Sisters Are Doin’ it for Themselves

Chicks in Capes, edited by Lori Gentile and Karen O’Brien

It’s always great to have a chance to review something that’s not a comic book, ain’t it? What we got today is “Chicks in Capes,” edited by Lori Gentile and Karen O’Brien.

We’ve got a pretty wide-ranging collection here — several well-known comics writers have stories — including Trina Robbins, Barbara Kesel, and Valerie D’Orozio — as well as plenty of other writers who aren’t as familiar with comics readers. This collection’s particular gimmick is that all the authors are women, and all the stories are about female superheroes.

So what do we have in the table of contents?

  • “Inanna: Witchwoman” by Trina Robbins — A woman living in an oppressive religious dictatorship learns that she has illegal superpowers.
  • “Mischief” by Elaine Lee — A shapeshifting heroine has a really, really, really bad day.
  • “The Birth of Lady Sekhmet” by K.G. McAbee — An Egyptologist finds herself empowered by the ancient gods to stop an immortal sorceress.
  • “Nightingale” by Valerie D’Orozio — A look at what it’s really like inside an insane superheroine’s head.
  • “Diary of a Superchick” by Jennifer Fallon — Proof that superheroines come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes have the weirdest powers.
  • “Kirby Girls” by Barbara Randall Kesel — A bunch of superpowered galpals hang out in a coffee shop and dish about life.
  • “Carpe Noctum” by Cathy Clamp — A heroine battles burglars and tracks down the secret villain who killed her mentor.
  • “The Survivor: Coming of Age” by Gillian Horvath — An immortal with precognitive powers takes a proactive approach to evil.
  • And another half-dozen more…

Verdict: Thumbs up. With some reservations. A lot of the characters in these stories aren’t really very heroic. Several of the characters may actually qualify as outright supervillains — D’Orozio’s Nightingale may be insane enough that we can’t trust her observations about who the bad guy is, Horvath’s Survivor is taking down bad guys before they commit the crimes she’s pursuing them for, and Kesel’s Kirby Girls seem more like the characters in “Sex and the City” than superheroes. There are other stories where the characters skate the line between right and wrong — or just sail right over it into gleeful evil — and non-heroic superheroes are one of the things that’ve always bugged me about a lot of prose superhero stories.

But for that complaint, it’s still a pretty good bunch of stories. The stories by Robbins, Fallon, McAbee, and Clamp are outstanding and thrilling superhero tales, and even if the lead character isn’t particularly heroic, D’Orozio’s “Nightingale” is a wonderful story with plenty of zing.

The other stories aren’t about cookie-cutter characters, either — some of the heroines are comic-book heroic, some are less so, some are tricksters at heart, some are more interested in the finer things in life, some are obsessively devoted to their quests for justice, and some actually do think a lot about shoes or gossip about their boyfriends when they’re not kicking ass. Thank goodness — I would’ve been weirded-out if all the characters were exactly the same.

And with one of the Big Two comics publishers so often going out of its way to diss superheroines and female creators and fans, it’s nice to see so many excellent women writers putting together a huge collection of stories about superheroines. There’s a lesson there for any publishers willing to listen.

Go pick it up.

Comments are closed.