On this year's Free Comic Book Day, DC Comics are releasing a comic book for a markedly different audience with DC Super Hero Girls.
Saturday's Free Comic Book Day: DC Super Hero Girls collects the first two chapters of the franchise's Finals Crisis OGN coming in July, introducing teenage versions of superheroes like Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Katana, Batgirl, Poison Ivy, Bumblebee and Harley Quinn. The characters all attend Super Hero High — dealing with problems familiar to readers, but in a superhero-sized way.
First announced in 2015, DC Super Hero Girls is a multifaceted franchise of graphic novels, animated media, toys, clothing and other merchandise that focuses on girls ages 6-12. The response to the announcement of the first graphic novel coming out this July — titled DC Super Hero Girls: Finals Crisis — was so positive that DC has already added a second book for November, DC Super Hero Girls: Hits and Myths, by the same creative team of writer Shea Fontana and artist Yancey Labat.
Newsarama talked to Fontana about the free issue, the upcoming graphic novel, and why the concept behind DC Super Hero Girls is so important.
Newsarama: Shea, obviously, one of the functions of these stories is just to tell a good story. But there's more of a purpose behind the idea of DC Super Hero Girls, right?
Shea Fontana: Absolutely. The whole DC Super Hero Girls brand is about inspiring girls and showing girls that they can be the heroes of their own story. So we really strive to make it an inclusive and diverse world where all sorts of girls and all sorts of people can see themselves represented as superheroes.
We know it's so, so important, especially for girls, to see themselves represented on screen. I know there's been a lot of data put out by the Geena Davis Institute about how, especially in children's programming, girls are characters [in media] much less than boy characters. I think it's about one in three characters are girls, and then two-thirds of characters are boys.
So girls are getting this message that they don't belong there, that they are somehow less than or they can't be the superhero. They can't be the doctor or whatever. And it's really important for me to be able to bring this property to girls and show them, yeah, you can be this. You can be a scientist like Ivy, and you can be a tech genius like Batgirl — like, really show these girls that there's so many ways to be super and they can do it just as well as anyone else.
Nrama: Is part of the challenge that these people are "super," in their own way — some of them literally have superpowers and can fly. Is one of the challenges making sure that the stories are relatable?
Fontana: Their relatability always comes through in the characters, and really giving the characters emotions that are relatable. So even though they're living in this fantastical world and they can fly or shoot lasers out of their eyes, or do all these amazing things, they still have this emotional core that's really true to being a teenager. And it feels like girls are feeling.
So with someone like Supergirl, she's completely new not just to the school but she's new on Earth. So she has a lot of issues that she's working through, being the new girl, and a lot of self-confidence issues, because she's never had superpowers before. And now she does. And how does she deal with that?
I think there's a lot in just showing these super characters who, even though they're super, they still have these problems and these emotions that are very relatable to kids.
Nrama: It's also probably relatable because of the setting, and because these are heroes that are closer to their age. Can you describe the premise behind DC Super Hero Girls in the upcoming Finals Crisis graphic novel coming out in July and the upcoming Free Comic Book Day issue you're giving away in May?
Fontana: In Finals Crisis, we start at Super Hero High, where all of our superheroes are attending high school, and tomorrow is their big final for the semester, and they have to be able to show that their superpowers have improved from when they started the semester.
For some of our characters, they're really into they have to study, they have to practice. Katana and Beast Boy — there's a chapter about Katana and Beast Boy where Katana has to keep going over all of these techniques that she's learned with her sword, so she wants to be ready for finals tomorrow.
And it's really fun to see them within that environment, how these super girls all react to that same situation, because they all have different personalities. They're all facing not only being a superhero differently, but as common as taking a test very differently. So it's fun to get into their heads and show that within the superheroes world.
Nrama: That said, there's a threat as well, right? Besides studying for final exams, they come up against a villainous threat in the graphic novel?
Fontana: Indeed! So throughout the night, before finals, they find that there is a supervillain on the loose who has mysteriously taken down all these girls so they won't be able to get to their finals in the morning.
Nrama: DC is giving away a free DC Super Hero Girls comic book on Free Comic Book Day May 7. Can you describe what that issue is going to be and how it ties to the graphic novel?
Fontana: The Free Comic Book Day issue is actually the first two chapters of the graphic novel. In the first chapter, we set up Super Hero High and Wonder Woman and all the characters as they're getting ready for finals.
And then from that point on, each of the chapters is going to be from a different girl's point of view. So you'll really be able to get into their head and you'll hear the inner dialogue going on as they approach this night. So the second chapter that's included in the Free Comic Book Day is focused on Supergirl. So you'll see Supergirl, and she doesn't want to do this final. And she's having a lot of test anxiety about this. We see how she responds to the idea of taking the final, and then also her encounter with the supervillain.
Nrama: You mentioned Ivy, and you've also got Harley Quinn in the comic. Those characters traditionally lean toward villainy, but are they heroes in this story?
Fontana: We have some villain characters, however Harley and Ivy are both on the side of good right now. So we do look at this as a separate universe from the canon comic books. And it's really about looking at if Harley and Ivy had this supportive group of friends in high school and went to Super Hero High. Even though they have the same DNA as their counterparts, if they had a different up bringing and different life experiences, they could be good. We are very insistent that everyone has the choice to be a superhero. So if you had that choice, maybe Harley in our world is going to choose to be a superhero instead of a supervillain.
We're giving them different opportunities than they may have had in the canon world.
But it's still the same kind of personalities, where Harley's really over-the-top, and she's witty and is all about having fun. And Ivy's a little shier. She's introverted and she wants to hang out with her plants and do all of these awesome things that she can do with her plants and be a biologists. They just don't have the same backgrounds and histories that they did in the canon universe.
Nrama: Let's talk a little more about the target audience. I think you'd agree that all comics can be for girls, but you've got a certain audience in mind for these stories. Do you have to come from a place where you think, OK, girls are attracted to a little bit different stories than boys? Or is it merely about making sure the girls are the stars?
Fontana: We look at it as we are specifically creating comics for a six-to-12-year-old girl. So it is finding that as your starting point. So we want to make sure that it is really inclusive of female characters — that they're the center of the universe and the center of the stories.
We actually have found, throughout the process, that we are pushing the action and the drama just as much as you would in a comic that's "for boys." Of course, since these are for a younger audience than a lot of the comic books out there right now are aimed toward, we want to make sure it's all appropriate for that age level and for that reading level.
But we are very insistent that our girls are doing the action. They're doing the superhero moves just as much as you would see in a comic book for anyone else.