A Fangirl is Born

A Fangirl is Born

Dec 04

For the longest time, I thought I made it up.

I remembered a superheroine telling her origin story to a gang of attentive old friends. I remembered that said origin story somehow involved high school and people being big mean meanies. I remembered the moment when she realized she could fly.

It all sounds so generic when I say it like that. But this was all I could remember, a series of vague images rendered in bad ‘80s animation — the kind where “running” is represented by a repetitive sequence of mechanical lurches.

It wasn’t until recently that the pieces came together. I was describing my collection of hazy half-memories to my husband, and he was like, “Wait, that’s a thing. A thing that actually exists.” And then we realized it was “A Firestar is Born.”

This is an episode of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, the big ‘80s toon wherein Spider-Man, Iceman and Firestar are college roomies who fight crime. (As depicted in the opening credits, their dorm room or group house or whatever it is is fucking amazing. The couches turn into computers.) I was probably about 6 when it came out.

Despite my lack of clarity on what actually took place in this episode, I remember it having a weirdly profound effect on me. It was one of the key things that sparked my love of superheroics — particularly superheroics performed by ladies who don’t put up with bullshit.

I couldn’t really remember why it had this effect, though. I mean, maybe just seeing an entire episode of something devoted to a lady superhero was enough for 6-year-old me, but…surely there had to be more to it than that, right? So recently, I watched it again.

First off: okay, yes, there are a ton of goofy ‘80s things going on in this ep that are sort of hilarious. Like, why does Cyclops have a booming old man “Phil Hartman doing a bit” voice? And why is Wolverine vaguely Australian? And what is with the complicated trophy-by-way-of-birdbath exit route from Spidey and Friends’ superhero HQ? (Actually, that’s kind of awesome. I want it!)

But let’s try not to dwell on all that and get to the heart of the eppy, which is basically an extended flashback of Firestar’s origin (Firestar, remember, was created specifically for this show). So there’s this total bitch named Bonnie who apparently exists solely to make Firestar’s childhood and teen years a living hell. Seriously, Bonnie appears have no other purpose in life — she gives Firestar an ugly duck-wearing-a-baseball-cap doll! She messes up Firestar’s book report! And when other people try to call her on her Firestar hatin’ ways — like, Jesus, Bonnie, let it go already — she’s all, “DON’T TALK TO ME LIKE THAT OR YOU’RE NOT A CHEERLEADER ANYMORE.” (I know!)

Throughout all this, Firestar is discovering her powers, from making things all melty to flying. When Bonnie takes things too far — hatching a needlessly complicated anti-Firestar plan, because you know, she’s Bonnie — Firestar is finally like, “God, enough” and sews herself a costume and takes that bitch down.

Okay, so here’s why I think this resonated with me: you’ve got this girl who’s instantly easy to relate to telling her origin story in her own words. And there’s something about it that’s utterly normal, even though she’s, you know…a superhero. People at school are mean to her. She discovers her powers gradually, but she doesn’t instantly go out and try to save the world — she’s just kinda like, “oh, cool.” She doesn’t even make herself a costume until push really comes to shove, and then we see her sitting at a little sewing machine, stitching that shit up in awesome DIY fashion. And what does she ultimately use her powers for the first time out? To take down a haggy high school nemesis. At a football game. In front of everybody. She even gloats a little.

If I discovered I had powers? This is probably what I’d do.* It’s a perfect example of the utterly human side of superheroics — and the comic book stories I love the most know how to balance that with the larger-than-life, fate-of-the-world, OMG-we’re-all-gonna-die type stuff.

You can watch “A Firestar is Born” above (it’s not available on DVD, at least not in the States). And yes, yes, yes…as I mentioned before, it is a total goofball ’80spalooza. But it will always have a special place in my heart. Even though I could only remember random images and moments from it ‘til recently, those images were pivotal in shaping my 6-year-old brain’s all-consuming superhero obsession. And considering that it’s tough to find fully-realized female superhero stories amongst Hollywood’s current glut of spandex-centric comics adaptions…well, being able to watch 25 minutes of a lady superhero who doesn’t put up with bullshit** is pretty dang cool.

*Or at least that’s what I would’ve done when I was a kid — now I’d save the world. Seriously.

**Especially bullshit from bitches named Bonnie.

**This episode was written by the great Christy Marx, who also created Jem and the Holograms and wrote for shows like G.I. Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She seems to be — as Matt recently noted — some kind of “essential fangirl connective tissue.” You can totally become her Facebook fan here.

5 comments

  1. Love it! Unfortunately the computer that I can watch video on is out of commission. But I’ll check it out when I can, and meanwhile I loved your description of this episode and your reaction to it. Plus, Cyclops — even with a ridiculous voice — is always good to have around. Now the important question: is his hair covered, or not?

  2. His hair is covered, dammit! Also, as someone pointed out to me, making Wolverine Australian was oddly prescient on their part.

  3. Oh, Australian Wolverine! Did they use the same voice actors from the ill-fated “Pryde of the X-Men” pilot? I can’t wait to watch this. And I love your description, and your discussion of the impact this had on you. I think you’re spot-on in your assessment of why a story like this is awesome, and I’m glad it existed, even in a cheesetastic 80s way.

  4. Ok, having watched it, that was AWESOME — though it gave me some flashbacks to my own “Bonnie.” Then again, there exists, in a middle school diary, a picture I drew of myself as a superhero, tying my Bonnie to some train tracks. In retrospect it’s a bit disturbing, but apparently, at the time, that’s what I imagined doing if *I* had superpowers — and as a hero, no less! I totally sympathize with Firestar.

  5. Matt

    Great post–I think Christy Marx is the Joss Whedon of her generation.

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