Female Force Makes Real-Life Women the New Superheroes, But It Doesn't Quite Work
Female Force sounds like the title for yet another comic book about elite Amazonian commandos, carnage, and cleavage. In reality, it describes an on-going series of biographical comics that attempts to offer an empowering — and seemingly apolitical — look at some of the most successful women of our time.
And while it may be a noble intention, the series lacks the narrative tension we've come to expect from non-fiction comics; it will likely fail to stay apolitical, and one can't help but feel it will only limit the role of feminism in comic books.
To be fair, series architect Darren G. Davis has at least tried to stay balanced in his selections, and it is a commendable effort to highlight women from all walks of life and across political barriers. Liberals can enjoy stories about Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Tina "I am Liz F-ing Lemon" Fey while conservatives can find their voice in icons such as Nancy Reagan and Sarah Palin, the Alaskan lady of action.
Meanwhile, literature buffs can enjoy a story about that lying muggle J.K. Rowling while those looking for some consultation on how not to let a cooking empire crumble because of some petty criminal charges should look towards Martha Stewart's comic (Paula Deen should keep an eye on this one).
Of course, the women appeal to very different crowds in real life, but Davis argues, "You do not have to like either of them [Clinton or Palin] — but we wanted people to respect them for their accomplishments, rather than poke fun at them." When Clinton is told that her pantsuits mean she is "confused about her gender" while Palin is being obscenely mocked in an Eminem video, a little positivity would go a long way.
Unfortunately, that's not entirely the case.
The greatest challenge any biographical work has to contend with, and the one challenge these comics are seemingly failing at, is to take real life and make it less … boring. Certainly, comic books have always had a taste for the mundane. Characters like Static and Spider-Man are proof that even the everyday life of a superhero is compelling. However, Ms. Marvel's troubles with media publicity are only tolerable because they are complemented by her bashing in the skulls of Skrulls; Bader Ginsburg would only have one half of that (I hope).
And while it's a nice idea for comics to stay apolitical — rather than the weird, jingoistic tone they normally take on — that likely won't happen either. By balancing their renditions of Condoleeza Rice with their own version of Michelle Obama, the comics feel like they are playing it down the center. The more contentious success stories might not necessarily balance themselves out, though, because when feelings are heightened, the very definition of "success" becomes debated.
For example, the series has already created Sonia Sotomayor, who is perhaps the only summa cum laude Princeton graduate to have her competence so vociferously questioned. But suppose they get even more divisive and release an issue on someone like Ann Coulter or Wendy Davis (and her sneakers)? Of course, bravery is often commended with hate speech and lost revenue, so I doubt that's happening.
The scariest thing about this, however, is that it could actually perpetuates the belief that there should be a specific "feminist" comic series, as opposed to a feminist influence everywhere. I want the feminist voice in comic books, but I don't want it in just comics designated specifically for that purpose. I want to see it comics based on the X-Men, the Avengers, and Deadpool.
Keep in mind that there are writers doing this as we speak but, in creating comics specifically about "female force," the call for gender equality must not leave mainstream comics either.
A subtler approach to comics is most certainly welcome; ancient alien races destroying the universe and putting women in refrigerators gets old after about 70 years. However, simply because these comics now exist does not mean the problematic take on gender in mainstream comics can be forgotten.
That having been said, fingers crossed for a Fey/Poehler crossover. The villain? Evil Aziz Ansari.