in college, which is why she writes so much. She was a judge for the 2012 Eisner Awards.

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