Stevens Sermonizes (on) Sequential Art: Superman Pulls a Machine, Wonder Woman Does What?

Given who her father is, it is perhaps not a surprise that my daughter likes super heroes. She gets excited to wear her Captain America sweatshirt, to play with her Hulk action figure, to read the few comics and super hero books she owns.

Her current favorite it one we snagged from the library. We own the three "First" books--Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman and this one is sort of a cousin to those, same trade dress, some fonts, etc etc. She's aged out of them a bit, but they are good practice for her to start to memorize passages and thus start to recognize specific words.

Here she models it for you:

And here she is finally convinced by her dad that people will want to see her face and the book at the same time.

Anyway, for a comic book fan like myself, it is great fun to see your one of your kids also get excited about them. And this book not only has Batman and Superman but Plastic Man, Hawkman, Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, the Penguin, and Sinestro so Dad gets to show off his knowledge a bit to a captive audience who wants to know exactly who this one is and he does.

And then Dad--me, I mean, to be clear--catches on, finally. "He" is the operative word here.

There are four woman heroes in this. Which sounds ok, until I add that there are four and they appear on two pages.

 Then why are we calling them girls? 

Then why are we calling them girls? 

This one isn't bad. They look dynamic, their expressions indicate a little something of their personality and so on. On the other hand, three of the four women in this book appear on one page that only denotes their gender/sex. In a book filled with driving batmobiles and jumping off buildings and flying, these three are just used to illustrate that men and women are opposites.

Worse though, in my opinion, is Wonder Woman's fate.

Superman, by the way, is the other half of this dyad. He's pulling a giant machine.

Again, the problem here is representation. Having Wonder Woman push a girl in a swing is kind of nice. But if you don't also, somewhere in the book, have a woman or women super heroes doing super heroic things...it looks weird. DC's most prominent male hero--Superman--appears as part of several dyads. He is one of three men in one, pulls a machine in another, lifts a car in a third, and soars through Metropolis's day time sky in still another. I think I am missing at least one more too.

DC's most prominent female hero--Wonder Woman--on the other hand, takes part in only in one dyad. Where she pushes a swing.

This book was published in 2013.

This is not a DC bashing moment, I promise. This is just to illustrate how relatively little time is given to women super heroes. You could do this with any company trafficking in super hero comics. The industry, not just a specific company, can and should do better.

And to expand the issue beyond women for a moment, all the characters in this book are white. Except for the pink/purple Sinestro, I suppose. 

Again, the book was published in 2013.

The audience is out there, my daughter, all less than 4 years of her, is proof enough of that. And there is product a-plenty to put into her hands. It'd just be nice if more of that product offered her heroes that were girls and women. Or that were black like her great Uncle Tony. Or Latino like several of her teachers at pre-school. And so on. Again, it isn't that such characters do not exist. So let's find a way to get them into the beginner books we are giving our kids. Or the all-age comics elementary school students are reading. Or the movies everyone is seeing.