The Supergirls by Mike Madrid was published in 2009 and has been on my shelves since 2010. Why did it take me so long to read it? I can’t really give a reason, but I’m glad to be able to mark it as read and move it off my shelves. It was a decent read but not one I feel a need to keep. Madrid starts with comic heroines of the 1940s in his decade-by-decade discussion, and the first chapters were surface-level descriptions that didn’t interest me. Despite a subtitle of “Fashion, feminism, fantasy, and the history of comic book heroines”, there’s not a lot of analysis. That improves in later chapters, but I don’t think it ever lives up to the subtitle.
The limited analysis reflects mostly on how comic book heroines haven’t received the same attention as their male counterparts. They’re often viewed as sidekicks and/or girlfriends in spite of their own powers, and those powers are generally understood to be inferior to the guys’ powers. He specifically mentions the abundance of women with “stand and point” powers where they can stay outside the men fighting and never mess up their hair. I get his point, but as I recall, the heroes also rarely look worn out or roughed up after a fight. I’ll admit that it’s been a number of years since I followed graphic novels like I did in the years that my brother and I would pool our allowances for weekly trips to the local comic shop.
The most interesting bits of information came when Madrid discussed the evolution of superheroines and how they reflected the times. I wish he hadn’t sounded so derogatory about artists like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears when he talked about how their sexualization influenced heroines like Supergirl in the late 1990s and early 2000s. His flippant dismissal of those women was unnecessary and distracted from his other points.
Given the subject, it’s a real shame that the cost of licensing didn’t allow for illustrations. I did, however, discover that Mike Madrid created a website with illustrations organized by chapter: The Supergirls Visual Guide.