Okay, so this blog’s title is a bit of a misnomer – it should really read “The Only Six Lady Team Up Comics of 2013.” But hey, who’s counting? (Me. I’m counting.)
To be clear, there have been several kick-ass women in comics this year. Captain Marvel alone knocked it out of the park and well into space. Grace Randolph’s Superbia overfloweth with diverse women filling the roles of mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, supers, normal, heroes, villains, and everything in between. And if I had a time machine, I’d go back to my senior year of college and write a dissertation about all the reasons why Faith and Charlene of the Harbingers reboot are the most innovative and exciting lady characters comics have seen in years.
But there’s just something about those lady team up titles. I’m so over seeing women in competition merely because they are women and a hack writer doesn’t know what else to do with more than one – not just in comics, but across the board in media. Girl team ups are the antidote, the necessary reminder that some of us actually like and trust each other. A solo book is great for in-depth individual character study, and I get how “girl who can hold her own in otherwise all-dude team” fulfills that age-old Not Like the Other Girls fantasy most geeky girls know well in the shadowy high school part of their hearts. Lady team up comics let us see women existing together, supporting one another, and having each others’ backs in a fight – ideally with M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” playing on repeat in the background.
The dream, of course, is that come this time next year there will be so many lady team up comics that we’ll be able to fill out a Top Ten list plus honorable mentions. But until then, I’ll keep my long boxes warm with the lady friendships in these six titles.
6. World’s Finest: Huntress/Power Girl – DC Comics
To be clear, I really wanted to love what World’s Finest had to offer this year. The continued adventures of Batman’s daughter Helena Wayne and Superman’s cousin Kara Starr, best friends boom-tubed into another dimension and searching for a way home? Sold. Especially after the two awesome issues that rounded out 2012 – a spectacular #0 issue that finally gave us some Helena and Kara backstory (including their first meeting) and a warming bottle story where Helena attends a Take Back the Night rally – I was really rooting for this title to continue its steady incline of character development and deliberately paced plot. Unfortunately, the World’s Finest team does exactly the opposite by taking the Apokolips storyline they had been slowly building toward and punching us in the face with its very sudden climax. The banter and friendship (and let’s be real here, why am I reading this title if not for banter and friendship?) get sacrificed in favor of generic interdimensional attacks! Boom explosions! Carnage of tertiary characters without any sort of satisfying emotional response from our two main ladies! It’s like they made a checklist of every way to possibly alienate their established audience and executed every item without pause or mercy. And with the departure of celebrated artist George Perez back in May, it’s been an especially hard year for a World’s Finest fangirl. But not all hope is lost: November’s issue offered a temporary resolution to the Apokolips storyline, ushering a de-powered Power Girl into December. With any luck, this shift in power dynamics will make for a new and interesting path for Kara and Huntress to follow – hopefully back to more character-driven stories in the coming months.
5. Freelancers – Boom! Studios
I’m gonna warn you right now that Freelancers is not a title you read for its rich, coherent plot. But y’know what? Sometimes that’s okay. Sometimes you just wanna kick back and breeze through a six-issue series about a couple of sassy bounty hunters named Cassie and Val who are forced to team up with rival Katherine Rushmore to defeat the corrupt martial arts master who raised them. Sure, the story’s kind of all over the place, but it’s easy enough to follow even if some of the dots don’t totally connect and certain characters play jump rope their alliances for no real character-driven reason. But the art’s poppy and fun, decked out in color schemes that some critics have called “garish” but I find enchantingly bright and well suited to the Venice Beach setting. Freelancers is definitely the guilty pleasure summer beach read of the comic book world, but sometimes – particularly in an era where “dark” and “edgy” seem to reign supreme – a guilty pleasure summer beach read is exactly the breath of fresh air you didn’t know you needed.
4. X-Men – Marvel Comics
Here’s the thing about Brian Wood’s X-Men: I’m pretty sure I like this title. At least, I think I do. It’s just kind of hard to tell, because I’m a Marvel baby and this is my first X-Men book and two of the mere seven issues were Battle of the Atom crossover tie-ins that left me in want of more core-team interactions and less “Why are there like seven Beasts on this page right now?” That said, there are definitely a ton of great set pieces in place that I’m excited to see explored. The leadership tension between Rachel Gray and Storm is well built, and I’m looking forward to its inevitable breaking point (which would ideally end with a reaffirmation of their friendship and mutual respect for one another, but this is comics so I’m not holding my breath). I’m still not totally sold on Jubilee as a young mutant mother, but the devastatingly sweet beach day she shares with Wolverine and the baby in her hometown of Santa Monica, California is an excellent way to convince me that this is the best idea Marvel’s ever had. And this budding friendship between recently-returned Monet St. Croix and recently-revived Karima Shapandar? It’s like Christmas came early this year. Admittedly, with Kitty Pryde’s recent departure (some Battle of the Atom collateral damage, if I understand correctly?) and the constant division of team members on various missions, I feel like I’m still waiting for things to really come together for this team that isn’t quite a team yet. But I get the feeling that when it does, it’s gonna be a pretty stellar show.
3. Fearless Defenders – Marvel Comics
Fearless Defenders earned the number three spot on this list partially for what it was, but mostly for what it could’ve been. The much-hyped team up of Misty Knight, Valkyrie, Hippolyta, and Dani Moonstar (with the promise of many other lady supers to make an appearance) was on my pull list three months before the title hit shelves and didn’t disappoint upon delivery. The series kicks off with Caroline LaFey’s resurrection of the Doom Maidens, the first team of Asgardian Shield Maidens who were corrupted by their own power. In order to defeat them, Valkyrie is tasked with putting a team of suitable women together to become the next era of Shield Maidens – starting with Annabelle Riggs, queer human archeologist and friend of Misty Knight. What Annabelle lacked in extraordinary powers she made up for with extraordinary heart, and she quickly became the celebrated center piece of a series that seemed bound to have every woman on Earth-616 make an appearance eventually. Unfortunately, despite all the things Fearless Defenders did right (aside from that one weird issue where all the male paramours of our lady heroes get together to put an end to all this silly girl hero team nonsense and eventually get a stern lecture from an ex-heroine about Gender Roles; the whole thing reeked of condescending, try-hard faux-feminism), the book ultimately falls victim to its own cancellation. The final few issues clumsily lumber toward an ultimately open-ended conclusion that doesn’t feel quite satisfying for a series that got so many iconic Marvel women together in one place. Still, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Annabelle sightings in other Marvel titles come 2014.
2. Birds of Prey – DC Comics
The nice thing about Birds of Prey is that it’s nothing if not consistent. I was hesitant going into this series as a foaming-at-the-mouth fan of Gail Simone’s run on this book pre-New 52, but found myself pleasantly surprised by every issue. These New DC Universe ladies aren’t quite the Huntress/Oracle/Black Canary/Lady Blackhawk dream team of yore, but they have a certain roguish charm to them that I just can’t deny. Especially newbie fan-favorite Starling; gun-toting, foul mouthed, bourbon-and-lady-loving Starling, you truly are my moon and my stars of New 52 characters. Even though she “betrayed” her fellow Birds late this year, a move that caused most fans to cry fowl foul (sorry), I saw Starling’s strategic alliance with Mr. Freeze as one of pragmatism rather than pure evil. Thus despite her (temporary, I think) current absence from the book, I think this was a great year for the Birds of Prey. Though both the art and the writing have changed hands in recent months, the book still maintains gorgeous line work and a compelling narrative. Bringing renegade Talon member Stryx aboard the team in the absence of original (and always kind of out-of-place) Birds member Poison Ivy was an excellent choice. Stryx isn’t exactly my beloved Cassandra Cain, but there are so many resemblances (young mute assassin girl of color twisted by her past and considered almost inhuman seemingly on a quest for redemption) that I can’t help but get suckered into her story. Full disclosure: 2013 brings a dude named Condor onto the team with our lady Birds, so I’m not totally sure if I’m cheating by throwing this book on a list of all-lady team up comics. But I think there’s some kind of law against compiling something like this and not including Birds of Prey, so on the list it goes.
1. Rat Queens – Image Comics
Hope you’re in the market for a brutally girly twist on Dungeons & Dragons archetypes, because if so Image has got you covered in spades with this title about four rough-and-tumble lady mercenaries questing their way through a lush fantasy land. Let’s do a roll call: there’s Hannah, brash and arrogant daughter of two necromancers; Dee, squid-worshiping cultist turned nonbeliever who retained a penchant for healing spells; flower child Betty, known for her sticky fingers both because of the candy diet that fuels her and the treasure she steals; and middle-finger-tradition Violet, who shaves her beard and drinks wine as a statement against her Dwarven family. Not to gush or anything, but the ladies of Rat Queens literally won the whole year for me in just three issues with the perfect combination of sass, spirit, and sisterly affection for one another. Don’t get me wrong, the other titles on this list were a pleasure to read, but it’s a rare thing for a title to warm the frigid corners of my jaded comic heart the way Rat Queens does on a panel-by-panel basis. I think the thing that really gets me is just how developed I feel each of the Rat Queens is over just three short issues – even stray joke lines seem deliberately placed to reveal bits and pieces of each character at a steady pace. Admittedly, this book can get pretty gross. I wouldn’t recommend Rat Queens to anyone who feels squeamish about hangover-induced vomiting, filthy, filthy language, or arms literally snapped in half in the heat of battle. But I think the grimier parts might just be my favorites, if only because the Queens are allowed to do and experience these things without any sort of concern for how it might be off-putting because they’re ladies. Honestly, even if this doesn’t sound like your Ultimate Dream Book as it did for me, I’d recommend giving it a shot anyway. I can almost guarantee you’ll find no title on the shelves of your local comic store more giddily enjoyable than Rat Queens.
By Andrea Shea. Find her on Tumblr.