Coming of Age With Super Powers

Coming of Age With Super Powers

A review of Mariko Tamaki’s Supergirl: Being Super (DC Comics, 2018).

By Derek Newman-Stille

Canadian comic writer and artist Mariko Tamaki has frequently explored coming of age and that fascinating experience of being between childhood and adulthood in comics like Skim and This One Summer. She shows an incredible ability to draw her readers into those moments in our own past where we were in that awkward state of transition between childhood and adulthood and we sought out our own identities. in Supergirl: Being Super, Tamaki unites the awkward time of questioning identity in our teen years with the figure of the superhero… another figure for whom identity and transformation are a central issue.

We all remember what it was like to be a teenager and feel like we are in the wrong skin and like we don’t fit into our society… but that is magnified for Kara Danvers, a girl who just got her first pimple and exploded it all over her bathroom…. literally. Along with her friends, the young lesbian Dolly and track star Jen, Kara is seeking out what it means to be a teenager… but she is still holding back a secret from these friends. It turns out that her feeling of alienation comes from actually being an alien. Kara is from another planet.

Tamaki frequently explores the idea of being an outsider and what it feels like for a teen who is treated as though she doesn’t belong… as though her entire existence is at conflict with the world around her. In Kara Danvers, Tamaki is able to explore what it means to ‘pass’, keeping an identity secret from friends, teachers, and all of those around her, what it means to worry about being a danger to everyone around her, coping with post traumatic stress, exploitation, rejection from family, and the death of a classmate… along with the desire to do something to make this world a better place. Tamaki’s Supergirl is someone who holds onto the idea of hope that people will become better even when she is constantly faced with disappointment from a human race that is still shaped by bigotry, intolerance, exploitation, and hate.

To find out more about Supergirl: Being Super, visit https://www.dccomics.com/graphic-novels/supergirl-being-super-2016/supergirl-being-super

To discover more about Mariko Tamaki, visit http://marikotamaki.blogspot.com

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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/ .

Creating Community in Isolation

A Review of Julie Czerneda’s Riders of the Storm (Daw, 2008)
By Derek Newman-Stille riderss

Displacement is a factor that is prevalent in the lives of many people who have had to leave home for whatever reason. The finding of “home” is a nebulous, complex, and constantly changeable phenomena. Julie Czerneda explores the search for home in a foreign and confusing space in Riders of the Storm. On a planet with three self-aware and hugely biologically different species (the Om’ray, Oud, and Tikitik), agreements exist to keep the balance between these three peoples from shifting. Czerneda focusses on one group, a small band of travellers from the Om’ray who defy social customs by their biological differences. They threaten the balance that the Om’ray seek to maintain by the fact that they are different, that they represent change in a society that resists change and prefers to conceive of existance only in the form of living people (ignoring notions of the past). This small group of travellers are manifesting new abilities beyond the natural abilities of the Om’ray, which include telepathy, healing, collective dreaming.

The telepathy of the Om’ray has created a notion of fundamental racism. Since they are only able to telepathically sense each other, they cast all other non-Om’ray groups as “not real”. They see themselves as the centre of the world and believe that the world only exists where they are. They have created an isolated society both from other races, but also from other periods of time. They see their society as always having been the same, that history does not exist and isn’t worth exploring because it would suggest that things were capable of changing.

Aryl Sarc has been forced to become the leader for her small band of Om’ray, leading them on a journey that they believe to be impossible because it represents the possibility of change, something her society resists, and the necessity of shifting the status quo. Aryl doesn’t seek leadership, but she is a figure who represents change by her very body – she has abilities that are far beyond other Om’ray and the uncertainty within her body makes her more willing to accept uncertainties and therefore willing to confront challenges.

In a society that focusses on static notions of culture (the idea that things don’t change) and has an interest in keeping secrets, Aryl tries to make everything open to her people. She is interested in opening questions in a society that largely accepts things unquestioningly. She and her group of exiles finds an abandoned Om’ray village, one that presents the inevitability that things do, in fact, change. It represents a place for a new start and one that embodies history, opened secrets, and the challenge and potentialities of a new future that is different from the now. The uncertainty of this village, Sona, makes it an ideal place for a changeable people.

The group of exiles have to create a new sense of home in a place that is embodied by history, a history that speaks to them (literally through dreams about the past and figuratively through their need to interpret objects that have remained). Those who have been exiled out of a fear of change, now have to live with change and the flexibility, fluidity, and the general flux that is represented by an uncertain future. They seek to create an idea of belonging in a place that is different, that has history, and that keeps reminding them that things can and do change. They are haunted by the reminder that the land they are on predates them.

Aryl becomes more comfortable with ideas of change and with notions that would have been considered threats to her society. She is able to help her society to accept and be comfortable with ideas of chance. Aryl’s comfort with change makes her an ideal person to speak to people of other races – she is willing to speak to the Oud, the Tikitik, and even a human visitor to her planet. She is not restrained to notions of the Om’ray’s singularity and superior significance. She learns to be willing to accept that those who are “not real”, may in fact just be different and that intercultural communication, although uncertain and potentially confusing, is worth approaching. When trying to approach the Oud and Tikitik, she learns from the human visitor to her world, Marcus, that she will need to take into account both cultural differences and also biological differences since what is biologically normal for the Oud would be threatening for the more vulnerable Om’ray.

As outsiders wherever they end up going, Aryl’s group of exiles create community through their willingness to accept change, to create community through difference and to cooperate with others who their society traditionally resists or views as insignificant.

You can explore Riders of the Storm and other books of the Clan Chronicles series through Julie Czerneda’s website at http://www.czerneda.com/sf/clan.html .

April Aliens – Wednesdays throughout April

Throughout the month of April, Speculating Canada will be bringing you discussions of aliens every Wednesday.Alien mountie

Aliens in Canadian SF can be used to explore Canadian multiculturalism, the feeling of alienation, diaspora (being without a home), ethnicity, the clash of cultures, and the extents and limits of the human. Aliens are often created as a foil, an opposite, an other to humanity, but many Canadian SF authors (such as Julie Czerneda, and Douglas Smith) complicate this ideology and put the reader in the perspective of the alien, occasionally even alienating the reader from the experience of the ‘human’ by presenting human beings as alien in behaviour as the figure from a different planet.

Aliens call on us to question ourselves, to see ourselves from a new perspective and examine what it means to be human. They challenge us to look at ourselves in a distorted mirror. In the words of Canadian author Judith Merrill “We have met the Alien and it is us” (Afterward, Tesseracts).

Upcoming Interview with Silvia Moreno-Garcia on Wednesday January 16th

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a Mexican-Canadian author and editor and the owner of Innsmouth Free Press. I particularly enjoy her work because it often gives voice to those who are othered in society and I was really happy that she agreed to do an interview with me here on Speculating Canada.

Author photo of Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Author photo of Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In the upcoming interview, Silvia tells us about how stories influenced her life from an early age and prepared her to be a writer, about the different take that she has on the figure of the monster, the role of social oppression in SF, the power of transgressive writing, and ideas of home.

Here are some teaser quotes from our upcoming interview:

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “Do I write about monsters? See, to me when I think monster I picture Godzilla. Vampires, zombies…they seem so normal nowadays you’d expect them to live next door and drive a mini-van.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “My great-grandmother, when I was growing up, would tell me stories and in those stories witches and shape-shifters were as normal as the baker and the corner policeman. The monstrous and the mundane co-existed. I grew up with that vision of the world so to me, I’m probably more scared of the Mexican police than a vampire.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “One thing that has always bugged me, for example, is why do aliens always land in the USA? Why don’t people with menial jobs get featured in fantasy stories? Does the kid cleaning the kitchen pots not have an interesting tale to tell? That’s why I tell these stories. It’s the questions I’ve asked myself.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “Demand more than clichés in [SF] narratives and move beyond ‘exotic’ characters to add a dash of spice.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “If young readers don’t see spaces for them in fiction, they are not going to become writers and they are not going to tell their stories. They’ll go to another space where they feel welcome. We have to make them feel welcome.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “There are many, many voices that have amazing stories to tell and we haven’t even begun to mine them.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “I like not having to worry about certain things when I’m writing. Like if someone suddenly dies and comes back as a ghost, sure, why is that not fair game? Speculative fiction allows you to do that.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “There’s nothing like reading a help wanted ad in the newspaper that says “Secretary wanted. 20-35 years of age. Good looking” to get you on a feminist path. That’s what I grew up with. I couldn’t stand the macho culture around me. It was so stifling.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “Each story is different. I hope it’ll evoke a feeling more than a question.  I remember an e-mail I got once from an editor rejecting one of my stories saying he couldn’t buy it because, although it had made him cry, he didn’t understand it. I don’t want people to understand my stuff. I mean, they can if they want. But I’d like if they could feel it. When I was growing up and me great-grandmother told me stories I didn’t ask ‘why.’ Why did the witch turn into a ball of fire? Why is there a lion loose in the sierra? I accepted it all. But it did evoke feelings and it painted pictures in my mind.”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia: “I was always identifying with the bad ‘other’ guys.”

Join us this Wednesday January 16th  to hear about minivan monsters, Ms. Moreno-Garcia’s ability to ask tough SF questions about the people who are under-represented, and hear about some methods of helping SF to be more inclusive of the diversity of people.  If you haven’t already seen it, you can check out my review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s “A Handful of Earth” at https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/abandoned/ .

“By now, many of us could recite the list of tropes that we’ve decided make us us: stories that privilege the community over individual heroics; stories about open space(s), alienation, isolation; about the rare and precious coming together of isolated bodies to comfort each other in the dark and cold before separating once more…”

-Nalo Hopkinson – Final Thoughts (in Tesseracts Nine. Edge, Calgary, 2005)

Quote – Canadian Tropes – Privileging Community Over Individual Heroics