Despite the widely held belief comics are “kid stuff,” well… they’re not. I mean, sure, some of them are but even the capes and tights brigade books (maybe especially the capes and tights brigade books these days) are actually intended more for those of us of a certain age. And by a certain age, I mean the age at which we no longer cringe and say, “Ewwwwwww,” when Han and Leia share that kiss.
The best comics tackle difficult and relevant subject matter: substance abuse, racism, misogyny, homophobia, domestic violence, politics, current events, the difficulties of parenting, and so on. Many of those best comics explore these issues through the lens of a female protagonist or, at the very least, an important secondary female character. The problem? A huge number of these books are cancelled before women’s stories are told to completion, often unceremoniously (looking at you, Marvel) without the opportunity for any real conclusion or resolution or, honestly, anything rather than a brief internet blurb announcing the cancellation and a middle finger to devoted, and now annoyed, or downright furious, readers (still looking at you, Marvel).
I have a solution!
Not a new concept, obviously. Quite a few superhero/heroine novelizations have been released in the last few years. The majority, thus far, have been YA focused and that’s cool; kids need heroes, especially in this age of scumbag Nazi revivalism. And a book being classified as YA doesn’t preclude adult enjoyment. I, for one, think the DC Superhero High books are adorable and have had fun reading them to the kids or listening to my husband do the same. We have the Miles Morales novel on stand by and the Black Widow ones as well.
So, if we agree that superheroes can fill the pages of novels effectively, and that such characters aren’t exclusively for children, I think we can agree we’re due for some adult-targeted, long form goodness.
But which characters to expand upon?
How about those super heroines who have been forced out or allowed to fall to the wayside in favor of their male compatriots or become prey to inaccurate sales number? There are plenty of interesting ladies standing by to answer the call.
Here you go.
Ayo and Aneka (Black Panther/Worlds of Wakanda)
This one is a no brainer; bring back the authors of two, cancelled-before-their-time-yet-again books about POC heroes and let them flesh out and complete the story of Ayo and Aneka, two of the Dora Milaje (the royal family of Wakanda’s personal guard), who happen to love one another almost as much as they love their country. A power couple in every sense of the world, these two women will do anything for king and country except relinquish one another. Duty and honor abound in their tale, as well as hate, revenge, and devotion. Ayo and Aneka’s complex relationship, full of misunderstandings, difficult choices, beauty, bravery, and faith deserves the in depth-exploration only a novel will allow. Part superhero story, part political thriller, part romance, and part sci-fi adventure, Worlds of Wakanda was still going strong when Marvel pulled the plug and that is a literary tragedy. I’m not sure a happy ending is in the cards for Ayo and Aneka, but they deserve more than an indecorous, abrupt, Big Two heave-ho.
Harleen Quinzel (various)
Suggested author: Jessie Chaffee (Florence in Ecstasy)
Most of us know she was once a brilliant psychiatrist. We know she’s the Joker’s “girlfriend” (read: horrifically abused plaything). We know a little bit about her very messed up college years but beyond those tidbits, Harley Quinn’s backstory remains something of a mystery. A fascinating, troubling backstory considering where, and with whom, she ended up. Plumbing her past would help readers better understand how Harleen became Harley; it might even help some readers recognize similar patterns or choices in their own pasts before they find themselves in the crosshairs of a psychopathic abuser (no, I’m not joking. Think about the books which have influenced you the most and why. It’s at least in part because you identify with one of the characters, no?). Chaffe’s debut novel was beautiful and brutally honest. She won’t shy away from Harley’s truths and she will give us a fleshed out characterization which includes grief, humor, despair, self-realization, exhaustion, and, again, brutal and absolute honesty. She will show us the women beneath the makeup and jester suit and we will all be the better, and stronger, for having seen it.
America Chavez (America)
America is still young in the current Marvel Universe but she handles a pretty heavy burden for a woman her age: her mothers sacrificed themselves to save her, she is Latinx, and a lesbian, in an ugly world primed to hate her for both. Her mentors are falling to their egos and America is struggling with college. She is an outsider in so many ways, just as so many of we comic and book geeks often feel we are. Though the reasons for which we find ourselves hugging the margins may be different, America is our sister in alienation. I’d love to see more of her internal monologue, more of her process of adaptation, more of what makes her so strong in the face of so much adversity – it’s an assist we could all use given the state of this nation and the likelihood we’re going to have a very serious, protracted, and ugly battle on our hands. Rivera has America’s voice and attitude nailed; no reason to mess with perfection there. Older offers an amazing ability to ground the incredible and magical in the here and now, to bring the unbelievable to us and make it part of our lives. We’re going to need that sort of sorcery and attitude badly in the coming months and years while we put this mess of a country back together.
Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman, Doctor Strange)
Jessica Drew is a kick-ass heroine who takes absolutely no crap from anyone. She’s a single mom by choice, a working single parent, who (wisely) insists, despite loving the hell out of her kid and being a phenomenal parent, on continuing to do the job she loves. So many of us have felt the tug-shove of family vs career vs passion and so many of us, no matter the necessity or desire, end up doing daily battle with “mom guilt,” and we could all use a glimpse of Jessica’s insight. Her long and varied superhero career provides great story fodder but I want to know more about the less flashy aspects of her life: Jess was on the path to happily ever after but now she’s back in New York fighting demons with Doctor Strange. Why did she go back? What’s the connection (aside from Hopeless being the author) between Jess and Strange now? Where are Roger and Ben? Where’s the kid? For that matter, when/how/why did she decide to have the kid in the first place? Was there a defining moment? A process? How does a super heroine choose a donor? Even after Gerry’s birth, Jessica’s various super friends are speculating on the identity of the baby’s father; why doesn’t Jess want them to know she chose artificial insemination? Sarah Kuhn has proven her superhero chops twice over with her own novels, and she has the blistering wit to bring Jess to life; Kuhn also has a deft touch with the more internal, emotional, intimate aspects of her characters, making her the perfect author to give us the full Jessica Drew.
Zelda (Black Cloud)
We’re getting some of Zelda’s backstory in the aforementioned Image book and it’s excellent stuff. We know the now down on her luck Zelda was once a powerful sorceress beloved by many. That she is now reviled for a horrific mistake, the magnitude of which is only just coming to light for readers. Zelda’s core story is unfolding at a perfect pace with an occasional, and well-placed, flashback to whet our appetite for her once upon a time, but the magical world to which she now fights to travel, which is as ready to tear her apart as welcome her, is so massive and intricate, it’s begging for a long form format in which to stretch out. It is a world filled to the brim with misdirection and magic and the inexplicable, the whole glorious mess running parallel to our own, each world affecting the other in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Dawson has given us compelling, just-different-enough-to-be-chilling parallel dimensions before and there’s no doubt in my reader brain she would nail the world of Black Cloud as surely as she’s going to nail the character of Phasma in her upcoming Star Wars novel. She has also written across a range of genres, including both science fiction and fantasy, which will provide a nice balance in this particular universe.
Tatsu Yamashiro (Katana) (various)
Katana’s origins are tragic and brutal: her husband and children were murdered by her brother-in-law. Her weapon is haunted by the souls of those it has been used to kill (including her husband’s). She is most often alone in the world, even when a member of a team. Despite her life being continually marred by loss and grief, however, Tatsu has remained a hero (well, mostly. You know they all have to go evil at least once, it’s a thing) and I want to know how. I want to know why (sensing a theme?). I want to know what a character like Katana does when she isn’t saving the world (thanks loads, Fraction). Is she perpetually haunted? Does she exist in the world of the living or the world of the dead? Is she ever happy? Can she be happy? Will she ever be able to move on? Is being a hero enough? Choo and Cho are the perfect authorial team to tackle those questions; Choo’s The Ghost Bride is a thrilling blend of mythology, ghost story, and horror while Cho has given us an independent outsider with skills beyond those which her traditional culture has permitted in the past. Their combined writerly prowess would, no doubt, bring us the best Katana yet.
Jessica Jones (Alias, Jessica Jones, Defenders)
Suggested author: K.C. Alexander (Necrotech)
Much like Alexander’s Riko, Jessica Jones isn’t a typical super heroine. She’s angry, reluctant, and rude. She is an alcoholic. She is a survivor. She is uncompromising. She is both completely lacking is self-confidence and a sense of self-worth while also managing to be unapologetically Jessica Jones. She does what must be done, when it needs to be done and she’s willing to hurt people, including her husband, Luke Cage, to do it. While the Netflix show filled in some of the blanks in Jessica’s story, there’s clearly so much more than Bendis has given us: her seemingly happy domestic life with Luke, her love for their child, her willingness to walk away from her family for the greater good despite her deeply ingrained cynicism and her baseline, 100 percent justified fury at the world and the majority of people in it. Alexander’s balls-to-the-wall (for lack of a better term), in-your-face style are perfectly suited to expanding on Jessica’s story. Like Jessica herself, Alexander will tell us the truth of things, be they beautiful or horrific or downright cruel. She’d do right by Jessica and by us.
Jane Foster (Mighty Thor)
What is it like to live while dying (not existentially. Literally)? How do you dedicate yourself to a purpose when your whole life could come crashing down at any moment, when you’re on the clock even more than the average mortal human? What is it like to escape that, to be a goddess, only to have to fall once more if you want to continue to be a hero? What is it like to love, and be loved, by a god? What’s it like to break up with a god (seriously, what do you do when you run into that ex)? What’s it like to kiss Sam Wilson mid-air and then have him sit beside you while you get your chemo; to be his goddess and then his fragile, ill friend? These are huge, convoluted subjects and only an author with wide ranging, twisted (compliment), massive ideas could possibly take them on. Ever read anything by LaValle? If you haven’t you should and if you have, you know exactly why he’d be the writer to take on Jane Foster and The Might Thor. His books are impossible creations, grounded until they’re not, horror until they’re fantasy, beautiful until they’re terrifying and back again, human scaled until they explode into mythology beyond the reader’s wildest imaginings. His words are the written equivalent of The Might Thor‘s exquisite art, from Asgard to Svartelfheim and believe me, that’s saying something.
The possibilities are, of course, endless but these ladies top my novelization list.
Who would you like to see? Which author(s) would you like to see take them on?