Superheroes are larger than life with skills and morality that often seem unattainable, and we love them for that super-human amazingness. After all, it gives us all something to aspire to. So when DC announced its new Super Hero Girls line of middle-grade books, I wasn't sure what to think of it. Would the characters lose some of their magic if they became teenagers in high school? Would it feel like their stories had been watered-down to appeal to younger audience? However, when I actually took the time to read the books penned by the incomparable Lisa Yee, it was obvious that these books were something truly special.
At Denver Comic Con this year, I had the opportunity to chat with Lisa for a bit, and she explained how she approached writing these characters in the backdrop of Super Hero High. "I didn't think of them as superheroes that happened to be teenagers," she explained, "I thought of them as teenagers who happened to be superheroes. Once I did that, everything sort of fell into place for me. After all, we all have the same worries and stresses, only theirs is amplified about a thousand times." And that's ultimately what makes these books feel fresh, not a gimmicky effort to get young girls buying DC product. Yee has penned stories that are genuine, real, and with DC backing her up, these stories are staying true to the characters.
While loads of little girls are getting into these books (you should have seen the kiddos hanging out at her booth at DCC this year), parents are also finding a lot of worth in the series. "I have a lot of parents, especially dads, who were overwhelmed because they wanted to get their daughters into the superhero world, but there was no entry point. A lot of the things that are out there are for older kids, and so this is a way that moms and dads can connect with their daughters and introduce them to superheroes." And the books really are a great entry point for young, new fans. In the latest DC Super Hero Girls book, Katana at Super Hero High, Katana and the other Super Hero girls (people like Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl) have to protect ancient Samurai swords, figure out why an old family foe of Katana's is amassing an army, and also complete a huge school project. All in a day's work, right?
But that's the approach Yee has taken with these characters, and what has made them such a hit among young girls. They're teenagers who happen to be superheroes, so their stories are grounded in the character's mythology, but portrayed in a way that a lot of kids can grasp. Wonder Woman is portrayed as someone who was homeschooled before attending Super Hero High, and had to go through the awkward adjustment of a new school, new friends, and a new way of learning. Supergirl was written as a character who wasn't just a big hero, but was also overcoming severe loss. And of course Batgirl was special because, as Yee explained, "Batgirl is any of us. People who love books, people who have questions, she's all of us since she didn't have any natural-born powers."
Of course, Yee was particularly excited about Katana's book--and not only because she actually got to travel to Japan and take part in samurai and ninja training for research (seriously--she told me she learned how to wield a samurai sword, use a throwing star, and "kill people with chopsticks"). But she was especially excited to share Katana's story because it adds some much-needed racial diversity to the superhero space.
While Katana isn't the only character of color attending Super Hero High--you'll see characters like Bumblebee and Hawkgirl in the books as well--making one of the heroes of color a headliner to the book has been an important step in representation for Yee's young fans. It also drives home the core message that she wants to convey to readers: you can be anything and you can do anything. It's a great message to anyone reading her books, but especially to the kids of color who are fans of the series, "As a person of color, you're often trying to fit in, and fit into this idea of what everybody should be rather than celebrating your differences."
Yee also realizes how important it is that her readers see her, an Asian-American woman writer, "When I started writing and traveling a lot, I'd often be the only person of color in a room. At first I felt like I didn't like that, but then I realized how important it was for people to see me, especially kids since I speak a lot at schools. I didn't have a lot of Asian writer role models growing up, and as a 3rd generation stories of Asian immigrants trying to assimilate into American culture didn't really speak to my experience." So Yee has made herself very available and visible to her fans to not only engage in some good, old-fashioned fangirling, but to also show her readers that you don't have to look a certain way or be a certain way to achieve your dreams.
If you want to jump into the Super Hero Girls series, you can pick up books on Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, and Katana's book will hit shelves on July 4. Yee assured me there are more books coming in the series, and while she couldn't give me specifics on how many, she did say that the next book will be about Harley Quinn. And if you want a taste of Yee's writing that isn't directed at young girls, she also has a short story in the graphic novel anthology, New Frontiers: The Many Worlds of George Takei, which hits stores mid July.
Have you read DC's Super Hero Girls books? What other heroes do you want to be featured? Tell us in the comments!
Feature Image: DC Comics
Image credit: Random House