Chronicle Books and writer Shea Fontana have come together for DC: Women of Action, an exciting and engrossing spotlight on DC Comics’ most prominent female characters and creators. Shining a light on characters both good and bad, this is a great book that shows that these strong women don’t always need powers to be super.
If you can think of a prominent DC comics female hero, chances are she’s represented here. The book is divided into sections based on location: Themyscira, Metropolis, Gotham, and Beyond. Some big names are included, like Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Lois Lane, Batgirl, Oracle, Big Barda, and Starfire, along with notable villains like Cheetah, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and Harley Quinn. Groups are represented as well, including the Birds of Prey and the women of the League of Shadows, and Fontana makes some fairly deep pulls by spotlighting the likes of Silver Banshee, Lady Blackhawk, and even the Carrie Kelley Robin.
I do find it curious that none of the Legion of Super-Heroes are mentioned, especially with Saturn Girl’s presence in various books over the past few years and the group itself making a comeback. Even still, this isn’t meant as a comprehensive rundown of every female character who has ever appeared in a DC comic book. No, this is a celebration of great female characters and creators. It’s not an encyclopedia; it’s an acknowledgment of the mark these heroes and villains have made on DC Comics, and in Shea Fontana’s life in particular.
That mission statement is made clear right off the bat, as the first words in Fontana’s introduction are “superheroes inspire us.” Whether they leave us awestruck with from their heroic deeds or move us to be better than ourselves, she posits that superheroes have always “epitomized the best of humanity.”
To drive the point home even more, Fontana shines a spotlight on a number of influential female creators from DC’s history. Some of the names will be familiar to most fans, as superstars like Gail Simone, Nicola Scott, and Louise Simonson are still doing great work today, and have been doing so for decades now. Patty Jenkins gets a well-deserved nod as well, considering she made one of the best comic book films of the past decade at least with Wonder Woman. Then there are names that lifelong fans will recognize, but newer fans might not. Colorist Adrienne Roy, Vertigo founder Karen Berger, long-time Aquaman artist Ramona Fradon (who continues to draw to this day), and editor Dorothy Woolfolk, just to name a few.
Fontana follows a pretty set structure with the character spotlights: each section opens with the character’s name, a quote from either the character herself or a creator, and then an overview of the character’s history. Characters like Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, and Batgirl have several pages devoted to them, while the likes of Big Barda, Mera, and Stargirl have a single page. Like I said before, though, this is not intended to be an encyclopedic history of each character, but instead a treatise on their importance to the history of comics. In many cases, we’re given insight into how important these characters are to comic writers, artists, and Fontana herself. She draws attention to how a character like Oracle was a strong character with a disability, or how Jessica Cruz’s struggles with anxiety have made her one of the richest, most fully-realized new characters of the past decade.
Fontana’s voice and writing style are warm, witty, and welcoming… and that was unintentional alliteration, but there you go. When telling of a character’s history, she’s detailed without being esoteric, and she interjects a lot of personality into the various profiles. “Granny Goodness is one bad old lady,” she deadpans at the end of Granny’s overview, and points out how several of these characters embrace their beauty as part of their strengths, like Vixen’s naturally curly hair.
Each profile is accompanied by at least one illustration from artists like Jen Bartel, Colleen Doran, Elsa Chang, and Annie Wu. They’re high-quality images that fit each character’s personality and demeanor, but what I liked most was the variety of timeframes and iterations the artists pulled from. Poison Ivy, for instance, is rendered in her original look from Batman #181: green leggings, a “leafy” bodysuit, and various adornments made of flora. Catwoman, on the other hand, has two separate images accompanying her profile: first, a throwback to her Golden Age look, with the purple dress and green cape, and then a more modern outfit based on Darwyn Cooke’s design.
Yes, goggles included.
There’s some really dynamic storytelling going on with the images as well. Wonder Woman goes from a decidedly Silver Age portrayal, with arms crossed, star-spangled skirt billowing, and a welcoming smile across her face, to a more stoic, focused look in a modern suit with armored accents and two fellow Themscyirans flanking her on either side. Supergirl, in her “introductory image,” is talking with a child on a swingset, while her next picture sees her flying above unseen assailants, bullets flying at her as a broken rifle is clutched in each hand. I love how each artist chose to highlight the various strengths of each character, whether through humor (a Silver Age Lois Lane taking down a purse snatcher, with Superman arriving to find that she’s taken care of it herself, thank you very much) or dramatic action (Renee Montoya taking charge at the scene of a crime, prepared to lead two uniformed officers into the fray.)
It’s a great book to either flip through to find your favorite characters, or to sit down and read from cover to cover. The prose is easy to read, yes, while still being informative and thorough. While I do wish there were some more characters and that some of the profiles were fleshed out a bit more, wanting more of a good book and good characters is never a bad thing. This is a strong, sturdy volume that would look great on your shelf or coffee table, and is the perfect gift for other wonder women in your life.
DC: Women of Action will be available for purchase on October 22.
Overall: DC’s finest women, whether they be on the printed page or the ones writing them, are more than deserving of such a strong, entertaining read as this book. It’s beautifully designed with some absolutely stunning illustrations, and the prose from Shea Fontana is as inviting as it is informative. When the only negative thing I can say about it is “I wish there was more of this,” you know you’ve got something good going on. DC: Women of Action is a great tome for any and all comics fans, and a great celebration of the women who make the comics that we love so much.
DISCLAIMER: Chronicle Books provided us with a copy of the book for the purposes of this review.
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