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

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  1,195 ratings  ·  184 reviews
"Mike Madrid is doing God's work. . . . mak[ing] accessible a lost, heady land of female adventure." —ComicsAlliance

"Sharp and lively . . . [Madrid] clearly loves this stuff. And he's enough of a historian to be able to trace the ways in which the portrayal of sirens and supergirls has echoed society's ever-changing feelings about women and sex."—Entertainment Weekly

"A lon
Paperback, Revised and updated, 336 pages
Published October 11th 2016 by Exterminating Angel Press (first published August 1st 2009)
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Average rating 3.78  · 
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 ·  1,195 ratings  ·  184 reviews

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Start your review of The Supergirls: Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines
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
Chelsea 🏳️‍🌈
** Received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review **

4 stars.

Okay, so I'm not sure the proper term for this kind of book? It's more of a study of the history of representation of women in the comic book industry. And boy, oh boy, is it really kind of depressing. First of all, if I need to explain why women are still, TO THIS DAY, being poorly represented and characterized in comic book properties, you might want to check out now. I've encountered enough dudebros on Twitter who think ev
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 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 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
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. ...more
Aug 24, 2010 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
Sep 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
"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

This quote sums up the frustration I felt reading about the lack of representation of woman in comics. Madrid does a decent job giving us a comprehensive history dating back to the 1940s. You know those femme fatale characters in pulp fiction novels and film noirs; well, they were in comics too. Unfortunately, even those that had their own titles, had
Oct 20, 2009 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
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was more like a 3.5 for me!
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
Feb 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I cannot say enough about this book!

I have been reading comics since the early 90's, and I am always up for an in-depth conversation about comic book characters/art/stories. This book was such a great read, and for a book hitting the feminism area with a male writer, he does it with style.

Beginning with the first superheroines, Madrid structurally pairs each decade with the advancements made by various women and how often the problems affecting women in society were mirrored in comics by the me
Mackenzie Perry
May 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed-books
Engaging and insightful, The Supergirls applies a women's studies, feminist, and queer theory lens to the history of costumed heroines. It's a definite must read for anyone with an interest in the relationship between comic books and depictions of women in pop culture. It will certainly impact my perspective of comic book heroines, and their evolution throughout the history of the genre, going forward.
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is really a 3.5/5, but I rounded up. And interesting chronicling of the ups and downs of women in comic books, but because it serves as an overview of the medium as a whole you never really get to dive deeper and connect with any of the superwomen he is describing.
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
Aug 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable, somewhat incomplete overview of the history of women superheroes. Perfect for someone wanting a well-written primer on the subject. I loved the essay on Supergirl and Leslie Gore, but wish Madrid had factored in another parallel. Yes, the book came out before Bombshells and the queer fan culture now surrounding the SG series, but with Gore and The Maid of Might, that queerness was always already there. The essay on the Revolt of the Girl Legionnaires was wonderful, and got me to re ...more
Apr 26, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Well, this was a mixed bag at best. I’m always here for feminist analysis of women in comics but not like this. Supergirls is certainly feminist in its premise and intention but fails in the execution.

The good
There are positives: the book provides a thorough overview of female superheroes over the years. Characters from DC and Marvel get the most attention, but other publishers come up as well. You can tell Madrid knows his stuff and includes a lot of useful information on the history of women
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
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: superheroes
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
Jul 05, 2012 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
Nov 02, 2014 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
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 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
Krisi Amey
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
Feb 02, 2015 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? ...more
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Contemporary young adult literature has often led the way in depicting the real-life issues facing teens from all backgrounds. To delve into ho...
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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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