If you’re a regular listener to Stella’s other podcast, you heard her interview Carolyn Cocca about this book back in the early summer of 2017. Cocca, an associate professor in the department of politics, economics, and law at SUNY Old Westbury, has put together an exploration of various woman superhero characters and put them up against the principles of feminism. Which, to be honest, is a very short description of this book and one that probably doesn’t do it justice.
What Cocca is doing in Superwomen is giving comic book heroines a thorough academic evaluation, starting with the only place you can, which is Wonder Woman, before moving on to Batgirl, the women of Star Wars, the X-Women, Buffy, and ending with Carol Danvers. Each chapter–which is really an essay on its own tied together with an introduction and a conclusion–thoroughly (and sometimes even painstakingly) looks at the character’s history both on the page and with society and fans as a whole. Some of said history is well-known to comics and pop culture fans (Wonder Woman’s de-powering in the 1960s and the backstory behind Barbara Gordon’s fate in The Killing Joke, for example), but for others, such as the long and complicated history of Carol Danvers, is pieced together through references to fanzine interviews, old comic book lettercolumns, and what must have been a maddening amount of time spent scouring message boards and Twitter feeds.
If there’s any criticism I have of the book, it’s that Cocca didn’t have to do a lot to convince me, personally, of the need for better representation of women in comics/science fiction, so there were many pages in which I was nodding my head and found myself skimming over points that I have heard made countless times on blogs and social media feeds over the past few years (even though Cocca knows that she can take the time to consider and elaborate on an argument with way more nuance and patience than the average io9 or Jezebel blog post can). I also think that she’s a little too praising of Joss Whedon, but that’s really just my personal bias showing through as with the exception of the Avengers films, I am not a fan of his work and think it’s quite overrated. So take that bit of criticism as you will.
Personally, I think that an audience wider than those in the nerdery needs to pick this book up and read it, taking the time to look at every argument and example and have a conversation with its pages and with themselves.
You should read this book if …
- You are a comics fan and remember buying crap like the Marvel Swimsuit issues when you were a teenager in the early 1990s (guilty as charged, in case you’re wondering).
- Are interested in pursuing any sort of academic study of popular culture and want to see how it’s done.
- Regularly read blogs like Jezebel or The Mary Sue and want to dive deeper into gender politics and popular culture.
You should also listen to Stella’s interview with Carolyn Cocca on Batgirl to Oracle Episode 141