Catherynne Valente’s The Refrigerator Monologues is a treat-sized bag of short stories set in a homebrewed but decidedly familiar superhero universe – specifically, the afterlife of said universe. The Hell Hath Club are a group of dead women who lunch together at the same infernal cafe, swapping their stories of how they ended up dead; it is these stories which are the titular monologues, offering a take on The Vagina Monologues with less genitalia (though not no genitalia) and more… well… fridging.
Valente happily admits the debts she owes to Gail Simone for documenting and shining a light on the whole “women in refrigerators” thing, but through these stories she does an excellent job of teasing out different levels of insight into the phenomenon. There is, of course, the straight up comics criticism angle, and if you know your comics – or, at least, are close enough to geek culture to have picked up some knowhow via osmosis and are happy to Wikipedia the rest – you should be able to figure out which characters Valente is analytically spoofing most of the time. Though her self-made superhero universe isn’t ragingly original, she does do an excellent job of erecting a scaffolding where Totally Not Harley Quinn, Totally Not Jean Grey and various other Totally Nots inspired by different companies’ franchises can coexist in the same world – and she also throws in just enough original ideas and twists to make her reimaginings of the stories come alive. (In this vein, my favourite is probably the way she’s able to do an undersea Atlantis realm which doesn’t rely on the old fallbacks of a) humans under a dome, b) merfolk who are basically just humans with water breathing and maybe fish tails, or c) Deep Ones.)