When we talk about superheroes, particularly mainstream superheroes, a few commonalities emerge: incredible power, tragic past, and moral certitude. But when we narrow in on physical appearance, the commonalities become less trope-y and more problematic.
Throughout most of the history of comic books, male heroes have been bulging sacks of muscles perfectly stacked into the “ideal” man. And female heroes? Well, that’s a whole thing. In fact, depictions of female heroes are so weird and hyper-sexualized that there’s actually an official term for what is called the boobs-and-butt pose, an unnatural posture that gives the reader “T and A” all at once. (And, honestly, there are just so few nonbinary characters that it’s hard to draw conclusions about their depiction other than, well, we need more.)
But Faith Herbert is having none of that (and neither are her creators). She’s a fat superhero who has telekinetic abilities and can fly—and she doesn’t care what the haters think of her.
Faith made her first appearance in Harbinger #1, released in 1992, but what’s really exciting is that she’s going to be hitting the silver screen. Sony acquired the rights to adapt Faith’s story to the screen in 2015, along with several other characters from the Valiant universe. Maria Melnik (American Gods) has been tapped to write the screenplay for the Faith film, according to Deadline.
Many are lauding this as the first film to feature a fat superhero, but earlier this year Deadpool 2 gave us Russell, aka Firefist, Deadpool’s new sidekick who just so happens to be a fat kid of Maori descent. That doesn’t take anything away from Faith, however, who will be the first fat superhero to play a film’s lead character.
When we meet Faith, she’s a closeted Trekkie who lacks confidence and only has an inkling of her abilities. Another psiot (that’s what supers are called in this world), Peter Stanchek, comes to visit her to warn her about an evil organization called Harbinger that is trying to round up and exterminate psiots. He and his girlfriend write Faith off as an overly imaginative geek who only fantasizes about having powers—that is until Faith comes flying out of her house after them. It seems that the brief moment Peter spent poking around in Faith’s geeky brain activated Faith’s full abilities.
Since then Faith has been teaming up, fighting evil, loving comic books and science fiction, and saving the day. And, in 2016, Faith moved to L.A. to start her solo superhero career (and she even got her own comic book, aptly called Faith).
The newer issues are mostly devoid of fat shaming, though there are definitely some (usually female, eyeroll) characters who hate Faith because of her body. For the most part, though, people either love her because she’s awesome or hate her because she’s awesome and spoiled their evil plans.
Generally, Faith’s story is not about her fatness—it’s about her search for family and for a right to call herself L.A.’s resident superhero. Especially in the Faith issues, we get to see a fat superhero who knows who she is, what her gifts are, and doesn’t feel a need to excuse, denigrate, explain, or change her fatness.
Having navigated the world in a body that doesn’t meet the standard of acceptability, a standard based in bad science and overt discrimination, Faith’s resilience and unremarkable fatness (literally, very few people remark on it) give me hope. Superhero films are entering a new age, one where the demand for representation seems to have been heard and where our heroes can do more than blow up buildings and fight titans.
Fat heroes have an important role to play in this new age because fat people are human beings who deserve to see themselves reflected in their heroes.
It’s finally Faith’s turn to soar.