|Synopsis||Powers of a Girl is an encyclopedia of Marvel's female movers and shakers. It chronicles the lives of each woman in a fashion similar to that of a school yearbook and includes a cast of characters from Moon Girl to Gamora to Nico Minoru.|
|Artist||Alice X. Zhang|
Powers of a Girl is a beautifully rendered encyclopedia celebrating superwomen, both new and old – some of whom were overshadowed by their male counterparts of the time. It highlights everyone: teens, young adults, elderly, Asian, Pakistani, Black, Latinx, and more. It is a depiction of heroes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. But how is this book, really? Is it as good as expected?
Powers of a Girl is laid out like an illustrated encyclopedia granting each hero only a few pages. The majority of content laid out in this guide will be briefly mentioned in the book itself, as there are few recurring characters and plot points.
Violence/Scary Images: Past battles are mentioned with little to no details. Several heroes have dealt with death on a personal level.
Language: P****d and bada** are used infrequently. “Hell” is used in characters’ names (like Hellcat). “Hell” is also a place people go, though it is more like a fictional underworld than the Christian idea of Hell.
Drug/Alcohol References: A person takes drugs to become like his idol and dies from them. Two teens are given superpowers after being experimented on with drugs. A hero is named Lucy in the Sky after the drug LSD.
Sexual Content: A character is raised by two mothers in a dimension solely comprised of women. Some characters are homosexual or bisexual. A woman is artificially inseminated and gives birth to a child.
Other Negative Content: Several heroes make mistakes or have questionable pasts. Many characters have dissolved marriages for various reasons.
Spiritual Content: Some characters are described as gods. Someone is Muslim.
Positive Content: This book encompasses Marvel’s fictional women from various backgrounds. These women come together to help and empower one another. When one of them makes a mistake, they are given a second chance, much like Christians in our walk with Christ. Each hero’s story has a moral or lesson attached to it.
Some of you may be wondering why a book like Powers of a Girl exists and why it only has female heroes in it. Before continuing with this review, allow me to introduce you to my childhood as a young girl who loved comic books. I grew up with SuperMAN, BatMAN, and Spider-MAN. Yes, I had some Supergirl and Batgirl comics. Supergirl was basically a Super Smash echo of Superman; she had the exact same power set and a painfully two-dimensional backstory. For context, Superman had the Kent family and lots of neighborhood friends when he was a boy. Supergirl was not allowed to have a family or friends for much of her first run in comic history. She lived in an orphanage because Superman needed her on alert 24/7. Plus, she was not allowed to tell anyone, even her potential foster family, about her identity without incurring his wrath.
Batgirl gained some notoriety when she turned into Oracle after the Killing Joke debacle. As Batgirl, though, she was basically Batman’s clone and not even a necessary one! Robin was introduced first and made Batgirl seem like a forced addition – “the one girl in a bunch of boys” trope. Now, there is a whole Bat-Family, and Batgirl is just one of many young women within it. At the time, though, she was the focal point for little girls who liked Batman.
I’m sure there were other interesting female characters, but I could not find them (especially since I was limited to the early narratives of the Golden Age and Silver Age). Wonder Woman’s original stories seemed uninspired to me, and she was a secretary, unlike accomplished reporter Clark Kent. While I could easily see unoriginal characters in DC, Marvel also had few strong women who could stand alone. Storm and Jean Grey were part of the X-Men. She-Hulk was another echo, and Wasp was often overshadowed by more well-known Avengers. Even when I branched out to contemporary comics, written in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was hard-pressed to find well-written female superheroes. Equality was coming, but it was not popular where I grew up.
Voted Most Likely to Kick Butt
Powers of a Girl hooked me with its gorgeous artwork and simple layout. The feel is that of a Marvel yearbook. Each character has a few pages dedicated to them, complete with pictures, biography, power explanation, and some extras. Throughout, there are also the typical yearbook pages highlighting specific groups of people, like Science Squad and Terrific Twosomes. One special spread even includes information about the Marvel women’s pets!
While the tome is about women, there are some male characters depicted within the context of their counterparts. For example, Mary Jane’s page is equally about herself and her ex-husband Peter Parker. She began as Spider-Man’s girlfriend and morphed into much more. It would be wrong to leave him out of the picture. Cloak and Dagger, likewise, are shown as a power couple.
However, instead of introducing Gwenpool as “the girl version of Deadpool,” she is her own person. Spider-Gwen, Spider-Woman, and Silk may have evolved from the idea of Spider-Man; but they are each given their own time to shine without that shadow falling over them.
Groups of women are also given their due. Female agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. have a profile dedicated to their organization. Each agent is introduced through a government ID scattered on the page. Included in the pages is Haley Atwell’s depiction of Peggy Carter, red hat and all. Though the Runaways include some boys, the young girls are not left out of Powers of a Girl’s lineup. Neither are other women previously thought to be sidekick material, like Shuri.
Beautiful Art, Beautiful Hearts
The first thing I noticed about this book was the gorgeous cover with some of my favorite heroes. Every profile comes with a full-page picture of the hero painted in exquisite detail. Those based on their movie counterparts, like Valkyrie, bear an amazing resemblance to their actresses. Besides the huge pictures, there are thumbnails scattered on the pages as well. These thumbnails can be just for fun, like texts from teammates, or they can showcase the hero’s powers or quirks. Often, I found myself staring at the illustrations without even reading the text. When I reached the last page, I flipped through again just to look at the pictures.
The book begins with an introduction by the author, which is constantly interrupted by Gwenpool. If you’re a Gwenpool fan, you know her power is meta-knowledge. She can leap out of comics and even discuss herself with the author of a book written about her. This little detail made me smile and showed off the author’s attention to detail. It also proved to me she was as big a fan of these characters as I was!
Unfortunately, the intro also included a list of things to learn from heroes. I initially thought this book was for all ages, but this list felt more suited for children. Sure enough, each character has a lesson to learn at the end of their profile. Even ones who made bad decisions, like Scarlet Witch or Black Widow, have something to teach readers.
While this type of writing is not necessarily bad, it might alienate older audiences like myself. I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of foul language, graphic violence, and sexual content. However, I have the ability to decipher these moral lessons for myself; I do not need someone to spell them out for me.
Despite the distracting nature of the “moral of the day,” Powers of a Girl is a pleasant read. It gives enough details for readers to understand character backstories without taking away the desire to read the originals. Everything was explained just well enough that I could start the new narratives or go back and look for the details of the original story.
This type of encyclopedia is especially useful for a big name like Marvel. As covered in one of our recent articles, comics often build on one another. Without knowing anything about Carol Danvers – former Ms. Marvel and current Captain Marvel – I had a hard time starting Kamala Khan’s run as Ms. Marvel. Monica Rambeau also had a run as Captain Marvel, not to be confused with Danvers’ current alias or DC Comic’s Shazam. Comic readers get a break from trying to keep up with canon by being able to see summaries.
And let’s be honest. The recap is great even when you have read the stories. I often forget what happened in a lengthy storyline and find myself reading the first issues so often I get sick of them. Quick summaries sorted by character are exactly what the eye doctor ordered.
It Was _____ All Along!
Powers of a Girl shows off some of the lesser-known female warriors. Here is some wonderful news for television watchers. These unknowns are getting their time in the spotlight! The Dora Milaje recently made an appearance in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, after being a huge part of Black Panther. Remember Agatha?
Right before I saw Monica Rambeau on WandaVision, I read about her in The Powers of a Girl. “She broke the mold as a lieutenant in the New Orleans Harbor Patrol, and as the first African American woman to join the Avengers” (61). You can bet I was excited when she made a small-screen appearance. Fellow writer Maurice Pogue even highlighted her as one of his most influential Black superheroes around the time of her television debut.
The book highlights girls of all types with all sorts of real-world issues. America Chavez mourns her mothers, Spider-Gwen loses her best friend, and Scarlet Witch’s children are taken from her. Moon Girl is a literal child with a dinosaur; Gertrude is a slightly older girl with a dinosaur. While many of the new generation make an appearance, there is no shortage of adult and even elderly heroes. Spider-Woman’s page discusses balancing a relationship, a child, and hero work. Wilma Calvin is an elderly scientist working for S.H.I.E.L.D.
In addition to the characters’ realistic troubles, Powers of a Girl emphasizes love of all kinds, not just romance. Sisters and best friends are mentioned as often as romantic relationships, if not more. The Runaways made their own family. Hawkeye got her start with the New Avengers. The Unstoppable Wasp would be nothing without her supportive science team. Ms. Marvel started the Champions and made some good friends doing it (for more information on Champions, see the previously mentioned GUG Reads Comic Book Entry Points).
In short, reading this book like a typical novel is not much fun. The character profiles are bite-sized and simple. They have awkward morals tacked onto the end of them, and the wording sounds like a children’s book (but not the fun ones).
Despite that, there are lots of reasons to love and even buy Powers of a Girl. You may find yourself buying it for constant access to those gorgeous illustrations by Alice Zhang. The full-page pictures of heroes are wonderful, and the thumbnails show off more of the characters’ personalities. Its yearbook-like layout encourages readers to explore the text and illustrations together, making reading a visual experience.
Having an encyclopedia of the female movers and shakers in Marvel will come in handy. Hardcore fans can use it as a reference for new heroes they see in the MCU movies or shows, of which there will be many. They can also look back at previous storylines without having to read the entire arc again. Newcomers, on the other hand, will be able to find interesting female characters they want to pursue. It gives enough detail to understand the character without spoiling too much. Of course, there will be spoilers for older storylines, but sometimes those twists pull in a reader more than the story alone.
If you want to encourage women in STEM, women in comics, or women in any kind of geekery, I encourage you to buy this book. Empowering ourselves, our friends, our kids, and other women is so important. The morals as they are written may be off-putting, but they are true. Powers of a Girl chronicles fallen women who pushed past their insecurities and sins to do wonderful things. This is what we should want for ourselves and/or the women we know. We must find our inner strength as Women of God and become the heroes He created us to be.
+ Gorgeous art by Alice Zhang
+ Easy to understand summaries of lengthy comic canon
+ Women empowerment
- Obvious moral to the story
- Writing feels juvenile
The Bottom Line
Besides encouraging superhero diversity, Powers of a Girl simplifies every character's entire story up to the point of publication. This includes original characters and newbies alike. It is a worthwhile book for any Marvel fan to have as part of their collection.