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The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines

3.76  ·  Rating Details ·  972 Ratings  ·  153 Reviews
A much-needed alternative history of American comic book super heroines - from Wonder Woman to Super girl and beyond - where they fit in popular culture and why, and what these crime-fighting females say about the role of women in American society...
Paperback, Large Print, 380 pages
Published August 4th 2010 by ReadHowYouWant (first published August 1st 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jan 03, 2013 Jackie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: comics, history
I originally bought this book as a spontaneous purchase, borne of my interest and devotion to both feminism and comics. I also went into it with very low expectations, given that in comics fandom, men are usually entitled sexist jerks, and self-proscribed male feminists often aren't that feminist at all. After reading it, I have to admit that I wasn't entirely wrong to expect little from this book, and it left me with distinct feelings of frustration, anger, and exasperation. It was, overall, a ...more
Arielle Walker
"Okay. I'll admit that this cover has nothing to do with the story this month... but I've got to do something to sell this book!" - She-Hulk, 1992

Honestly? The four stars are for the sheer overwhelming fun of this book. Fun sounds weird, right? After all, this is a book that deals with the grotesque sexism that has permeated the comic-book world - and especially the superhero world - since its inception. Fun surely shouldn't even factor in.

But Mike Madrid's clear passion for the subject, his abi
May 23, 2013 Felicia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I had been looking for an intelligent survey of women characters in comic books, and this provided that in spades. A wonderful chronological history surveying how women have been portrayed through the last century, it provided me with a more nuanced point of view of how society's changes have been reflected in comics. A really enjoyable survey I would recommend to comic lovers!
Apr 05, 2010 Beth rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This book sucks. While I realize that it would have been impossible to get all of them, the author should have attempted to get the rights to reproduce the likenesses of some of the characters he describes. I spent half the time reading the book googling the lesser known characters to see what they looked like. When a subject is based so heavily on image, not having them for comparison is really detrimental. I'd have forgiven this if the writing had been good, but it wasn't. It was barely tolera ...more
Ana Rînceanu
After finding this video, I knew I needed to read this book. If you'd like to understand feminism through comics, this is the book for you. I only wish this book were written more recently so as to include the new Miss Marvel, Bat Girl and all of the other great changes.
Aug 24, 2010 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sandra Knight leads the idyllic debutante life as a Senator’s daughter. She spends her time going to parties and playing tennis with her fiancé, Don. Then one night in 1941 she stops an assassination attempt on her father, beating away the would-be assassins with rolled-up newspaper.

The experience of danger and adventure excites Sandra, offering a break from her humdrum life as a socialite. She seeks the thrill of more crime-fighting action, so she creates a costume, borrows a black light ray f
Mar 03, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sequential-art
THE SUPERGIRLS ist eine sehr lesenswerte Geschichte der Superheldinnen von den Anfängen in den 40er Jahren bis heute. Madrid erzählt nicht nur von der Entwicklung der Debütantinnen, der guten und der bösen Mädels, der Supergirls und Superwomen, sondern setzt die Entwicklung der Heldinnen in den Comics in Verbindung zur Zeitgeschichte, und so ist THE SUPERGIRLS nicht nur für Comicleser spannend, sondern auch für alle, die sich für Kulturgeschichte im Allgemeinen interessieren.
Zwischen Eye Candy,
Oct 20, 2009 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I found out about The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines by Mike Madrid, I thought to myself, "Why didn't I write this book?" After reading it, I thought, "I could have written this book." But you know what? I didn't, and I think Mike Madrid for doing so. This is a remarkably comprehensive look at superheroines throughout history, and I enjoyed reading it from cover to cover.

Being a superhero comic reader for about 40 years now, I recently came t
First, whatI liked...
I was okay with the history of characters I'd heard nothing or only a bit about. I appreciated that. In some cases, his conversational tone was very much appreciated and added to the narrative. But...

..what that voice was NOT was questioning. It wasn't critical of the sexism that pervaded these characters' origins, these superheroines that he wants us interested in. "So-and-So was just too independent for her times," he writes more than once, and leaves it there. In a world
Stevi Costa
I found myself wishing that this book was more academic, and handled it's treatments of fashion and feminism more adeptly--as the title lead me to believe they might be.

But for what it was, it was a good history of 60 years of comic book women and the industry's constant mistreatment of female characters.

Most intriguing to me was Madrid's comparison of Supergirl in the 1960s to pop star Lesley Gore. He's not a very good writer, though sometimes funny, but his ability to identify the cultural ico
I'm not quite done with this book yet but I feel like I have to write something about it lest everything dribbles out of my head before I'm able to get it down.

The Supergirls is an interesting read. Madrid sometimes handles the "feminism" aspect of the book awkwardly, but generally I think this is an excellent feminist history of comic book super heroines. The book definitely suffers from a lack of illustrations, however. As someone who has basically never read a superhero comic in my life (desp
This is a long and insightful read. The chapters on pre-code comics are the most valuable.

Unfortunately, there just isn't enough paper to cover such a large subject to the depth really needed. Madrid's efforts are laudable and in very good faith, and yet, we're often left with summaries, synopses, and evidence that draws upon only a sliver of the available literature. It's necessary given the scale of the author's analysis but woefully inadequate given the intellectual synthesis we all know the
Wayland Smith
Aug 13, 2015 Wayland Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a huge fan of comic books. I describe myself as a hero geek. But I don't just enjoy the stories of the heroes doing their good deeds, I also like studying the histories of the characters and the industry itself. So I've wanted to read this one for a while, and finally got to.

This covers female comic characters, from the start of the industry (1938) to roughly 2007. Madrid does a great job of showing how trends in fashion and society shaped and reshaped the the female heroes. There's a lot of
Nov 02, 2014 Amber rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: comic-research
Maybe 4.5/5.0 stars, for minor corrections needed. (His handling of the two Captain Marvels needed more detail). By no means is this book academic, so it's strange to see it get boo'd down for just that. I also saw some backlash about there being no pictures - I agree there, but I doubt Madrid had the resources to get all the licenses. (Exterminating Angel Press? Who??) For that, I think people might cool it and either use their imagination (Madrid is helpful with descripions) or turn to Google. ...more
Jul 05, 2012 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A pretty decent about the evolution of super heroines as a trope and a schema. The main flaw was that it was at times overly repetitive-- it means each chapter can stand alone, but having a substantial section of one decade dedicated to Wonder Woman or Psylocke (one of my girlhood heroines with her purple hair and daggers) and then having another chapter devoted to the character herself is a bit of overkill. I also wish they'd delved a little more into "alternative" comics-- they mentioned the s ...more
Kimberly Karalius
So, this book... I had to say something about it. It bothered me a lot, mostly because of the Wonder Woman bashing, repetition of topics despite being organized by decades, and constant talk of what the superheroines were wearing. I felt like someone shoved me in a washer and left me trapped in a rinse cycle.

And where was Hawkgirl? She's one of my favorite superheroines, especially when I watched her kick butt on the Justice League animated series(and unforgettably falling in love with the Gree
Krisi Bacher
Man... I really, really wanted to like this book... The truth is, the author - who sometimes seems to be trying to toot his own feminist horn - let me down. His research was good (most of the time) and some of his commentary was entertaining. I wasn't super impressed with how he handled Barbara Gordon or Kate Kane, and I frankly think there were a few times he misrepresented them on purpose to prove a point. He went a lot into the love lives of other female characters, but chalked Kate's up to a ...more
A good, hard look at female superheroes over the history of comics, I actually found this book uplifting. It's true that women have traditionally been presented as less powerful, less heroic, and more interested in romance than their male counterparts. However, as someone who goes to her LCS and feels guilty that only three of my ten favorite titles "star" women, it's nice to realize how much better the industry has to have gotten that I can like any of them. Zatanna Zatara may still wear fishne ...more
Aug 07, 2015 Rachel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I had such high hopes for this, but it ended up being a giant miss for me. There was no real analysis and the history, such as it was, was pretty basic. I feel like I could have gotten at least this much info by just googling. Also, the author spent a lot of time describing outfits and breast size. I know comics are a visual medium, so how a character is drawn is important, but come on. Did you really need to use the words "nubile" and "sexy" that much? Not to mention "rock-hard buttocks," "tram ...more
Feb 02, 2015 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-reads
Did you know that Sheena, not Wonder Woman, was the first female superhero to have her own title - or that she actually predates Superman? That's just the first of many fascinating facts doled out by Mike Madrid as he takes readers on a decades-long tour of the phenomenon of the female superhero. Along the way he features many familiar names (Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Storm), but many of his most intriguing tales are about characters none but the most ardent of comics fans will recognize. Funny, sm ...more
Boy did the ladies like Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel, Storm, Catwoman, Elasti Girl, et al have trouble gaining the traction and celebrity enjoyed by their male counterparts in comic book land. I am completely amazed by how difficult it was/is to sell the idea of powerful superheroines without emasculating both male readers and male superheroes, as well as the critical role played by revealing costumes to overcome this challenge. Madrid's historical look back at comic book superheroines is surprising ...more
Hugh Minor
I feel misled by the reviews on the front & back covers of this book. Did Stan Lee and NPR both give the author such praise? It was an okay history of women in comics but it suffered from a lack of good editing. Some of the observations were repetitive and the language was at times awkward and stilted. And, for a discussion of such a VISUAL industry, where were the images of these superheroes, especially some of the more obscure characters?
Madrid really knows his stuff and the tone of the book is that of a comics super fan filling you in on what you might have missed with a healthy dose of sarcasm. What the book is really missing is about 1000 pictures to illustrate all of these lesser known superheroes and the changes over the years
This book completely hooked me by its cover. It was all in the title. Fashion, feminism, fantasy and the history of comic book heroines.

But, there are such ironies in the world. Maybe, I am mad at this book for pointing this out so clearly.

In an industry, which is marketed to the male fantasy as their major income, super girls must be able to do everything a superhero can do to gain the respect of her teammates and the readers, without overstepping their feminine boundaries. She must be pretty
Oct 16, 2016 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Wonder Woman for President

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC through Edelweiss and a finished copy through Library Thing's Early Reviewers program.)

"After The Supergirls came out, something interesting happened. I got emails from readers who had no idea that there had been female superheroes in the 1960s, much less in the 1940s."

This is a difficult book for me to review. I'm rather new to the world of comic books, having only gotten into them in the past five years or so. With th
Jan 18, 2010 Colleen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: comics
One of my new favorite books!

If it gets to the point where I'm like oh, this sentence is amazing! I have to remember this and this and this, and I whip out a pen and underline stuff and makes notes in margins or post-it-notes to mark a place--that's a sign of a very, very good book (not just me being crazy).

For example: "Superman's persona was noble, Batman's was grim. Wonder Woman was just a crown, some wristbands, and starry panties; it didn't seem to matter who was wearing them." And that's
Eleanor Raab
I am a high school student who is interested in women in comic books. In reading this book, it is clear that the thesis is that women have been underrepresented and mistreated throughout the history of comic books, however I feel that Mike Madrid could have done a much better job providing historical context as well as tying these superheroes into feminism. Overall the book was an enjoyable read; however, I have some criticism about the author’s lack of ability to deliver the well-informed femin ...more
Joshua Wiles
Apr 01, 2014 Joshua Wiles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's not easy being a female in society, even in the 21st century. Men still make more money than women. Women face a daily assault over control of their own bodies. The media saturates the globe with images of scantily clad women with large breasts or women so thin you can practically see through them.

For a super heroine, life is just as tough. And this book explores how super heroine's have evolved from some of the weakest super powered characters to some of the strongest.

Beginning with the
(originally reviewed at )

While I was reading THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN, Goodreads recommended a number of books that I should look into that are of a similar vein. The one that caught my eye was THE SUPERGIRLS by Mike Madrid. I liked that SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN was so in depth and detailed about one of my favorite superheroes, but thought that maybe it would be more interesting to read about other superheroines as well. So I placed a request for THE SUPERG
Travis McClain
May 29, 2010 Travis McClain rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The thesis for The Supergirls is obvious; Mike Madrid explores the depiction of women in the superhero world, and as one might expect, he concludes that more often than not, they have been mistreated. The text is presented in a very accessible fashion that does not pre-suppose much familiarity with the characters and stories he cites throughout, though I do feel he should have done a clearer job explaining a few major industry-wide events. For the most part, the book is structures chronologicall ...more
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“If all superheroines were as indestructible as Superman, leaping across rooftops, smashing through windows, and flying through flames in a skimpy swimsuit wouldn't be such a problem. However, male heroes are usually presented as being unquestionably more powerful than women.Yet, they wear costumes that cover and protect most of their bodies. Women on the other hand, are written as weaker, and presumable less able to protect themselves. Yet they charge into battle with most of their bodies exposed...............................................
...............The reason for this superhero fashion double standard is that comic books have always been primarily targeted to a heterosexual male reader. As a result, female superheroes must look attractive to these readers. And in the world of male fantasy, attractive= sexy. So, revealing costumes are fitted onto idealized bodies with large breasts, tiny waists and impossible long legs. Men need to look powerful and virile, but can't display bulging genitalia showing through their spandex, as it would be too threatening for most straight male readers.”
“Comic book writers often suggest that women don’t have the same dedication to the noble cause, because their need for love is often of equal or greater importance than their quest for justice. Superheroines want to fight crime, but want to settle down as well. If Mr. Right popped the question, a heroine could easily retire that mask and cape and settle down to life as a wife and mother. The implication is that no matter how powerful a woman is, she needs the love of a man to complete her.” 1 likes
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