“Girlfrenzy” 1998

Nearly all of my most recent comic book purchase consists of female-led stories. This was by intent. I’m not entirely sure why or why now, but it was a conscious goal while making my selections, which is almost the only way this would happen; the great majority of comics including my own collection feature male characters. A little more variety seems all to the good.(1)

The majority of these female-led stories are from two DC… projects I guess we’ll call them, from 1998. This was not as much by intent, per se. But the “Girlfrenzy” and Tangent families offered known places to find a variety of complete-in-one-issue female-led stories, and the single examples of each which I owned already are satisfactory.(2) Plus, the dazzling cover design still feels remarkably fresh after 22 years.

I have already made comments on the individual comics in a previous post, but there are a few observations worth making about the whole assemblage.

First of all the fact that these projects existed at all, in 1998 no less, still seems a little astonishing. “Girlfrenzy” was an overt attempt to publish a family of female-led stories—something which as noted is rare enough in the world of comics publishing—and in the same year the Tangent project featured women in at least half of its lineup even though that was in no way required by the concept. Granted that both of these projects were also planned as one-offs and left that way, it’s still fascinating to me that someone greenlit even that much.

Even the branding is surprisingly female-led depending on how you look at it. All the comics in the Tangent lineup used familiar and popular titles, the majority of which are traditionally associated with male characters, although these “non-canon” tangent stories introduced a new female Flash, Joker, and Green Lantern. The “Girlfrenzy” line titles all led with established titles as well, but on the cover the female lead’s name is an order of magnitude more visually prominent. Thus “Superman: Lois Lane” looks at a glance like LOIS LANE with (Superman) in small print.

Despite most of the comics involved being created by men, the characters and stories also seem pretty credible to me, for what that’s worth; these are stories of adults who have and exercise agency, not damsels in distress.

There is however a weird and notable recurring pattern, across multiple stories in both families of titles, of the female lead characters being some kind of escaped lab project. Tomorrow Woman, Tangent Wonder Woman and Tangent Power Girl are all lab-made artificial beings. The leads of The Secret and Tangent Flash are both young women who were captured as infants by some sort of sinister conspiracy planning to use them as weapons, and the stories revolve around those conspiracies’ attempts to reclaim or destroy what they still consider escaped properties.

Each of these female leads has and exercises agency, as noted, but it was odd to notice the number of stories about organized attempts to snuff out that agency. Likewise the recurring Pygmalion theme. Combined, I’m not sure what to think about this. This pattern doesn’t overwhelm either project entirely; Lois Lane, Donna Troy and The Ravens are entirely different kinds of stories. Tangent: Joker is probably the most assertive character in any of these stories, something like an Aeon Flux answerable to no one but herself.

Still, I wonder if any editor noticed this pattern emerging across the two families of comics?

Anyway, two notes to round things out:

  1. Variety is good, and I only realized after placing the order for these comics that the lead characters are nearly all white. That was not by intent, and if anyone needs help understanding the difference between not being racist and being antiracist, feel free to use this example.
  2. I already owned Tangent: Green Lantern and The Mist’s “Girlfrenzy” comic. For what it’s worth, they are good; The Mist feels a little ho hum while Tangent: GL is a highlight of the whole Tangent line. Both comics were written in the same year by the same person—James Robinson—and admittedly the differences in artwork probably reinforce the difference in the stories’ appeal.

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