BATGIRL: SILENT KNIGHT REVIEW

Although Barbara Gordon will always be known as the iconic Batgirl, she never got a solo series named after her in the mainstream DC Universe until Gail Simone’s run in the New 52 reboot. (Although her animated series incarnation did get a series called Batgirl Adventures in the late 90s).

No, the first Batgirl to get a solo series named after her is the now little known Cassandra Cain.

Cassandra Cain has the distinction of being the only POC in Batman’s Bat Family (unless you count Dick Grayson with his Romani heritage- although that gets brushed aside), and one of the deadliest hand to hand fighters in the DC Universe. Not only that, but her immense skills meant that she garnered more respect amongst Batman and the Robins than any other Batgirl has recieved before or after her.

So, what was Batgirl’s first solo title like (excluding Batgirl Adventures)? Well, lets have a look at this 2000s series and see if it’s worth checking out.

THE ARTWORK

To say the artwork is hit and miss wouldn’t be entirely accurate. It’s highly stylised, and everything’s bold, blocky and fluid.

It has big, exaggerated, ugly faces, chaotic panel placement, deeply shadowed faces and often backgrounds and even whole panels are washed in a single color (usually blue green or red) in order to give it a moody, or ominous or more atmospheric feel, while all the civillian life scenes are more colourful and bright. There’s also a lot of line work and sparce dialogue, which gives it a really streamlined feel and made the action scenes a treat to read.

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Props really have to be given to the colorists John Costanza and Albert T Guzman for giving it this really dark, almost film noir feel here

All this works phenomenally for action sequences. Cassandra Cain is an all action no talk (literally- she’s a mute who they taught to read body language). So this art style makes sense… mostly. 

The only downside is that this exaggerated art doesn’t work as well for the more low key moments. In fact, some of the character designs can look hideous- Cassandra is the worst offender. Seriously, she looks a lot like the neanderthalls from Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur in some panels:

When you’re dealing with a tragic child warrior story similar to Dark Angel, Hitgirl, or Leon The Professional, you really need emotional subtlety. And it doesn’t help when Batman’s pulling an expression like this.

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This is a major emotional milestone, yet how am I meant to take this seriously?

Oh God, how can you take that face seriously? Just compare that to the subtlety of  Stephanie Brown’s expression in another Batgirl series:

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So much emotion in that one look, and its so subtle as well. This is a HUGE problem because when we have a character who’s mute – or only tals in broken sentences at best- and has no life outside being a warrior, you really need to rely on low key character moments, subtle gestures and facial expressions to draw us in and help us connect with her. The art doesn’t do that.

This isn’t helped by the double edged sword that is her costume. Don’t get me wrong, her Bat costume looks incredible, Black, sleek, and a monstrous mask that looks like something of nightmares. I really like this costume… and yet. A big problem is the fact that Cass was not originally a villain (not until an editorial mandate happened anyway). Cassandra is a tragic figure- raised as the ultimate assassin and forced to kill when she was too young to know what she was doing, let alone say no. She cannot talk, so she relies on expressions to get her mood across- and this mask that obscures her face robs her of a lot of character.

They say that the reason that Roman Gladiators wore masks was because it was easier to kill a man when they didn’t have to look them in the eye and acknowledge them as human. The same principle goes for Cass, as I reckon that the mask makes it harder to relate to her as a character. It doesn’t help that what with the stitching, it looks like a nightmare mask she’s trapped in.

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But still, she’s made to look like an actual badass warrior rather than cheesecake who contorts her spine to get her ass and boobs in full display every other panel. In that respect, no matter what I think of her costume’s flaws she’s still head and shoulders above 90% of other superheroines out there.

Ironically, as Batgirl loses skill and gains language, the artwork balances out and though is less dynamic and fluid, everything looks better. The characters are no longer an eyesore, though I can’t help but think the biggest thing this improvement achieved is making Cass look pretty, and made the civillian life scenes less of an eye sore.

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THE STORY

It’s an interesting story. Basically, Cassandra Cain is a half Asian girl who was trained from childhood to be an assassin by a killer called David Cain. The central gimmic is that instead of teaching her how to speak, she learned to read fighting moves as a sort of ‘language’, and thus she is mute. Honestly, I am not sure if this is one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard of, or the coolest.

But then I remembered the Silver Age and Bat-girl’s plan to escape her enemy’s prison by cutting out paper bats and throwing them out of the window, and now it all of a sudden seems completely reasonable.

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Yes, this was completely normal in the Silver Age, which brought us time travelling Wonder tot, Rainbow Batman, Zebra Batman, Batgirl’s ‘Crime Compact’, as well as the demented Bat-baby

Anyway, this is an interesting concept, and creates a certain dilemna in terms of story telling. Since not only. It further shoots itself in the foot by choosing a costume that does not show her face, and an artstyle that does not lend itself to subtle expression.

The workaround was by making Batgirl more of a subject than narrator. Most of the first few issues are narrated by Oracle (Barbara Gordon, who was the previous Batgirl) and Batman. 

Now, a mute protagonist could present a challenge – it could involve Cass slowly learning how to talk, bonding with Oracle, maybe even remembering what her father taught her… but instead they went for an ass pull and had a psychic magically healing her. Seriously. 

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They tried to make it seem like less of an asspull by presenting it as Batgirl having to choose between being the ultimate warrior and mute, or a less skilled, average fighter but able to talk. However, this was clearly done because the writers wrote themselves in a corner by being mute, and didn’t know how to keep this up and keep her interesting. 

It’s a shame, because it was a genuinely interesting problem and there could have been a lot of character development involving bonding with Oracle as she slowly learned language and how to hit in- especially if learning language helped her remember what Cain said as he was training her. Instead we got what we got, with her language skills resulting in her fighting skills becoming more inconsistent, which was a shame, but still made for interesting reading.

It also had another disadvantage of constantly pitting Cass against Mooks. Interestingly, in spite of being by far the deadliest Batgirl and one of the best hand to hand fighters in the DC Universe, her debut fights and achievements are less impressive than Stephanie Brown’s. Even though Stephanie was in part defined by failure and weakness. Still, Stephanie went up against Scarecrow, the calculator, and even a brainwashed Huntress and Catwoman, as well rescuing both Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon.

Both Barbara Gordon and even ditzy Bette Kane got to debut against masked crooks. Here, most of the time Cassandra went against nameless, maskless goons and her biggest threat wasn’t any foes- but rather whenever the writing team needed to give her a random nerfing. This nerfing is explained by the fact that when she gained the ability to talk she lost the ability to read movements, and yet she appears to get her skill back after a training session with Lady Shiva and it still turns on and off.

Speaking of Lady Shiva, the biggest bright spot was their fight. Lady Shiva is one of the strongest martial artists in the DC Universe, whom Bruce trusted to train Tim Drake (the third Robin) and whom managed to knock Jason Todd (the second Robin) flat on his ass in A Death In The Family. This moment made for one of the strongest conflicts in the opening issue. Often, when I see a superheroine pitted against another female I raise my eyebrows slightly, because it just so often feels like ‘hmmm… this should be girly and this foe has a vagina- lets put them up against each other!’ I still remember when Babsy in Gail Simone’s run called half the DC Universe’s female superheroines in to help her and I was wondering ‘what? No Nightwing? Why ignore the male superheroes when the city’s at stake?’ But no, Lady Shiva and Cass Cain make sense. She is also an ultimate fighter who is dedicated to attaining the peek of skill.

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It’s been said that Batman is the least interesting character in his universe, and it’s his contrast with his Rogues gallery  as well as Superman and his allies that makes him interesting. I suspect the same is true for Cass, as her rivalry with Lady Shiva was great fun. Lady Shiva’s ideals and approach was the complete opposite to Batman’s. Plus, having two of the most badass Asian superheroines in the same comic was pretty awesome.

Another high point was that we saw a more softer and melancholy side to Batman. Far from being the immoving stoic, he genuinely cared for Cass, and was the perfect foil to Cass’ father who only viewed her as a killing machine.

Cain was another great villain, as his obsession with creating the ultimate killer was highly reminiscent of Lydecker from dark angel. I’m looking forward to seeing him in future issues.

But a big flaw was to include an annual in this. It involved a completely different creative team and it feels out of place. It basically involves Batman and Batgirl pursuing this cheesecake Indian shapeshifter whom once they catch up with proceeds to infodump her whole life on them. It’s more focused on the plight of the untouchables and how they have few rights in India, and honestly, since this character has no relevance to anything I can’t bring myself to care about the conflict.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, it may be flawed but with its brilliantly fast pace action, fluid artwork and an excellent standoff against DC heavyweight Lady Shiva, this series was a good start for Batgirl. In all honestly, a big part of the reason I love this is because as an unstoppable trained from birth, Cassandra Cain makes for an excellent power fantasy.

However, the issue is held back by the fact that Kelley Puckett clearly hadn’t quite thought through how he was going to handle Cass’s muteness and the central concept behind her fighting skills, and so the random psychic ‘quick fix’ solution made it feel so cheap. Even so, its definately worth checking out, if for no other reason than its an interesting part of the Batgirl legacy.

RATING:

3.5/ 5

GIRLS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS: 12 AWESOME TITLES THAT EVERY WOMAN SHOULD READ

Superhero movies are taking over our both the big screen and small and after seeing The Avengers, Jessica Jones, the new X-Men franchise and Deadpool to name a few, you kind of want to check out the comics and graphic novels they were based off of.

However, entering the world of comics for the first time can be a weird, convoluted and sexist and bizarre place. Even with the New 52 reboot, some stories still become a convoluted mess with endless tie ins, seeing your favourite heroines from the tv shows turned into badly written fap material (poor Starfire), and we have cases such as Frank Cho throwing a hissy fit because Greg Rucka (an amazing writer) told him to alter his cover design to make it less sexualised. However, the comic book industry has gotten a lot better, and there are a lot of really great comics and graphic novels out there which treat women with respect and are accessible to new readers.

12. OLYMPIANS- by George O’Connor

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If you’re interested in Greek Myth than this is a great start. It’s fun, clever and provides a very faithful and thoughtful look into the original mythology of the Olympians. This is the series that transforms both Hera and Aphrodite into interesting, nuanced characters instead of the two dimensional hateful bitches they’re normally portrayed as. My reviews of his take on Hera, Aphrodite, Apollo, and Hades, Demeter and Persephone can be found by following the links.

11. Batwoman Elegy

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Isn’t it ironic that a character created to be Batman’s beard became one of comic’s most prominent lesbians? Yeah, Kathy Kane was a silver age creation when distaff counterparts were all the rage, and Kathy Kane along with Bat-girl – no, not that Batgirl, we’ll get to her later- her whole schtick was that she was obsessively in love with Batman. It is believed in order to disprove rumors that he’s gay with Robin. And FYI, her edition makes things so much gloriously worse- just look how miserable Batman is at the prospect of kissing an actual female!

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I love you Silver Age, you never fail to make me laugh

She eventually got retconned out of existence for being ‘too silly’ (presumably along with alien killer cactuses, Rainbow Batman and Batbaby- yes, Batman got turned into a four year old and attacked people on a rocking horse. That happened). However, she was brought back and reimagined as a proud lesbian for the New 52. In this version, she was kicked out of the army under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and wandered around aimlessly, becoming a party girl to forget her problems. She eventually decided to sort her life out and serve her country by taking up the cowl. Colonel Kane her father supported her in her goal and got her years of specialised training with the best of the best, and turned her into a force to be reckoned with.

Greg Rucka is amazing at writing women, and J.H. William’s artwork is divine. Because the whole point of the New 52 was to reboot the comic cannon and make it accessible to new readers (whether it worked or fell flat on its stupid face is debatable), there’s no long backstory you need to know to understand it. Batwoman was my first ever comic book. The reason it’s not ranked higher is because- well, after the opening, the comic does go to really weird places, including having her fight this banshee creature and being assisted by a B-movie werewolf. It’s story telling often becomes shakey, but Batwoman herself is a great character.

10. Batgirl and Robin Year One

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Barbara Gordon is the iconic Batgirl and yet it’s quite difficult to find any comics centring around her pre- New 52 reboot. Here is a chance to read a modernization of the character’s routes before it all got messed up with The Killing Joke. In this, Barbara Gordon is a young woman living in a sexist time who wants to join the police force but is barred due to discrimination thanks to her gender and height. Defying everyone’s expectations of her, she takes up the cowl. Even Batman and Robin underestimate her at first, but she proves herself a valuable asset and her training begins.

Because the whole point of this is an origin story, there’s no need to have any prior knowledge of the Batman universe to understand that. Plus, it also stars a young Dick Grayson, and we all know that he’s always very popular with the ladies.

9. V for Vendetta

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No doubt you’ve seen the movie and know how strong Evey is. Well, the graphic novel is just as good as the film, if not better, and is thought provoking and worth checking out. Alan Moore has a very- spotty- record with female writing, what with humiliating and putting Babsy in a wheelchair and having his female characters constantly threatened with sexual assault (not to mention often pairing them with much older men), and both are true here, but here Evey goes through one of the most compelling character arcs in all of comic books, changing from a frightened victim to revolutionary who carries on what V began.

8. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur

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This is definitely one for younger audiences, but it’s fun and there’s definately something for older audiences. Lunella is very rare in that she’s a POC heading her own comic book, and she’s a black girl genius. Moreover, she’s a great character and her struggle with being gifted and the iscolation it brings is really engaging. For more of a discussion of it, I’ve reviewed the first issue here.

7. Lumberjanes

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I heard a lot about Lumberjanes- that it has the great art from the artist who wrote for Adventure Time. Because of the title and the fact it was essentially about a group of girl scouts, I was skeptical. Whenever we read about stories trying to change the way women are portrayed, they inevitably seem to be slice of slice focusing on smaller issues about firendship, coming of age, when sod it- I just want heroines beating the crap out of people and saving the world!

But in spite of that, I was pleasantly surprised. This is that this is a good old school fantasy adventure. It’s fast paced, with a mystery to solve and a whole array of magical creatures they have to defeat. It’s a bit sweet and for a younger audience, sure, but it’s still incredibly fun.

6. SAGA- Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

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This is definately one of the most engaging series I’ve ever read and actually had me screaming ‘NOO!!’ Every time a chapter ended and breathed a sigh of relief when I realized it hadn’t. This award winning series is a Romeo and Juliet in space about a couple from two sides of a conflict who have a baby and are on the run from both sides. It’s from the man who wrote Y: The Last Man, and has a plethora of well written females.  Not only that, but it’s bad shit insane and manages to switch between being dark and funny

Even though it’s about a horned man, a winged lady and involves humanoid robots with tv heads which breed like normal humans, it also has one of the most realistic romances I’ve seen in a long time. It doesn’t start with the meet cute, but after they’ve had a kid, and they bicker and compromise like real couples.

Again, there’s a lot of diversity in terms of race, with the female lead and Gwendolyn both being women of colour.

 

5.Batgirl- Silent Knight (Cass Cain run)

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The erasure of Cassy Cain’s run as Bat Girl is one of the casualties of the New 52 reboot, but her series is pretty cool. Not only is she a young Asian superheroine who’s non sexualised, but she’s a complete badass who’s proficient in martial arts and an unstoppable fighting machine.

She was raised to be a warrior, but never taught to be a woman. In place of language she got taught to read ‘body language’- people’s movements in combat, and as such can’t speak. Jurie’s out whether this is the coolest or the dumbest idea ever.

4. MONSTRESS- MARJORIE LIU

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3.Rat Queens

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This is one of the most enjoyable series I’ve come across. I’ve reviewed it here, but essentially it involves a group of cool female friends who’s friendship feels authentic . I love the snarky humour and it’s utterly bombastic, plus the fight sequences are AMAZING.

Not only that, put it has a pretty diverse range of characters, with a lesbian in the main cast, multiple people of colour and one of the rare trans women action leads whom is looking likely to become more prominent. Afterall, who wouldn’t want to read out a badass transgender Orc woman who can annihilate everything in her path.

2. The Batgirl Of Burnside

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I could have put Gail Simone’s run here- and that is definately worth reading- but it was diminished by production issues, its continuous insistence of bringing the Joker in for angst but never allowing Barbara to defeat him, and tie ins to the Death In The Family event which made this series incoherent.

The Batgirl Of Burnside, however, is a great series that is everything New 52 should have been: it really gives her an identity that’s far more than ‘Batman/ Robin’s distaff knock off’, a distinctive world, a great cast of characters and its great solid fun.

The art is gorgeous, and Barbara’s a non sexualised, highly realistic young woman who lives a normal daily life which involves worrying about her Grad project, going on dates, using social media and hanging out with friends. Also, this series has the first trans same sex wedding in comics, which is a nice bonus.

With ‘Batgirl and The Birds Of Prey’ becoming a series, maybe Batgirl will become a spin off more akin to Angel, Xena and The Bionic Woman, a force in her own right and more than just Batman’s distaff. For a more detailed review, please click here.

1.Ms Marvel

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Carol Danvers (the original Ms Marvel, who’s now become Captain Marvel) is another great choice, but I had to go with the Kamala Khan version. I was torn between putting her and Batgirl at number one, but as much as I love Babsy, she is still a distaff counterpart, and I think Kamala might be a slightly better character- I like her doofiness, how much of a geek she is and how she struggles with her relationships with her parents.

Everything about this is great. I love how Kamala started off as a geek idolising the Avengers. The way her Muslim heritage is brought into it is done in a very nuanced, fun and interesting way- showing that Muslims aren’t a monolith, and it deals with Kamala’s frustrations with the restrictions placed on her compared with her peers.

ALSO WORTH CHECKING OUT/ HONORABLE MENTIONS

Spider Gwen is an alternate version of Spiderman where Gwen was bitten instead of Peter Parker- which involves our heroine . Greg Rucka is always great at writing women, and his run on Wonder Woman Rebirth should be promising. Nightwing is a male lead series which has a female audience in mind, as he is a strong, smart more vulnerable young man who is striking out on his own after being in Batman’s shadow, and is the hottest guy in comics; Deadpool isn’t great on women, but his series is every bit as hilarious as the movie and no Marvel knowledge is required. Plus, he became a pirate once for the hell of it- and yes, it was every bit as awesome as it sounds. Persepolis and Bitch Planet are known to be great as well, and as they are their own self contained stories, no prior knowledge is needed (although in the case of Bitch Planet, I personally prefer my feminism more incidental to the story, and build into the world and character writing, rather than being the whole point of the story). Plus, Riri Williams, a genius black girl with become Ironheart in the new Iron man series.

FIVE FEMALE SUPERHEROES WHOSE COSTUMES LOOK KICK ASS

As we well know, Superheroine costumes have long been infamous for being little more than adolescent fap material- and some are complete trainwrecks like Starfire- and look generic and uninspired.However, recently there have been some truly excellent looking female designs, that look badass, practical (well, by the standard of superhero costumes anyhow), non sexualised and distinctive.

5. Wonderwoman

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Wondie’s costume has been redesigned many times  over the years, what with her outfit getting skimpier and skimpier, and then other artists trying to fix that by giving her pants, a jacket and gigantic shoulder pads.

I think Tony Daniel might have nailed it with the rebirth design. A lot of the rebirth designs seem to be trying to make the iconic characters look more like their mainstream movie counterparts, and this seems to be the case with Wonderwoman too. It keeps close to the iconic routes- what with being colorful, but the changes make sense here.

She looks more like a warrior from the Grecean times, and her sword and shield make her look more deadly (and providing more options for the fight scenes), and since her bracelets deflect bullets it makes more sense for them to be bigger.The skirt resembles the kind of armour worn at the time more, and  I like that she’s lost the heels, though I’m not sure if the fact that the metal boots cover the kneecap will restrict mobility or not. However, yes to the cape so much. This is definately a step in the right direction for Wondie.

4. Female Thor 

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Russell Dauterman did an amazing job on this. From her long cape, her ferocious winged masked, and armour which could actually protect her, she truly looks like a heroine who could kick ass.

I also love that her proportions are good, and she actually looks like a fit and athletic woman without weird ginorma-boobs that are held up by the force of magic.

3. Batwoman

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This is gorgeous and has an amazing use of colours. It both keeps the menace of Batman’s design, but is completely different, and I love the ash white skin against the black costume, and the gorgeously vivid reds. Anything J.H. Williams III touches is astounding to look at, and he and Greg Rucka did an amazing job in reimagining the character.

 

2. Spider Gwen

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I think the creative team of Spider-Gwen Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez did a great job  on her. They could have so easily have gone the easy route of just putting Gwen in Peter Parker’s suit, but they really did something different.

It’s not sexualised, and the hood gives it a unique and modern feel. I also like the colour scheme, and it kind of looks similar to something a young woman would wear out in the street.

1.Batgirl

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This is my absolute redesign ever. Designed by Tarr and Cameron, this design keeps Batgirl’s iconic routes but updates them and makes them look more practical. I love how the boob socks are gone and we have a leather jacket, and the more practical shoes are excellent.

Wonderwoman Trailer Review: First Thoughts

I just finished watching this trailer and I first thought: Holy crap! Did Snyder make a terrible mistake? Did he ACTUALLY make a post Nolan DC film that could actually be fun? What the hell is he playing at!

First off, Zack Snyder’s actually managed to step away from the bleached out effects and go for some colour. It looks like 300 in amazon (is it me or does that throne in 0:51 look a lot like that throne the Gimp King  Xerxes rode to meet Leonaidas)? The bit with the amazon using a zipwire and bow and arrow was THE dumbest action scene I’ve ever seen since, well, The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, but it all looks so bombastic and fun. Maybe Snyder can go back to what made 300 such a big, stupid, glorious rollarcoaster and leave behind what made Batman vs Superman more souless.

Plus, as a woman, it’s nice they got someone who doesn’t look like a hobo to play Steve Trevor – or as Mera put it in DC Bombshells:

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He’s pretty hot, with big blue sincere eyes. As a Love Interest of a main super hero, Steve’s never really struck a cord with people like, say, Lois Lane, Catwoman (though she’s infinately more than a love interest), Mary Jane or Spider Gwen Gwen Stacy. As a character, he looks like he might be interesting- and seeing a super woman dating an ordinary man is a refreshing change of pace. Plus, if it’ll get rid of the Superman/ Wonderwoman pairing it’s a plus. I hope it won’t go the opposite way, and turn this into a romance or make this the Steve Trevor show instead of Wonder Woman (after seeing this happen so often with female lead stories, its always a worry), but again hopeful and OH MY GOD DID YOU SEE THAT BUILDING EXPLODE???

Verdict: You have to remember that the trailer of 300: Rise of an Empire looked awesome, even though its leads had the personality of boiled squid and it was carried by Eva Green, but still, there’s hope that even if its not good it’ll at least be fun. My thoughts when it’s released?

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Best of the Best: Superheroines

Superheroes aren’t just for nerdy comic fans any-more (and as a nerdy anime otaku myself, I use the term with nothing but affection). With dozens of Superhero films coming out this year, they’re more popular now than ever. In this list I’m going to look at the most badass, complex and interesting heroines I’ve come across in comics so far.
Continue reading Best of the Best: Superheroines