The Webcomic Overlook #185: Dynagirl
There was a short lived TV series back in the 1970’s called Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. It was created by Sid and Marty Krofft, those crazy puppeteers who made bizarre, psychedelic shows which tread the line between fantastic and nightmare-inducing. They’re likely lost to younger Webcomic Overlook readers these days: H. R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and Land of the Lost. Electra Woman and Dyna Girl was supposed to be a callback to the much more famous 1960’s Batman series. They wore spandex, rode around in Electri-Car before the Nissan Leaf made it cool again, and fought villains with names like Empress of Evil and Glitter Rock… who, frankly, sound like they should be opening for KISS.
If you could sum up the seventies in the span of one minute, you can’t get more accurate than the show’s opening sequence:
Electra Woman and Dyna Girl was never really that popular, and it lasted all of 16 episodes.
And yet … in 2001, some genius decided that it was ready for a reboot. Seriously. And it was as stereotypically 1990’s comic book reboot as you can get. Electra Woman (played by Night Court’s Markie Post) was a washed-up, drunk, divorced superheroine who was brought back into action by an all new Dyna Girl. Now, admittedly this sounds like a pretty terrible concept. However, it’s pretty remarkable when you consider that a) this was a year before Spider-Man officially kicked off the decade when superhero movies dominated the box offices, and b) a full three years before The Incredibles, which rode a very similar premise to boffo returns. (To be fair, though, the whole “washed up superhero” trope had already been done with Watchmen.)
There’s also a webcomic entitled Dynagirl, written by Cary Kelley and illustrated by Harold Edge… and … it’s not that same Dyna Girl created by Sid and Marty Krofft.
Or … is she?
Because, despite the fact that she’s sporting hot pants rather than spandex, Dyna Girl follows what sounds like a very similar story arc as the one Markie Post did in the 2001 reboot.
Our heroine is Kerri Masters, a.k.a. Dynagirl. She first appeared in Red Handed Studios’ Fallen Justice, a sort of Justice League-like print comic where everyone looks like they were drawn to as background characters in Subnormality. I’ve never read Fallen Justice, as it seems to primarily exist on the rack of comic book shops in Texas. Dynagirl, however, sorta works as a standalone title… though knowledge of Fallen Justice does help to make a few details a little less confusing.
Dynagirl plays many roles: Single mom. Former waitress. Superhero. She gained superpowers after she’d fallen down a well trying to rescue a childhood friend. The well gave her and her friend … superpowers! Dynagirl claims she’s an energy sponge, absorbing the energy of anything thrown at her. They manifest into has Superman’s powers (flight, super strength, etc.), only instead of shooting lasers out of her eyes she emits energy beams from her hands. In her first outing, she was captured by the villain Simon Hurst, who physically and emotionally abuses her. Sometimes later, Justice Theta — a fellow superhero and live in boyfriend — was killed.
All of these things took a toll on Dynagirl’s mental health, and she spends a lot of time crying. After Justice Theta’s death, Dynagirl retired from the superhero biz, focusing instead on being a mom.
But, like Michael Corleone once said, “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” A super-secret corporation somehow not named Cerberus tracks down Dynagirl and give her an offer she can’t refuse: join our team of corporate-funded superheroes, and we’ll make sure your family is provided for.
Kerri agrees to join, but on the condition that she gets to choose her own version of the Justice League. This is, frankly, a lot tougher than it seems, especially since Dynagirl’s world follows immutable comic book laws where two people can’t just sit down and talk like adults. They pretty much have to smack each other around first. For example, Dynagirl visits a woman named Amanda (a.k.a. Mindfire). The exchange goes something like this:
Amanda: “What the hell?!”
Dynagirl: “Amanda, if you’ll just give me a second.”
Amanda: “GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME!”
During which Amanda hits Dynagirl with her superpowers. Dynagirl makes a big deal that she didn’t come here to fight, and Amanda snaps back that Dynagirl shouldn’t have come here at all, since she put her entire family in danger. Mind you, this is after Amanda has already caused untold property damage by using her telekinetic powers to smash cars, lawnmowers, and televisions in a desperate attempt to not talk to Dynagirl. This was pretty much the standard storytelling device in the 90’s: people just standing around, talking? Boooooring. Hear that click? That’s 13-year-old boys shutting down their browsers so they can go skateboarding or hang gliding or something more EXTREME than watching people act reasonable.
Also joining the team are Waypoint (Kerri’s childhood friend whose truly awful costume includes a half mask and a spandex leotard that’s zipped down to her belly button), Zig Zag (who probably took the only speedster-related name that hasn’t yet been copyrighted by Marvel or DC), and Batman. OK, technically he’s The Knight, which is the most transparent reference to Batman you can muster without calling him Batmanuel. The difference, of course, is that Batman doesn’t have a catchphrase half as cool as “It’s Night Night Time!” His design is oh-so-90’s: The Knight has pouches so big that they’d make Rob Liefeld jealous. The way these pouches cover up his abs makes me wonder if he’s hiding a little bit of a gut underneath.
Since the comic is about a superheroine who’s been emotionally scarred, you can expect this comic to go for big emotional moments. Unfortunately, these are, for the most part, pretty hokey. Take for instance, Zig Zag, who gets all of Issue 3 to develop his backstory. (In fact, he’s pretty much given the role of co-lead. I have a feeling that he was originally slated for his own title comic, but was perhaps shoe-horned into Dynagirl for economic purposes.) Zig Zag is a time-traveler, and he’s looking for someone. He zips to present day and meets his younger self. And then he sees his mother, who is apparently deceased in his timeline. They share a full page hugging scene.
Why doesn’t this scene work? First of all, we JUST got introduced to Zig Zag. We don’t know him. We don’t know his Mom. So does that really merit a full page scene pregnant with emotion. Second, this setup, precluded by — you guessed it — tears welling up in Zig Zag’s eyes, just feels so sappy, manipulative, and unearned. If you try to force me to feel sad for the main characters, I just end up resenting it.
Our heroes band together after a freak storm threatens the East Coast. It’s being caused by Kerri’s friend, Dervish (who last appeared in Fallen Justice), who has the double-whammy power of weather control and speed. Zig Zag, our man with his eye on the future, says that if our team kills him, then millions will die!
Dervish, though, isn’t acting under his own accord. He’s actually being manipulated by his brother, a man they call Cane. He has wicked voodoo magic that lets him summon elementals out of thin air. He’s using these powers to, I don’t know, find a lab filled with cloned superheroes so he can steal toxins or something? I wasn’t too sure about his motivations here, since I have a feeling he could’ve walked into the building without summoning up a hurricane.
He also he wants Dynagirl to be his wife. Yes, Cane is a villain straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon. He even does the whole maniacal laugh thing. He generally gets some of the comic’s cheesiest lines:
At some point, I expect him to say, “Tonight, I dine on turtle soup!” Of course, you’ve got to leave the corniest line to Dynagirl herself.
Good Lord, I had no idea I was reading Captain Planet.
The plot is seriously all over the place, and you get whiplash trying to figure out why certain plot elements were introduced in the first place. The first issue introduces Kerri’s waitressing job, a town filled with superheroes, and an initial corporate funded superteam that’s training in the Danger Room. These plotlines are more or less dropped as we head toward the “Dynagirl recruits her new team” plot. Toward the end of the Dervish/Cane saga, when the team is on the way home after a job well done, Dynagirl disappears and somehow travels back in time and has to fight dinosaurs. Well, somebody enjoyed The Return of Bruce Wayne!
In a way it’s charming. Just like TV’s Dyna Girl, this Dynagirl is a throwback … specifically to comics and Saturday morning cartoons from a decade ago. I can sympathize. I am the proud owner of an almost complete run of Chris Claremont’s X-Men Forever, his revisit to the era when Jim Lee was artist. Comics these days to be a little too serious, and I sorta miss the bombastic posturing of the comics from the 90’s and the “all dialogue consists of one-liners” disciple of the 90’s X-Men cartoon. Yet the pacing is too sloppy, the plot is too haphazard, and the characters are all too alike for me to recommend this webcomic.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)