I Read Comics Like A Girl is your weekly article talking about female representation in comics and all the best female-fronted titles out in print.
Representation means a lot of things. We talk about it a lot when we talk about equality and when we talk about media, and there are a lot of interpretations out there about its importance. It’s not that we need a character exactly like us to feel included—if that were the case, it would be nearly impossible to consume media in the quantities we do today. People who have been underrepresented in the media still find someone to relate to, sometimes based on physical qualities, sometimes based on emotional ones. And many times, it’s not about putting ourselves in a box, it’s about the box other people put us in. When little girls play Disney Princesses, the likelihood that the Princess they “are” has the same hair color as them is extremely high (which is extra difficult for the little girls who aren’t white, since there are only so many girls who can be Jasmine, Mulan, or Tiana). So when little girls enter a genre that has been more traditionally male-dominated, in perception or in reality, they’re expected to relate to the girl characters, to be them in their pretend games, regardless of whether they think Captain America is more like them than Black Widow on the inside. But in the absence of relatable female characters, girls have still consumed comics, and have found ways to see themselves in male characters. It’s been a necessity. And they’ve made compromises, allowing themselves to see representation in characters that are two-dimensional or that exist for the betterment of the male characters. But today that compromise is becoming less necessary as publishers and creators alike address the issue of representation, bringing us titles with a broad spectrum of relatable characters. Here’s what’s being released today:
Princess Leia #4
Leia has always been a complex character, especially in terms of representation. Starting as a literally-intangible (holographic) damsel in distress, she quickly established that the reality she inhabited may have been hostile but she was far from helpless. She’s been strong, powerful, and no-nonsense, even as she’s been allowed the emotional fragility of relying on her loved ones. She has been an authority figure and a victim of the slave trade, occupying all of her roles with the same obstinacies and dignity that make her Leia. In the movies, Leia was a carefully guarded person, and while her conflicts were apparent, she clearly chose not to express them. In this series, by necessity, the reader gets much more of this conflict, and by extension, more ways to relate to Leia. This issue is the 4th of 5, and possibly the most powerful yet. Watching Leia’s characteristic compassion and fairness as she relates to the people of her lost world, as their ruler and their peer at once, is incredible. Watching her relate to other women, and comparing it to the way she has related to Luke and Han, is fascinating. The art reflects this as well—her features are soft but her design is strong, and the diversity of supplementary characters enforces that in this future world, everyone comes from somewhere and they wear it on their face. Especially strong is the lettering, by Joe Caramagna, using apparent gibberish as a linguistic device when Nien Nunb speaks with Evaan, a multilingual communication style most well-known in Han and Chewie.
Help Us! Great Warrior #4
Is Great Warrior a response to everything I said about Disney Princesses? She is blue and potato shaped, your friends can’t claim they get to be her in the games because they’re blonde and you’re not (I’m not bitter, seriously). It’s surprising, but I’ve never felt more satisfied by a character design that is essentially a sassy blob with limbs. And while this is absolutely a humor comic, and an all-ages comic, there is plenty of room for the complexities of identity. In this issue, Great Warrior gets to explore what defines a person. In many ways, her role has seemed to be one dictated by destiny. That’s what we assume when we see an entity summoned by a spell or trance to protect a people. An unknown being like Great Warrior doesn’t have to come from anywhere in particular, she can be created specifically for her purpose, so discovering that she grew up outside of her current role adds to her character. Are we defined by how we are raised? What does our parentage mean, our culture of origin? Can we define ourselves outside of it? For a kid’s book, and without being too difficult to consume, Help Us! Great Warrior is a wonderful way to self-examine.
Sailor Moon Biker Gang art by Babs Tarr