CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR by Amber Benson, Sarah Kuhn, Siobhan Keenan, and Shan Murphy
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR delivers an honest adolescent experience about self-discovery and independence. The artwork is soft and elegant, allowing the feminine teenage experience to be taken seriously.
95 %
Relatable and authentic
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The 1995 movie CLUELESS has a special place in the hearts of countless young women. Why shouldn’t it? It’s a movie that neither condescends to feminine interests like fashion nor questions the intelligence of teenage girls. It shows that people can affect change in many ways. Plus, Josh (as portrayed by Paul Rudd) almost certainly gave confusing new feelings to most of the young girls watching. Tai (as portrayed by Brittany Murphy) was there to confuse the rest of them.

Did I ever think that something was missing from the movie? As if! It’s an essentially perfect masterpiece of cinema. Yet, with the release of CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR — written by Amber Benson and Sarah Kuhn — I’m pulled right back into the wild world of Cher Horowitz, and I’m living for it.

Power in Numbers

This comic picks up after the movie, spanning from the end of Cher’s junior year of high school to her senior year. Clever framing is employed with the use of the seasons. While the movie centers around Cher, CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR gives an equal spotlight to Dionne and Tai, too. Different points of views are given at different points of the year — Cher in the summer, Dionne in the fall, Tai in winter, and a collection of the three viewpoints in the spring.

CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR
Image from CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR, courtesy of BOOM! Box.

Cher’s main storyline is that she’s trying to discover her true self while Dionne grasps for a leadership position instead of her sidekick role, and Tai struggles to choose between two very different life paths. While Cher is a great character, I’m so glad that the others get a fuller characterization and agency. While teenage girls with ridiculous amounts of wealth aren’t the most relatable demographic, the comic still manages to do a pretty impressive job of diverse representation. Dionne is a strong woman of color with confidence and intelligence, who is claiming her rightful leadership role. Tai’s storyline addresses women loving women and does so in a real way that is both heartbreaking and romantic. Rather than lumping women into one category and painting them all with the same brush, this comic celebrates our differences.

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Real Struggles

CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR blew me away with how honest the comic is about the adolescent experience. Quite frankly, while the difficult journey of self-discovery may start at the end of high school, I don’t believe it ever ends. The issues that the young women in this comic face are so relatable that it hurts.

CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR
Image from CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR, courtesy of BOOM! Box.

In the comic, Cher believes that finding out who she is means she has to change. Throughout the story, she tries on several different personas and costumes, like a jock and an entrepreneur. Cher embraces stereotypes, and she ends up alienating those who love her. This isn’t an uncommon phase for teenagers. In order to figure out who you are, you have to figure out who you’re not. That usually means stumbling and making mistakes.

Dionne decides she’s done living on the sidelines, and Cher’s meltdown is the perfect time for her to take charge as class president. She struggles with self-worth and expressing her ideas, along with feeling alone and ignored. She really harnesses her own power, and while things are easier with her girls at her side, she is capable of great things all on her own.

READ: Check out WHAT DOES CONSENT REALLY MEAN? for more honesty diversity!

Tai finds out that her great-aunt Ellie has passed away at the same time she gets a full scholarship to the Southern California Institute for the Creative Arts. She has to choose between inheriting and caring for the family farm or pursuing her passion. When she visits the farm, she discovers her late aunt’s story of delayed dreams — she was a lesbian forcibly separated from her lover by her family. She starts to understand some truths about needing to do things for one’s self.

Independent Women Who Don’t Need No Man

The comic opens with a shock when Cher tells readers that she and Josh are no longer a couple. My first instinct was to be totally crushed, but then I completely dug it. While ’90s Paul Rudd is the reason I wake up in the morning, it’s so important for young women to be able to discover themselves on their own terms. While there’s of course nothing wrong with dating, it’s very difficult to balance the needs of your partner if you’re right in the middle of figuring out what your needs are. The fact that Josh is older than Cher complicates things. He’s got so much figured out at the start of the comic, that it appears to me that Cher does more to support him than herself.

CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR
Image from CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR, courtesy of BOOM! Box.

With some space, Cher is able to understand what she needs. Besides, absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? It must, as Dionne has a very similar path of self-discovery. After Dionne and Murray grow apart from running against each other for class president, Murray puts some physical distance between them by studying abroad in Nova Scotia. While Tai is still with Travis, he’s hardly in the comic, allowing for her decisions to be truly her own. It’s not that I don’t believe young women can be successful if they’re in relationships, but there’s nothing like having the power to think of only yourself when you need it most. Cher and Dionne made the best of their independence and confirmed the strength they’ve always had.

READ: For more in-your-face feminism, check out BITCH PLANET: TRIPLE FEATURE #1!

That Artwork is a Total Betty

I admit I was a little surprised by the art style of CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR. The illustrations by Siobhan Keenan are more elegant and softer than I imagined they would be. I had anticipated a more bold and in-your-face style, but I’m not complaining. While it doesn’t necessarily feel on brand with the movie, I do appreciate what it does for the story. The coloring by Shan Murphy reminds of the paper dolls I used to have as a little girl, and I think that really lends to the youthfulness of this search for identity. It captures the fact that this is all uncharted territory for these characters. I also feel that this more serious art style legitimizes the story, as opposed to a more vibrant and sharp style that might frame the antics as too silly. The comic definitely tackles deeper themes than the movie, and the artwork has adjusted accordingly.

CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR
Image from CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR, courtesy of BOOM! Box.

Final Thoughts on CLUELESS: SENIOR YEAR

I think that this comic is a fantastic read for a lover of CLUELESS or any young woman. It tackles real issues authentically and gently helps readers to tap into their confidence and power. It’s well thought out, too, with its framing device and mood-setting. I was skeptical to read this because I love the movie so much. I thought anything but the original material would fall short. However, this comic is so much more than I ever knew I wanted.

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