Comic books are experiencing a sort of Renaissance these days, which is thrilling for adult comic book nerds. But what about their kids, cousins, younger siblings, or children they babysit? Although an adult who loves comics may want to persuade a young reader to read about their favorite hero, some comics may be a bit too advanced or, dare I say, irrelevant for a kid or teen's experience.
In 2016, DC Comics sought a solution for the tween demographic and released DC Super Hero Girls, a series of graphic novels and a webseries starring DC’s most popular female superheroes as teenage girls. Think Justice League, but for tweens and teens.
The series has become such a hit that DC Comics has recently announced the expansion of their entire young adult collection with the release of DC Zoom and DC Ink imprints. These books will feature some of the most popular female young adult authors, and many of the books will star female superheroes.
As a writer who covers comic books, I wanted to see what all hype was about. These books center on girls, but are they good for girls? BUST was able to read the latest title, Date With Disaster, and sit down and ask Super Hero Girls creator and writer Shae Fontana some questions about the series and what goes into creating a series for a younger audience.
Much like the Justice League, the Super Hero Girls usually have a team leader. For this series, the team leader is Batgirl. In the city of Metropolis, Batgirl, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Super Girl, and Wonder Woman all go to Super Hero high school, along with other “super” and caped crusader students. However, don’t be fooled into thinking only those who wear a cape take center stage. In this story, journalists such as Lois Lane play a very important role.
Although the graphic novel is titled Date with Disaster and Valentine’s Day plays a part in the plot, romantic relationships are not the focus of the story. Date with Disaster centers on a serious problem happening in the city: Kids without superpowers are disappearing. It's a heavy subject for a YA title, but one Fontana feels younger readers can handle.
“I always come at writing for kids from a perspective of kids are very smart. Even if they can’t always communicate it, they think about characters and mythology in sophisticated ways and like to be challenged," Fontana tells BUST. “Clarity in storytelling is important, but I’m never afraid to tackle more complex issues and bring in ideas that might not be fully comprehended by the younger end of our demographic, but will grow with them."
Date with Disaster has many characters, so it is important to not only focus on one character, the way a Batman comic might do, but explore all the heroes, caped crusaders or not. As a journalist reading the book, I biasedly loved Lois Lane. Teen Lois Lane wants to know the truth. She is an independent journalist who aspires to work for the Daily Planet, and nothing nor no one will stand in the way of her obtaining the truth.
“Lois is one of my favorite characters. She has no desire to be a caped superhero herself, but she takes her duty as a journalist just as seriously as our heroes take their 'super-heroing,'” Fontana says. “In this story, we see how integral her work is to making sure that justice is served.”
Lois’ passion for seeking the truth shines throughout the book. Her integrity in journalism informs a young reader about the importance of a free press and highlights how investigative journalists play a vital role in our society. Her investigations also allow the reader to learn more about the beginnings of Poison Ivy.
“I loved shining the spotlight on both Catwoman and Ivy in this book,” Fontana says. “We get to know Catwoman a little more with her introverted, night owl ways. We also see Ivy’s superpower origin story and how she bravely steps up to tell her story in hopes that it will stop someone else from getting hurt.”
The key trait that has made Super Hero Girls a success has been how Fontana and the other writers and illustrators ahve focused on the complexity of these characters. It is because of the success of Super Hero Girls that DC has agreed to add more imprints for young readers.
Fontana says it is important to have diversity in these stories, along with complex characters. She says she wants everyone who reads these books to feel that they are represented and as they introduce more characters, they will continue to make diversity a priority.
“Diversity has been hugely important for us from the outset. Obviously, beginning with gender, we wanted to flip the norm of kid’s storytelling, which is usually heavily male, and tell stories where the gender balance was in favor of female characters,” Fontana says. “Because we have so many female characters, we have lots of different kinds of characters within that. We have plenty of ‘strong’ female characters, but also misguided female characters, timid female characters, and even a morally deficient female character. Not only are our characters diverse, but we have a diverse team working on this book, which is great for kids to see that in stories and in real life anyone can achieve their dreams.”
Date with Disaster is silly, fun, and insightful. More importantly, it is hopeful. SuperHero Girls prioritizes gender equality at a young age. Hopefully, this younger generation will carry those values into adulthood too.
“If we want to change society, we can’t just focus on half of its populace. Stories help us empathize with and understand people unlike ourselves. Just like girls, boys need to see that girls can be heroes too,” Fontana says.
images via DC
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Isabel Sophia Dieppa is a writer and actor. She is a part of the performance duo Of This World in Chicago, IL. Dieppa is the recipient of a 2018 Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant, which she has used to report on property rights in Puerto Rico. Her interests lie in science, art, and history. Past writing includes interning for the Chicago Field Museum ECCO program, the national theater blog HOWLROUND, music reviews for UR Chicago, and in a former life was a beat reporter for the Indiana Daily Student. She loves archaeology, kitties, and dancing. The next big adventure may include an archaeological dig in Peru. Follow her on twitter @isabelsdieppa.