On Heroin(es)

March 31st, 2008

Riddle me this:

Remember that old Sesame Street bit, “One of these things is not like the other?” Let’s play it with America’s best-known superheroes.

Batman. Superman. Wonder Woman. Spider-Man.

Even a 3-year-old could tell you the answer to that. Heck, you could even argue that Wonder Woman, the only one without a Y chromosome, shouldn’t even be in that pantheon.

Measured in mass appeal, look no further than the box office success of all those Super, Spider and Batman flicks. Wonder Woman, in fairness, had that Linda Carter television show. Sure, there have been rumblings of a movie in recent years, but nothing’s gelled together yet. (It might make more sense to give her slot in that pantheon to Wolverine).

The real riddle: Why?

The short and simple answer is that comic books are, generally speaking, by men, for men. But that’s changing.

Jim Valentino is the vice president, chairman of the board and secretary of Image Comics, the third largest comic book publisher in America. He is also the president of Shadowline, based out of Portland, Ore. Image acts as a publishing umbrella for Shadowline and other companies owned by Image partners.

“Catwoman was a movie (even if it did tank) there’s Tank Girl, Witchblade, Supergirl, Wonder Woman–all of whom have been in movies, TV or both,” Valentino says, via e-mail. “Sailor Moon in Japan, Phoenix, Rogue, etc. (Publisher) Aspen has built its entire output around female characters. Danger Girl, Lady Death, Birds of Prey are all headliners, the latter even had a short-lived TV show. As to WHY there are more MALES than females in both, the answer is that super-heroes are, by and large, a male power fantasy…but there is no dearth of popular or strong female characters.”

And, for the first time, fans can have a say about it.

Earlier this year Shadowline opened its gates to writers, with a simple, tantalizing prospect: create the next great super heroine. In an industry where every other fan fashions him or herself the next great superhero writer, that’s a lot of bad proposals to leaf through. To enter the contest, all anyone had to do was e-mail a paragraph outlining an idea for the next great super heroine. Shadowline would whittle down entries to the five best, then the public could vote for their favorite, the winner.

(Full disclosure: three of the rejected entries were mine).

“We already had a successful female villain book, and we weren’t getting in any worthwhile submissions for a super heroine book,” Shadowline Editor-In-Chief Kristen Simon says, explaining the genesis of the contest, via e-mail. “We really wanted a counter-part. We also needed to get attention for our entire lineup. I had noticed a lack of opportunities for writers whenever contests were held, and the idea started brewing. A way to get the book we needed, and bring attention to our line of books.”

They received about 5,000 entries, mostly from amateurs, but some from “known” comics professionals. Valentino saw the entries “blind,” without names attached.

“We narrowed it down to about 75 potentials, and selected 10 semi-finalists from that batch,” says Simon. “They all turned over five scripted pages, and after reading through those, we came to our Top Five Finalists that the public is now voting on.”

The five finalists went public last week, voting goes through April. The winner will get to pen a three-issue comic book series and will own rights to the character with Franchesco, the artist.

But will it work?

I think so, at least in the short term. It’s a pretty ingenious way to hype a book that hasn’t even been drawn yet. I’m willing to bet that the thousands of also-rans, like myself, would be interested enough to not only vote, but possibly even pick up the mini series. It’s only three issues, which in comic book terms is not that big of a financial commit-ment.

Whether or not the resulting super heroine will become a classic remains to be seen. From the pitches up on Simon’s Web site, edited for spoilers, it’s hard to tell. There are a cou-ple cool concepts, but from the paragraphs, it’s hard to say whether or not any of these ideas will be as fresh today as a nerdy teenager with spider powers was in the ’60s or an alien immigrant was in the ’30s.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072 or jeiserike@potomacnews.com.

Vote for your favorite!
Go to kris-korner.com/forum/index.php?topic=984.0, read about the five finalists and vote for your favorites.

“If anyone is heading over to the forum to read and vote on the 5 finalist’s concepts, please vote only once,” Shad-owline Editor-in-Chief Kristen Simon says. “We don’t want this to be a popularity contest, this was designed to see which concept the public would most like to read.  I know folks want to see their favorite one win, but play fair!”


Forget Wonder Woman. Staff writer Josh Eiserike lists his five favorite heroines, super or not, all worthy of your time and hard-earned cash.

5) Luna Moth aka was a city librarian shot by thugs trying to steal a magical text. Instead, the text gives her magi-cal powers.

Definitive story: This one’s kind of a cheat, because Luna Moth appears in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,” but Dark Horse Comics published a few Luna Moth adventures. Check out “Kavalier and Clay” by Michael Chabon. There’s a reason it won the Pulitzer. Random House, 2000. 

4) Agent 355 is the secret agent assigned to protect Yorick Brown, the goofball last man on Earth.

Definitive story: “Y: The Last Man” is a finite comic, running 60 issues. Start at the beginning, “Unmanned,” (DC Comics/Vertigo, 2002) and thank me when you get to the end, “Whys and Wherefores” (2007-2008) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra and an assortment of other artists.

3) Kitty Pryde has gone by various super heroine names, but she’s best known as the X-Man who can walk through walls.

Definitive story: “The Dark Phoenix Saga.” Kitty is only a young girl approached to join the X-Men right before the villainous Hellfire Club attacks. This results in longtime X-Man Jean Grey becoming the evil Dark Phoenix. Uncanny X-Men 129-138. Marvel Comics, 1980.

2) Arsenic aka Gert Yorkes. One of six Los Angeles teenagers to discover their parents were secretly super vil-lains, bent on world domination. Gert, the daughter of evil time travelers, has a telepathic bond with Old Lace, her pet deinonychus.

Definitive story: “True Believers.” A future version of Gert warns Gert and her friends about a boy named Victor Mancha, who will grow up to be the greatest villain the world has ever seen. Runaways Vol. 2, #1-6 by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona. Marvel Comics, 2005.

1) Jessica Jones. Formerly a costumed heroine known as “Jewel,” Jones wasn’t terribly good at crime fighting and took up private investigating instead.

Definitive story: “The Secret Origins of Jessica Jones.” Jessica is forced to confront The Purple Man, who had pre-viously emotionally and sexually abused her. Alias #22-28 by Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos and Mark Bagley. Marvel Comics, 2004. Mature audiences.

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