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

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  433 ratings  ·  101 reviews
A much-needed alternative history of American comic book superheroines - from Wonder Woman to Supergirl 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 from their creation to now, and into the future. The Supergirls is an entertaining and informative look at these modern-day icons...more
Paperback, Large Print, 430 pages
Published August 4th 2010 by ReadHowYouWant (first published August 1st 2009)
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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
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...more
Dec 02, 2009 michelle marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
on NPR as one of the 5 best books to share with your friends...

"A thoughtful, comprehensive history of women in comics is long overdue, and if Mike Madrid's Supergirls offered only this and nothing more, it'd still make a welcome addition to the growing canon of works exploring the cultural relevance of that singularly American creation, the superhero. Decade by decade, Madrid offers an encyclopedic overview of the origins and exploits of the few female crime fighters that have graced comic page...more
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...more
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...more
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
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
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...more
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
Basically a timeline history of female characters in comics and graphic novels. Everything from the Amazon Princess to Jungle Queens and femme fatales to the girl next door. Superheroines have changed a lot over the years: going from the hero's girl-friend or token female on the teams to team leaders and independent heroes with their own adventures. And how some women who grew up on comics are now artists and writers for female characters today, giving female characters more depth, complexity an...more
Joshua Wiles
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...more
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!
I really enjoyed the history of the super heroines. It was interesting seeing the differences between the heroines of the different decades. I'd recommend this to any comic book fan interested in comic book history.

Now the bad. I know the title says "fashion, feminism..." but I could have used a bit less fashion and a bit more feminism. There were times the author would mention something clearly sexist but would brush over it to talk about something else. I would have preferred a bit more analys...more
I really loved this book. It gave a great overview of the place that women have held in comics over the last 70 years. The author writes in a very personable style that makes the book easy to read and fun to enjoy. For each decade since comics have been popular, the author addresses the changes occurring for women in the decade and how these changes were reflected or not reflected in comic books. There are also chapters devoted to specific characters or even arch-types within the comic book indu...more
This was an intriguing read, and I owe a girlfriend of mine for sending it to me as a Christmas present. This book was clever and deconstructs the super-heroine from the 1940s to now. It's interesting to see the feminist, fashion and culture issues that many of our fave superbabes faced, and the author does a great job at putting this down on the table and admitting to the problem head on.

The writing wasn't always perfect, but I appreciated the way he introduced each era and heroine with just e...more
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...more
Travis Mcclain
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
Tom Morgan
I liked it. Really packed with interesting information, yet still seemed to come up just short of the full story in many instances. It was particularly interesting to be shown how the female comic heroines story arcs matched the prevailing attitudes of the times in reality, movies, TV, and even pop music. Unlike most other mediums comic books allowed women to come frustratingly close to standing up for who they are before succumbing to the “just a girl” stereotype. For all the progress that is s...more
An interesting book, although I did have a few problems with it.
First, although it presented itself as being arranged chronologically the authors jumps around a bit within sections, and I think it would have been more effective to organize it by character, and take each character through her different portrayals. At some points I just felt like it was a bit all over the place.
Second, I was troubled by the author's interpretations of many heroines powers. He places a lot of focus on the fact tha...more
This book was quite enjoyable and entertaining. I went on the website for the book to see the images that go with the chapters and that made it more enjoyable since I could put images to the characters that I knew nothing about. I had to wonder while reading it what superheroines would have ended up like had the comic code authority never come about. It seems like a lot more progression in the growth of female characters would have been the outcome considering the women from the thirties and for...more
Steven Brandt
The first thing that jumped out at me as I began reading The Supergirls , was that Mike Madrid definitely knows his business. His knowledge of super heroes, male and female alike, is amazingly in-depth and detailed. During his discussions, Madrid mentions some super heroines I am familiar with from my own days of comic collecting, but also quite a few I had never heard of.

From the humble beginnings of Wonder Woman and Sheena in the 1940’s, through the war and post-war eras, from the flower-power...more
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...more
Donald Luther
I genuinely enjoyed reading this, as I was reminded of many of the twists and turns I saw in the comics I read decades ago (1950s, -60s, 70s). I finally found the end to the story of what has happened to some of these heroines in the many years since I moved on. The reinvention of one superheroine or another, the creation of a new heroine (and frequently her demise) and the modifications of her powers over her literary life--all of these things are chronicled from the invention of the comic book...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...more
The material in the Supergirls is great: dozens of superheroines, broken down by decade, including spotlights on the evolutions of a few recognizable stars (like Wonder Woman, with her countless "makeovers") and also some of the characters with the most bizarre stories (in the 60s, Ms. Marvel gets raped by a demon, gives birth to his reincarnation, then chooses to willingly marry it down in the underworld of Limbo). It's a pretty straightforward pop culture history book that shows the author's e...more
Knowing next to nothing about any of the female superheroes - past or present - I thought this book was really fascinating. I don't know much about superhero comics in general, so the history was pretty enlightening in general.

I think comic fans might be able to follow some of the characters and changing universes better than I could, but even as a neophyte I could follow the general tracks of the books. I was even able to one up my boyfriend recently by knowing about Batwoman's previous incarn...more
John Carter McKnight
Solid pop history with a heavy emphasis on precursors and the Golden Age. The analysis of Supergirl and Wonder Woman decade-by-decade was a highlight, showing how portrayals of women tend to be cyclical: we may not be as progressive today as the medium was in the 1940s. The "fashion" and "feminism" in the subtitle is a gross exaggeration. There's not a lot of theorizing, and contextualzation tends to be shaky, sensationalist, slangy and half-assed. But it's a good, informative, short read.
WORN Fashion Journal
There comes a time in every comic book geek slash fashionista’s life when she must ask herself, “What do costumes and couture have in common?” The Supergirls sets out to answer that question, and explores the slight of the superheroine since the early 40s. While the book is centred on feminist and cultural interpretations of women in comic books, fashion still plays an important part, similar to the role regular clothing holds in our own society. The book looks at how costumes have evolved with...more
This book included a lot of interesting information about characters and series from the history of comic books, and I find myself looking forward to reading some of those titles. On the down side, and what holds this book back: It was littered grammar/punctuation issues, like verb tense problems, misused or missing commas and apostrophes, and several sentences that start with a numeral instead of a spelled-out number. That might be nitpicky, but making a lot of basic editing mistakes also hurts...more
Finally, here's one for the ladies. A history of super women--from The Woman in Red to Birds of Prey. The author includes Lois Lane in his social science report (because she's "Superman's Girlfriend," I guess), but he doesn't mention Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane Watson, two (web) swinging characters who helped boost girl power during the Silver Age. That's a major oversight, in my opinion.

But otherwise, The Supergirls is right on the money. Most interesting to me is the comparison between DC powergir...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.”
“Sex appeal was the “spoonful of sugar” that helped the “medicine” of feminism go down. A liberated heroine who still looked sexy would be less threatening to the male readers of comic books.” 0 likes
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