Author: Laura Mattoon D’Amore
Publisher: Lexington Books
Publication Year: 2021
Topic: Comics and Feminism
WHAT IS IT?
Vigilante Feminists and Agents of Destiny: Violence, Empowerment, and the Teenage Super/heroine looks at young female vigilantes across a variety of media and examines how these girls use violence as a corrective, allowing them to pursue justice and to protect other girls and women.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Author Laura Mattoon D’Amore analyzes four separate characters, each of which is used to identify and explain a particular facet of what D’Amore refers to as the “vigilante feminist.” The works involved are book series by Sarah J. Maas (A Court of Thorns and Roses) and Jackson Pearce (Retold Fairytales), a TV show (Sweet/Vicious) and a chapter on X-23/Wolverine entitled “Choice is Your Weapon: Violence, Empowerment, and X-23’s Journey Toward Consent and Agency.”
Central to D’Amore’s analysis is her contention that the use of threats, force and violence by the girls in these stories can be looked at as feminist responses. She first details how many feminists have historically looked at violent solutions as “weapons of the patriarchy,” and that within that context violent actions can not be considered feminist. She then goes on to question this idea, and contends that the characters she examines can be looked at as “emblematic of a specific kind of physically powerful feminism.” Generally, this takes the form of the protagonist suffering significant trauma (mental and/or physical) at the hands of a predator or predatory group after which she gains power and agency and makes a conscious choice to take corrective, violent action to protect other girls and women.
This is an imposingly academic text, and it would be easy for readers who are not well-versed in feminist theory to get lost. Luckily, the introductory chapter does an impressive job of recapping the elements of feminism that D’Amore is interrogating, as well as defining exactly what she is trying to accomplish. This is not a book made for casual readers, but the arguments and explanations in Vigilante Feminists and Agents of Destiny are well constructed, and you do not need to be a feminist scholar to understand what is going on (although it would not hurt).
One fortunate by-product of the close-reading strategy that D’Amore uses when analyzing each of these characters is that she also ends up relating the key story elements of the works as part of her process. So even though I had not read or watched a lot of the source material I was still able to follow the relatively intricate arguments she was making and see how they linked together.
As this is, after all, a Comic Book Yeti review, I want to focus a bit on Laura Kinney (aka X-23 / Wolverine). D’Amore looks closely at Kinney’s early appearances, with a specific focus on the X-23 comics of 2005-2006. Through this, she constructs an extremely compelling reading showing Kinney's path from trauma to empowerment and ultimately to the choice to become a hero and to use violence on behalf of others. In doing so Kinney becomes an excellent example of D’Amore’s “vigilante feminist.”
For those who are fans of X-23/Wolverine, this book provides a really excellent analysis of her origin and horrific childhood, all of which helps to strengthen and deepen the character.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
One of the most unfortunate aspects of academic publishing is the price point on a lot of hard-core academic books. Vigilante Feminists and Agents of Destiny is a good example of this, with a $95.00 cover price, which is a lot for 165 pages. This might be one to check out through inter-library loan…
WHY SHOULD YOU READ IT?
If you have an interest in comics and feminist theory, this is a book you really should seek out. D’Amore has an excellent writing style, and the book is filled with interesting ideas illustrated through well-retold stories. Moreover, it seems that the core points of Vigliante Feminists and the Agents of Destiny are extremely relevant in our current cultural moment. Reading about the super/heroines that D’Amore references quickly leads to thinking about other franchises and characters that may also fit within this framework. It's not an easy read, but it is engaging and smart. I enjoyed this book a lot, and it made me think about X-23 (and other characters in various media) in new ways.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
For another examination of trauma in comics: Comics, Trauma, and the New Art of War by Harriet E. H. Earle
For more on Marvel’s new generation of characters: Panthers, Hulks and Ironhearts by Jeffrey A. Brown
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Mattoon D’Amore is an associate professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. Her previous books include Smart Chicks on Screen: Representing Women’s Intellect in Film, We Are What We Remember: The American Past Through Commemoration and Bound by Love: Familial Bonds in Film and Television Since 1950.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
If you can, find a local bookstore, and buy there!
This book is ©2021 Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED