Wednesday, 3 June 2015

My Favourite Female Superhero

Another article I wrote for online magazine Journey Planet, for their superhero issue - #21 - in April 2015. Prepare for role models and Dazzler confessions.

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I found this a much harder question than I ought to have. By rights I should be offering up a character that I’ve followed closely over the years. Someone like Kitty Pryde, who started as a bit of an audience-identification figure in the X-Men, and very much the underdog in her early stories. She had to use every bit of ingenuity to survive encounters with Sentinels, the Hellfire Club and other-dimensional demons. Issue #165 of Uncanny X-Men, when she and her fellow mutants are facing an awful death thanks to the alien Brood eggs inside them, has a wonderful sequence of Kitty facing her impending death-by-body-horror with a very real sense of grief, outrage and finally bravery. She was also a bit of a skinny teenage geek like many of her readers, and seemed to speak for them in the moving ‘four-eyed flat-chested brat’ speech that closed New Mutants #45, following the suicide of a bullied student. Kitty was just like us in a lot of ways.

Or maybe I should say it’s a character that’s grown and matured over the years, someone who’s bucked gender stereotypes. Somebody like Susan Storm Richards, the Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four. Originally the Invisible Girl, she was inevitably the hostage of many an early FF villain, starting with the Sub-Mariner in issue #4 and Dr Doom straight after in issue #5. But when I was regularly reading the FF in the 80s, writer-artist John Byrne saw the potential both in Sue’s powers and her strength of character. A classic story-arc from issue #279 to #284 showcases just how cool her forcefield ability is, and also marks her long overdue change of name to the Invisible Woman, no longer the token girl hostage.

Maybe I should choose a solo female character, someone who started out in their own ongoing series, rather than as ‘the girl in the team’. Someone like Dazzler - no, shut up, her early comics are actually alright, actually. There’s one where she absorbs all the energy of Black Bolt’s sonic shout and uses it to blind Galactus, I think. OK, better example then - Jessica Jones from Alias. Now there’s a complex, ‘real’ female superhero character with a great back story, cleverly inserted into existing Marvel canon retroactively by writer Brian Michael Bendis.

But you know what? None of them are my gut-reaction Favourite Female Superhero. When I thought about it, really sat down and thought about who I love the most, she wasn’t a Marvel character like the others. She wasn’t even someone that I’ve read a lot of. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Supergirl is my favourite female superhero purely because of one single issue, and that’s not even her own comic. It’s Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, popularly known as the ‘Death of Supergirl’, in case the cover left you in any doubt.
When Superman is ambushed by the all-powerful, universe-destroying Anti-Monitor, he screams in agony. His cousin Supergirl is the only one who can hear his cry over the pitched battle, and she lays into the Anti-Monito without hesitation. She freakin’ rescues Superman. And then proceeds to mightily wail on the Anti-Monitor single handed, even though she knows it means her death. That’s a proper superhero right there, female or otherwise. And all this while carrying off a tricky headband-and-hockey-skirt costume combo. Beautifully scripted by Marv Wolfman and drawn by the legendary George Perez, I fell in love with Supergirl and then had to mourn her all in the same issue.