This week, DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. announced the launch of DC Super Hero Girls, a multi-business channel campaign geared toward 6-12 year old girls that will include digital content, TV specials, toys, apparel, books and more. The line-up thus far features Supergirl, Bumble Bee, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and Katana, all fresh-faced and ready to discover their super powers.
While I deeply want this to be a huge success that draws young readers of all genders to comics, I vacillated between optimism and cynicism while reading the press release. Creating spaces in the superhero realm that are specifically welcoming to girls is an outstanding idea -- if done with the right intentions and execution. Yes, there are amazing female-friendly books out there, like "Lumberjanes," "Drama," and "Fiona and Cake," but the idea of creating a intentional gateway into capes for young female readers is exciting and long overdue.
I was a brave reader as a kid, and would devour everything I could get my hands on, from Stephen King to Judy Blume, from Jeff Smith to Neil Gaiman. But even for me, going into a comic book store and not having that one title that stuck its finger it my face from the shelf and shouted, "I am for you!" was hard. While I beat the odds by becoming the fan I am, I would've loved an invitation into superhero books. My hope for the young girls of today is that this will be a welcoming place for them, and I can't help but wonder -- will this new line mark the tipping point toward comics for everyone, or will it become a divide where an impressionable demographic of readers is left wanting more?
Please, please, please don't pink wash it.
From the small bit of key art that was released, everything seems in order here. The characters are in their standard uniform colors and are easily recognizable as younger versions of their adult counterparts. While I love pink as much as anyone, reinforcing the tired stereotype that a Thing For Girls must be in "girly" pastel colors is hopelessly outdated. Girls want variety. Look at the breadth of fiction in the rest of the YA market and you'll find everything from gritty, dystopian worlds to castles and crowns. Sure, girls want Cinderella. But we also want Katniss Everdeen.
Please, please, please have male peers.
Shockingly, girls don't just want to read stories about other girls. DC has some of the most recognizable characters in the world -- Green Lantern, Batman, Superman -- and their absence from an entire line would feel like a missing limb. It might even feel like someone thought those character's stories weren't considered important to female readers. Although many of the heroes in the Super Hero Girls line up are iconic in their own right, there are a couple that aren't well-known, especially to new readers.
I would love to see male characters occupy various roles in the lives of these young women -- friends, foes, fans, and confidants. In my worst nightmares, the only male characters are adults that tell the teens what to do, or act as love interests. Demonstrate that heroic camaraderie cuts across gender lines and that boys and girls can appreciate each other without wanting to make out.
Please, please, please don't exploit gender norms.
I know the frustration of being pigeonholed into what I should and shouldn't like based on my gender. It happened as a kid, it happens as an adult. It never goes away. One of my biggest fears about this project is that we'll see capable young women reduced to just another set of princesses. The adult versions of these characters have been popular for decades, and the reason why certainly isn't one-dimensionality.
The ways that comics have typically expressed femininity is through sexuality. With this line, there is an opportunity for creators to explore different aspects of female power and, if handled well, it has the potential to expand possibilities for female characterization throughout comics. Let these girls discover all of the multifarious aspects of their identities, including ones that may feel atypical -- I assure you, readers are ready for those stories.
Please, please, please let these characters look like actual kids.
In DC's press release they mention key concepts for the toy line, including "fashion dolls featuring strong, athletic bodies that stand on their own in heroic poses." While looking at the line-up art I noticed five incredibly similar physiques. When was the last time you looked at a group of pre-teen girls and saw that they all had the same body? If they want this line to appeal to kids, they need to embrace the awkward changes associated with this age, including a little bit of chubbiness, flat chests, developing chests and varying levels of physical maturity. Nobody can judge a body's health but a doctor, and showcasing the strength of any superhero is important. But strength does not equal sameness.
Two-fifths of the previewed cast are girls of color -- Katana and Bumble Bee -- but a quick Google search over DC's catalogue reveals a bevy of diverse female characters that would make wonderful additions. Wouldn't it be cool to see a young Renee Montoya as the eager school crossing guard? Or a gangly 12-year old Vixen with braces and an army of stray animals following her home? The line-up appears to be predominantly white, straight girls and I hope that DC recognizes that their mission to " to offer relatable and strong role models in a unique way" would be well-served by reflecting the uniqueness of their readership.
I do appreciate the age appropriate costume design, and can't wait to see the cosplay this inspires. In fact, it looks like Batgirl is wearing a little bat-shaped backpack and a hoodie with bat ears on it. While the hoodies have existed in Batman-mode for a while now, Batgirl's take and her backpack should be rushed into the product development phase and made in adult sizes...for very selfish reasons.
Please, please, please let these characters act like actual kids.
Properties such as "Adventure Time" and "Powerpuff Girls" have mesmerized audiences by embracing the spirit of childhood which, let's face it, sometimes means being a totally weird little monster. Yes, kids face tough issues which shouldn't be ignored, but it's also important to remember that audiences of all ages enjoy watching characters they love have fun. There's a reason why "My Little Pony" is so popular, and it's not because every denizen of Ponyville has the exact same outlook on and approach to life.
Please, please, please have a diverse team of creators.
This is an impressive undertaking and I have to believe that with the business acumen DC possesses, there are plans to thoroughly invest in a high quality creative team. Wouldn't it be awesome if they pulled from some existing YA heavyweights, such as Raina Telgemeier, Hope Larson, Gene Luen Yang or Jen Wang? An investment in strong talent doesn't just show that DC is ready to open the door to girls, it proves that its ready to kick that door down.
Please, please, please let this relate to the primary DC Universe.
The press release held a quote from DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson that included the phrase "just for girls." While that may just be shorthand for "we've worked long and hard to develop something that will appeal to young women," the words used are troublesome. Rather than being a "girls only" initiative, I hope that this will be a bridge and not an island. Girls don't need a separate universe where we go have our periods and talk about boys. We need to be part of the community. We need our stories, and stories geared to us, to exist out in the open as part of the big picture of comics, including DC's current continuity. The end game shouldn't be getting dollars from pre-teen girls, but inspiring those girls to become lifelong fans, and even creators. Let's usher them into this world and maybe -- just maybe -- they'll eventually build an even better one.