Task #18: Read a superhero comic with a female lead
Book: The Adventures of Superhero Girl, by Faith Erin Hicks
Publisher: Dark Horse Books (2013)
Superhero stories can be fantastic (both literally and figuratively), but they can sometimes take themselves a bit too seriously, perhaps? What better way to enjoy a superhero story and simultaneously address real issues than through a parody, then? Faith Erin Hicks’ The Adventures of Superhero Girl accomplishes exactly that, and teases quite a few laughs along the way. Originally a children’s comic serialized in The Coast paper (and later published online in its entirety), Hicks’ work consists of a series of vignettes exploring the day-to-day adventures and mishaps of Superhero Girl—a 20-something Canadian girl who is trying to establish herself as a superhero and also navigate normal life.
What initially drew me to The Adventures of Superhero Girl was Hicks’ aesthetic style, since as a comic reader, I tend to be very picky about visuals. Relatively simple, Hicks’ style is fun and easy on the eye; it also lends support to the comedic tone of the story. Although the original was in black-and-white, this edition proves that the art is a great match for colorist Cris Peter. His palette is bright and fun, and his use of Ben-Day dots is a nice homage to the tradition of comic design. Another interesting feature of this graphic novel is its horizontal layout, retained from when it was a newspaper comic. At first, this made it seem larger than standard graphic novels, but upon comparison, it has exactly the same dimensions (even in hard cover). There is an average of five to ten panels per page, which are clearly divided and spaced. It should be noted, however, that Hicks makes a sharp shift in layout: in the first twenty pages or so, the panels are divided only by lines, and take their aforementioned form only after that. This would not have been too noticeable, had it not been done right in the middle of a story. As a result, difference is clear and slightly uncomfortable on the eye.
Another issue that came up from time to time was the lack of division between the vignettes. The Adventures of Superhero Girl is a collection of vignettes, telling episodes from the life of Superhero Girl. The stories are loosely connected chronologically, and have certain motifs present throughout (e.g. Superhero Girl’s search for an arch nemesis, her jealousy of her big brother’s success, etc.), but sometimes reading at the comic’s brisk pace, one can miss the ending of one story until well after the start of the next one. This is partially due to the difference in the stories’ length. While most are multiple-pages-long, others might last for only a page. Here, Hicks’ lack of clear transitions works against her. Although this would have made sense in the original format, in a compilation, this is often confusing and, in the case of the story’s abrupt ending, annoying. In that sense, The Adventures of Superhero Girl cannot be called a proper graphic novel; a collection of short stories would be more appropriate, as short stories can follow the same characters and themes, but do not have to follow any particular order, or be limited to a single plot.
While The Adventures of Superhero Girl has a number of stylistic troubles,, its real strength lies in the content of the narrative itself. While successfully parodying established superhero tropes, Hicks also tells a story about a girl coming of age. Superhero Girl is in her early twenties, living away from home and struggling to establish herself as a superhero—not very successfully—while balancing that with her “real” life. Even while battling ninjas and monsters, she needs to think about finding a job and making new friends, although at one point she admits to having forgotten how to deal with anyone that she doesn’t need to punch. It doesn’t help that her older brother has a far more successful—if conventional—superhero career, and she constantly feels obligated to prove herself and crawl out of his shadow. Her awkwardness and unceasing determination makes for a relatable heroine, one that both the intended audience (8-14) and older readers (especially those of us in our early to mid-twenties who are just beginning on the path of adulthood) will enjoy.
While unbalanced and not well-transitioned from a serial into a graphic novel, The Adventures of Superhero Girl provides for a fun and interesting read. Its strong visuals and thoughtful—often hilarious—content redeem it. While I am not sure that I will ever come back to it, I still find myself satisfied with having read it.