All in all, I was pretty happy with the books I finally selected, though I’ve had some second thoughts. I’m particularly interested that all of the books I finally chose were titled for male superheroes with women in sidekick roles. Now, I had a lot of legit reasons for that, like the recommended age-range of the titles in question. But I also wonder how much was subconsciously influenced by an internalized bias towards “boy books”.
What I Finally Bought:
- Batman Classic: Batman vs. The Riddler, by Donald Lemke. Illustrated by Steven E. Gordon and Eric A. Gordon. 2014 Harpercollins. http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062210081/batman-classic-batman-versus-the-riddler
- Superman Classic: The Incredible Shrinking Superhero! by Zachary Rau. Illustrated by Steven E. Gordon. 2009, also Harpercollins (via HarperFestival). http://www.harpercollins.com/9780061878558/superman-classic-the-incredible-shrinking-super-hero
- Ultimate Sticker Collection: Batman by DK Publishing, 2012. http://www.dk.com/us/9780756692506-ultimate-sticker-collection-batman/
Batman vs. The Riddler: This was the one book I could find with Batgirl that seemed age-appropriate and was not a Lego tie-in. (Though speaking of Lego, when the Batgirl thing came up, I also did briefly consider throwing in the towel on the book project and getting her this Lego set: http://shop.lego.com/en-US/Batman-The-Joker-Steam-Roller-76013 Because Lego! Not in the budget this year, though.)
Anyway. Batman vs. the Riddler. I had been a little worried about this one based on the Amazon preview, because it started out with the Riddler making a lame crack about teenage girls and shopping. But it turned out to be my favorite. Batman wanders around tracking down Batgirl’s kidnapped dad via a series of punny clues, until he is caught in a tunnel with rising water (which the Riddler is presumably hoping will drown him). Meanwhile, Batgirl tracked her father’s cell phone and turns up in time to open a floodgate/door/thingy that drains the water. Batman and Batgirl then proceed together and rescue Batgirl’s dad as a team, before Batgirl roars off on her motorcycle on the last page.
So, it does an excellent job of giving Batgirl a chance for heroics – if anything, Batman gets the short end of the stick, here. (Given the number of other books he appears in, I can’t feel too bad for him, though.)
Also, I have always been a sucker for a good rescue fic. Rescue is one of my favorite plots ever, and when I was young the very best stories let kids rescue their parents. Probably the alternate universe where I am a superhero fan includes me reading this book to pieces when I was six. I may consider getting it again in five years to read with my own kiddo, because: rescue. A Locksley, a Locksley, a rescue! Also, because Batgirl.
Incredible Shrinking Superhero: I chose this on the strength of this negative Amazon review: http://www.amazon.com/review/R21ZNE15NJTKSO/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0061878553&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=283155&store=books
I figured that if Wonder Woman was getting knocked around, she was probably in on the heroing. And she basically was. Though the reviewer may have also been onto something; given its considerable space constraints and how fast it had to skim over the action, the story did seem to linger rather on Wonder Woman as a target of violence.
I felt Wonder Woman often wound up playing second fiddle to Superman. She needed him to tell her what to do to rescue him. Her first effort at tying up Brainiac with her magic lasso allowed the villain to escape, while Superman was later able to successfully contain Brainiac with the same lasso.
But on the other hand, she managed to resist getting shrunk and did help save Superman and the President. She gets punched and later thrown into some spaceship controls and she gets right back up and at ’em. Also, while the text doesn’t explicitly state it, I believe from the illustrations that she helps Superman steer the spaceship back down. (He’s outside controlling it with super-strength, but she looks like she’s in the cockpit helping fly it with the damaged controls. Which makes sense, given her flying experience.)
The layout seemed more classic comic-book to me, with more emphasis on the illustrations – I liked that. The stakes are higher, and the scenario is grimmer than the Batgirl story. More stuff happens, with more sudden reversals and set-backs; but since the writer and artist didn’t have much text or many pages to convey it all, I felt like it wound up feeling a bit frantic and fractured.
Sexy posing made me more uncomfortable here than in the Batgirl story, even though one of the illustrators is the same. Ah well, whatever the innocent child makes of it will probably be much, much less disturbing than what my innocent six-year-old libido managed to make of Beatrix Potter’s books.
Oh yeah, and I felt like the conclusion of Brainiac getting his mind destroyed might be a little harsh for the age group, but let’s be real, that innocent six-year-old will probably eat that right up, too.
Ultimate Sticker Collection: Batman: I got this in case she already had/didn’t like the books, since after this much overanalyzing I was making myself anxious. I figure it’s hard to go wrong with stickers. It does have a sticker of Batgirl in it, and Batwoman, and Catwoman, etc. Pretty large cast gets represented, really, though heavily skewed male. Focuses a lot on the Batvehicles and Batgadgets. Some of the graphics were much better than others – pretty clearly they’d been pulling images from a lot of different places. Some were sharp, but others were very grainy. Not quite up to the standards I usually associate with DK.
I really liked that they included two copies of all the stickers. When I was a kid, I usually couldn’t bear to use unique stickers because then they wouldn’t be pristine and full of potential anymore. Two copies are way better.
So like I said, all in all, I was pretty happy with what I managed to find. Not so thrilled, however, with the process of finding it. Maybe if I’d been looking a year or two later, I would have had an easier time, now that DC is launching their Super Hero Girls thing. We’ll have to see. I am excited to see where they go with that – or maybe “cautiously optimistic” would be a better description than “excited.” Feeling vaguely good, anyway. Hopefully it will actually help fill the gap and not just whack a band-aid over it.
I didn’t get enough sleep last night to actually write the grumpy rant that I feel should actually conclude this series. So take the ranting part as read, and I’ll just say that I really wish there were fewer “boy books” and “girl books” and more “everyone books”. In that regard, I’m not so sure that DC Super Hero Girls could ever be everything I might wish, because I don’t think yet more gender segregation is what we need; but I’m certainly not going to complain about something that will provide more options. More options, yes please!