A.C. Wise is the author of numerous short stories appearing in print and online in publications such as Clarkesworld, Apex, Lightspeed, and the Best Horror of the Year Vol. 4. In addition to her fiction, she co-edits Unlikely Story, an online magazine publishing three issues of fiction per year with various unlikely themes. Follow her on twitter as @ac_wise.
by A.C. Wise
Anyone who knows me knows I have a weakness for comic books and superhero fiction. The traditional perception that comic books are for boys is slowly shifting, but the emphasis is on slow. Male superheroes dominate the box office, women who cosplay their favorite heroes are called fake geek girls, and we still have comic book creators today who say if women don’t like how they are portrayed (if they’re portrayed at all) in comic book pages well it’s too damned bad because comics aren’t for them anyway. So, in this installment of Women to Read: Where to Start, I’m going to shine a spotlight on women writing superheroes and proving there’s no sign on the genre door proclaiming ‘Boys Only’.
At this year’s Readercon, I had the good fortune to hear Sabrina Vourvoulias read an excerpt of her story “La Gorda and the City of Silver” from the anthology Fat Girl in a Strange Land. I was immediately hooked and hurried to the dealers’ room to grab a copy of the anthology. Vourvoulias’ La Gorda is several things very rarely, if ever, seen in mainstream superheroes: she’s a girl, she’s Latina, and she’s fat. She also embodies the best characteristics of the archetypical self made superhero. La Gorda has no special superpowers, but she sees injustice both in being told women can’t be luchadores and in the abuse of the powerless by the powerful. She strikes out on her own, ignores the rules, and fights for those who can’t fight for themselves. Another interesting element of “La Gorda and the City of Silver” is the way it underlines the importance of community, and presents a community solution to a problem, instead of relying on a lone hero or exceptional individual to save the day. La Gorda is powerful, but part of her power comes from her family, including the extended family of her friends and neighbors. Like the best superheroes, she’s the defender of her city, a city which informs her character and with which she is very much intertwined.
Jessica May Lin’s “Dark, Beautiful Force“, published in Daily Science Fiction, is a superhero team-up story that doesn’t follow the typical, easy route. It’s a story about fighting super villains, but it’s also a story or fighting personal anger, loss, and pain. It treats its vigilante heroes as first and foremost human beings, who can be hurt and broken, but who can also display incredible amounts of courage and are capable of great sacrifice. It sets itself apart from many superhero stories with a dose of grim reality; outside the pages of comic books, superheroes can’t always save the day.
E.L. Chen’s “Nocturne” from the anthology Masked Mosaic is another atypical superhero story, in that it may not be a superhero story at all. A mysterious, hooded figure flies through the city at night. The story’s main character very much wants to be that hero, and many inexplicable coincidences in his life hint that he may indeed be, but if he really was a superhero, if he could really fly, wouldn’t he know it? The story never provides a definitive answer. It’s a superhero story with a secret identity, leaving it up to the reader to decide whether it’s a mild-mannered tale with hidden superpowers, or a bittersweet story of someone wishing to be something they’re not, dressed up in superhero garb. All that, and it’s beautifully written to boot.
Last, but certainly not least, it would be impossible to talk about women and superheroes without mentioning Gail Simone. In terms of where to start with her writing, you can’t go wrong with Batgirl or Birds of Prey, which are among the few female-dominated mainstream comic titles out there. But consider this as well – Gail Simone may very well be a superhero in real life. She fights for the inclusion of more women in comics, both as creators and characters. She regularly smashes the fake geek girl myth and stands up to sexism with her awesome powers of wit and snark on twitter. She is even one of the founders of Women in Refrigerators, a website dedicated to tackling the trope of violence against women as a plot device, there only to move the male hero’s story forward. See? Definitely a superhero.
These four are only a small sampling of the women writing awesome superhero fiction. So tell me, who are some of your favorites?