Once upon a time a girl had a dream of being a super hero. An age-appropriate powerful female superhero who didn't fight crime in precarious barely-there outfits or defer to a male leader. But could such a hero be found? There have been many in comics but they don't often make it onscreen with their independence intact. We've been clamoring for a Black Widow standalone film since she first burst onscreen in Iron Man 2. Wonder Woman is finally getting her due in film and Jessica Jones is reinventing female power on TV screens. But I found a different hero who fit the bill. Retro Girl.
"Who is Retro Girl?"
Retro Girl was born in the comic series Powers and recently came to onscreen life in the Playstation original series adaptation of the same name. In a very liberal and loose explanation of the show, Powers imagines a world in which a great many people have super abilities (or powers, hence the title) as diverse as flight, infra-red vision, super strength, power draining, teleportation, and the like. Rather like X-Men except in the Powers world these abilities are so common they're rather like blue eyes in ours: not everyone has them but they're not that remarkable if you do. So not everyone with an ability is a hero (or, as in X-Men, a 'mutant' or 'freak'). The Powers mirror the celebrities of our world: there are D list to A list Powers, some are nobodies, some are criminals, and a select few (with the help of agents and clever branding) rise to the top to become true superheros and stars. Retro Girl is basically the Queen of the Powers. She has super strength and flight but it may be said her keenest ability is that of managing her brand and career. She's cream of the crop not just because she's a hero (she is qualitatively a 'good guy') but because she understands how to market herself and remain forefront in the public consciousness through the years. She's played pitch-perfectly by Michelle Forbes whom you may know as Ensign Ro from Star Trek: the Next Generation or Admiral Cain from Battlestar Galactica or Mitch Larsen from The Killing among so many other notable roles.
Why does Retro Girl matter? To you she may not. A goodly number of people - even those keen on comics and comic-related shows - haven't heard of Powers, much less Retro Girl. But that doesn't detract from her impact. She matters because she's a woman, to start. She's one of the biggest names in the Powers community and she's nobody's sidekick or partner. She's a force on her own and respected as such in the show. She matters because, and I say this delicately because my intent is in no way to dismiss the power of youth, she's over forty. Retro Girl's age is not specifically stated but it's clear she's not a twenty-something newcomer. Michelle Forbes, the actress portraying her, was fifty when she donned the suit. It's not only refreshing, it's VITAL to have older actresses taking on lead roles in a great array of scenarios and genres. Hollywood has a distressing history of relegating women to 'witch', 'wife' or 'mother' in the wings as fading support after they "age out" - which in Hollywood is around twenty-five. Leading men age and their onscreen romantic partners get younger in an inverse function. So to have any woman over forty seizing a role that is written powerfully and as a lead is important. It can't be dismissed. She matters because she's human. "But didn't you say...?" Yes, I did. Retro Girl is a Power, she's a bona fide superhero celebrity in the world of Powers. But she is achingly human. In the show she works out. She consults on her brand with assistants and agents. She shows up to events in her signature color of red and knows exactly how to present to the public. She gets tired. She longs for a legacy. She isn't married, she isn't a mother, she has a different legacy in mind: one of passing the torch to a young Power who can replace her in the world so she can finally rest. She wishes for anonymity. She wants to reconnect with her past love. She is haunted by those she can't save. But she is also ambitious, strong, independent: she can't be controlled by what others want and she finds retirement impossible because she can't ignore her inclination to assist those in need, to use her abilities to better lives in some way.
Retro Girl matters because she is the whole package. She is a woman in control of her own destiny and direction. She knows herself, she knows where she's going. She's strong and uncompromising while still maintaining a vulnerability and a very real humanity. She's a real person, full of nuance and complexity. And she's a hero.
I love that she exists as an example of why women need more of these roles. She's fantastic and she's necessary. And I admire Michelle Forbes for making her so real. So perhaps Retro Girl was really the only obvious choice for my Calgary Expo cosplay this year. My homage to Michelle's Retro Girl and my plea for more strong older female heroes on our screens in every capacity.
- Corinne Simpson