The Refrigerator Monologues is a feminist response to the way women are treated in superhero comics. It’s a short read, a novella really, at only 147 pages, but it packs a punch. Riffing on both the stage play The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, and Gail Simone’s website Women in Refrigerators (which coined the term “fridging” for any female character who dies in order to further the plotline or character arc of a man), Valente’s book features six women whose lives were reduced to subplots for various superheroes, and gives them back their voices (which in most cases is little consolation; they’re still dead).
At first I was a bit worried that Valente hadn’t used real comics characters, but each character has a clear analogue, even if details in their stories differ. This gives the stories much more weight than they would have had otherwise, because her criticism has an actual target. The six women who give us their monologues from beyond the grave are Paige Embry (an analogue for Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s famously dead girlfriend); Julia Ash (Jean Grey from X-Men); Bayou (Mera from Aquaman); Pauline Ketch/Pretty Polly (Harley Quinn from Batman); Daisy Green (Karen Page from Daredevil); and Samantha Dane (Alexandra Dewitt from Green Lantern, the character this trope is named for, since she was killed and left in a refrigerator for her boyfriend to find).
This is the first book I’ve read by Valente that I’ve liked without reservation, so perhaps I shouldn’t give up on her as an author quite yet. She does a great job just zeroing in on the point of each woman’s story, getting her voice right, and then doing it. It has the feel of a book that just fell out of the author’s pen/keyboard (if that’s not the case, then I’m even more impressed).
I liked all the stories, but I very much appreciated the presence of the Jean Grey analogue, because I have ALWAYS HATED the Dark Phoenix storyline (in every iteration or adaptation I’ve seen it in), and because it’s not really linked to the existence of a significant other, hadn’t thought to think sexism was why I hated it so much. But! That makes so much sense! I’ve always just hated it because I had this nebulous feeling that she was a victim of her writers, like okay she’s very powerful, why does that have to be scary and bad? Why does that make her into a crazy person who kills everyone? Why?? This is not a story we’ve ever seen with a man at the center. Anyway, most of that story was on point, except I wasn’t sure what the point of that Retcon guy was. I mostly just found him confusing.
Highly recommend this one!