A leading lady.
You know what I’ve been inordinately pleased about? In all my years of writing this comic, I have never once heard any complaints from readers about the fact that Suzie is (as Oscar would put it) the “big boss” of the Z Ranch.
Oh, her decisions have been questioned from time to time, but that’s fine, because I’ve never gotten the sense that a man in her position wouldn’t get the same amount of criticism or praise. True, she may have inherited the ranch from her pa (and all the Zanes before him), and she may be young and have some reckless tendencies, but these are all character notes separate from any gender issue.
Now, could we fall afoul of the complaint that she exhibits a lot of traditionally “masculine” traits in order to seem “strong”? I suppose, but once arguments like that crop up Dawn and I always start scratching our heads and wondering what exactly is being clamored for in a lady protagonist… she fights crime by night and knits and volunteers at a day-care center by day? That actually sounds like a fun idea, but once we get down to the idea that a female character should be defeating the bad guys with hugs and understanding, I feel like we’re getting a bit lost. Couldn’t a male character do that? Don’t we even have real-life historical examples such as Gandhi and Boudica to show us a man solving his problems non-violently while a woman led an army on a roaring rampage of revenge?
I think the real complaint about the stereotypical “strong female character” who seems like little more than boobs and bloodlust is just that: she’s not really a character. That same complaint could be applied to her male counterparts in the shallow end of the character pool, except she has the further problem that she’s often scantily and inappropriately clad and (if in a visual medium) often presented from the Male Gaze viewpoint, suggesting someone not to be identified with so much as ogled.
Even then that little girl reviewing New 52 Starfire wasn’t as disappointed with what Starfire was (or wasn’t) wearing or how she was being drawn, as she was with her lack of activity and her lack of doing anything cool. I think that really cuts to the heart of the matter. I admit, there are still certain aspects of a female character’s look that immediately turn me off such as expecting me to buy into an expert martial artist who runs around fighting in stiletto heels; I can’t take that seriously. But the fact Black Widow is dressed in a tight jumpsuit in the beginning of Captain America: The Winter Soldier doesn’t immediately make me scoff and write her off as empty eye candy like a depressingly large amount of reviewers did. That’s not helping. She showed a lot of agency, smarts, courage, and, dare I say, character during that film, and even manages to have her own character arc (and for my money a better one than Mako Mori did).
Anyhow, I may have gotten way off my original topic by this point, but what I suppose I’m trying to say is that I’ve tried very hard to present Suzie as someone who, while not perfect (perfect is boring), and not necessarily entirely sensibly dressed, still believably fills the role she’s in. That we’re not just telling you she’s in charge of the ranch, we’re showing you, and more importantly showing you why. I think that’s more important in the end than any matters of appearance or gender, that core of being a person who seems to fit their circumstances and react in what (for them) is an appropriate fashion.
Still no high heels, though. Even if she went to a dance Suzie’d probably just tuck on her best boots.