September 15, 2010

Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology

It is truly embarrassing that it has taken us this long to review Jennifer K. Stuller's Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology. The book is great, the subject matter is close to our hearts (obviously), and Heroine Content is quoted! Twice! I have only stupid excuses for why it has taken so long to get a review up, but please know it's only a reflection on my time management, not on the book itself.

Stuller's book is a "comprehensive, engaging and thought-provoking guide to female detectives, meta-humans and action heroines, as well as their creators, directors, performers, and consumers" (from the book's blurb on the author's website). In three sections, Stuller looks at how female heroes in American and British media have evolved, beginning with Wonder Woman in the 40s; discusses the journeys of the female hero (redemption, collaboration, motherhood, mentorships, etc); and examines the creators of female heroes. Her discussions spans television, movies, and comics, and she ends with a glossary of female heroes.

Overall, I found the book very enjoyable and pretty informative. Some of it, like her discussion of the history of Wonder Woman, was stuff I already knew (and if you don't, I totally recommend Wonder Woman: The Life and Times of the Amazon Princess by Les Daniels). Other parts, though, were new and fascinating to me--I've read a lot of the Buffy critique and analysis she cites, but the parts about Alias and Heroes, for example, were all new (and nearly compelling enough to get me to watch those shows, neither of which has ever interested me). And, for me, the discussion of comic books was particularly interesting, since I have next to no comic knowledge.

Given the breadth of the subject matter and the length of the text, the book is necessarily a top-level, somewhat cursory discussion. There were some places, like the chapter on the absence of mothers in female hero stories, in which I'd have loved to read something more in-depth. That said, I think the book is a great start as an overview for folks who haven't already spent a ton of time thinking about these things.

In their review of the book, comic blog DC Women Kicking Ass mentions that the book would be improved by some pictures to go along with the narrative. I had the same complaint, especially when the discussion turned to texts with which I wasn't already familiar and for which I had no visual aid already in my head. I suspect the decision not to include pictures was stemmed by publishing costs, though, so it's hard to be too critical.

I do question the book's positivity. In her conclusion, Stuller writes:

Our stories will continue to evolve as humanity does. Increased acceptance of gay marriage, the first ever campaigns by serious Black and female US presidential candidates, and the presence of more women and other minorities in entertainment industry positions means that we will see an ever-increasing diversity in our heroes.

In the three years Skye and I have been writing Heroine Content, I haven't seen this play out. If anything, the 90s seem to have been better than the present time for diversity in action and sci-fi roles. The truly great movie heroines, to my mind, have almost all come from the 90s or before-Tank Girl, Sarah Conner, Ellen Ripley. TV hasn't been any better--nothing since Buffy (1997-2003) has come close. I can't speak personally for comics, but it seemed from reading the book that it's the same story there (the original Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey, etc.). Much as I liked Stuller's book, I'm afraid she's being a little bit optimistic in her remarks about progress.

Disclosure: We were provided with a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher, I. B. Tauris.

3 Comments

For the love of Gods and Goddesses alike, don't watch Heroes. The extremely mediocre first season ends disappointing even for its mediocrity, and it only gets worse after that.

@Patrick
I don't know if I'd be that harsh, but it did go downhill fast. But on the plus side Alias is a good show. Also, there was a (mediocre and short-lived) live-action TV adaptation of the Birds of Prey comic, which IMO scores much higher on the HC-scale than from a general quality perspective.

Y'all are depressing me. We just STARTED watching Heroes at my house!

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