Saturday, January 2, 2010

The best five books to share with your friends

For NPR, Gwen Weldon came up with a list of the best five books to share with your friends.

One title on the list:
The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy and the History of Comic Book Heroines, by Mike Madrid, paperback, Exterminating Angel Press. List price: $16.95

A thoughtful, comprehensive history of women in comics is long overdue, and if Mike Madrid's Supergirls offered only this and nothing more, it'd still make a welcome addition to the growing canon of works exploring the cultural relevance of that singularly American creation, the superhero. Decade by decade, Madrid offers an encyclopedic overview of the origins and exploits of the few female crime fighters that have graced comic pages, pointedly calling out the reflexively sexist attitudes that have dominated the medium since its inception. (Read about Mike Madrid's first introduction to Supergirl when he was just 6 years old.)

But the book really comes alive in later chapters, when Madrid moves from precis to analysis, arguing that these characters must be understood as products of the times that birthed them, and that they — much more than their comparatively static male counterparts — continue to be shaped by shifting cultural attitudes in fashion, sexuality and, especially, pop music. But even as it delivers its clear-eyed critique of the way mainstream superhero comics have alternately eroticized or deified female characters, The Supergirls gleefully celebrates the medium itself, in all its goofy, glorious excess. One quibble: Given its subject, the book's lack of illustrations is disappointing.
Read about the other books on Weldon's list.

--Marshal Zeringue