28 January 2013

Wanted: A Few New (Girly?) Heroes

Rosie the Riveter and the new Captain Marvel:
Who says they can't make heroes like they used to?
A couple of months ago, inspired in part by a desire to explore new ways to tell military stories, I had a relapse into adolescent behaviors. I rediscovered comic books, a habit or hobby that I'd given up before high school. In those days, spending 50-cents on an issue of Spider-Man suddenly seemed far less important than putting a half-gallon of gas in my dad's car. Girls probably had something to do with it.

Through the years, I've kept all my old comics safe and dry. Moving the boxes from house to house was more an exercise in maintaining a connection with the past, than for any rational purpose or profit motive. Some of them are probably worth something, but not much.

During the past couple of months, I've taken an informal crash course on the current state of comic books. Not only did I want to explore how sequential art might be used to explore military-themed narratives, I wanted to be fluent enough to field superhero-related queries from my kids. Five-year-old Rain is big on Captain America and Batman, while 8-year-old Lena has been asking some uncomfortable questions, such as: "Why there aren't more girl heroes?"

(Sidenote: With last week's announcement from the Pentagon regarding women in the military, at least I no longer have to explain "why girls can't be can't do everything in the Army that boys can." I don't ever want to send my warrior-princess off to the combat branches, of course, but do I want her to live in a world in which she could if she wanted. Her choice, not mine.)

Don't get me wrong: Half-dressed and top-heavy super-damsels were OK for me, back in my hyper-hormonal teenaged days. As a father, however, I'd prefer to be able to direct my daughter's attentions toward more morally certain, more anatomically realistic, more wholesome characters than, say, Catwoman.

Back in the day,
Wonder Woman seemed
unnecessarily tied
to certain themes.
Before you cart out Wonder Woman as some sort of paragon of virtue, let's just say I'm a little queasy about some of the adult themes (click here for suitable-for-work exposition) that are, er ... historically "bound up" in her stories.

Of course, heroes change. That's why I'm trying to get up to speed. I think I've got Lena pre-sold on Captain Marvel, a recently re-launched Marvel Comics title featuring U.S. Air Force Maj. Carol Danvers. I've even found a tasteful Captain Marvel T-shirt for Lena, to compete with her brother's growing arsenal of heroic garb.

I'm also keeping a wary eye on the Huntress, who—according to a 2011 reboot of the DC Comics universe—is a daughter of an alternate-reality Batman and Catwoman.

Bottom line: I'd like Lena to have some heroes left, of either the fantastic or realistic variety, after she outgrows her devotion to dear old Dad.

When the time comes, after she's ready to move on from "My Little Pony" and "Superman Family Adventures," I'll put characters like Captain Marvel into Lena's hands. In the meantime, there are exciting possibilities in all-ages independent titles such as "Princeless" and "Molly Danger."

In a recent "Word Ballon" podcast interview, author and "Decoded" TV host Brad Meltzer mentioned that he's writing a couple of children's history books with his grade-school aged daughter. Together with artist Chris Eliopoulos going to focus on U.S. and world heroes, starting with Amelia Earhart. The series was partly inspired by a "Real Heroes" line of T-shirts Meltzer and Eliopoulos helped produce.

"I have two little kids," he says. "Whether I like it or not, they're picking heroes. I figured I might as well have a little say in that."

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