In case you didn't know, Marvel Comics declared that 2010 is "the year of the women of Marvel." To celebrate (capitalize?), Marvel released Women of Marvel: Celebrating Seven Decades, a trade paperback that reprints comics featuring female characters -- plus historical summaries.

After a general introduction, Women of Marvel: Celebrating Seven Decades goes decade by decade, from the 1940s to the present (well, 2009 anyway). Each decade gets a brief description, then a summary of what was happening in comic books for that decade, then a few comics from that decade (with comments on those comics). There are plenty of well-known superheroines here, but there are also romance comics , a goddess-turned-fashion model, and even the original Black Widow -- who got her powers from, and worked for, Satan!

Women of Marvel: Celebrating Seven Decades is a nice little trip, giving a little history of the times, the industry, and the specific stories of female characters. This collection also inadvertently shows some of the problems female characters have in the comic book genre. Seven of the stories reprinted here are from female-led comics -- but the rest have the women as supporting characters (like the Amazing Spider-Man story here with Mary Jane Watson -- on a date when the Rhino attacks) or teammates with the males. There's no discussion of the challenges of keeping a book with a female lead going strong; instead the reader gets lots of self-congratulations on what Marvel has done. Also, the cover features at least seven characters that don't appear in this collection at all! (Marvel does have two other Women of Marvel collections with other characters and stories that don't go decade by decade.)

If you're interested in the women of the Marvel universe, Women of Marvel: Celebrating Seven Decades is a good start. Unfortunately, this also shows how male-oriented comics books were -- and how much further the genre has to go for women.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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