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My favorite comic stories that star women? That's easy. Of course I love Bryan Q. Miller's run on Batgirl , but long before Stephanie Brown took up the pointy-eared mantle, there was Sailor Moon.
At the time I didn't realize just how good I had it with Sailor Moon. By the third arc, the cast featured no less than ten female leads – each with her own personality, her own strengths and flaws. And that's not even counting the often excellent supporting female characters and female villains.
I wouldn't have called myself a feminist back then. I hadn't considered how many, or how few, women appeared in popular entertainment. I'd never heard of the Bechdel test. I was still young enough to be embarrassed by the fact that I liked "a kid's show". Yet Sailor Moon drew me in despite myself.
I liked Sailor Moon because it was filled with interesting characters and compelling storylines. The comic was even better than the show in many ways, since it condensed the stories down to their essence, filtering out the fluffy monster-of-the-day episodes and leaving behind the meaty, interesting stories of heroism and self-sacrifice. (On the other hand, the comic didn't have the music, or Ogata Megumi voicing my favorite character, so it was something of a trade off.)
Every character in Sailor Moon was undeniably powerful. Each had her moments to shine, each had her moments of weakness (or in the case of Sailor Venus, her moments of sheer insanity). The third arc was my favorite, with Sailor Uranus instantly capturing my heart. I hadn't even applied the word "bi-sexual" to myself yet, unless it was preceded by the words "I'm not really " and followed by "I just find some girls attractive." But Sailor Uranus, undeniably cool, androgynously gorgeous and secretly tormented, was also fictional – and therefore safe to crush on. I thrilled to the chemistry evident between her and Usagi and fell head-over-heels in love with her when she bestowed on the younger girl a forbidden kiss.
It wasn't all romance and flowers, though. The young women were faced with hard decisions upon which rested the fate of the world, or even the universe. In the end, it was never raw power that won the day: it was their loyalty, their compassion and their capacity for self-sacrifice. In an age where cynicism is applauded and and themes like the power of love are regularly sneered at, Sailor Moon is unashamedly, unabashedly filled with stories of redemption and hope.
Years later, when I discovered American superhero comics, I searched for the one , the character I could fall in love with, the character I could definitively say was my favorite. One of the first DC comics I encountered was Young Justice, a run that many young women love to this day, yet has never been collected in its entirety. Once again I didn't realize how good I had it, since YJ featured a balanced team of awesome male and female characters, each of whom was equally important to the team as a whole. When I moved on to other titles, though, Empress, Secret, and the former Arrowette were all left behind in the pages of Young Justice, while Impulse, Robin and Superboy ended up in the Teen Titans. Wonder Girl was the only female to make the transition, and she was suddenly far more angry and far less interesting.
All the YJ girls were fantastic, and I loved them dearly, but none of them were the one. I began to branch out and read other titles, a few of which starred women, but most of which starred men. It was the opposite situation from Sailor Moon and one that I was increasingly realizing was the norm across many forms of media. The current iteration of the Justice League is the perfect example: seven members, one woman, one non-white man. It's kind of a microcosm of mainstream superhero comics as a whole. There are plenty of male characters to love. I like Batman, at least in some of his many portrayals across multiple comics. I adore Robin – every one of them. But it wasn't until I picked up Bryan Q. Miller's Batgirl that I fell in love all over again.
Stephanie wasn't cool like Haruka. But she was everything I wanted in a superhero: compassionate, brave, loyal, smart and funny. Her growth was organic; her relationships – with her mother, with Oracle, with Wendy, with Damian, with Supergirl, with her classmates, with the handsome police officer who kept showing up at her crime scenes – developed in emotionally believable ways.
Plus, she kicked ass.
Steph was the one. Not because I wanted to be with her, not the way I'd wanted to be with Sailor Uranus. Not because I wanted to be her, though I would love to have even half her strength and compassion. She was the one because she felt real. She felt like someone I wanted to hang out with.
She felt like a friend.
And, like Sailor Moon, the pages of her stories were filled with themes of hope and friendship – never trite or saccharine, just unfailingly positive, even in the face of darkness.
The Final Squeak
I'll bet a lot of you are feeling nostalgic for Sailor Moon, now. Me too! So, I hunted down one of my favorite versions of the opening to share with you.