‘Powers’ Deena Pilgrim And The Critique Of ‘Strong Female Characters’

I’m reading my way through Powers right now (I’ve finished “Who Killed Retro Girl?” and “Roleplay”). And it strikes me that Deena Pilgrim is a pretty good cure for and critique of the stereotypical female action heroine who chooses her choice, rejects emotion, and embraces violence.

First, there’s that moment in the “Retro Girl” case when Deena has just been partnered up with Christian, and because she thinks he’s holding out on her, she kicks the holy heck out of him. In a more conventional storyline, her suspicion that her new partner was concealing superpowers would be correct, and proven out by her totally over-the-top attack on him. Instead, she’s not only wrong, she’s tried this tactic and been wrong before. “When I was in college I was dating a guy I was pretty sure had powers. I couldn’t prove it, but I was so-so sure. I mean, I asked him,” she explains. “But you know guys, deny, deny, deny! Alright so, my girlfriend told me that she was dating this guy who had powers—and totally denied it—and so she sucker-punched him and totally caught him lying. So, I tried it on my boyfriend, and, well…I punched him in the solar plexus and I broke my pinky against him.” I like that she’s kind of a jerk, and that she’s aware that she’s a bit of a jerk, but that she can’t help herself from being a jerk and she’s aware of that, too.

Later, when she’s offended Christian terribly, she tries to talk him into taking her back as a partner. “You don’t want me around. I guess I gotta respect that, but—I mean, come on,” she wheedles. “How could you not want me around? I’m totally fascinating. And shit. I wear these little belly shirts all day. That’s gotta do something for you.” I was glad to have her acknowledge that, because up until that point, her outfit was bothering me a lot, and I admit when I saw in the supplemental materials that original sketches had her much more professionally dressed, I was feeling disappointed with Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Avon Oeming. But the fact that she had that line, it makes her outfits a choice bourne out of her own internal logic rather than an act of sexist incongruity imposed on her by her creators that she’s unaware is jarring. It’s not a choice that I would have made in the same position and job, but that makes her more of a person to me. The character is written to force me to deal with her on her terms. And those terms are a powerful combination of tricky but not absurd and self-aware.

Also, now that I’ve read a bit of her storyline, I’m excited to see what Lucy Punch does with the role. Punch normally plays roles where she’s slightly ridiculous, the butt of a joke, and she’s good at embodying some off-putting tendencies. I’ll be glad to see her get an opportunity to fill in the other half of the equation.