Every so often I receive requests for reviews from recently-started webcomics. While I feel some guilt over this, I almost never review these newborn comics due in part to the vast number of webcomics that never make it past a score of strips. Nearly every time I’ve relaxed this rule, the comic succumbs soon after to hiatus or ends entirely (in one case ending with the very update I reviewed). Despite this, I’m going to take a chance with Erin Faith Hicks’ newest gem, The Adventures of Superhero Girl; partly because of her extensive background in comics (with her most iconic work being the classic Demonology 101; Hicks has several print graphic novels out as well), and partly because from the sounds of things, she’s got a small buffer built up that she’s working from, and which should keep her updating regularly for several months.
ASG joins a small select band of webcomics that focus on the superhero genre; in some ways, given how monstrous the superhero genre is within the American print comic industry, it may seem odd there aren’t more superhero comics on the web. If I was to hazard a guess, I’d suspect most webcartoonist don’t want to rehash old stories that the print comic industry has run into the ground. In addition, a number of webcomics have been inspired by classic newspaper comics such as Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes (and more recently with Japanese manga). Much like its other web-based kin, ASG avoids many of the cliches and traditions found with print-based superhero comics, taking a more personable look into the life and experiences of its heroine.
Part of the charm with Superhero Girl lies is her mundanity. The first couple of updates show her giving change to a poor person begging on the street and rescuing a kitty from a tree (which of course always earns brownie points with me). Little things such as our heroine washing her costume at a laundromat (which actually reminds me of an old Spiderman comic from a couple decades back, back before Marvel did everything in its power to destroy that iconic comic) or chatting on her phone with her mother helps humanize our young heroine. What’s more, it helps readers identify with her. While they might not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound or lift very heavy objects, readers can connect with someone who is delightfully ordinary, even if she wears a mask (because as every Princess Bride fan knows, they’re quite comfortable).
One bit I enjoyed immensely was her conversation with the guy fans have labeled “Skeptical Guy” (who may very well be the Arch-nemesis that Superhero Girl was looking for, even if he has more mundane talents than your ordinary super-villain). Their conversation allowed Hicks to poke fun at yet another superhero tradition: the tragic background. If you think of it, few superheroes have a happy past; Superman’s home planet was destroyed, while both Batman and Spiderman have lost beloved parental figures. Thus it may be understandable for Skeptical Guy to claim Superhero Girl isn’t a “real hero” as her past lacks tragic elements. (Her reaction, to go into an existential funk and sooth her hurt feelings with several tubs of ice cream also helped make her just a little more human, and more likable as well.)
With just over a dozen updates under its belt, The Adventures of Superhero Girl hasn’t really had time to develop a significant story. Despite that, Hicks has firmly established the heroine and fleshed out her personality (and succeeded in making her likable and interesting) while keeping many aspects of her past a secret. We know her parents are alive and that her mother knows she is a superhero, and that Canada seems to have a super-villain deficit, but outside of that she’s a cipher. This gives Hicks plenty of material to build from in the future. Even better, in my eyes, is the fact that Hicks has thus far avoided the cliches of long-winded fight scenes that don’t really accomplish anything. Combined with a crisp black and white art-style Hicks has polished over the years, and the end-result is a superhero comic that embodies what the print comic industry should be embracing, and one I definitely have to recommend.
Addendum note: The one thing that I did find lacking was the site format; Hicks is using a blog to post her updates. Unfortunately, this does mean readers have to click each image to enlarge them, and scroll up to read the comic chronologically. As far as gripes go, it’s minor at best, and shouldn’t affect your enjoyment.