“DC super heroes inspire us to reach new heights, find strength in adversity, and access our inner power.”
Tagline form Women of Action by Shea Fontana.
What is Women of Action?
After the tagline on the inside cover flap, the blurb continues “This beautifully illustrated collection profiles the fiercest, strongest and most independent Super Heroes and Super-Villains in the DC Universe.” A much better description of the book than I could ever write.
Women of Action is a 160-page hardback book that explores 40 female DC characters and some of the women that helped create them. Each character described is accompanied by original illustrations created especially for the book by a panel of female and non-binary artists.
After its introduction, Women of Action is broken down into 5 sections:
Wonder Woman, unsurprisingly, opens the book and has the largest entry. Other entries in this section include Hippolyta, Wonder Girl, and Circe.
Supergirl, Power Girl, and Lois Lane head up the Metropolis section. Fun Fact: The Lois Lane section has a quote from GeekFamily editor and resident comics expert Corrina Lawson: “She had a really cool job. It was the first job I saw a woman on television have, that I personally wanted to do. I wanted her job.” (In an interesting meta-twist here, Corrina is our Tuesday night editor, so regularly edits my Word Wednesday columns and probably edited these very words. This is what the first draft of Inception looked like!)
3. Gotham City.
The book’s biggest section, opening with Bat Girl, before moving onto Oracle, and the Birds of Prey, both as a collective and offering profiles of its individual members. This section also includes Harley Quinn, Catwoman, and Poison Ivy.
The characters that don’t quite fit in to the above categories, including the formidable Amanda Waller, Big Barda, Raven, and Starfire.
5. Behind the Scenes.
The real-life heroes of the comic book world, though possibly they wouldn’t see themselves that way. This section chronicles the vast array of female talent working in the comic book industry. Patty Jenkins, Jeanette Kahn, and Gail Simone are all given short profiles that showcase their contribution to DC comics, as are 9 other women who have worked hard to elevate the industry to a more equal platform.
Each character entry is a mixture of description, usually including an origin story, followed by the evolution of the character over the years, and the social factors at a given time that governed the stories told. For some of the longer-running characters, we learn a little about how their appeal changed over the years and how their stories evolved to reflect the time of writing.
Women of Action draws not only the comic book stories but also draws on the experiences of the writers as well as the portrayal and reception of TV and film adaptations too.
The book finishes with acknowledgments and profiles of all the contributing artists.
Why Read Women of Action?
There are two main reasons for reading Women of Action. One, if you’re like my son and love female superheroes, (as previously mentioned during my review of the DC Ultimate Character Guide) you’ll love this book. The artwork is bold and arresting and the text great, if you want to learn more about your favorite characters. If like me, your comic book knowledge is fairly thin, there’s still so much fascinating stuff in here. The character overviews point to a wealth of intriguing stories of which I’ve only scratched the surface.
Which brings me to the second reason for reading Women in Action. In a world where it’s tended to be the male-dominated characters and stories that have bubbled to the surface of mainstream culture, Women of Action is a great way to learn about the progressive, inclusive storylines that have been quietly told for a very long time. There is a huge backlist of titles to catch up on. It’s quite an inspiration to discover such an amazing back-catalog of characters and stories.
Women of Action is not only a great way of contextualizing the more famous female DC characters. It’s also a great way of learning about lesser-known players too. Granny Goodness and Zatanna, to name but two interesting characters that I had never heard of, as well as an introduction to Marguerite Bennett’s The Bombshells. The Bombshell story arc had, until now, completely passed me by but it looks amazing and I can’t wait to find out more.
If you still need a third reason to read Women of Action it’s the final Behind the Scenes section. The potted histories given here are a great way to find out about the evolution of female superheroes and their creators and, again, the book offers a great springboard to dive into the deeper cuts of comic book culture.
I am most definitely a journeyman comic book consumer. I like the stories in their wider sense; the intersections and overreaching arcs. This book fills this niche too. Whether you have a passing interest like me or a profound love of the DC characters, Women of Action has lots to offer. It’s a lovingly curated homage to some of the best comic book characters in existence.
If you enjoyed this review, do check out my other Word Wednesday posts.
Women of Action will be out on October 22nd, published by Chronicle Books.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.