Superheroes aren’t just for nerdy comic fans any-more (and as a nerdy anime otaku myself, I use the term with nothing but affection). With dozens of Superhero films coming out this year, they’re more popular now than ever. In this list I’m going to look at the most badass, complex and interesting heroines I’ve come across in comics so far.
10. Cube Girl
From Chandler’s Astounding Antagonists, Cube Girl may have been a minor character but she made a major impression. A now middle-aged super heroine whose part of the superhero team ‘The Dazzling Diamonds’ (this world’s version of The Fantastic Four) her story is a cruelly realistic version of what would have happened to Susan Storm if her existence in paper and ink didn’t give her eternal youth and sexiness. As a woman whose youth is fading and with less martial powers than the others (just like Susan, who spent a long time in the comics being relegated to support), she’s been put on the shelf- pushed to the sidelines and living in the shadow of her younger, stronger, sexier sister (who knows her time for being put on the shelf draws closer and closer each passing day) and her husband (who becomes ‘distinguished’ as he grows older, not ‘past it’ like his wife).
In a very How Stella Got Her Groove Back way , she rediscovers her sexuality and self worth in her relationship with Danjiro Tamaki, a much younger man who genuinely loves her for who she is. Her subplot involves one of the most mature representations of infidelity and marital breakdown I’ve seen. I won’t ruin it, but her coming of age story has the most glorious payoff in the whole book.
Storm is without a doubt one of the coolest superheroines ever written. As well as being the most recognizable black superhero of all time, she has the most badass powers. I mean, she can shoot lightning and fly and cause storms. What little girl wouldn’t want to be her? Okay, she may be a bit of a game breaker and she could have solved half of the X-men’s problems in five minutes realistically, but rule of cool makes me love her anyway.
Wonderwoman is the biggest name superheroine who’s not a distaff counterpart or part of a team. Her origin is famous. Her creator, William Moulton Marston – the man who invented a lie detector and was one of America’s most high profile polyamourists- wanted to create a superheroine who didn’t win the day by pulping the enemy into a bloody mess with their bare hands, but won with love and compassion (and apparantly love of bondage. Seriously, she should be more careful with that lasso.) When he said all this to his wife Elizabeth (well, except for the bondage part), she said ‘fine. But make her a woman.’ Thus, the amazonian warrior who came into our world to save it was born.
After her stories left the hands of her creator, however, she’s had a very troubled time in the comics. While there are a few very mature male writers and comic fans out there (for example, Greg Rucka and Linkara respectively), the industry is still rife with a shocking degree of mysogyny which surpasses that of any other creative medium (even video games). A lot of writers and fans are clueless about the opposite sex and find a strong, proudly feminine women with lots of power a terrifying concept (fuck you Miller!) As a result, some of her portrayals have been riddled with misogyny and fear of strong women- but then again, with writers like Greg Rucka (the man who made Batwoman awesome) and Gail Simone (the woman who made Babsy’s Batgirl awesomer), we have hope. Now, if Zach Snyder can avoid balsing up her movie like he did with Suckerpunch and if we could just keep her away from that god-dam stupid relationship with Superman…
7. Criminal Comedienne
Another superheroine and co-protagonist from Rafael Chandler’s Astounding Antagonists, she is one of the most unique and well written female heroines (well, antiheroines) I’ve come across. Motley is a 40 year old Latina woman. While everyone else has super strength and mind control powers, she got shafted with the ability to jump really high. She knows she’s out classed and outgunned, but she doesn’t let it stop her from using her sense of humour and brains to win the day. She’s flawed as well; even though part of her motivation is to steal enough money to keep the local woman’s refuge open, it doesn’t mean she’s a pure hearted Robin Hood; she ended up on the criminal path because of her greed and she betrayed everyone she loved in the process. But in spite of all that, we see Motley gothroughcharacter development and learn to value her friends and fight for something more important than money.
X-men is the superhero team that is the best for incuding strong female characters. Growing up I loved watching Rogue on X-men the animated series: she was the strong, sassy superheroine with the sexy southern accent and badass moves thanks to her Miss Marvel powers. When I saw the film I was not so thrilled with seeing Rogue transformed from the strong, southern badass into a vulnerable little girl who played morality pet and damsel in distress to Wolverine. However, in spite of her drippy film counterpart, I’ll always see as the woman I looked up to as a child.
5. Jessica Jones
I don’t know much about her comic book character, but in the tv series, she’s an astoundingly unique superheroine. An antisocial, maverick, genius lone wolf, haunted by a tragic past that’s catching up to her, she’s a divorce and a drinking problem away from being your full Hardboiled Detective/ cop archetype. What’s unusual is that women aren’t usually allowed to be in this role. As Sparky brilliantly wrote about the antisocial genius archetype on FangsForTheFantasy in his article ‘Roles Only Cis, Straight, White Men Can Get Away With‘:
These unpleasant geniuses are overwhelmingly cis, straight white men – because, frankly, it’s unlikely anyone would put up with that arseholery from anyone else. Sexist, homophobic, racist, transphobic et al tropes that would fall on any minority acting like this and pretty much ensure that very few writers would be willing to put them in this role – and very few fandoms would tolerate them there anyway
An anti-social genius woman may get away with it if she’s cute, manic and oblivious in an adorably-helpless kittenish kind of way. But aggressive, abrasive behaviour is going to catch all kinds of sexist crap (the word “Bitch” would echo through the net).
Here, Jessica Jones is all of these things and she isn’t hit by any sexist language. The show is also progressive for having a central lesbian character whose treated as a character, a brilliant friendship female friendship between her and Trish, and a black man as her main love interest who will hopefully get his own series. There’s so much that is wonderful about this show which makes it one of the most feminist shows of all time.
The New 52 did a lot to revamp Batwoman and change her from the shallow golden age character into an interesting, utterly unique character in her own right. I think there’s something hilarious about Batwoman- the character created to dispell the rumours about what happened between Batman and Robin in the Batcave after Alfred went to bed- becoming the most high profile LGBT superhero in the DC Universe.
Far from the ditsy idiot from the 60s who got retconned for being ‘too ridiculous’, Batwoman is a proud lesbian who got kicked out of the army under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Like how Barbara became Bargirl after she got rejected from the FBI based on her height and gender, Batwonan decided to protect her country the only way she knew how; wearing the cape. Her Father ( a senior rank in the US army) put her through rigorous special forces training, making her one of the very few superheroes who has had sufficient training to be able to pull of the feats that superheroes do every day. The first issue by Greg Rucka follows a very traditional conflict, but his excellent writing made it work. As the series progressed, the stories began to become more disjointed and the villains became more magical and indistinct, but regardless, Batwoman remained an excellent lead. Thanks to her character and the stunning artwork, Batwoman is one of the best things to come out of the New 52 reboot.
3. Harley Quinn
The Batman franchise has grown a lot since the days of Batgirl and her Batmirror (which she probably bought on a shopping spree when she nicked Batman’s Bat Credit Card). This franchise includes a tonne of strong woman, including one of comics’ highest profile lesbians. But perhaps no Batman adaption was better to women than Batman: The Animated Series which brought us Harley Quinn. She was created for the show, but became so wildly popular that she entered the comic universe. The talented psychologist whom the Joker drove insane as a joke because her name was Harleen Quinzel, she became tragically, psychotically obsessed with the joker. She’s been portrayed differently in her comics- in her early comics she was a more tragic figure, while in the New 52 Suicide Squad she was a dangerous, sadistic serial killer femme fatale; meanwhile, in her most recent run she was a fourth wall breaking sexy Deadpool like character. Whatever her incarnation, the golden rule of Harley Quinn is she has to be funny and is without a doubt one of the most entertaining characters- male or female – in comics.
2. Barbara Gordon Batgirl/ Oracle
Barbara Gordon is the definitive Batgirl, who has a rich and interesting history. Comissioner Gordon’s daughter fought alongside Batman and Dick Grayson (before he became Nightwing) to protect Gotham. Then came The Killing Joke, where in a move Alan Moore himself regrets, the Joker tortured her and left her permanently in a wheelchair. Many were angry at how Barbara got humiliated and depowered to further a man’s story- and as much as I love V for Vendetta and Evie, I agree because this permanent depowering thing is just not something that happens to male superheroes and reducing Barbara to nothing more than a victim and a pawn to be pushed around and broken in a man’s story was a dreadful way to treat her.
Thankfully, Babsy was always a fighter and didn’t let this trauma stop her from fighting crime. She became The Oracle, a brilliant researcher who used her brains to solve crime and was the most high profile disabled superhero, proving you don’t need to be able bodied to protect the people you care about.
Later on, she hit her golden age in The New 52 where Gail Simone took the reigns. Here she once again wore the cowl. She is a brilliant character- strong, kind and more empathetic than the brooding Batman, learning to find her feet once again. As well as Jessica Jones, she is one of the only superheroes to deal with PTSD.
Her comics were also great because of her relationships with other great female heroes; Knightfall was a brilliant antagonist and archnemesis; and I loved when she teamed up with Catwoman and Batwoman, as both their characters shone. and even Lois Lane was pretty awesome in her cameo. And Batgirl is also revolutionary in that it has one of the first positively represented trans woman as her roomate. All in all, a pretty great woman friendly heroine.
I don’t care if the series/movies were called Kickass, Hitgirl was the best thing about it and everyone knows it. A 12 year old badass whose been trained by her father, she’s old beyond her age and is always struggling between being the ferocious stoic assassin and the more vulnerable little girl. I always see Hitgirl as what could have been if Leon went through with training Mathilda in Leon: The Professional . Seriously Leon, I don’t care if things didn’t work out with you and your pot-plant (makes sense in context), you should have trained her because it would have been awesome.