“He wouldn’t let me stay over. He looked so sorry and miserable as he pushed me out the door. It stung. It always stings when there’s this whole story going on and you’re really just a B-plot walk-on who only got a look at three pages of the script.”
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente takes place in a superhero universe, but it is not a comic book nor does it primarily focus on superheroes. Rather, the main characters of The Refrigerator Monologues are analogues of female Marvel and DC characters that are famous for dying or having their power taken away. This book is a reaction to a trope in superhero comics known as “Women in Refrigerators,” a plot device in which female characters die or suffer in order to inspire, motivate, or provide gravitas to the main male hero. The Refrigerator Monologues aims to give those female characters a voice and make them the center of their own story.
Because the author did not have the rights to any established Marvel or DC characters, she created her own superhero universe (with its own heroes, villains, and continuity) inspired by the Marvel and DC source material. In doing so, she crammed in more characterization, beauty, and story ideas in a hundred pages than I’ve seen most comic book universes churn out in decades. The author totally gets what make comic books so freaking awesome. I want to read MORE about the characters she’s created and the superhero adventures that are just mentioned off-hand. For example, I REALLY want the [non-existent] issue where “Hal Cyon trapped Doctor Nocturne in a pocket dimension stuffed inside the blue whale in the Museum of Natural History.” But the author also gets how to make the female supporting characters interesting on their own, how to give them their own perspective, and how to point out (in an entertaining way) the sexism present in many classic comic story arcs.
I want Marvel and DC to learn by the example set in this book: that when all characters — male and female — are fully developed, the stories that result are so much better. While any fan of comic books or superheroes should read this book, I hope that every comic book and superhero movie writer does so. At the end of the day, isn’t what we all want really just less hack writing?
The format of the book is similar to The Vagina Monologues (the other inspiration for this novella’s title). In each chapter, a different dead character speaks, telling her tale. A very minor quibble I have with the book is that I felt that the voices of the characters got a bit indistinct as the book went on. For example, the voice of “Harley Quinn” shouldn’t be quite so similar to that of “Gwen Stacey.”
Parents considering this book for their kids should be advised that although it deals with a superhero universe, there is sex, violence, and foul language. It’s definitely rated M for mature.
Rating: 4 stars