Lady Fantastic died yesterday. She was one of the classics, one of the first to don her cape and soar over the skyline, one of that golden generation who inspired every hero who came after. So of course her obituary starts with how she was a mother of three. How she made a mean fucking soufflé and loved to entertain. The part where she stopped the Grappler from shooting the Space Needle into… well… space? With a group of schoolchildren still on the observation deck?
They hunted Mr. Upstanding down in his old folks’ home for a quote. He talked about how her legs looked in those tights. Below the fold it’s all nostalgia from Piston-Man and Brother Bolt about how nurturing she was, how kind, how lovely her smile.
Remember the part where she was a rocket scientist before she got her powers? Remember how she brokered an historic peace treaty two months after she took the cape off for good, and spent her next fifteen years as a diplomat? Remember the year she was nominated for three Nobel prizes?
Yeah, the journalists neither.
The interview with her sidekick, Omega Girl, got shoved back onto page twenty-eight. She’s Omega Woman now — has been ever since she flew out from beneath Lady Fantastic’s wing to soar on her own — but apparently the fact-checkers didn’t bother checking that particular fact. They play up the rivalry between them, the one both Omega Woman and Lady Fantastic said was never there in the first place. The enmity that the gossip rags insisted must be there, the doctored photos that everyone swore had a grain of truth to them.
I mean, how could two powerful women possibly be content to share the same sky, right? Surely one of them must have wanted to fling the other out of it.
She kept fighting crime while she was pregnant with her first child, and got all kinds of shit for battling villains with a baby in her belly. So when she had her second child she announced she was taking a few months off from superheroing. Naturally the world fretted that lady heroes would abandon their responsibilities to raise babies, and let villains run amok. I don’t know how she managed to hide her third kid from the media, but we didn’t know there was a third little Fantastic until the baby was a month old. Which launched a whole other flurry of thinkpieces.
Lady Fantastic was already getting up there in years when I was a little girl. I grew up watching reruns of the show she was on, The Captain Tornado and Friends Justice Hour. She was the best part of it, every week. When Sixty Minutes had her on, I wanted them to ask her about the Space Needle, and how she’d returned the Sword of a Thousand Perils to the Sea Queen’s realm. She was underwater for three days - no submarine, no oxygen tank, no gills. But instead they asked if she minded that her hair was going grey, and how she kept fit enough for the uniform now that she was pushing fifty. They wanted to know about her affair with The Human Comet, and whether the man she’d settled down with - nary a super hair on his head - was all right with her fighting crime while he stayed home and raised their children.
She was poised and polite and never let the smile slip from her face. I yelled at the reporter for her, until my mother came in and threatened to change the channel if I didn’t calm down.
In fifth grade, I dressed as her for Halloween. The skirt went down past my knees; the top had sleeves long enough to protect me from crisp October nights. When I saw her costume on the shelves my freshman year in college, well. I don’t have to tell you how little fabric there was, or all the things it didn’t cover. I made my own instead, and spent that year’s party sandwiched between one boy who grilled me on every aspect of her career — waiting to catch me on something I didn’t know and invalidate the half hours’ worth of answers I’d given him — and another who swore everything Lady Fantastic did had first been done by Captain Tornado. Even though Captain Tornado didn’t start flying until six years after she first appeared.
Which, if boy number two had been listening, he’d have known. Funny, boy number one didn’t question his poorly informed counterpart’s cred the way he did mine. Under her real name, Anastasia Gearheart, she was part of the team that designed a vehicle to put humans on Mars. Didn’t matter that two months before, she’d gone there under her own power; she wanted us to get there, too. I had a poster of the selfie that Curiosity took with her, when she stopped by to free its stuck wheel.
She saved the world once or twice a year. When the Plutonians hurled asteroids down the gravity well at us, she intercepted the rocks and headed out to the far reaches of our solar system to broker peace. Scholars argue whether she was on the right side of the lobby to restore Pluto’s planetary designation, but the important thing was, she taught us its inhabitants were people.
And yet the news is doing a feature on how her costumes changed over her career.
It’s gotten better. Every year more women don capes and masks, and every year we’re learning more about the ones who were always there, who flew under the radar in every sense of the word, who were ignored by the people who got to write history, whose achievements were buried, and whose credit was stolen.
My daughter’s on the next flight to Mars, traveling there on the metal-and-propellant wings Lady Fantastic designed. I’m sending her with a rose crafted from scraps of that old costume I made, to lay at Curiosity’s long-stilled treads.
It’s sad, knowing Lady Fantastic will never again soar through the atmosphere, but when I look up at night and seek out that tiny red dot, I’ll remember all the things she did to help my daughter go even higher, even farther.
Like I said, she never minded sharing the sky.