I’ve never been a fan of the term “girl power.” Despite its ’90s riot grrrl origins—the “grrr stood for growling,” according to feminist scholar Anita Harris—girl power has become less an expression of feminine empowerment than a form of prepackaged consumerism masquerading as dumbed-down ideology. Get over the patronizing attitude, however, and My First Book of Girl Power is a pretty decent Who’s Who of DC Comics’ female pantheon for the board-book set. Just don’t expect a whole lot of depth—or diversity.
Packed with cheery, if whitewashed, Silver Age visuals, Girl Power harkens to a different, gentler era, when “upbeat” wasn’t a personality flaw and superheroes were allowed emotions other than brooding and cynical. Kid-positive sequential art—what a novel concept, amirite?
Girls, writes author Julie Merberg, are “strong and kind” and able to “do amazing things.” Wonder Woman wields a golden lasso that compels people to tell the truth. Supergirl uses her super-strength to aid people in need.
Batgirl, in a callback to her time as Oracle, is “very smart and can program a computer to do anything.” She also spends a lot of time reading books—a nod, perhaps, to her original civilian identity as head of the Gotham City Public Library.
Other, arguably second-tier, characters appear alongside DC’s female trinity. Mera, Queen of Atlantis, is “very brave” to explore new places, while Hawkgirl can “heal herself and other people who have been hurt.”
Even Mary Marvel, who’s just “Mary” here, gets a mention. Dubbed a “regular girl,” Mary says “Shazam!” when she desires an infusion of super-strength or wisdom.
Laudably, the book sidesteps the topic of appearance, emphasizing its cast’s strength, intelligence, courage, and compassion rather than physical attributes, idealized though they may be.
Girl Power won’t dismantle the patriarchy by any means. (Of the nine books in the series it’s part of, only three have women on the cover.) But as an example of healthy female representation in comics? I’ll take it.