“Well, if you don’t like how women are portrayed in comics, why don’t you make your own comic?”
You can substitute the subject of this knee-jerk reaction in the form of a question to other media such as film, television, or video games, but the gist of it is pretty much the same. Usually this question is “asked” in an attempt to silence critics, or to reduce their observations about pop culture into “nitpicking” or something completely non-constructive. Most critics ignore this loaded question because creative works — at least in the area of fiction — are not their focus or area of expertise.
However Dr. Will Brooker, popular culture expert and Batman scholar, decided that in addition to criticism he was going to actually answer this question: in the form of My So-Called Secret Identity.
Brooker and his fellow artistic collaborators the illustrator Suze Shore and PhD in superhero art Dr. Sarah Zaidan, realized that while it wasn’t nearly enough to criticize the portrayal of women in mainstream comics, it would definitely be a step forward to create a comic that could represent them as three-dimensional human beings. They, along with an extensive and predominantly female creative team, are managing to accomplish this and more.
So what is My So-Called Secret Identity about? It is a comic about Cat: a student of philosophy and literature and daughter of a policeman. She is a young woman who sees and understands the links between different subjects and is sick and tired of pretending to lack the intelligence that she truly possesses: that many have underestimated or believe that she fakes.
Cat, also known as Catherine Abigail Daniels, loves her home of Gloria City and wants to do her part to save it from the terrorism of the supervillains that also dwell within it. Unfortunately, her other obstacles seem to be the self-styled “superheroes” of Gloria City: posturing and brittle celebrities not unlike those you might see in Garth Ennis’ The Boys that, along with their villainous counterparts, use the City and its citizens as “a theatre” (complete with “a backstage” metaphor reminiscent of Neil Gaiman) and props respectively in their “morality war.”
What I really like about Cat as a character are three elements. First, she is a woman that knows what and sometimes even who she wants and will pursue them with assertiveness instead of over-exaggerated aggression. Second, she will call people out on their actions and words but also be reasonable enough to forgive and recognize that same person as a human being. She is a person that cares about people and it shows. But lastly, I am very intrigued by how Brooker and his team handle her genius. Without spoiling too much of the comic, Cat seems to have a very Humanities or interdisciplinary approach to how she attempts to solve crime: linking ideas, geography, culture, history, and facts all together in the form of a “mind-map”: in a style of collage reminiscent of Dave McKean, Eddie Campbell, or even Daniel Vallely.
It’s very psychogeographical. God, I love that word.
In a sense, Cat’s method of learning is actually through creating art: synthesizing different elements and their connections together as opposed to analyzing and taking details apart. It is, in my opinion, simply beautiful. Unfortunately, you can also see why other people — especially her teachers and bosses throughout her life — underestimate her or simply do not recognize her genius for what it is. It is frustrating to watch and understand that this stigma against her is not merely because of her unorthodox thinking: but there are unspoken gender expectations she keeps breaking because she is smart and female.
But Cat doesn’t let the expectations of others stop her. At this stage in her life she is determined to live her life and keep Gloria City safe: even if it means becoming an actor in the theatre of villains and heroes and especially, I suspect, when she ignores, subverts, and outright discards their rules by her very nature. I myself suspect that Cat’s story isn’t about the chic of “a secret identity” or playing the hero, but rather doing the right thing and being accepted for who she is and what she can do. Cat is not a secret. She just is, and she should be.
According to its Facebook Page, not only will My So-Called Secret Identity have a June 16th Kickstarter Campaign, the fourth issue of My So-Called Secret Identity Volume One will be coming out Sunday June 8, 2014. You can also buy hard-copies of the issues so far or read them online. So please, Like this comic on Facebook and read it. I look forward to seeing where Cat, and Gloria City’s story, goes.