Essays

An open letter to “Avengers” movie fangirls.

And yes, I know there are a lot of you. I’ve searched the Tumblr tags and Twitter trends. I’ve seen you swoon over Captain America and geek out over the Hulk.

I’m here to say that there’s a whole world of dreamy superheroes over here just waiting to be discovered.

Guys have discovered it. Trust me—I work in a comic shop, and I’m a girl. I have to constantly deal with people’s persisting myths about comics: superhero stories are for boys; it’s all a big, drawn-out fantasy of male adolescence.

They’re not wrong. It might have begun that way. But like all art forms, comics have evolved.

In fact, ladies, I’d place a bet that many of your perceptions of superhero comics have been molded by your father’s back issue bin of stories from the 1960s. And like the 60s, such stories bear the burden of outdated gender roles, homophobia, and a general negligence of diversity that every form of culture has suffered from.

See, the ESSENTIALS and SHOWCASE collections from Marvel and DC, as classic as they are, are not a good representation of where your favorite characters from the movie are, right now. In fact, if you pick up one of these massive black and white tomes, your reaction might rightfully be one of confusion and disappointment. Huh? you’ll say. This isn’t the Captain I know. This isn’t Tony Stark. This is stupid. It’s boring. It’s not worth my time.

It’s also fifty years old. In other words, still worthwhile and good for context, but a bad example of what comics readers love today.

You don’t have to start at the beginning, see. Think of why you loved the AVENGERS movie. You may or may not have watched all the solo films leading up to it, and while these are certainly worthwhile pieces of cinema, they’re not absolutely necessary to the AVENGERS experience, thanks to Joss Whedon’s stellar script and palpable character dilemmas. You might not know the full back story of Iron Man’s armor, but his character’s place in the film is full of so much conviction that it hardly seems to matter.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Here is what I suggest: start with a stunner. Pick up or download Warren Ellis’s SECRET AVENGERS #16, Zeb Wells’ AVENGING SPIDER-MAN #5, or Jonathan Hickman’s FF #17. Context be damned—once you understand the potential of floating text and four colors, you can go back and fill in plot holes.

Avenging Spider-Man #5, AKA Cap is a Geek.

Single issue one-shots are the way to begin. Massive collections written and drawn almost entirely by men have a tendency to put fangirls off of the entire market. In fact, when faced with the male dominance of the comics industry, many women become (understandably) intimidated and run far, far away.

This is my plea, fangirls: don’t run away. Please come back. We need you.

Now, the comics industry is certainly rife with its share of ‘girl power’ projects—collections that highlight female contributions, female heroes, and female perspectives in the oft-testosterone-heavy comics world. As admirable as these projects are, they are NOT going to solve our problem. They continue to marginalize women as ‘rare’ and ‘special’ in comic geekdom, as if female nerds are mythical unicorns only suited to frolicking with others of their kind.

This is a mistake.

The only way to get more women into writing comics is to get more women into reading them. And I don’t mean fucking GHOST WORLD or FABLES. I mean ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, UNCANNY X-MEN, and X-O MANOWAR. I mean the kind of thing that boys think is ‘all theirs’. Integration is the key.

Fangirls, in fear of judgement, tend to run to fanfiction instead. And believe me—I get it. I’ve written and read my share of fanfiction. [Feel free to email me for the embarrassing details.] But think on this: long-running superhero comics might be the closest we will ever get to fanfiction becoming canon. Everyone writing about Superman, after all, was reading about him and imagining their stories while growing up. I’ll go out on a limb and say it [another blog is coming on this subject]: superhero comics are just quality fanfiction with editorial approval.

Wrap your head around that, girls.

Can’t do it? Maybe this will help: there is a scene in Peter David’s long-running X-FACTOR during which two of the main characters, Jamie ‘Multiple Man’ Madrox and Julio ‘Rictor’ Richter, sit at a table, drink beer, and discuss their variously affiliated sex lives. Inside jokes are cracked. Innuendos are validated. [It might be worth mentioning that Rictor FINALLY KISSED SHATTERSTAR after other authors hinted at their relationship for 15 years.] What other medium all but invites its writers to make canon so much fun?

This is the stuff of fandom legend, and in modern comics, it happens all the goddamn time. Deadpool hits on Thor! Hawkeye is predictably dirty! Superheroes do laundry! Zombies are everywhere! Snark is routine! There are alternate universes, dimensions, and timelines to play with. It’s like a big bloody orgy of awesome character development and general crack.

Comics are one of the few artistic mediums in which amateur writers are encouarged to play in the proverbial copyrighted sandbox. This might cause financial complications with creators, but as an entry point into superhero culture, it’s hard to beat.

And guess what? It doesn’t stop there. Beyond the big two, there are enough creator-owned comics to knock your socks off! Original series as good as anything in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of a bookstore! Because with comics, you can get your crazy on. Mutants, disasters, ret-conning, bizarre hookups, sound effects, tiny creatures that serve no purpose beyond random comic relief… come on, girls. This medium was made for us.

So I ask you: don’t be afraid. Come and join us in the dusty, superpowered aisles. It may be scary at first, but mainstream comics need female flavor in a severe way, and you might be surprised at how much fun it really is.

11 thoughts on “An open letter to “Avengers” movie fangirls.

  1. This is an excellent write up on encouraging anyone really on getting into comic books girls and boys included. Fantastic read! I love that you specifically mention one shots as opposed to large story arcs with complicated back stories. I personally always recommend Uncanny X-men 303. The issue with Jubilee where she deals with Illyana’s death from The Legacy Virus. That issue has always been one of my all time favorites, and actually had a huge impact for all my comics. I would also recommend the Sentry Mini-series. It was a great stand alone story at the time. I would probably rattle on and on about this, and go into the wee hours of the morning. Truthfully though, it is why I like these books. Getting lost in all the story and adventure is what captivated me as a child, and still captivates me about them to this day.

  2. I would love to! You have no idea! I fell in love with the comic book world when I had to do a report for it 3 (wow) years ago. And it absolutely stuns me and still stuns me to this day. Admittedly, my interest got shunted to the back burner for awhile, but re kindled after the Avengers movie. The problem is, I don’t know where to begin. The large spanning multi-verses daunt me to be perfectly honest. But beyond that, I just don’t have a clue where to get my hands on any material. The closest I’ve got is Barnes and Noble but I don’t think they have any of the one shots you mentioned. Do you know if there are any online sources?

    • Ah, the perennial problem: finding the damn comics.
      Question: where do you live? Barnes & Noble may be the best you’ve got, and to be honest, they’ve really upped their comics/graphic novels game in the past few years.
      Question #2: Who’s your favorite Avenger? Or do you prefer the group? Or something more dark altogether?
      Question #3: What books have you read and loved lately?
      To answer your last question, comixology is a great source for digital comics, but as far as obtaining print copies, your best bet is still the local comic shop.

      • I live around San Francisco Bay Area in California. My favorite Avenger is definitely Ironman. Well, I haven’t read any of the books yet, hence my problem. Oh, but the B&N store really doesn’t have a half bad selection of books. Admittedly, they don’t have the books that were recommended to me. But I guess I’ll jump that hurdle when I get to it.

      • Well, wordpress won’t let me reply again because it’s a bastard.
        Check this out: http://www.comicshoplocator.com/storelocator
        And if you love Iron Man, starting with Matt Fraction’s run on Invincible Iron Man is a good bet [vol 1]. Also: Civil War, Brian Michael Bendis’s Avengers [vol 1], and Captain America and Iron Man #633– which just came out this week, so B&N should still stock it on the newsstand. ;)

      • Ahahaha oh dear. I cant reply either. But I’ll definitely be searching for those suggestions. Thanks for the leg up

    • I would recommend “Iron Man:Extremis” by Warren Ellis as a starting off point for Iron man. Then the Matt Fraction run that Holly recommended.

  3. Before the Avengers movie, I’ve always been into manga but only read two comic book series, The Authority and The Young Avengers (read a few others now and then, but those were given to me by friends). The big name stories often put me off because of their long runs. Seeing an issue numbed 635 made me think that I would have to do a whole lot catchin’ up. But, after the movie, I was interested in some of the stories, Thor being the main one. So, I just picked around issue #600 and dove right in (though not through legal means. I treat it like I do manga: read first then buy. Broke college student here). That was the gateway for me, and now I reading a bunch of series (it being the summer time helps). But, I mean, I really agree with you post. Also, more chicks into American comics would be awesome!

    • Thanks for the comment! And yeah, I can see how it seems intimidating, given the issue numbers. But I just look at it the way most look at television: if you enjoy a show, you enjoy it, regardless of whether you’re ‘caught up’ or not. :)

  4. My first “real” comic book experience (not counting the comics I read as a child like casper and archie) was Uncanny X-men #226, the second of a three part arc called Fall of the Mutants. The first page is a splash page of Wolverine shot full of holes. I never heard of this character, I dont know why he was shot, I dont know why he was still alive, but Im intrigued to keep reading. Next Im introduced to a character named Dazzler who has a gold mask with no eye holes in it and a knife sticking through it into her face. Her power is converting sound into light which she uses to fire lazers from her fingers. So she cant aim much less see anything because of her knife/mask? Thats okay, another character named Psylocke is using her psychic power to be her eyes for her. I was hooked. I didnt know the backstory to the X-men, I didnt even know the backstory to the arc I was currently reading. But it was awesome and another comic book fan was born.

    What Im saying here is that Holly is right. Dont be intimidated by the current comics being issue #893. Go ahead and dive right in and enjoy. Youll eventually catch up.

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