Wonder Woman! The True Story of American Superheroines. Directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan. Harriman, NY: New Day Films, 2012. 55 minutes.
She Makes Comics. Directed by Marisa Stotter. Los Angeles: XLrator Media, 2014. 70 minutes.
Comics is a field notorious for marginalizing, objectifying, and trivializing women—as creators and on the page. Therefore, it is essential and critical that we acknowledge, share, and recognize the myriad ways in which women have been integral to the vibrant lives of characters, storylines, and popular culture as a whole. The two films reviewed here offer an important analysis of the relationship between gender, society, and the role of superheroines.
Strength, power, and beauty are all features that describe the iconic Wonder Woman as well as numerous other American superheroines. It is not often that we come across a documentary film that educates, entertains, informs, and inspires its viewers. Wonder Woman! The True Story of American Superheroines directed by Kristy Guevara-Flanagan provides a landscape into the world of this DC Comics character as well as other influential superheroines. As a documentary, it explores the ways this genre can be used in various classroom settings, the role of women represented in the pages of comic books, the women who are creators of comic books and individual characters, and the impact on US culture more broadly.
What is unique about this film is its accessibility to a wide variety of audiences; whether it is reaching the academic K-12 population or a college student or the excited fangirl/boy, each can find something of interest. Specifically, in the academic realm it covers a range of disciplines such as gender and women studies, media studies, communication studies, and of course comic book studies. Outside of the academy, the film speaks to non-academics. For those who are simply fans of Wonder Woman and other comic book characters, the film offers an additional voice to celebrate, build networks, and have informal discussions that are not relegated to a classroom. All in all, it tells the stories that are outside the box, is applicable to real life, and engages with diverse female character representation in comics and popular culture.
It also asks what and who a hero is as well as what a hero does. This is essential, considering Wonder Woman along with numerous other superheroines in relation to such topics as politicizing feminism, inclusion of the growing readership of women and different racial and ethnic groups, and the extent to which readers connect to the character. Additionally, the film engages with varying dynamics of womanhood, sexuality, and female empowerment by showing that femaleness can take many forms while it pushes the boundaries of how women are represented in comics and popular culture. Interestingly, what Guevara-Flanagan also does well is highlight how over time Wonder Woman transforms and is portrayed outside the comic book.
This film complements such books as Mike Madrid’s The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines and lays the foundation for Deborah E. Whaley’s Black Women in Sequence: Re-inking Comics, Graphic Novels, and Anime and Carolyn Cocca’s Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation.1 Additionally, Wonder Woman! as a film is important as it supplements and complements female voices in other media outlets like the Women’s Media Center, the online magazine Bitch Media, and the podcast Misty Knight's Uninformed Afro.
Featuring women who occupy a different role in the world of superheroines, Marisa Stotter’s documentary She Makes Comics explores the long existence of women creators, artists, and writers in comics. Through interviews and archival materials, viewers learn about creator/artist Ramona Fradon (Metamorpho and Aquaman), cartoonist Jackie Ormes (Torchy Brown), Wendy Pini (illustrator and creator of Elfquest), writer and editor Kelly Sue DeConnick (Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet), and many others.
As a documentary, She Makes Comics shows how women and girls have been made invisible and considered “other” in this milieu while also disrupting the notion that women and girls do not belong. Women have historically always been a part of the comic book arena and contribute to its diverse readership and consumership. For example, cosplay has served as an entry point. As a result, many fandom cultures have been created not only to recognize the multiple identities that women offer the field but also to push for acceptance in society. Stotter, moreover, contributes to the diversity of comics by showing us that this genre is much more than white and male, but incorporates other races and genders.
She Makes Comics is a documentary that would complement Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s Wonder Woman! in that they both center women’s bodies within and outside the comic book narrative and foreground women’s voices. Additionally, She Makes Comics and the feminist and women’s liberation movement should be discussed side by side since they both impact the field of comics and challenge the place of women in the workforce and popular culture as a whole.2 Through the representation of so many women, Stotter makes sure that we as viewers and consumers not only value comics as education and entertainment but also encourage people to support the creativity of the writers and artists. Overall, this film provides numerous narratives that showcase the work that women have done and continue to do within the field of comics. The spaces and lanes that many of the women have carved out may make some uncomfortable, but ultimately these paths allow for the existence of marginalized voices to be heard and acknowledged.
1 Mike Madrid, The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines (Minneapolis: Exterminating Angel Press, 2009); Deborah E. Whaley, Black Women in Sequence: Re-inking Comics, Graphic Novels, and Anime (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2015); Carolyn Cocca, Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016).
2 Anne Teresa Demo, “The Guerrilla Girls' Comic Politics of Subversion,” Women's Studies in Communication 23, no. 2 (2000): 133-56; Jeffrey A. Brown, “Gender, Sexuality, and Toughness: The Bad Girls of Action Film and Comic Books,”in Action Chicks: New Images of Tough Women in Popular Culture, ed. Sherrie I. Inness (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 47-74; Julie D. O'Reilly, “The Wonder Woman Precedent: Female (Super)Heroism on Trial,” The Journal of American Culture 28, no. 3 (2005): 273-83.