Last month saw the much anticipated release of sequel volumes to two of indie comics’ most imaginative titles: Amelia Cole and the Hidden War and The Return of Zita the Spacegirl. The success of these independent comics, along with more mainstream titles like Marvel’s Ms. Marvel, Black Widow, and Captain Marvel, DC’s Harley Quinn, and Image’s Rat Queens, is rapidly disproving everything we thought we knew about the market for female-centered adventure/super-hero titles.
While success is not always synonymous with quality, for both Amelia and Zita the plaudits are both entirely deserved. I picked up the first volume of Amelia (writers: Adam Knave and D.J. Kirkbride, artist: Nick Brokenshire) while wandering about the 2014 Emerald City Comic Convention on a rare break from boothing at our Frederick the Great table, and devoured it on the plane ride back home. It’s a story about a woman trapped between three worlds, her home, where there is no magic, the secret world of magic-users that she alone had access to growing up, and a third world where she finds herself suddenly stranded, where half the population can use magic and reign as condescending paternalists over those forced to use science to stumble through their daily life. Wielding a wrench to replace her destroyed magic wand, the first volume was mainly about survival, as the city’s official magic-wielding police force attempted to contain her rogue magic through any means necessary.
In the second volume, having defeated the city’s primary Protector, Amelia finds herself assuming his mantle, while the original Protector is reduced to serving in a far-flung military unit investigating the arrival of other-worldly magic-draining creatures. While that is a fun story, the charm of Hidden War is really in Amelia’s ethical dilemma as the upholder of the established authority while finding herself increasingly drawn to the science-using underclass. There are definite echoes of America’s own Twentieth Century problems here with Benevolent Separation, and Knave and Kirkbride tread this ground with a much more subtly human understanding than is often at work in, say, your average X-title.
Amelia is an irresistible character fueled by empathy and a ceaseless drive to Help Everybody Always. As a commentary on Separate But Equal establishments and the subtle strains sung by Privilege when justifying its structuring of the world, there is plenty here for an adult reader to savor and enjoy, but I was also comfortable thrusting it into the hands of my ten-year-old daughter, who is a voracious devourer of titles that “have girls actually doing things.” In terms of age-appropriateness, if your child has already read the Harry Potter books, then he or she is easily ready for these.
The Return of Zita the Space Girl (author and artist: Ben Hatke) is the third book in First Second’s popular Zita series. My daughter and I love them all. Each page crackles with pure universe inventiveness. Dense in unforgettable and original characters, featuring at its core the redoubtable spirit of Zita, a girl sucked from Earth towards a destiny as a galactic adventurer, these books are simple joys to read.
This volume features Zita and her stalwart giant mouse companion Pizzicato unjustly cast into a dungeon for crimes against the galaxy. Cut off from the gang of fellow travelers she has accumulated on her adventurers (including a homicidal but very loyal orb warrior named One, a hulking lummox called Strong-Strong, Randy the neurotic Robot, a space gypsy and a charlatan), she is aided in her attempts at escape by a talking skeleton, a sentient pile of rags, and a star-wandering Leviathan whose power is being drained to keep the dungeon planet stable. There’s treachery and mystery and action and tragedy and, all things considered, it’s basically perfect. It stands on its own as a great escape story, but to have the full emotional impact, I’d seriously recommend picking up the first two volumes first.
A decade ago, this richness of choice in the realm of female-centered graphic novels was nowhere in evidence, and now it’s a struggle to keep up with the stream of high quality titles being produced by just the big publishers, not to speak of the waves of webcomic and creator-published content. Late to the game of gender parity, the comic book world is catching up fast. So, one media form nearly down, All The Rest Of Them to go….