Very rarely do we get to see young, female superheroes in the highly male dominated world of comics. The femme fatales that we recognize are women like Wonder Woman, Hawk Gal, Cat Woman and Super Girl. Many of the heroines produced in this industry tend to have one criterion in common: Apart from all being women, their physical appearance must exceed the average. This includes tall and slender figures (with the excuse of muscles), alluring mysterious eyes, full plump lips and a standard breast size, which is completely unrealistic for gurls watching these shows and reading these graphic novels. How are they supposed to look at these women and see themselves in them?
For the longest time there existed a gap in the comic book industry specially reserved for the gurls of tomorrow – the gurls who wanted a hero who not only told an honest story of who they were and where they came from, but also a story of their culture and history and the everyday battles they faced. Instead, we saw our heroines as supporting characters for the more muscular and complex characters of Superman and Batman, playing as their love interests and teammates – never the star of the show.
Then walks in Equinox, a sixteen-year-old Cree superhero from Moose Factory, Ontario. Equinox, or Miiyahbin, as she’s called by those who don’t know of her powers, doesn’t exactly fit the standard for female superheroes, let alone superheroes in general.
Her creator, Jeff Lemire, is an up-and-coming graphic artist from Toronto, who achieved widespread acclamation for his Essex Country graphic novel trilogy, landing him a job at DC Comics. Known as “the overly proud Canadian in the offices of DC,” Jeff was handed the assignment “Justice League Canada.” He claims he wanted to do more than simply place the CN Tower in the background and wrap it up. Instead Jeff says, “I wanted to put it in a rural setting because I think that’s a really interesting thing: To take these big, bombastic superhero stories and put them in a very quiet setting, where you normally wouldn’t see those characters.” Equinox was different.
Apart from being rather young, what really makes Equinox a character of her own style is her deeply rooted connection to her First Nations culture. Jeff claimed that he had always had an interest in Canada’s First Nations stories and a desire to share a different perspective than typically shared in general society and the media, and this played a major part in his vision. This is very present as her powers stem from the earth and change according to the seasons.
“Creating a female superhero was interesting to me because, generally, most superheroes are white males,” says Jeff. “We need diversity and we need different personalities…you [also] need very distinct voices for personalities on the team or else you just start writing the same character in a different costume.”
But it wasn’t as if Jeff just created all of this from his downtown Toronto apartment. He actually made several trips up north, spending time with grade school kids and asking them what they wanted to see in a superhero and asking the locals what they thought was appropriate for their First Nations youth. For example, one member of the town asked him to take away all that stereotypical imagery and get down to basic principles. The member continued by saying he didn’t walk around with beads and fringe and feathers and a loincloth…First Nations people are just as important as Superman, Clark Kent, Batman and all these people. And Jeff listened.
Jeff says that apart from his own interest in First Nations culture, the real inspiration for Equinox was Shannen Koostachin, a young Cree activist from the James Bay area of Attawapiskat who sadly died in a car accident just before her sixteenth birthday. The spirit of Shannen Koostachin is definitely present with cultural strengths, family ties, knowledge of the land and the rich symbolism of the Cree on James Bay, all present within Equinox. Jeff says that the fifteen-year-old, who led fellow students to Parliament Hill to lobby for a proper school, isn’t far from his thoughts when drawing the new superhero.
“I think if I can capture some of that heart and some of that essence in this character,” says Jeff. “Perhaps she’ll almost be a guiding spirit in the creation of this character.”