Sexist Oppression is her Kryptonite

A Review of Faith Erin Hicks’ The Adventures of Superhero Girl (Dark Horse Books, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Image of Superhero Girl courtesy of http://www.adventuresofsuperherogirl.com/archive/

Image of Superhero Girl courtesy of http://www.adventuresofsuperherogirl.com/archive/

The life of Faith Erin Hicks’s comic book superheroine Superhero Girl is marked by identity crises, many of which are inspired by a figure who has become her arch nemesis… and the arch nemesis of many women in fan communities, the man who thinks of women in fandoms as “fake geek girls”. The term ”fake geek girl” is one used by conservative males in the genre fan community to try to alienate women from fandoms. These are the same type of males who will approach women at cons and quiz them about their knowledge of fandoms in an attempt to “prove” they don’t belong there. It is another element of con sexism and “geek gatekeeping”.

Superhero Girl encounters geek gatekeeping when searching for an arch nemesis. She is approached by a man who quizzes her about various aspects of the superhero genre that he believes are canonical: asking if she can fly, asking for her origin story, telling her that she needs to have a tragic catalyst for her desire to become a superhero. When he discovers that “all” she can do is leap over tall buildings, lift heavy objects, and shoot rays from her eyes, he tells her “then you’re not a real superhero”. He tells her the rules she should be using to live her life like “Rule one: You gotta have a tragedy in your past that made you want to become a superhero. Two: you need a uniform complete with logo, although spandex is optional. And finally, of course, a villainous archnemesis.” He concludes by telling her “If you don’t follow the rules, you’re just some nobody in a mask.” Her arch nemesis excludes her from the very job that she is doing on a regular basis, superheroing, even though he, himself is not a superhero. She is subjected to geek gatekeeping from her own profession. Faith Erin Hicks is able to illustrate the pervasiveness of geek gatekeeping by abstracting it onto a superhero who similarly faces the existential crisis that many female fans have when subjected to alienating techniques by male fans who want to cast women as an inescapable Other.

With its blend of wit and play with the genre, Faith Erin Hicks’ The Adventures of Superhero Girl is a definite classic. Superhero Girl is a hero who can be just as empowered giving a homeless person spare change as from fighting a giant space monster… and just as disempowered by forgetting to put on her mask, leaving her cape at home, and having to deal with her arrogant corporate superhero brother Kevin as she is by supervillains who manage to put the whammy on her. Plus, she has to deal with those awkward moments of running into ninjas at the grocery store or when she is applying for jobs. But, her superheroic activities are so practiced and proficient that she has most criminals trained so that all she needs to do is tell them to “put it back” when they rob banks to defeat them.

Hicks’ Superhero Girl is not powerful because of her superpowers (of which she has many), but rather in her ability to be fundamentally human and to play with the superhero genre overall.

You can find out more about the work of Faith Erin Hicks at http://faitherinhicks.com/personal.html

You can discover more about Superhero Girl at http://www.adventuresofsuperherogirl.com/ .

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