superheroes

Wonder Woman: Princess Superhero

Wonder Woman: The Ultimate Princess Superhero. Photo: Jim Merithew/Wired.com

Following up on the discussion that got started yesterday (and, wow, thanks again for the epic response on that one, guys), when I first set out to find some non-traditional princess books for my daughter, my mind leapt immediately to one of the most iconic female characters in all of literary history – Wonder Woman.

Because, c’mon, can you think of a more kick-butt, take-no-prisoner, I’ll-rescue-myself princess than Wonder Woman? In my mind, I imagined my daughter in her bed late at night, pouring over the adventures of Diana, princess of the Amazons, marveling at her great deeds and bugging me with endless questions like, “Wonder Woman could beat up Superman in a fight, right?” or “When I grow up, can I get my own invisible plane?” Say what you will about Wonder Woman, but she’s no shrinking violet. She’s not going to wait up in a tower for someone to rescue her. She’s an active, forceful princess who isn’t just strong and self-reliant, but she’s also altruistic and actively works to help the less fortunate. She’s the whole package!

I was CONVINCED that Wonder Woman was going to be the answer to every one of my over-worrying dad, princess gender-identity woes, because you know what’s cooler than a princess? A princess SUPERHERO. How the heck can Snow White or the Princess and the Pea compete with that?

Plus DC Comics has been publishing Wonder Woman since 1941, so there HAD to be libraries full of Princess Diana stories just waiting for my daughter to discover them, right?

However, I very, very quickly ran into a series of problems that I just never anticipated. Because, while Wonder Woman, on the surface, should be an incredibly easy sell to young readers as the coolest princess they’ve EVER seen, in reality, the character has a whole, whole lot of baggage that prevents kids – at least most kids younger than 11 – from embracing her as anything other than a Halloween costume.

Basically, I think there are two BIG, essential issues holding Wonder Woman back from being every five-year-old’s favorite princess.

PROBLEM #1: IMAGES

Wonder Woman

This is a very tame example of WW looking like a “Glamazon.” There are much, much creepier examples out there.

OK, while I might roll my eyes at the over-frilly, completely impractical ball-gowns in most princess stories, at least they’re not wearing star-spangled panties and a steel-plated halter-top in public. Wonder Woman’s costume is, indeed, iconic, but it’s also way too easy to sexualize and the vast majority of Wonder Woman comic book art can be described with adjectives like “heaving” or “engorged”. Fine, I understand why the ongoing “appropriate for teens and older” Wonder Woman comic book indulges so heavily in the cheesecake sexuality. They’re pandering to their 18-35 male demographic. However, it just seems to strange to me that, given Wonder Woman’s global appeal, DC Comics, WW’s publisher, doesn’t seem concerned with trying to find ways to introduce Princess Diana to younger readers. It’s like they’re purposely leaving money on the table.

Wonder Woman: Disney Style

THIS is a Wonder Woman a young girl could fall in love with…

There was actually an amazing recent post on the Tumblr blog “DC Women Kicking Ass”, where Tom Bancroft, an artist and former Disney animator, drew some fantastic sketches of Wonder Woman in the “Disney” style, as if she was a classical princess rather than a hyper-sexed valkyrie. And I LOVE those sketches. THAT looks exactly like the kind of young, tenacious, non-passive princess character that my daughter would INSTANTLY fall in love with. The author of the Tumblr post even commented that, “I’ve never, ever figured out why DC and Warner Bros. don’t do more to market Wonder Woman to young girls. She’s a princess for heaven’s sake.” [read the rest of the post…]

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Midway Monkey Madness

How can you not adore a book called “Midway Monkey Madness”?

In my last post, I went on and on about how fantastic the DC Super-Pets chapter books from Capstone Publishers are, and I still really recommend them for any kid who loves superheroes and who’s starting to read on their own. (Even if they aren’t a junior comic nerd like my kid, they’re still very entertaining reads.) Plus, be honest, you have to love a chapter book series with titles like Midway Monkey Madness, Attack of the Invisible Cats, Salamander Smackdown, and Battle Bugs from Outer Space. (Am I right? I’m right, aren’t I?)

Plus I just discovered that Capstone makes a line of DC Super Hero chapter books that offer similarly designed, early-reader-friendly stories revolving around DC’s most famous heroes – Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern. While I’m not willing to endorse them sight unseen, I’ve had such a positive experience reading Capstone’s Super-Pets books to my daughter, I’ll definitely be checking out their DC Super Hero chapter book line in the near future.

But, if you’re not into comic books, no worries. If you just want to learn more about these visually compelling chapter books, I’ve grabbed two videos that might interest you. One is a book trailer for the DC Super-Pets chapter book series and the other is a fun interview with artist Art Baltazar, talking about his career and the books themselves. Enjoy.

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Superman Family Adventures

You know… for kids… who can read!

I may have mentioned this before, but I love comic books and so does my five-year-old daughter. Our bi-weekly trips to our local comic book store are among my favorite rituals we have. And, almost every time we go, my daughter gets to pick out a comic book for herself. Sometimes it’s a Scooby-Doo comic. Sometimes it’s a Simpsons comic or The Incredibles or The Muppets or a Looney Tunes comic. She loves all kinds of comics. That being said, the only superhero comics that she buys that I know she can read all on her own are created by two men – Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani, the creators of Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures. And, in my opinion, they’re one of the few creative teams that are currently creating old-school, monthly, serialized superhero comics for developing readers. And I think that’s awesome.

(“Aw Yeah” is recurring catch-phrase in Tiny Titans, and Baltazar and Franco are two of the founders of Aw Yeah Comics, a comics store in Skokie, Illinois – hence the title of this post.)

Tiny Titans

They’re cute AND super-friendly for developing readers…

Don’t get me wrong – there are lots of great kids’ comics being created today. Last year, I wrote a totally mushy love letter to Toon Books, a groundbreaking comics publisher that creates comic books that are specifically designed to meet the needs of developing and emerging readers. They design comic books that kids can read themselves, which really shouldn’t be revolutionary, but it is. And, while I adore Toon Books, their comics come in these beautiful hardcover collections and it makes buying one a week a bit prohibitive on the monthly household budget side. Toon Books are both comics and books – the kind of books you could find in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. (And they’re amazing.) However, at the moment, my daughter is really into the kind of monthly serialized comic books that you buy off a rack somewhere. The kind you can roll up into your pocket and whack someone with. Old-school, paper-and-staples comic books.

But, while everything Toon Books publishes is top-notch, clever, and gorgeous, it’s much, much harder to find monthly serialized comics for kids that show the same craftsmanship – particularly when you’re talking about superhero comics. Bongo Comics does some remarkable monthly Simpsons comics and Roger Landridge‘s sadly-no-more Muppets comics deserved all the accolades they received, but SUPERHEROES are the new pre-occupation of my five year old. And, while superheroes can be just as problematic as princesses for young girls (check out my earlier post on Wonder Woman to see what I’m talking about), I knew there HAD to be some great, age-appropriate superhero reading material for a five-year-old girl somewhere in the world of monthly comic books.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find much.

In my post on Toon Books last year, I very begrudgingly confessed that:

Reading comic books with a kid can be a huge pain in the ass.

Oh, how it kills me to admit this, but most comics aren’t made to be read aloud, which makes it incredibly difficult to sit down and read them with a pre-reader child. My daughter was so excited to have me read them to her, but, as I began, almost immediately, we both realized just how dense and confusing comics can be. My finger was constantly bouncing around the page, trying to show her where to read next. The text was super-small and my daughter – who loves being able to identify words on her own – simply couldn’t read the tiny print. The jumble of thought balloons, narration boxes, and sound effects baffled her and, even when we tried to read through a whole comic, at a certain point, she’d get impatient and frustrated with my pace or with being lost all the time. She LOVED flipping through the pages and pouring over the art, the facial expressions, the action – but she’d completely abandoned comics as something she could READ.

[read the rest of the post…]

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