In DC Comics Bombshells, the new digital-to-print comic with retro versions of DC heroines, women are the "headliner heroes," unhindered by sexism and arriving on the scene before any of their male hero counterparts.
In other words, in the DC Comics Bombshells version of the Golden Age, the women were heroes first.
The series, which kicks off digitally July 25 then releases in print on August 12, features pin-up versions of characters like Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Zatanna and Harley Quinn — designs that were are already popular from their appearances in statues and variant covers. Interior artwork for the series premiered on MTV earlier this week.
"There will be male heroes too," said Marguerite Bennett, who's writing the series for DC. "But what I wanted to concede the entire series to be was that the women came first. No heroines are derivatives of their male counterparts."
"One example is Batwoman. We start out with this young well-to-do family and their little boy going to the movies on a summer night," Bennett said. "And this gangster jumps out, and Batwoman descends from above… and Batwoman essentially prevents the murder of the Waynes.
"She prevents Batman from ever becoming Batman," Bennett said.
"In this story, in this universe, I wanted the women to be the ones to define what heroism is going to be for this coming century," she said.
Bennett was already a fan of the retro designs when she was asked by DC to bring the characters to life.
"We started with these absolutely lovely designs, and we retroactively extrapolated what kind of histories would lead the characters to their visuals," Bennett said. "For example, with Batwoman, I never would have thought to put her in this sort of League of their Own style [baseball-type] outfit, but it was so clever," Bennett said. As a result, in the comic, the "bat" part of Batwoman's name also refers to baseball.
Bennett, who is also writing A-Force for Marvel, which features an all-female Avengers team, wanted to make sure that in the DC Comics Bombshells universe, women are the "headliners."
"It is an alternate history of World War II" where women are heroic without any of the constraints that existed during that time, Bennett said. "I don't want to see them first have to prove that they're allowed to be heroes. I didn't want to deal with elements of sexism or segregation. I wanted to move society ahead so that we could already jump over those hurdles.
"When girls pick up these books, they can see these women being wonderful and living up to their fullest potential without first having to deal with all the societal constraints," Bennett said.
Although Marguerite Sauvage is just drawing the first story arc — with other artists jumping on for subsequent arcs — Bennett said she's been wanting to work with the "other Marguerite" for a while.
"It started as a joke," Bennett said. "I was like, 'A ha! You're the only other one I've found!' And it sort of became a joke, that one day we'd work together."
When Bennett was talking to DC about possible artists for the pioneer story arc of DC Comics Bombshells, Sauvage's name came up.
"I was over the moon, but I didn't believe, honestly, that we'd be able to get her," Bennett said. "But he talked to her and she was so enthusiastic."
Bennett said the art in each issue drawn by Sauvage will be inspired by 1940s artwork and media.
"In our first arc, which is called 'Enlisted,' we're going to be [telling the story] of how the Bombshells begin their team-up," she said. "Each story operates as an individual chapter — 10 pages — and each one of those is going to focus on a different heroine. And each heroine is going to essentially have her own genre.
"So Batwoman is this sort of pulpy, 1940s radio serial," Bennett explained. "Supergirl is a propaganda film. Zatanna is this Hammer horror style thing. Harley Quinn is this Charlie Chaplin-esque farce. Wonder Woman is a war story. Aquawoman is a romance.
"We wanted to be able to give a sense of the time period, not only in the artistry, not only in the designs, but also in the media and the film and the art that was prevalent in that era."
Bennett said it was a challenge to create the series for both digital and print, but she believes Sauvage's artwork helps to make the pages work within both structures.
"Within digital, you have to operate in a different way just based on how pages are broken out," she said. "And we knew it would also have a print element, with the first issue coming out on August 12th. So she was tasked with this just impossible feat of making something that's visually beautiful in both frameworks, which is very challenging.
"But every single time… I mean, there's not a page that she brought us that I don't love," she said.
"She makes every character unique, with a sense of identity and personhood and history and story, just based on their visual designs, based on their body language, based on their expressions," Bennett said. "She is absolutely fantastic."