The Adventures of Superhero Girl
You can read Faith Erin Hicks’ Superhero Girl online, but when the book is this pretty, I’d rather hold it in my hands. Some of these strips were previously available in a self-published collection, but The Adventures of Superhero Girl has more of the comics, plus it’s in color.
Kurt Busiek’s introduction makes some wonderful points about how a funny superhero story that stands on its own isn’t necessarily a parody — it just seems that way if you read too much of the grim continuity-focused universes put out by other publishers. The humor and the powers are just entertaining ways to costume a story that’s really about figuring out life as a young person.
And those are the best kinds of superhero stories, those that have amazing occurrences but are really about something deeper and more meaningful. That’s nicely summed up by the very first comic, one where a young woman in a cape and mask jumps off a building in order to give a panhandler some spare change. It didn’t take powers for her to ultimately make a difference there.
Superhero Girl does the usual heroic comic things — rescuing a cat, fighting space monsters or ninjas — but she also shrinks her cape doing laundry, worries talking to her mom on the phone, forgets to take her mask off in her secret identity, and fears she’s not a real superhero because she doesn’t have a horrible tragedy in her past. (A disturbingly true comment on current genre expectations.) She’s unsure of herself because she’s that age, at that point in life where she still worries about what other people think and define her as. Her archnemesis isn’t some superintelligent supervillain, but a coffee-swilling hipster who keeps telling her she isn’t doing it right (and who has a disturbingly appropriate secret when he later reappears).
Hicks’ layouts follow a horizontal Sunday comic strip format, but within that size and shape, she’s very creative at laying out the story in unexpected ways. Particularly notable are the vertical panels that she uses to indicate tall buildings or trees or superpowered action throws. These panels are also often used to open a strip, setting the stage for the events that follow.
As the comic continues, we meet more of the supporting cast: her annoying roommate, her overachieving older brother Kevin, bad guy The Marshmallow Menace, and another superhero girl, Spectacle. Superhero Girl struggles with trying to find a job and worries about money while practicing her craft as well as coping with appearance-based expectations. Hicks is genius at turning comic genre conventions into things we all can relate to. So much of what Superhero Girl does are common, everyday things, such as going to a party or taking up a hobby, made funnier by her mask. Under it all, though, she’s a person who seems real, someone I’d want to get to know.