The Modern Amazons: Warrior Women on Screen, by Dominique Mainon and James Ursini

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“Less an investigation into the genre, than a poorly-conceived freshman term paper.”

While it’s nice to see our favourite topic here getting some printed love, I can’t say I was impressed with this end result, which struggles to be all things to all women, and ends up not being very good at any of them. There’s no denying the breadth of coverage here, with everything from Sailor Moon to Ilsa getting covered – though they appear rather too willing to stretch the bounds of the term, “Amazons”. I mean: Pippi Longstocking? The coverage is grouped into various areas: monster killers, super-sleuths, fur bikinis, etc. along with additional essays on more specific themes, such as the representation of women as felines. It’s a somewhat lumpy distinction, which occasionally makes for strange bed-fellows, but occasionally comes up with some thought-provoking nuggets.

My biggest qualm is the almost entire lack of any criticism; there’s entirely too much description, and the plot synopses flow like free beer. While it is mentioned that Catwoman was a massive flop, the writers seem to have no interest in analyzing the reasons why. An entire chapter could easily be written on the failures, and looking at why they bombed, but these aspects are ignored. Certainly, there are worthwhile aspects [I must get round to seeing Hannie Caulder], but these are countered by lurid sensationalism, such as “the practice of Japanese schoolgirls selling their panties to old men on the street” – which makes it sound as if, like Starbucks, there’s one on every corner. Generally, the volume has no stance on differentiating the good of the genre from the bad, instead just throwing examples at the reader. A more subjective approach – and perhaps fewer, mostly pointless, black and white pics – would be much preferred.

I also hated the lack of any useful index. Want to see what the authors think of, say, Dark Angel? You’re out of luck, because there’s absolutely no index by title. The only one is ordered by actress – and even after you find Jessica Alba, you are uselessly directed, not to any specific pages, but to multiple chapters; two, six and seven in this case. Somewhere in the hundred pages covered by those three sections, you’ll find it. Have fun with that. In the end though, it’s simply impossible to take seriously any volume that decides The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is worth about five times as much space as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, and which can apparently find no room at all for Dirty Pair, Sybil Danning or Cutthroat Island. A sadly-wasted opportunity.

By: Dominique Mainon and James Ursini
Publisher Limelight Editions, 2006. $24.95