My So-Called Secret Identity

Illustration of Cat from MSCSI by Susan ShoreI still don’t quite know why I never really got into comics. I’ve always loved engaging stories, illustration and superheroes. Comic obsessed television characters like Tim Bisley and Sheldon Cooper resonate with me for a reason I have yet to fathom, and a large proportion on my favourite films and tv shows are based on comic book characters and universes. So why did the original source material never appeal to me? It could be that, to a young Lori, it seemed like a world that I couldn’t inhabit because of my gender. It could be that, as I got older, I saw examples of the artwork from comics I might have otherwise enjoyed and found the representation of women somewhat disappointing. If we have Superman and Batman why are their counterparts both rather diminutive sounding girls? Why are the men covered up while the women are always depicted in flesh revealing costumes? Why are the poses impossible and the breasts always gravity defying? There was no need to read something that would only frustrate me, so perhaps that’s why I stayed away, but I’ve never really thought much about it until now.

A couple of years ago, the lovely folk at Geeked Magazine introduced me to a different sort of comic: My So-Called Secret Identity. Created by Will Brooker, Professor in Film and Cultural Studies at Kingston University – aka ‘Dr Batman’ – along with artists Suze Shore and Sarah Zaidan, MSCSI builds a new universe that is ‘close enough to the familiar capes-and-cowls mythos to offer critical comment, but distinct enough to strike out in a whole new direction and offer a story unlike any other superhero title’. A comic with a cast of female characters that are drawn by women and which offer something female readers can relate to? It sounded brilliant and the description of the main character on the MSCSI website had me sold on the concept.

Who is Cat? She’d tell you she’s nobody special, that she’s just like you. Just an average, Irish-American girl in her early twenties; a cop’s daughter, studying in the big city. Sure, she did OK at sports, she’s always got along with people pretty well, she’s happy enough with how she looks.

She’d tell you that the city’s special, not her: Gloria City, with its vibrant little communities, its bright lights, grand architecture and Broadway shows. And most of all, its larger-than-life personalities. Gloria has a cast of celebrity superheroes, from corporate boss The Major to the shadowy Misper, from independent operator Sekhmet to the self-appointed armoured vigilante, Urbanite. Gloria is a theater where these big figures fight, posture, pose and self-promote. And if you’re not in a costume and a mask, you’re just little people.

All her life, Cat’s been taught to be little, learned to keep herself small, tried to avoid attention. Don’t be too full of yourself. Don’t show off. And most of all, don’t let people know how smart you are, because they don’t like it.

But Cat really is someone special. Cat is the smartest person in Gloria City. She remembers everything she reads; she knows how everything connects. And she’s getting tired of pretending, of hiding, of acting dumb to save other people’s feelings.

And if they won’t take her seriously as Catherine Abigail Daniels, the student and cop’s kid, maybe they’ll take her seriously in costume.

Being in the middle of a part time Master’s course, alongside a full time job, meant that I didn’t have much time for any extra reading and so MSCSI fell off my radar for a bit. Thankfully this fantastic project received so much great press and an enthusiastic reception from fans that it’s back, and Team Cat were able to start working on Volume 2 which they are now fundraising for on Kickstarter. The team says that, ‘as an independent, collaborative and feminist project, we can now go even further, challenging the superhero genre’s form and content. And if the mainstream companies catch up, that’s good for everyone.’

Smart is a superpower… and do you know what the smart thing to do would be? Donate to the Kickstarter for printing My So-Called Secret Identity Volume 2. Even if you’re a new fan like me, there are plenty of rewards on offer to make sure that you catch up with all of Cat’s adventures to date before diving in to the new stories.

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