Sometimes a word can have different meaning to different people. The term “feminism” has been the subject of scrutiny of late. Lack of a public dialog on feminism has left many a young women unsure what it means to be a “Feminist” or even if that they should identify with that term. In fact, “feminism” has gone through several “waves” over the past century and has led to many different ideas of what it means to be a woman. It seems that, nowadays, if you want to get a nuanced understanding of women’s empowerment in history you have to take an undergraduate class focused on sexuality and gender. This always tends to be on the more philosophical bent. Rarely in popular culture do we get to have that particular conversation. Even rarer still, do we get the conversation with so much ass kicking.
If you can’t tell by now. I like this book. It is a collaboration of eleven, count them, eleven women who want to make a statement about what it means to be a woman, a hero, and an icon. It’s also about Superwoman getting her ass kicked (finally) by Wonder Woman.
The story is titled “Besties,” and it revolves around three teenage girls running on a beach. Wonder Woman bypasses them and then returns to engage them in conversation. The conversation is interrupted by Superwoman (Lois Lane from the Crime Syndicate who happens to be carrying Ultraman’s unborn child) who engages in a “who’s lasso is longest” contest before she gets her ass kicked by our Amazonian princess. But, dear reader, there is much more to this tale than Superwoman getting taken back to prison. She is merely a plot device for which the writer Barbara Randall Kesel can take us all to school.
In my estimation, each of the teenage girls represents a different “wave” of feminism. Each has their own conception of what it means to be a woman and how Wonder Woman either embodies or detracts from that.
Can you really compare yourself to us mere mortals? Aren’t you benefiting from privilege? That’s not fair, you shouldn’t do that.
Isn’t the way you dress an act demeaning women? Aren’t you contributing to negative stereotypes? That’s wrong!
Your self-assurance borders on arrogance and is rude!
Wonder Woman addresses each in turn:
I worked hard to be where I am, and who are you to tell me that I “shouldn’t” do something.
It’s a greater sin to judge others by what they wear instead of celebrating every woman’s beauty.
I try to be the best there is, and so should you.
Over the ensuing fight with Superwoman, Kesel shows how Wonder Woman wins over all of these girls. Wonder Woman becomes more than a hero that bitch-slapped Darkseid, she’s an ideal that they should strive toward. She is even kind enough to “strike a vogue” with the girls in a selfie telling them she will see them again next week.
Yet writing, no matter how magnificent and intelligent, is only half of a comic book. Fortunately the art serves the same goal in story telling that Kesel gave us.
The book is broken into essentially three chapters based on the artists who drew each section. This is very purposeful. The change in artist also signals and change in tone and in context. The first ten pages done by Irene Koh and Wendy Broome are perfectly fitting for the message on display. The art style is muted and less detailed purposefully keeping the reader focused on the dialog: the exchange of ideas between generations that is taking place.
The second chapter is where the opposition of ideals comes into full effect; when Wonder Woman and Superwoman have a dialog stare down with hostages at stake. Emma Vieceli and Kelly Fitzpatrick breath more life in to the images, building up to the inevitable fight that is about to take place.
The third chapter brings Laura Braga's and Carrie Strachan’s chance to orchestrate an epic fight scene that could easily leave one, if not both of the combatants dead. The artistic detail and styling reaches it’s zenith under these two just as the message that Kesel gave us is driven home.
Today, the landscape of comic medium is changing. Concern over inclusivity has led to different changes in approach by publishing houses and the studios which portray well established comic book characters. Some of these changes have been good; some others less so.
Both Marvel and DC have been on the wrong side of this issue, though DC tends to have a history of getting out in front while Marvel plays catch up on social issues. Changing the race of a one-dimensional character isn’t progressive: it’s pandering. Changing the sex of a prominent masculine figure would be daring if it wasn’t so tone deaf to the differences between sex and gender.
What Kesel has accomplished here is as profound as it is rare for the medium; she managed to have portray a complex issue evenly and with clarity. That alone is worth the price of admission. Yet we get something else out of this.
Wonder Woman kicks Superwoman’s ass.