Comics are changing for the better. While women have been a part of comic readership since the beginning, mainstream comic companies haven’t always felt the need to put out books to entice female readers. But when incredibly successful female-led books like Ms. Marvel, Batgirl and Lumberjanes are bringing in more and more female readers of all ages, it just makes sense to keep making more books about ladies and for ladies. Truly, when the companies compete for female readers’ attention, we all win.
So if you’re aren’t a comic reader, where do you start? Where are some of these awesome lady-led books? Well, I’ve got three suggestions with the same basic theme: the guitar shredding, rock-tastic adventures in Marvel’s Spider-Gwen, DC’s Black Canary and IDW’s Jem and the Holograms.
All three books are built around reinventions of established characters — Dinah Lance in Black Canary, Gwen Stacy in Spider-Gwen, and Jerrica Benton in Jem. They also happen to be in all-lady rock bands, meaning there’s no Smurfette syndrome going down. That’s right, you can have more than one woman in a story and it won’t break the time space continuum.
If you’re new to reading comics, you also don’t have to worry about being too behind on these books; they’ve all launched in the past year (and the first Black Canary issue just came out this week). Within a few months, we’ve gotten these cool rocker girl comics that have each carved out their own little niche.
Dinah Drake Lance, AKA Black Canary, is a flat-out kung fu master, but our heroine is also known for her one super power — the ear shattering “canary cry.” With her powerful pipes and her iconic corset with fishnet stockings, it’s not that far of a stretch to imagine her as a rock star, right? That’s what Brenden Fletcher thought, too. While co-writing the Batgirl comic (set in Burnside, the Williamsburg of Gotham), Fletcher set up a side story about Dinah being flat broke and needing a job fast. What kind of job do you get in the hippest part of town? A music job, apparently. She connects with some musicians in town and before she knows it, Dinah is DD, the mysterious lead singer of the hit girl band Black Canary.
You don’t have to read Batgirl to understand Black Canary — it kicks off with Dinah on tour. We’re very early in the series, but clearly the main focus is on Dinah’s fear that she can’t stay out of a brawl. Nearly every night ends in a fight for her. This means full pages of awesome fight scenes for the reader (with amazing art by Annie Wu), but it’s not so great when she’s trying to do right by her bandmates. When something happens at the end of issue one that puts the group in real danger, Dinah decides she needs to protect her new sort-of family from whatever weird forces might come after them. I’m looking forward to seeing the band grow stronger and start to trust Dinah more. And for Dinah to do more punching.
Spider-Gwen (by writer Jason Latour and artist Robbi Rodiguez) is an alternate Spider-Man universe where Gwen Stacy is a drummer in an all-girl band and also the one who gets the spider-powers instead of Peter Parker. If you saw last year’s Amazing Spider-Man 2, you’ll remember how her story ends (spoiler: death by rapid deceleration). This comes right from the comics. The death of Gwen Stacy in 1973 is one of the quintessential examples of the Women in Refrigerator trope — the torture, assault or death of a female character simply to motivate a male character (in this case, Spider-Man) to action.
The reinvention of Gwen Stacy in Spider-Gwen is momentous because it’s really the one version that’s Gwen’s story, not Gwen as she pertains to Peter’s story. She’s the one with the powers, she’s the one struggling to balance her life, she’s the one making the quips, and she’s the one with the sleek costume. And she just so happens to also be a drummer in one of New York’s coolest up-and-coming bands. The fact that her band The Mary Janes consists of long-time Spider-Man characters Sophia Sanduval and Glory Grant (with Mary Jane Watson as the ambitious leader instead of Peter’s “other love interest”) in this universe is just the cherry on top.
JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS
Jem and the Holograms has always been about a girl and her band — namely shy Jerrica who can use her high-tech earrings to turn into pop star alter-ego Jem. The comic (by writer Kelly Thompson and artist Sophie Campbell) has the same basic plot of the ’80s cartoon but with a few key changes, including that Jerrica begins the story struggling with stage fright. She’s a great singer, a great songwriter, and enjoys the behind-the-scenes work, but going up on stage as herself is terrifying. It’s only when she inherits Synergy and creates her Jem alter ego that she can embrace the spotlight, but whether she can sustain that alter ego is yet to be seen.
Longtime fans of the cartoon can decide how they feel about the changes, but her story works for the setting they’re in now. The Holograms are an unsigned band as opposed to being signed onto the label Jerrica runs. The Misfits target them as their competitors thanks to a social media contest. IDW clearly understood bringing the story into the 21st century meant updating their style past the ’80s. The bands are still over the top, full of color, but in a way that feels new. Along with those changes, there are more diverse body types in the designs by Campbell and there are confirmed LGBT characters in the main cast. Were you a fan of Kimber and Stormer in the cartoon? Yeah, they’ve started a romance in this comic. And it’s adorable.
But you can’t talk about comics without talking about the art and man, is the art in these books fantastic. Each book has bright, vibrant palettes throughout, but the colors really shine when you get to the pages where their bands perform. Comics about music can be tough: The medium is so purely visual and simply writing lyrics as dialogue isn’t enough; you need to find ways within the medium to evoke the feeling of listening to great music. These three books succeed in no small part because the art ties so well into their band’s music.
With Black Canary’s colorist Lee Loughridge, Dinah’s iconic “canary cry” bursts bright yellow and pink on the panel. The Mary Janes’ lyrics seem to zap out like pink lightening in Spider-Gwen thanks to colorist Rico Renzi. And the effectiveness of the music sequences for Jem and the Holograms are in no small part due to M. Victoria Robado’s colors; the performances take up whole pages, the lyrics weaving in bubblegum pink through the panels for the Holograms and zig-zagging in green for the Misfits. You really can’t say enough about the color work in all three of these works — it’s a crucial aspect to what makes these books, pardon the pun, sing.
Like rock ‘n’ roll, the best comics are innovative, fun, and something you want to share with everyone. I’m excited to see more and more comics like Jem and the Holograms, Spider-Gwen, and Black Canary. I’m excited to keep getting these comics every month. Treat yourself to these issues – you deserve to give them a try.
Katie Schenkel is a pop-culture writer whose work can be found on The Mary Sue, Panels, Quirk Books, Talking Comics, and more. She also hosts the webseries Driving Home the Movie and the Just Plain Something podcast. Follow her on Twitter at @JustPlainTweets.