Girls Who Bite Back: Witches, Mutants, Slayers and Freaks edited by Emily Pohl-Weary (Sumach), 358 pages, $26.95 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Emily Pohl-Weary knows how to anthologize. As an editor of the seminal Toronto lit zine Kiss Machine, the NOW contributor has called poets, fiction writers, essayists and artists out of the woodwork like Aquaman calls fish. Girls Who Bite Back manifests her power with a hefty collection of ruminations on the meaning, for girls and women, of superheroes in pop culture. There's a wealth of exceptionally good fiction here. Take Hiromi Goto's astonishing Stinky Girl (also available in her story collection Hopeful Monsters), about a hyper-articulate "fat, stinky mall rat" who transforms a shopping mall with the magical power of her BO.
Kij Johnson's cyberpunky Myth Girls combines a dystopian world of underground tunnels and corporate brain-modification programs with a reflection on the nature of freedom, while Zoe Whittall's wry, intelligent Raw has two friends dressing up as fantasy superheroes in order to fund their real lives.
What would a book on superheroes be without pictures? Sherwin Tjia's comic-book-style middle-aged Slumpyheroes aren't built like Lara Croft, but they look way tougher somehow. Shary Boyle's The Left Hand Of God is a delightful series of paintings of scary females doing what looks very much like evil.
The essays are just as rewarding, putting the stories and pictures into shifting, multi-faceted perspective. Carly Stasko's personal self-help essay, How To Be Your Own Superhero, gives instructions for battling burnout, apathy and alienation. Candra K. Gill's Cuz The Black Chick Always Gets It First is both an analysis of the politics of race in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and a good argument for the legitimacy of Buffy Studies.
Girls Who Bite Back is like a disco ball, breaking down the popular image of the female superhero into glittering shards and reflecting it back through a fractured lens. It takes apart the buxom sidekick and reconstructs her as a sturdily subversive lead. It's more than an anthology; it's a community in book form. Pohl-Weary has used her powers for good.
Girls Who Bite Back gets launched at the Cameron tonight (Thursday, May 20). See readings