It may seem strange to some of you that I’m featuring my favorite comic book heroines during Women’s History Month. While yes, this is a fashion/lifestyle/food blog, I am also 100% a comic book nerd. Comic books are typically considered a “guy thing,” so I figure what better month to discuss strong female figures in a male dominated industry than Women’s History Month?
Let me start with a little bit of background on my love of comics: I always loved drawing from a young age and would take inspiration from manga and Archie comics when I was a child. I loved the characters personalities and stories combined with fun, colorful art. As I grew older, I still turned to manga for artistic inspiration, but grew to respect American comics even more for the character development and masterfully done sequential art. I’m not going to lie, being a girl who loves fashion and also loves comic books can often make me an outsider. I’m frequently met with skepticism when I first enter a comic book store and people assume I’m shopping for a brother or boyfriend rather than myself. It’s only when I start naming off titles or series that I’m looking for that they realize I know what I’m talking about. It’s unfortunate, but I also relish the fact that even the act of entering those spaces is a small act of rebellion and contributes to breaking down assumptions. I’ll read what I like, norms be damned!
I’ll also address another issue that often comes up: How do I feel about the hypersexualization of women in comics? I’m not going to lie, it can be awkward at times, but I don’t see much of a difference between that and the amount of advertisements/TV shows/movies/magazine ads showing women scantily clad and in form fitting outfits. Unfortunately, women are sexualized no matter what the medium and it will take a while to change that in our society. With comics, I tend to focus on how the women are portrayed in story lines over their costumes. Is the writer rounding her character background out? Does she have depth to her feelings? Is the writer only playing off female stereotypes? I gravitate towards empowered superheroines who can fight as well as the guys, have personalities and emotions I can relate to, storylines that intrigue me and deal with real issues, and are shown to be equal to their male counterparts. Reading a comic about a female hero doing good and kicking ass always makes me feel great!
That being said, I’ll not share a few of my favorite superheroines and female crime fighting teams from the two major comic publishers: DC and Marvel!
Black Canary – My all time favorite superhero, hands down! Dinah Laurel Lance is one of those characters whose personality and background immediately drew me in. She’s a second generation hero after her mom, also called Black Canary in the Golden Age of comics (1940s-50s), who decided to continue to fight for justice. Although she does have superpowers (a sonic “canary cry” scream), she typically uses it as a last resort and instead opts for her intense martial arts training to subdue her opponents. She was trained with the best fighters in the DC Universe and is regarded as one of the fiercest hand-to-hand combatants. She’s even managed to take down Batman! In addition to her range of crime fighting abilities, she’s also been a team leader, a survivor of abuse, a mother figure and mentor to younger heroes, a confidant to friends dealing with loss and addiction, and a truly loyal friend who will go to the ends of the earth for those she loves. Basically, she’s someone I’d want as both my friend and my teammate. When reading comics, I look for heroes who are very human with their own faults and struggles, but still strive towards being the best version of themselves every day. The balance between struggling with yourself and the world to be a force for good always draws me in. Black Canary is all of that and so much more!
Birds of Prey – the first all-female crime fighting team in DC’s history, BoP consists of Black Canary (so yes I’m a bit biased), Huntress (a strong-willed, morally questionable daughter of mobsters taking down the industry that killed her parents), and Oracle (former Batgirl Barbara Gordon who is wheelchair bound thanks to the Joker, but her drive to do good leads her to the world of computer hacking and forming this team). Other members such as Lady Blackhawk, Hawk and Dove, Manhunter, Poison Ivy, etc., have joined the team over its many iterations, but at it’s core is a strong group of women. My personal favorite run of the series is from 2003-2007, with Gail Simone as writer (I’ll share more about her later on in this post), because all of the characters form a family with various quirks and opinions. At it’s heart, this series is a show of strength in sisterhood and the beauty of female friendships. (Yes, there is a Birds of Prey movie in the works for 2020 – I’m excited to learn more about it!)
Wonder Woman – I can’t miss out on this iconic superheroine! She’s a feminist icon through and through with a strong moral code and the perfect balance of strength, wisdom, curiosity, and compassion. Always a fun comic to read.
Starfire – I first learned about Starfire through the Teen Titans show on Cartoon Network when I was a kid. I loved her vibrant personality immediately! In the Teen Titans comics and her more recent standalone series, she has proven to be an effective team leader, loyal friend, and fun individual. I recommend following her on her wild adventures through space and among different teams.
Gotham City Sirens (Catwoman, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy) – This girl gang is definitely on the more “anti-hero” side of team ups, but is another great example of female friendships being supportive and fun. Catwoman and Harley Quinn definitely get more attention in mainstream media due to their movie debuts (@ Anne Hathaway and Margot Robbie), so it’s nice to see Ivy getting her chance to shine alongside them. This series is such a fun read!
Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel – If you haven’t seen the new Captain Marvel movie (that fittingly came out the week of International Women’s Day) I would highly recommend doing so! The film perfectly captured Carol Danvers’ sass, caring and strong personality, and untapped power. She’s definitely a Marvel Comics staple and one of the strongest Avengers with a heart of gold. However, I’m also a huge fan of her newer protege, Ms. Marvel. Kamala Khan is a 16-year-old Pakistani-American who idolizes Carol Danvers and finally received her own series in 2014. She is also Marvel Comics’ first Muslim character to headline her own comic book!
America Chavez – I was first introduced to America Chavez through the fantastic Young Avengers v2 series in 2013 and fell in love with her immediately. If you’re looking for a queer-friendly Latina superheroine with lots of power and great one-liners, she’s your gal!
Black Widow – Another Avengers staple, Black Widow is a badass former Russian spy turned SHIELD agent. Despite loving superheros for all their fun powers, I do have an affinity for the “normal” heroes in these fantasy worlds and how they use their skills and intelligence to fight for good.
Rogue – My favorite mutant from the X-Men, her story always touched me. Imagine that the one thing that allows you to do the most good also means you can’t ever get close to those you love. Her abilities allow her to absorb memories and powers, meaning she can basically become any superhero imaginable, but she can also risk killing someone if she’s in contact with them for too long (i.e. no hugs for friends she hasn’t seen in years). I love watching her navigate relationships – her inner struggles of wanting to get close but also not wanting to hurt anyone add a bittersweet element to her great powers. Her tough exterior is only to protect others from herself and she brings a really touching human element to the X-Men comics.
The Runaways – Before it became a successful Hulu show, this series was a hit with young comic book fans for its portrayal of a diverse group of kids trying to fight their evil parents. I will say that the premise isn’t quite that simple (there’s a mole in the team, lots of moral ambiguity, dealing with loss and betrayal, broken families, etc.), and the different personalities and crazy story lines constantly keep readers on their toes. Nico, Gert, Molly, and Carolina are all founding team members and the most powerful individuals of the group. Nico is a sorceress and team leader, Carolina is an alien, Gert has a telepathic link with a centuries old dinosaur, and 12-year-old Molly is a super strong mutant. They all have incredibly different personalities and represent individuals of a variety of ages, races, and sexualities. It’s a refreshing take on youth and how they navigate a world that seems scary and out of control (pretty relatable).
Bonus: Gail Simone
Gail Simone is my favorite comic book writer for many reasons. She always has intricately crafted plotlines, great dialogue and hilarious one liners, deeply developed character relationships, is a champion of gender/race/sexual diversity, and consistently portrays strong heroines in nuanced ways. She always adds the perfect amount of individuality and humanity to the characters she writes.
One of the main reasons I love Gail Simone is that she is unabashedly a badass who’s not afraid to call out sexism in the industry and stand up for her beliefs! In 1999 she helped found Women in Refrigerators, a website dedicated to identifying female superheroes who had been killed, raped, or otherwise suffered traumatic indignities as a plot device for a male character. (Unfortunately, women aren’t used as plot devices only in comics – it’s all too common with movies and TV shows, too.) This was a bold move to take as someone who was just a comic book fan – she was not an industry insider at the time. However, her choice to call the industry out paved the way for her to begin writing for mainstream comic series (Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, Secret Six, Deadpool, Batgirl, etc.) and write women as they deserved to be portrayed! She not only took action, she ended up changing the industry for the better! She’s a true hero in my mind!
Here is the link to check out the Women in Refrigerators site.
Going back to the beginning of this post – yes, there can be a lot of sexism in the comic book industry and I totally understand that graphic novels and cartoons aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. However, as I’m writing this list I realized that these are only a few examples of female teams and superheroines that break boundaries and counter stereotypes. There are so many incredible women in these worlds that I haven’t touched on yet – I’ll definitely work on a more in-depth post for the future). I honestly can say that reading about women kicking ass and taking names to better the world just lifts my heart, even if it’s fictional.
So the next time you’re in a bookstore (or on Amazon downloading books to your Kindle), I encourage you to branch out and read one of these comics. And I definitely encourage you to introduce any children who love cartoons to some of these characters so they see that women can be heroes who save the day, too! Who knows, you might just find it opens a whole new world you never even knew existed!