Crisis on N Earths: Henchgirl

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OK, fixing this shit for real now. I am WEEKS behind on posts, so here’s what I’ll do:

  • Queue posts as soon as I post them on Patreon.
  • Post three NA09 entries a week until I’m 3 months behind the Patreon, which is where I should stay.
  • Post two sets of 3 videos a week until I’m 1 month behind the Patreon, which is where I should stay.

I work for a Bond villain.

I joke, but the contract I work on (doing something entirely benign for a government agency) is owned by the civilian branch of a military contractor and weapons manufacturer that, among other things, has been involved in hundreds of millions of dollars in illegal arms deals in the developing world.

You don’t really have an option, where I live: this is a company town, and the company is the United States government, with all the imperial baggage that goes with it. Thing is, you don’t really have an option elsewhere, either: if you are employed by a corporation, whether you know it or not, whether they know it or not, you are working for either a supervillain or a supervillain wannabe.

That’s what capitalism does. We all know the slogan, “There is no ethical consumption under late capitalism.” But that’s true from the other side, too: there is no ethical employment under late capitalism. If you work, your work enriches the oppressor class, one way or another.

That’s where Henchgirl comes in: it strips away the pretense, introducing us from the start to Mary Posa, a flunky in an Adam West Batman-style butterfly-themed villain gang, down to every member’s name being a pun. (Mariposa is Spanish for “butterfly.”) She’s underpaid, overworked, expected to be on call at all times, and has no health insurance–just like employees of real-life supervillains.

But it isn’t just economic evil that surrounds her. Underneath its cute art and silly plots, Henchgirl is about many forms of isolation, suffering, and neglect. Mary’s parents, we learn, are famous, top-tier superheroes, and her sister en route to being the same, while Mary is barely acknowledged as existing. The “evil serum” with which first Coco Oon and later Mary are dosed seems to function mostly by stripping the victim of compassion, making them variously sadistic or oblivious to the harm they do to others, but that’s true of Mary’s employer Monsieur Butterfly from the start. Mary seems to be the only one in her criminal/corporate world with a conscience; once it’s taken from her, she wreaks a path of destruction worthy of any supervillain, and even once she tries to be “good,” it’s through murder.

This is why we have the protector fantasy: life is full of people who don’t care about us, and institutions which, not being people, are incapable of caring at all. Our culture actively discourages caring about others, and more specifically Others; “success” is framed, from religion to politics to economics, as being the sole survivor of a ruthless competition for power and influence. Small wonder that so many of us crave the idea of a fantastical figure who would attain power or be gifted with it, and use it to care for us rather than stomping all over us.

Mary is the Other everywhere she goes. In her family she’s the weak one; in the Butterfly gang she’s the timid one; in her shared apartment she’s the criminal one. There is always someone around judging her as less-than, trying to convince her she is wrong and powerless, starting with her parents, thanks to whom Mary believes she doesn’t have a power, despite demonstrating superstrength throughout the comic. Similarly, she repeatedly demonstrates significant courage, befriending Marionette and subverting the orphanage heist right under Monsieur Butterfly’s nose, and really isn’t doing anything more evil than her judgmental roommate, whose employer created the compound on which the evil serum is based.

Mary’s trip through time hammers this point home. When child-Mary starts using her foreknowledge to pretend to be psychic, she is suddenly a favored child, a star, issuing warnings and advice about the future–only to return to find it essentially unchanged. If we define power as the ability to effect change, the new-timeline Mary really wasn’t any more powerful than original-timeline Mary, which is to say original-timeline Mary wasn’t any less powerful. She always had power, it was just her entire world conspired to convince her she didn’t.

But then we timeskip, and learn a woman with the power to extrude carrots from her wrists accidentally ushered in the overthrow of humanity, and Mary is the leader of the freedom fighters. There’s no such thing as a powerless person, only people denied opportunities to recognize and express their power.

That’s why they Other us and oppress us. If we monsters and henchgirls ever woke up and realized what we can do, we’d bring the world to its knees.

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One thought on “Crisis on N Earths: Henchgirl

  1. I liked Henchgirl a lot when I bought it from the creator at a convention. It had a lot of smart things with regard to the style of story it was parodying. It’s great to see it featured here in the near-apocalypse.

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