Book Review: Suicide Girls, Vol. 1, Brea Grant et al. (2011)

January 27th, 2014 12:10 pm by Kelly Garbato

Worth every penny!*

three out of five stars

So I was clicking through Steve Niles’s Amazon page, trying to decide whether I should give his 30 Days of Night series a try, when I happened upon this gem. The summary sucked me in from the first (“Caught in a near-future defined by its rigid conformity and persecution of women, the SuicideGirls are the last hope for freedom. Can they take down the techno-religious cult, Way*of*Life, or will they die trying?”), and with used copies going for as little as one cent, I just couldn’t resist.

Now, I’m not really what you’d call a fan of the Suicide Girls franchise – get rid of the rainbow-colored hair and body mods, and SG adheres to the same stifling beauty standards as any mainstream, male gaze-catering brand of pornography – but outside of my vegan-feminist critiques of PETA’s partnership with SG, I don’t really pay the Suicide Girls much mind. Point is, I wasn’t expecting too much from this particular graphic novel. Three stars is several more than I expected to give Suicide Girls, Vol. 1.

The story is interesting, if not especially well fleshed out. In the near future, a fundamentalist Christian group called Way*of*Life (minor gripe – the asterisks in the group’s name proved distracting at best) has bribed its way into the United States government, criminalizing all that it deems “sinful” and imprisoning lawbreakers in its own private prisons/reform camps (“Rehabilitation in the Lord’s name!”). In addition to gays, atheists, and the like, Way*of*Life targets women – specifically, uppity women who don’t know their God-given place.

Against this backdrop, the Suicide Girls are reimagined as feminist freedom fighters. Actual Suicide Girls are recast as ninjas, explosives experts, and techno geniuses. Since many of their sisters have been captured, imprisoned, and experimented upon by Way*of*Life, the primary plot of Suicide Girls, Vol. 1 involves their rescue – and the destruction of Way*of*Life, of course. But since memory manipulation and cyborgs indistinguishable from humans abound, how do the Suicide Girls know who they can trust?

The artwork is simply stunning, with rich, vivid colors, fluid lines, and meticulous attention to detail (you can even make out the specifics of many of the tattoos!). And, yes, boobies. Lots and lots of boobies. (Many of them seemingly straight off the tumblr boobs don’t work that way.)

The comics actually contain less nudity than I expected, but way more than is necessary. Or even practical. In addition to a gallery of topless portraits of the Suicide Girls, the Girls can frequently be seen lounging around in their bras and panties. (Eternal slumber party!) Or just their panties. (Thongs make super-comfortable lounge wear, yo!)

All this had me rolling my eyes in half-hearted offense (really, what did I expect?), but when it comes to the fight scenes, the nudity is a bit more problematic. In addition to the obvious functional problems (you don’t go into battle wearing nothing but an unbuttoned tailored jacket and push-up bra), it mixes sex and violence in a very disturbing way. In one scene, an almost-naked Sana is knocked unconscious, apparently with an explosive to the face. One panel shows her sprawled on the floor, half her face battered and bloodied, with one perfectly shaped breast peaking out of her untied robe. The next time we glimpse Sana, all we see are her naked buttocks: slung over the shoulder of a cyborg warrior, Sana is carted off to the lab. Where she is experimented on. In various states of undress. Creepy.

In a medium that’s already infamous for its scantily-clad women, Suicide Girls takes the sexual objectification of female superheroes to a new level. And sometimes, I get the feeling that they’re almost poking fun at their own cheesiness. Take, for example, this line, uttered by a naked SG just freed from a holding tank:

“Did you guys bring some clothes for us? It’s really cold in here.”

I think that just about sums it up.

* I paid exactly one penny (plus shipping!) for this book.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

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