As a child in the 1980s, I knew few girls who liked comic books, especially of the super-hero type. I was that lonely but proud girl-venturer into the local comics dungeon. While admittedly, I had a fondness for the romantic situation comedies of the Archie universe (while never understanding exactly what made Archie deserving of B & V’s frantic desire), I was also entranced by the adventures of the few costumed she-heroes I was able to unearth: Wonder Woman, the Dazzler, even She-Hulk. I spent a good many hours re-reading their adventures, as well as drawing my own designs for uniforms I planned to wear after I enacted my plan to learn both extreme martial arts and study enough science to invent myself some super-gadgets.
In my early teens, I outgrew those costumed lady-bad asses and moved on to other fields of pop culture exploration (exploitation movies, swing bands, basic vices). But now, decades later and well into adulthood, something is drawing me back. It’s probably not the great maturing of the form, though some of the art and story-lines do seem a bit more adult than I remember (There is a Batwoman now and she is both a soldier and a “proud lesbian”).
My renewed interest probably has more to do with changes in me than in comic books. I’ve gone through more personal and professional upheaval in the past few years than I’d care to describe. So I’m finding some kind of stability and comfort, I think, in returning to the things of childhood. And comic books, offer both a simplicity and a sophistication that is working well for me, at least for today.
Though I love them, I’m not always driven to dip back into great childhood literature: books like The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland, are simply too hewn to childhood. Dorothy and Alice are fresh-faced children, the world before them is as unknown as it is both frightening and magical. But Super-heroes and heroines, have knowledge. Unlike hopeful wide-eyed children, caped crusaders are jaded. They are haunted by sad memories, broken relationships and past selves. So comic books are perform a neat trick. They integrate a broken, jaded adult self with the power and magic of childhood literature where anything is possible.
It is deeply heartening to experience art which blends the anguish of adulthood with the world of invisibility, super-strength and magic. I can’t say how long this renewed fascination will last, I may eventually long for fewer Multi-Verse spanning Robo-Monsters and more character development. But for the time being, there is something both comforting and inspiring in imagining that a grown man or woman, burdened with great failures of adulthood, can still wear a colorful costume and fly from the tops of skyscrapers. Judging by the success of recent films like The Avengers, I’m not alone in longing for this. But as a woman, comic books may be my only outlet for such magical heroism. At least until Hollywood decides to make a decent Wonder Woman movie.