A superhero series that tackles the subject of gentrification? It might sound weird but in a new episode of Heroineburgh, being released this month, superhero Savanna must defeat Serpenta, a mercenary working for a greedy real estate developer.
“She goes around and starts to scare citizens out of their homes in Homewood,” says Pittsburgh artist Janeka Johnson, who plays Savanna. “But I intervene and prevent her from gentrifying the neighborhood.”
Johnson is featured in episode 9 of the ongoing live-action series produced in Pittsburgh. The series features all original female superhero characters from various neighborhoods, ethnicities, professions and sexual orientations.
“There aren’t a lot of female superheroes that have the platform that most male superheroes do,” says Johnson. “When you think of superheroes you automatically think of Superman, Batman, not necessarily these empowering female figures. To have this and be a part of this is a really enriching experience.
“I thought it was a really interesting opportunity. I used to be a really big comic book nerd and my dad has always been a comic book nerd.”
The new batch of shows pick up with episode eight, “The Liquid Engineers,” featuring Stephanie Wallace as Dysphoria. (Almost all the episode titles are direct references to 1980s post-punk and new-wave songs.) Dysphoria works with Carnegie Mellon University scientist Kimberly Chiang as a lab assistant. But due to a mix-up in the lab, she becomes cursed with the power to turn anything she touches into dust. Dysphoria blames Kimberly for her problem — as villains are wont to do — and a battle ensues.
“It’s fun, there’s a lot of humor, drama and really cool costumes,” says Wallace. “All of the characters are really unique and cool, there’s such a wide spectrum of characters and storylines and it’s all local, too.”
Wallace plays guitar in the local female-fronted alternative/punk band Murder for Girls, so taking on a role in an all-female series was a natural fit for her. She hopes Heroineburgh will send a positive message to women and girls.
“Little girls can be the strong, powerful, smart ones that can solve problems. But that’s not traditionally, unfortunately, the way women have always been depicted and raised in our culture,” Wallace says. “It’s a great and important thing, especially in this culture, to teach women that they are powerful and that they can overcome anything they want if they put their minds to it.”
The first season of Heroineburgh will consist of 13 episodes. Episodes 8, 9 and 10 will debut at Pittsburgh Filmmakers on April 29.