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CSBG Archive

She Has No Head! – My 20 Favorite Comics Females

For my one-year anniversary on Comics Should Be Good I thought I should write about whatever the hell I want.  And I thought what’s more fun than writing about my all-time favorite female characters from comics?

Later of course I would remember how time consuming posts like these are and curse myself for not like…taking the freaking week off with a nice easy post as a nice anniversary reward instead*.  But it was too late.  I was already in.  So, without any additional introduction, my 20 Favorite Fictional Comics Females…with a few honorable mentions down at the bottom somewhere, because you know I just couldn’t keep it to 20…I never can…

[Potential spoilers after the cut…read with caution, also a couple potentially NSFW bits, depending on where you work...]

Click to enlarge

20. THE QUESTION

Who she is: Ex Gotham Cop Renee Montoya inherited the mantle of The Question from Vic Sage, after he succumbed to lung cancer.

Where she is: Renee is not currently in anything to my knowledge, though she most recently had an excellent co-feature in Detective Comics written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Cully Hammer, it was great stuff.

Why I love her: I haven’t been reading Renee for as long as a lot of people, and I missed huge chunks of her transition into The Question, but I’ve loved every single thing I’ve read (it doesn’t hurt that Renee is a pet project of Rucka’s and for my money it doesn’t get much better than Rucka in comics).  But I think before you even get into the specifics of what makes Renee great…on paper she’s so appealing.  Bat Character?  Check.  Detective/Ex-Detective?  Check.  Superhero?  Check.  Gay woman of color?  Check.  All those things are right up my alley to begin with and then add to that she’s tough and smart and no nonsense and well, ex-girlfriend of Batwoman doesn’t hurt either.  I enjoyed the hell out of Renee’s team up with Huntress…and it was by far the most I’ve ever liked The Huntress…was that just Renee’s special awesomeness rubbing off on her?  Time will tell.

A favorite moment: If you’re not familiar with this storyline, then I’m not going to ruin it for you, but trust me when I say it’s both as significant and ominous as it seems from the page.

19. BARBARA THORSON

Who she is: The witty sharp-tongued 12 year-old star of I Kill Giants, a girl with an imagination so large that she can convince you of almost anything.

Where she is: Only in I Kill Giants, but fortunately for you, it’s available in multiple formats – original floppies, trade paperback, and a “titan edition” hardcover.

Why I love her: There are few books that stand out in my mind as starkly as reading I Kill Giants for the first time, and for all the emotional resonance, good writing, and evocative art it has, it’s really an amazing book primarily thanks to Barbara Thorson, one of the greatest young female characters created in comics as far as I’m concerned.  Fearless and heartbreaking Barbara can convince you of almost anything, and she can even bring the hard hearted (yes, I sometimes am) to tears.  Plus she likes to put motivational speakers in their place, and I like nothing more than that.

A favorite moment: Barbara’s introduction and her awesome schooling of the motivational speaker that happens in the opening pages is definitely one of my favorite moments in a book filled with greatness.

18.  ELIZA

Who she is: The girl with the sandwich that you’re pretty sure isn’t going to get the guy in Black Hole, but don’t count her out just yet!

Where she is: Only in the pages of Black Hole people, read it now if you’ve been “meaning to for years”.  It’s soooo good.  And Eliza will break your little heart.

Why I love her: How can you not?  From that first vulnerable moment she appears don’t you just want Keith to forget all about Chris and fall head over heels in love with her and her sandwich and her little tail?  Eliza is simultaneously just like every other girl next door that ever lived and just like no girl next door.  Genuinely sweet and kind and optimistic and loving despite a rough set of circumstances, she’s a breath of fresh air on the page and in Keith’s life.  Also, unlike Chris (who I have nothing against, but can’t see the appeal of when compared with Eliza) Eliza comes with a passion and talent for art, and as a comic fan I always find that particularly appealing.  I don’t know that there’s a character more deserving of a happy ending than Eliza.

A favorite moment: The first time she sees Keith, and Keith sees her is great, she’s so open and unafraid, comfortable with herself and just beautiful.

17. FRAU TOTENKINDER

Who she is: Frau Totenkinder aka Frau Baby Killer and The Black Forest Witch, is the powerful magic anchor of the characters of Fabletown from the ongoing series Fables.

Where she is: Currently starring, albeit with a much younger look, in Fables as she takes on Mr. Dark to save her friends and family. 

Why I love her:  One of the reasons Frau Totenkinder is on this list, is simply because it’s pretty much unheard of that an old woman gets to have a featured role in a modern comic book as anything significant.  Until recently, with Frau’s regression into youth, Frau Totenkinder’s presence and power has only grown and become more fascinating throughout the series and she’s done it all from the comfort of her rocking chair and knitting projects.  While it is nice that she’s getting a lead role now, I would appreciate it more without the pretty looks and youth that are going with it, not because there’s anything wrong with it, but just because it’s so rare to see it the other way…so unique and original, whereas we see young pretty women kicking ass in comics everyday…so this was just more interesting to me.  Alas, it was not to be.  Regardless Totenkinder has proven herself to be a fascinating boundary breaking character to watch. I mean, she’s a hero and yet her name roughly translated means “death of children”…very unexpected.

A favorite moment: Totenkinder’s battle with Baba Yaga (in the guise of Riding Hood) is one of my favorite moments for not only Totenkinder, but also the entire series.  So cool.

You tell her Totenkinder!


16.  KNIVES CHAU

Who she is: The one-time underage girlfriend of Scott Pilgrim who was treated poorly but somehow managed to win all our hearts even though she probably wasn’t supposed to.

Where she is: In the wings waiting for her next big project?  You can catch all her previous appearances in Scott Pilgrim Volumes 1 – 6, and a live action version of her (by Ellen Wong) in the Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World film.

Why I love her: Because what girl hasn’t been poor awesome Knives Chau…jilted by some idiot (yes, I love you Scott Pilgrim, but you are often an idiot, I’m sure you’d agree).  Lovesick and desperate, and not yet aware of her total awesomeness, Knives is that girl we all start out as (okay fine, we all HOPE to start out as) who eventually grows up and into everything that is amazing about herself and is mere moments from conquering everything she tries her hand at.  I’m sure someday Bryan O’Malley is going to give me Knives Chau vs The World…right O’Malley?

A favorite moment: I love how freaking delighted she is that Ramona hates Scott.  Priceless.  I’ve so been that girl, although far less charming and adorable.

15. JAKITA WAGNER

Who she is: The leader and a third of the crazy cool Planetary team, Jakita is an unbelievable badass that can do just about anything she sets her mind to, up to and including take on Batman with delight.

Where she is: Nowhere. Planetary ended, and so ended Jakita. I hold out hope of seeing her again someday though.  You can find her in the excellent Planetary, collected in full in trade, and a few other guest star appearances throughout Wildstorm/DC

Why I love her: I always loved the fact that Jakita is the muscle on Planetary.  And she’s not only the muscle, she’s also the leader (well until Elijah figures out he’s the fourth man), and she’s also got the best sense of humor and most of the best lines.  You almost never get that combination in a character, but Jakita just embraces it all and makes it work so flawlessly that you forget it’s kind of unusual to see.  Jakita inherited her awesome powers from her father (essentially Tarzan) and her big beautiful brain from her scientist mother that lived in a highly advanced secret city in Africa, though she was raised by a German family and all of that is just the tip of the iceberg of what makes Jakita so interesting.  And as if she isn’t fascinating enough already, she can fight Batman to a standstill.  So, ‘nuff said.

A favorite moment: Here’s a page of Jakita vs Batman.  You can read the whole brilliant beautiful fight here at Scans_Daily, if you’re so inclined. It’s easily one of my all-time favorite fight sequences, drawn by the great John Cassaday and just unbelievably wonderful in its movement, detail, and pacing.

14. MONICA RAMBEAU

Who she is: Originally known as Captain Marvel, and then Photon and then Pulsar, Monica Rambeau spent time leading the Avengers before ending up the leader of Nextwave…Agents of H.A.T.E.!

Where she is: Currently starring in nothing.  Poo!  Although she fairly recently guest starred in the atrocious Marvel Divas, and the interesting Heralds

Why I love her: Monica is a recent addition to my list, and it’s easy to know why…I finally got around to reading Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen’s Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., and it was, in a word, excellent.  Since Monica is a woman of color it was surprising to get to see her lead the team, since that rarely happens, but I have to say, it was everything I imagined it could be.  She’s a fantastic leader, a fantastic teammate, and an all around hilarious badass, even when she’s playing the ‘straight man’ which on Nextwave is of course a whole different thing then playing the straight man anywhere else.  Also?  Lady wears an all white costume to go superhero-ing in…and that takes balls of steel.  I can’t wait to read more of Monica, I’m smitten.

A favorite moment: Monica’s got a ton of great moments in Nextwave, but I love it when she goes full obliterating gloves off ‘ultraviolet nova’ here, very cool.

13. SPARKLE PARK

Who she is: One the most adorable and optimistic young characters to debut in comics in a loooong time, she’s a highschool student in Dranac and the new bff of the crime fighting Shadoweyes

Where she is: Currently co-starring in Shadoweyes Volume 1, and set to co-star in Shadoweyes In Love in 2011.

Why I love her: Eternal optimism and cuteness.  Cuteness just oozes from every pore of Sparkle Park, but never in a way that becomes annoying.  Sparkle’s eternal optimism makes her one of the sweetest and most consistently caring individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading in comics.  Despite being dealt a brutal hand in life herself, up to and including being saddled with a fatal illness, Sparkle still manages to soldier on with love.  Sparkle offers cookies to the homeless, constantly talks about her favorite animals, makes friends with everyone, follows the exploits of her newest obsession – Shadoweyes, and plays Pony Masters with an unmatched lust for life.  She’s great.  She gives me hope and makes me laugh.  You can read more about Shadoweyes and Sparkle and see more preview pages, here.

A favorite moment: I think I first fell for Sparkle in this scene, where she makes friends with a sad looking homeless guy and then gleefully foists sugar cookies on him.  I would come to find later that this is “classic Sparkle”.



12. ORACLE

Who she is: The first Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon, became the all knowing Oracle after The Joker shot her in the now infamous story The Killing Joke.

Where she is: Currently starring in Birds of Prey as the leader of a mostly female team of superheroes, she also guest stars in a variety of Bat books including most recently a co-starring role in Batgirl.

Why I love her: I think of all the things that I love about Barbara, the thing I love most is just how goddamn smart she is.  As I go through this list there are a lot of uses of the word “strong” and “badass”, and Babs is also those things, but smart is what comes to mind first, and while I’m not suggesting that all of these women aren’t also smart, it’s not the first thing that comes to mind with most of them them.  But brains really can win the day, and I like that Barbara knows that and built an entirely new life around it.  When one talent was taken away from her, she focused on her others (which were many) and became arguably even more powerful in her world. I know some people argue that the fact that Barbara remains paralyzed is insulting in a universe in which people come back from the dead daily, and in which magic can heal just about any wound when convenient…and I can’t pretend they don’t have a point.  However, she’s just such a powerful important character as she is, and such a critical role model in a universe (comics) in which non-able bodied role models are few and far between that it’s hard for me to argue that the comics world would be better if Oracle was healed.  If Barbara Gordon was a real person, certainly I would not argue that she stay in a wheelchair should the opportunity to get out of it be provided to her, but as she’s a character, I think she’s horribly unique in comics, and fills a vacuum that no other current hero I know of could fill…so I can’t say I want her jumping from rooftops as just one of dozens of other heroes…when what she’s doing and represents seems so much more unique and  important.

A favorite moment: Just Babs being brilliant badass Babs, saving the world with brains and a laptop.


11. EMMA FROST

Who she is: A former bad guy as White Queen of the Hellfire Club before rehabilitating herself to become a hero and teacher in Generation X, and now a commanding force as co-leader of the X-Men.

Where she is: Currently co-starring in a variety of X-books including X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, X-Men Xenogenesis, and the recent Heralds mini-series.

Why I love her: Emma Frost is a total bitchy badass, and maybe it’s because I wish I could be more that way, but I just love the hell out of her.  A lot of writers really seem to “get” Emma’s voice as Grant Morrison, Joss Whedon, Warren Ellis, Scott Lobdell, Kathryn Immonen and several other significant writers have all nailed her voice in recent years and made her a force in comics to be reckoned with.  Writers (and artists too) spent YEARS rehabilitating Emma Frost into the character we’ve got today, one I wouldn’t trade for a million Jean Greys.  And that’s another claim Emma has on my heart.  She broke up the most boring couple in the whole world as far as I’m concerned.  Jean Grey, though she grew on me over the years, was never a favorite character of mine, despite the fact that she played a starring role in some of the greatest X-Men stories of all time.  Certainly her dead/alive/dead/alive nonsense has worn me out, but frankly it’s more the constant attempt to make Jean “perfect” that wore me out first.  The Emma/Scott dynamic is far superior to me than the Jean/Scott dynamic and I’ve always liked Scott Summers so I’m glad the man finally got a break.  Don’t get me wrong, Emma’s still high-maintenance as all get out, but she feels like a partner to him in a way that Jean never did to me.

A favorite moment: There are so many with Emma, as I loved her especially in Morrison’s New X-Men and Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, but I really like this more recent moment where we see a less secure Emma Frost in Immonen’s Heralds:

10. AGENT 355

Who she is: An agent of the secretive Culper Ring, 355 is tasked with safe-guarding Yorick, the last man. 355 (three fifty five, whose real name may or may not be Peace) devotes herself tirelessly to Yorick’s safety for the entirety of Y The Last Man.

Where she is: Sadly the end of 355’s appearances is in Y The Last Man, but fortunately, she’s in almost every issue of the 60-issue series, which leaves a lot of great reading.

Why I love her: Forever at Yorick’s side, sacrificing herself for the last man on Earth, even when he’s being a moron that deserves a bullet to the brain instead of someone to jump in front of one, 355 showed a strength of character and a restraint that I respected immediately.  Despite Yorick’s insane (but sweet) quest to find his girlfriend Beth and Agent 355’s emotionless front, the two characters become inseparable friends and tragically, lovers too late.  But ultimately, though the end of the series pains me, it’s hard to regret 355’s holding back of her emotions, as I could only respect her more for waiting until her mission is complete to admit her feelings and act on them.  In a world gone mad with everyone reaching greedily for their share (or more than) that kind of fortitude takes a particularly level head and strength of character that I can’t even begin to comprehend.

A favorite moment: 355 has a ton of badass moments in Y, but this is one of my absolute favorites.

09. CATWOMAN

Who she is: Selina Kyle, the elusive Catwoman, the thief that captured Batman’s heart and never really let it go.

Where she is: Currently co-starring in Gotham City Sirens and the one-shot Batman/Catwoman: Follow The Money (neither of which I’m wild about) and the upcoming Batman Inc., which I’m hopeful and excited for.

Why I love her: She’s the only woman good enough for my beloved Bat, which says a lot.  Selina’s had a lot of “origins” and to be frank, I’m not a fan of any of them.  Some of them are loaded and make people rage-y (Frank Miller I’m looking at you) and some of them are the dullest most cliché origins imaginable and I realized years ago that I’ve just created my own internal origin for Selina – one that fits her actual personality and badass reality.  Ever since I realized I have my own internal origin for her I’ve been much happier…take that comics!  I love that Selina doesn’t need to define herself as hero or villain, and I suppose anti-hero most clearly describes the characters most of us have come to love over the last ten years or so, but I suspect she doesn’t care one way or another and I love that about her.  It should also be said that as much as part of me would love for Selina to just give in and fully become a straight “good guy” because maybe she and Bruce could finally move forward and be deliciously happy, I love that she’s unwilling to remake her life to fit into his narrow world.  I can’t imagine how well you have to know yourself and be confident in who you are to resist bending to not only Batman’s will, but Bruce Wayne’s as well.  It’s impressive to say the least.

A favorite moment: This is a great moment from the Brubaker/Cooke run that really well illustrates both the relationship between Catwoman and Batman, and also, Selina’s acknowledgment that whatever Bruce may think, life is complicated and not just about good and bad, black and white.

08.  JESSICA JONES

Who she is: Once (and again?) known as the superhero Jewel, Jessica Jones was a private detective in her own series, Alias, as a single girl and ex-superhero trying to make a living and get over a serious trauma perpetrated on her by The Purple Man.  She’s now back to superhero-ing and married to Luke Cage, with whom she has a daughter, Danielle.

Where she is: Currently co-starring in The New Avengers.

Why I love her: I think the biggest reason I love Jessica is because she’s a fuck up.  And we need more of those.  I love that Jessica Jones fails as much as she succeeds.  I love that she wasn’t good at being a superhero and knew it and moved on.  Although now she’s moved back…which I feel medium about…I mean I’m glad to see her again and if the only way I can do that is as a superhero in a superhero title, then I’ll take it, but I prefer her as Jessica Jones the fucked-up private investigator.  I love that she feels bad about the fact that she wasn’t a great superhero, and that she seems out of place in The New Avengers now.  I loved that she was a normal chick walking around in street clothes trying to detective her way through, but with pretty incredible superpowers hanging out just under the surface and I like that now she’s not so sure about what she can or can’t do as a superhero and I look forward to watching her figure all that out too.  I really like that she’s dealing with serious trauma like so many of us, but she soldiers on…and given her current situation, happily married, a new baby, and trying to be a good superhero, she’s doing pretty well.  Jessica Jones is one of those great relateable and highly believable characters that just makes me feel in comicsregardless of what moment in her life I’m experiencing.

A favorite moment: She’s so brutally honest and tells it like it is here, it’s the kind of stuff I love her for.  Me? Go to a magical land in the antarctic to look for a giant missing cat?  No thanks, you’ve got the wrong girl, I don’t even like going over the Queensborough bridge.  Priceless.


07. BIG BARDA

Who she is: Born a New God on Apokolips and trained to lead the Furies, Barda gave it all up for love with Scott Free (Mister Miracle) and has become a hero of note on Earth.

Where she is: Currently starring in nothing.  What a waste!

Why I love her: Big Barda is actually a fairly new love of mine.  Reading old Birds of Prey reminded me how much I loved her and I’ve been slowly seeking out some of her older stories (recommendations for collected places where she has significant appearances are welcome!).  I’m kind of a sucker for the whole stranger in a strange land thing, and nobody embodies it better (in the right writer’s hands) than Barda and her hilarious assimilation to modern Earth culture.  I’m also a sucker for a truly devoted couple in love, and Barda and Scott Free are one of the best in comics.  Someone somewhere on the internet (I’m sorry I don’t know who or where you are?) said that one of the things that makes Big Barda easier to love than Wonder Woman, is that her relationship with Free has always grounded her and humanized her in a way that Diana usually feels untouchable.  Now, I don’t necessarily agree that Barda is ‘easier to love’ than Diana (hence #7 on the list) but I can absolutely see the truth in that statement.  I think that HAS been a stumbling block for Diana, and one Barda never had.  Regardless,  I can’t think of much I’d like more in comics than a Barda/Scott Free book (or web series by Ramon Perez!) and I look forward to seeking out more of her older stories now that I’m firmly in “camp Barda”.

A favorite moment: In Birds Of Prey Big Barda quickly stole the show for me and Gail Simone writes her exceptionally.  One of my favorite bits is when she bonded with Sin over card games.  I love her!

ETA: Gail Simone corrected me in the comments – this page was actually written by Tony Bedard.  Apologies Mr. Bedard.  Nice work!


06. MARGARITA LUISA “MAGGIE” CHASCARRILLO

Who she is: Maggie (also sometimes known as Perla), created by Jaime Hernandez is one of the main characters in the Love & Rockets ongoing opus

Where she is: Found in the bulk of Jaime Hernandez’s Love & Rockets stories, she’s especially prominent in his beautiful Locas and Locas II hardback collections.

Why I love her: Man, what’s not to love?  I love Maggie’s crazy neurotic ways and the crazy faces she makes.  I love how open and loving she is and how she makes mistakes ALL the time.  I suppose most of all I love her evolution from adorable slender sci-fi mechanic to curvy apartment manager.  Like all Love & Rockets characters, and unlike most comic characters, Maggie is allowed to change and age over time, but Maggie, perhaps because of her weight is always one of the most obvious and interesting characters that exhibits changes over time.  I love that Jaime loves her enough to let her change, even if that means putting on pounds and never really getting over it.  She’s one of the only characters I’ve ever read that realistically talks about her body as women do, and it endears her to me endlessly.  Also, she’s frequently hilarious in a hi-jinks/physical way.

A favorite moment: I couldn’t post my FULL favorite moment because I only had access to the Locas and Locas II hardcovers, which though stunning, are impossible to scan from.  I scoured the internet for the full page to no avail (you have failed me internet!) so I have to give you part of a snippet.  It’s still gorgeous stuff though.

05.  ROGUE
Who she is:
A runaway mutant with the devastating power to drain people of…well, everything, including memories and powers with a touch.  The foster daughter of the sometimes villain Mystique, Rogue was a villain for a while as well, before becoming an X-Man and hero. She never went back.

Where she is: Rogue can now be found at least occasionally guest starring in a variety of X-titles, and starring regularly in Mike Carey’s X-Men Legacy.

Why I love her: There’s something to be said for first love.  Rogue rocked my world from the first moment I saw her knock the crap out of a sentinel in a mall in the 1990’s X-Men The Animated Series episode #1 which my brother and I stumbled upon one Sunday morning purely be accident.  It was an accident that honestly changed my whole life.  Comics became a huge part of my world, including eventually going to college to study them.  And they remain so to this day…um…obviously, I guess, since here I am, writing about them.  And Rogue was a huge part of that.  I fell in love with her sassy attitude in the face of tragic circumstances.  I found her powers fascinating and it shaped her in ways that similar adolescent/teen things were shaping me.  I always related to Rogue…as an adult I think I relate to her less, but it hasn’t diminished my love for her.  I haven’t always been a fan of things that writers (and artists) have done to her over the years, but like any character that you fall in love with early, she remains untarnished in my mind (and nameless by the way…Anna has never fit to me, although it’s a better fit than Marie).  Anyway, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of a resurgence for her character via Mike Carey, who clearly loves her as I do, even if we don’t always see the same direction for her.  I wish some of the artists that have drawn her in the last few years had the same respect for her that Carey does (you KNOW I’m talking about that damn zipper).  I will say that I have loved Clay Mann’s take on her over the last few months as it feels both respectful and authentic while also being gorgeous.

A favorite moment: Totally not a “big” moment, but a favorite moment from my teenage reading, when Rogue finally regains her “Ms. Marvel” powers in Uncanny X-Men while trapped in The Savage Land.  This really always was Rogue to me, and without disliking who she is today I can honestly say I miss this part of her, which she seems to have grown out of.  Ah, nostalgia runs deep, doesn’t it?


04.  MICHONNE

Who she is: The baddest motherfucker to ever handle a katana blade and for my money the best character of The Walking Dead, Michonne is a katana wielding ex-lawyer that joined the core group during their time at the prison and soon became not only irreplaceable, but family.

Where she is: Michonne is currently co-starring in The Walking Dead…and will hopefully eventually be appearing on the hit AMC TV show as well.

Why I love her: As I mentioned two weeks ago, readers were introduced to Michonne in The Walking Dead #19, as she shows up at the prison with two zombies in tow, their arms and jaws removed, in order to help mask her scent from other zombies.  The sight of Michonne, Katana blade in hand, on your doorstep with a couple of dismembered zombies (one of which used to be her boyfriend) as her protection?  Hello, my name is badass, can I please come in?  Michonne is the traditional strong silent type that I’ve become so fond of – only speaking when she really has something significant to say – unless it’s a scene of her talking to herself – but that’s a whole other story.  Kirkman put Michonne through the ringer later in the series with a highly controversial and brutal rape, and torture at the hands of The Governor, the kind of experiences that only the strongest can survive.  I had conflicted feelings about the storyline, but at the end of the day had to admit that it was likely a harsh reality of the world Michonne lives in.  A character less than Michonne would probably not have survived it, and in the end it only strengthened my devotion to her.  Michonne is a survivor in the truest sense of the word, yet she has kept hold of her humanity despite it all.  In the zombie apocalypse Kirkman has created, nobody is a bigger badass than Michonne, although Andrea is clearly trying to take the title of late.  

A favorite moment: Michonne has so many epic completely amazing moments, but as I said last week, I think my favorite remains her introduction to the series, cloaked, carrying a katana blade, and with two armless jawless zombies in tow to the keep the others off her scent, she saves a guy’s life and then asks if she can come in.  Totally cool.

03.  CASSANDRA CAIN

Who she is: Cass Cain is the daughter of Lady Shiva and Assassin David Cain, and now the adopted daughter of Bruce Wayne.  She’s also, though not the original, the most badass Batgirl to ever grace the page.

Where she is: She can currently be found exactly nowhere.  Because DC is stupid (I’m sorry guys, but you are – you are wasting one of the greatest characters you’ve ever created).  And yes, I know she showed up briefly in Red Robin #17, but that is not any Cass Cain that I recognize.

Why I love her: Cassandra Cain is one of the greatest young female characters created in the last twenty years.  Batman’s daughter, an assassin that made her own way when she found the one originally forced upon her to be reprehensible.  Cass is this amazing combination of pure innocence and goodness, poured into a devastating bottle of violence.  She’s one of the most kind-hearted well-intentioned characters to ever wear the suit, despite her ability to defeat just about anyone, up to and including Batman.  Her absence from the Bat Family is…painful for me and constantly upsetting.  It’s also likely the main thing that keeps me from being able to embrace Stephanie Brown as Batgirl.  Even though Bryan Q. Miller is writing a good Steph and I appreciate that the book exists as one of the few comics out there starring a young non-sexualized superheroine, the treatment of Cass Cain, and almost denial of her existence…it’s like a hard little pebble in my heart.

A favorite moment: So many good ones out there, but since I can only post a panel or so, I’m going to do this one, which so well captures Cass’ indomitable will.  But go here to Scans_Daily to read a lot of great Cass pages, including her epic fight with Bruce.

02.  WONDER WOMAN

Who she is: Diana of Themyscira and sometimes Diana Prince, an Amazon of epic power, Diana is Wonder Woman, one of the greatest and most powerful female characters ever created for comics,

Where she is: Diana currently stars in her own book (Wonder Woman) and can be found guest starring in books throughout the DC Universe.

Why I love her: It’s only in the last year that I’ve fallen in love with Wonder Woman…but when I fell, I fell hard (I even bought a Wonder Woman mug – it’s awesome).  You can read about my feelings for Diana in more detail here.  But I will say that a year ago I don’t know that Diana would have made my list at all, let alone at #2, but that’s what opening one’s mind and reading some excellent stories by some excellent writers and artists can do.  This past year I fell for Diana’s kindness and compassion, her strength and wisdom, but most of all her sense of humor and her humanity, which I had been missing for some reason.  I really do love her now and feel excited that she exists as such an iconic and powerful figure in comics.  At the end of the day I feel she’s one of the only truly iconic headlining women in mainstream comics and that’s a hard thing to do and be…it’s a lot to live up to everyday and yet Diana has done it for 60+ years with hardly a stumble.  Those are some massively strong shoulders.

A favorite moment: There’s so much to choose from with Diana, and I picked something that is probably not really on people’s radar…but for me was really emotional and poignant and that truly shows the depth of Diana’s compassion and love. 


01. BATWOMAN

Who she is: Kate Kane, daughter of a military father, and dishonorably discharged from the military for being gay, Kate struggled for years, lost and without purpose, until she realized she could serve in a new way, as a Bat.  Once she decided, she never looked back.  She’s amazing.

Where she is: Almost here! Kate Kane returns in a few weeks in Batwoman #0 a precursor to her new series launch – Batwoman #1 – in February 2011.  She can also be found in back issues of Detective Comics, the hardcover Batwoman: Elegy edition, and in guest appearances in a few places including a nice turn in Batman & Robin.

Why I love her: Anyone who reads this column regularly is not surprised by Batwoman coming in as number one, even though she’s a relatively new character.  I have repeatedly called her ‘the superhero I’ve been waiting for’ over the last year, and it’s truly how I feel.  Batwoman actually has an advantage I think in being so new to comics, in that there haven’t been as many opportunities to screw her up as a lot of other ladies on this list.  Regardless, I’m massively pleased with what is essentially the creation of a major female superhero in comics, one with iconic staying power that also manages to break boundaries.  Kate manages to be a strong powerful female hero that seems equal to, though different than, Batman.  It’s not an easy task standing up to Batman even just in concept.  It takes unheard of strength of character.   For my money Batman’s a perfectly conceived character from start to finish, and he has the vulnerabilities and the character flaws (i.e. he’s a dick) that Superman and Wonder Woman lack, the very things that I think sometimes make them hard to relate to for me.  Yet Kate Kane has these things the same way that Bruce has them, all her own demons and baggage, both physical and emotional and it makes her fascinating, I literally cannot wait to watch her tackle the world.

A favorite moment: There are so many iconic badass Batwoman moments already, thanks in part to Williams III’s amazing imagery, but in the end, when re-reading Elegy I realized this very quiet, very human, very non-Bat moment was my favorite, and in light of the controversy surrounding DADT these days, I thought it was particularly appropriate.  Talk about strength of character.

And with that, we come to the end of my 20 favorite fictional comics females.  As usual I’m never quite sure I got the order right, but it’s also an ever changing list, so I try to remember that and not stay awake at night trying to figure out if I really do love Michonne more than Rogue or Jessica Jones more than Catwoman…?!  I discover new characters everyday, and as I change and grow, and new writers and artists create awesome new stories and characters, characters move up and down the list, some drop off and new ones are added…but for today…this is how I feel…tomorrow?  Time will tell.  But I will say that there are five characters right now, that are poised to make trouble for the ladies on the list, if I can just get some more of them…

FIVE I WANT MORE OF:

01.  Dex Parios from Stumptown

The good news about Dex is that I AM getting more of her, and more of her by one of the greatest comics writers of all time – Greg Rucka, paired with an artist that I’m a huge fan of – Matthew Southworth.  I can’t wait until the next arc of Stumptown begins.  You can read more about Dex here and here.

02.  Valkyrie

Maybe it’s just because she’s got the greatest comics name ever, maybe it’s because Brian Wood has whet my appetite for more tales from this region with his excellent Northlanders series, maybe it’s just because I like that stilted old-fashioned speaking voice they use for her, but I would LOVE to see Valkyrie in a series. I know she’s c0-starring in Secret Avengers right now…but I’m afraid the art there is a deal breaker for me, so except for the first issue I’ve stayed away…it pains me on a monthly basis though.  So yeah, in order to get my fix, I’m hoping for a series, or at least a mini-series, preferably one drawn by Chris Bachalo…who has such a great interpretation of her and can almost make her breast plates look not ridiculous…check it:

03.  The Ladies of DV8:  Copycat, Freestyle, Sublime, and Bliss.

I’ve made no secret of my love of Brian Wood’s re-imagining of DV8 this past year in his Gods & Monsters mini-series, and that combined with Rebekah Isaacs stunning visuals (and character design revamp) has me more interested in these characters than ever.  I suppose with Wildstorm shuttered (and one of these ladies dead) it’s unlikely I’ll get more of them anytime soon – unless DC can find a way to reasonably work them into the DCU tapestry…here’s hoping!

From Left: Copycat, Freestyle, Sublime, and Bliss

04.  Sif

I could pretty much write “see above, Valkyrie” for my interest in Sif, but that wouldn’t give her enough credit.  Even though the same things hold – great name, high interest in Norse mythology and history, etc. – it was Kelly Sue DeConnick’s surprisingly good (not that I was surprised by DeConnick, but one-shot’s are notorious for being terrible) take on Sif that really piqued my interest, now interest piqued I’m anxious for more.  And more Travel Foreman covers, like the one below wouldn’t hurt either!

05.  Abigail Brand

As if it’s not cool enough that she has green hair and Wolverine likes to call her “hydra-hair”, she’s dating Beast.  And anyone that dates Beast is a-ok in my book.  Brand was awesome under Whedon’s pen in Astonishing X-Men, she was awesome under Gillen’s pen in the short-lived S.W.O.R.D. series, and awesome under Immonen’s pen in the Heralds mini-series, and so without dis-crediting how talented these writers are…I’m inclined to think the character is just flat out awesome.

So what about the ‘also rans’ that came so close (and which surely the comments will be full of)? It pained me to cut so many ladies, but for one reason or another – I haven’t read enough of the lady in question, or I didn’t like certain portrayals over the years, or they just don’t quite do it for me right now – they lost out to the top 20.  But cutting some felt a little like cutting off an arm: Tara Chace (Queen & Country), Alice (Shortcomings), Amanda Waller (Suicide Squad/Secret Six), Girl One and Irma (Top 10), Deena Pilgrim (Powers), Cindy (Fables), Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Black Widow), Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk (She-Hulk), Carrie Stetko (Whiteout), Miho (Sin City), Mara (Wet Moon), Fritzi (Love & Rockets), Cameron Chase (Chase/Manhunter), Kate Spencer/Manhunter (Manhunter/Streets Of Gotham), Enid (Ghost World), Kitty Pryde (X-Men/Excalibur), Francine & Katchoo (Strangers In Paradise), Jenny Sparks (Authority), and of course that crazy badass bitch Elektra (Elektra).

Maybe next year ladies.

*The eagle-eyed among you may notice some snippets in here from my post 10 Great Female Comic Book Characters Of The Decade post.  But don’t worry, I gave myself permission to steal from myself.

154 Comments

Kelly, I love this list, and once again, I love your column.

I have to hasten to make a slight correction–I know you didn’t say this outright but the way the paragraph is written, it looks like I wrote that wonderful scene with Barda and Sin. I get credited with writing it all the time, but I did not, it was written by the great Tony Bedard, and it is absolutely one of my favorite scenes in the book. Hell, I created Sin and I still think this may be her best scene ever. A lot of people discount the stories in the book after I left which is very unfair because Tony in particular had a wonderful way with the characters and was incredibly respectful to the book’s history.

Just making sure credit goes to where it’s due! :)

A good list. There are a few I haven’t read but most of them are characters that I quite enjoy. (Minor exceptions: Emma Frost annoys me, I do not understand the appeal of Cassandra Cain, and I think you got this quote – “the atrocious Marvel Divas, and the interesting Heralds. ” backwards) :)

Batwoman would be first on my list as well. I would Hopey and Patsy Walker on there somewhere.

Wow. That Rogue picture makes me miss Jim Lee on X-men. That was a phenomenal time for the team and the book.

One thing of note: On the upcoming Question appearences, David Hine has said that she will be involved in the Batman and Detective annuals coming out next month; also, Miss Simone also mentioned in her Tumblr that both Renee and Cassandra will appear at some point in Birds of Prey.

I’ve only recently come across the CBR collective in the last month or two, but reading through the archives, your articles have quickly risen to the very short list of “must read”. Thanks again for a great read.

Although now I’m curious to hear your internal backstory for Catwoman. Future column perhaps?

Good one. This type of thing, a list of characters, can lead people to a lot of good books. Great art too.

Great list and if you want more Valkyrie, she had alot of great adventures in the old Defenders series back in the 70′s.

Love the list, but I agree with Rusty about Monica Rambeau; she was great in Marvel Divas (even if it had the worst title this side of Giant Sized Man Thing) but Heralds was abysmal for all the characters involved. I’d maybe add Monet St Croix from Generation X/X-Factor, Mazikeen from Lucifer and Danielle Baptiste from Witchblade to my own favorite list.

@Gail: Thanks so much! And I edited the post for some clarity – thanks for the heads up.

@Rusty: Patsy doesn’t do much for me (so far) but it was hard not to put Hopey on…some of the cuts were just brutal to make.

@Jared: Yeah, I’ve been hearing rumors about both Renee and Cass and I’m hopeful…but not holding my breath…seeing is believing and all that!

@Rick R.: Thanks, that is so nice to hear! Can’t divulge my Catwoman origin…have to hope someday DC will just cave and let me write it ;)

@Shawn Kane: Thanks for the recommend.

whoa! thanks so much for the inclusion of Sparkle, Kelly!!!! you rock! :)

haha, Big Barda playing Pokemon, so weird! superheroes should be like that more often.

No love for Power Girl? I know she’s been written ridiculously at times, and her origin is one of those that just makes me scratch my head and give up trying to recall, but she’s also been fantastic! In the hands of the right writer and the right artist (ah, Wally Wood . . .), she’s been great!

Jessica Jones invalidates this list.

“One of the reasons Frau Totenkinder is on this list, is simply because it’s pretty much unheard of that an old woman gets to have a featured role in a modern comic book as anything significant.”

Have you read Bone?

Great post, I would add my own favourites as well just to tack on, Blythe (Air), Julie (Echo), Miranda Zero (Global Frequency), and even though I’m not sure how much of a ‘character’ she is, as opposed to a mouthpiece for Morore, Promethea as well.

First off: Nice list. You’ve made your case well and included some really great scenes. (Especially the Jakita-vs.-Batman bit, and the awesome Barda-Sin page.)

I wanted to start off with praise because now I’m going to kvetch. I’d hate to sound pissy, but hey, that’s what lists are for, right? To spur debate. So here we go:

Where the hell is Black Canary? Aside from Wonder Woman, she’s the oldest, most original female superhero I can think of, and she’s been (mostly) really well-written for the past decade or so (largely thanks to Gail Simone, of course, although Chuck Dixon got the Birds rolling) — yet she doesn’t even make your Top 20? Wow. I’m just surprised, is all. Surprised and curious. Do you actively dislike her, or did you somehow forgot about her? Or do you simply think all these other characters are more engaging?

@Peruna: Bone (and probably a few other books/characters) is the reason I said “pretty much unheard of” and not “unheard of”.

@darknessatnoon: Hatred of Jessica Jones invalidates YOU! KA-POW! Just kidding of course.

@ross: She deserves it absolutely Ross…I love her. Thanks for creating someone so awesome.

Great list, although I do love Jean Grey. But from your reasons, I can understand why some don’t like her. Although it’s curious that you say she’s “too perfect”, but then include Wonder Woman at #2….

And it pains me that you didn’t include Elektra, my favorite character of all time. Oh, well…

“If Barbara Gordon was a real person, certainly I would not argue that she stay in a wheelchair should the opportunity to get out of it be provided to her, but as she’s a character, I think she’s horribly unique in comics, and fills a vacuum that no other current hero I know of could fill…so I can’t say I want her jumping from rooftops as just one of dozens of other heroes…when what she’s doing and represents seems so much more unique and important.”

What puzzles me is why you and others count Batwoman among your favoites when she’s nothing more than a Barbara Gordon substitute. You don’t want Barbara jumping on rooftops as just “one of a dozens of other heroes,” but you’re quite willing to accept some retrofitted cypher bearing the name of an old character and the cannibalized costume from Alex Ross’ design for a resurrected Barbara Gordon. Her hair was even switched from brunette to redhead, like Barbara Gordon.

I say heal Barbara Gordon as all contextual logic dictates, have her come out of the closet and make her Batwoman. The only reason why Batwoman functions is because J.H. Williams illustrates her. If he focused his talent on Batgirl–Babs, she would have had the same impact on readers, and nobody would question reversing her crippling..

Ray

@Ray: I might not question the reversing of her crippling in your scenario (given the world these characters live in) but I would seriously question the reversing of her sexual identity. And I think people would be up in arms about that…and rightly so.

@Rebis: You must have gone to art school…”begin with praise, end with criticism” it’s the standard operating procedure of all critiques. ;)

I definitely didn’t forget about Black Canary. I like Black Canary. I do. I don’t quite love her though. I haven’t read EVERYTHING out there on her in fairness, and to be honest I didn’t love some of the BC/GA stuff that I did read. It’s possible I’ll fall in love with her one day…maybe even when I catch up on reading everything that’s out there…but to me…I mean, she’s definitely an absence but there are tons of Black Canary level omissions on the list. Where’s Hawkgirl…where’s Storm…where’s Supergirl…where’s Ms. Marvel…you know? Why did you specifically pick BC? Just a personal fondness?

A solid list. And since I’ve said it, that makes it official.

It’s too bad the art turns you off of Secret Avengers, Kelly, ’cause the storytelling is pretty awesome. Not much on the Valkyrie front yet, though. I’m hoping to see her cleave some ninja in twain during this Shang-Chi arc, though.

Curious: What’s your opinion of the various ladies of the Thunderbolts, Moonstone and Songbird in particular?

Good list, but DAAAAAMN my top comics female list would be so different! She-Hulk, Storm, Ms. Marvel, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, Vixen, Aquagirl, Dolphin, Mera (I like Aquaman comics, if you couldn’t already tell), and so many more. Oh I know a good one! Mrs. Arbogast from Iron Man comics (whatever happened to her? she was so AWESOME!). She’s badass. And, Kelly, I gotta say — you can’t leave out that Monica led the Avengers too!!!

I would really recommend you read Milligan’s Shade the Changing Man run. I’m guessing you haven’t or Lenny would be right up there, she has the best one liners and put downs in comics.

Great list and a great column as usual.

My one quibble is The Question. I have never been a big fan of characters “taking up the mantle” for other superheroes with the exception of long-term proteges and sidekicks. It seems to me that a super-heroic identity is deeply personal expression and I am dubious that two (or more) well-drawn characters can really share one. That is why legacy characters are so often unhorsed and consigned to limbo.

On the flip side, I was a bit surprised not to see the other half of Yin-Yang female dynamic of the classic JLA: Black Canary. Granted, her origins are fuzzy, her secret ID sounds like a retiree and her costume can make her look like a cocktail waitress in a strip club. However, she has a really strong and distinctive personality. You get the feeling that she has all the best stories about everyone in the DCU.

Anyway, those are minor issues with a great piece.

I though that your comments on Wonder Woman were great. She is a total trip as a character, because if you give her even a half a chance she will totally win you over. She is totally supple and yet she defeats everything from the indifference of teen boys to the vanity of superstar writers that want to re-invent her.

Emma Frost and Rogue are also fascinating case studies. Chris Claremont co-created and/or defined probably the biggest set of post-Silver Age female superheroes, villains and anti-heroes. In their earliest appearances, neither would have been voted “most likely to succeed”. Emma Frost seemed like a straight-forward fetish object. Rogue did one of the more despicable acts of Bonze Age by sucking Carol Danvers dry and dumping her in a river. However, Claremont kept going back and refining them. Those bad beginnings have made them more compelling, since Emma has “brand permission” to have a sex life and Rogue’s powers always seem a little scary.

All of these that I’m familiar with are great choices, so I’m willing to accept your judgement on the ones I don’t know.
I never even heard of Jessica Jones until about four years ago, but I’ve really fallen in love with her, too.

I would’ve included Kitty Pryde if I’d done a list. I realise she’s been badly written at times, but that’s true of everyone. I probably would’ve included Patsy Walker, maybe the Black Cat, Mary Jane Watson– hey, why not Betty Brant? She’s been badly handled lots of times, but when she’s done right, she really comes across as a real person.
I’ve been getting more and more into Arana as time goes by. I’m really looking forward to her new series.

Dean definitely beat me to the punch about The Question, the only misfire on this list to me. A sacrifice of two more unique interesting characters to create one less unique, more typical one.

I LOVE that Batwoman is number one on your list. I love Kate Kane so much. Granted, I’m also a fan of the classic Kathy Kane Batwoman as well, but yes. :)

I was surprised that Black Canary wasn’t on your list, but I read your comments as to why, and I guess that makes a fair amount of sense, though to be fair, everything from the moment of her leaving Birds of Prey up to her joining as been like a crazy retcon on the character that took away a long, long time of development.

I think that my list would have included Stephanie Brown, the Peter David incarnation of Supergirl, Ms. Marvel, and Red Sonja, to name a few.

20. Mary Jane Watson – you had me at Tiger.
19. Moondragon – crazy conceited bald titan.
18. Michonne – it’s the voices that make her scary not the sword
17. Rose “Gran’ma” Ben – Former Queen, mystic, cow racer, rat creature brawler.
16. Jenny Sparks – alcoholic spirit of the 20th century. Mouthy and cocky.
15. Tulip O’Hare – devoted girlfriend of Jesse, bad ass with a Gun, hopeless romantic
14. Francine Peters-Silver -Full figured innocent, confused lovely woman.
13. Wanda Maximoff – Spell casting sexy mutant with a tiny bit of an anger problem.
12. Megan – Vagabond traveler looking for her place in the world (Local)
11. Thorn Harvestar – Cute little farm girl destined to be queen.
10. Susan Storm Richards – the “mother” of all comic book mothers, the strongest of the greatest team
9. Catwoman – sneaky loving badass protecting thief that looks great in leather
8. Black Widow – dirty, trampy red headed Russian super spy.
7. Rose Red – crafty, flirty, rebellious, proud and just perhaps worthy of a blue lover.
6. Nico Minoru – witchy flirty amorous kiss stealing leader of teens.
5. 355 – THE definition of commitment
4. Delirium – insane in a good way…innocent ,angry and amazing with fish.
3. Death – cute avatar…not bad to see on your last day. Amazing older sister.
2. Elektra – Assassin with father issues and death issues and commitment issues and Frank Miller issues.
1. Katina “Katchoo” Choovanski – The original angry blonde and perhaps the most in love character ever written.

Any list that has Nextwave in it is OK with me!

Seriously though, good list. I didn’t read all of it because some characters star in books I have not read yet, and I was afraid of spoilers, but I still enjoyed this.

Hi Kelly, I think you did a great job explaining your picks. I’ll keep working on you to get Lois and Black Canary on your list for next anniversary :)

For Barda, I’d have to recommend the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League era (including the recent I Can’t Believe miniseries). Some lovely Barda/Free moments in there.

A good list, even where I’m not familiar with some of the characters. I’m glad you included Jessica Jones; I loved the Alias series, and am very glad she’s a part of what Bendis has continued in the various Avengers titles.

Folks on the list who would be on mine include Amanda Waller (middle aged, black, heavy, and utterly kickass), and either Power Girl or She-Hulk. I’d include Peter David’s iteration of Supergirl, if she hadn’t been uselessly retconned away two or three times.

RE: Ray Tate’s Batwoman: worst idea i’ve ever heard.

@Nick: yeah, Misty Knight! i don’t know who would be on my personal list, i guess mostly X-Men ladies, but i’m not sure i even like enough characters to fill a top 20 list. XD

I disagree, Ray Tate makes some pretty good points, they just happen to go against the conventional wisdom regarding Barbara Gordon.

Although any list is debatable and will come down to personal choice, I believe the one glaring omission of this list is Katchoo or Francine or at least one Terry Moore character.

But thanks for including Agent Brand.

And yeah, shade the Changing man is a must.

Excellent list, but I’ll never understand people who like Maggie more than Hopey.

Also, more She-Hulk.

Re: The Question.

I suspected that would be one of the most controversial picks on the list as I know a lot people really take issue with Renee in that role, and you have a point. I think for me, I wasn’t that intimately familiar with either Renee or Vic Sage/The Question, prior to the hand off so I wasn’t as attached to either, and from what I’ve read I’ve liked her in that role so it’s easy for me to say. But I get it, and it makes sense why it doesn’t work for you guys.

Re: Francine and Katchoo.

To be honest…I loved them both initially, but that series just went off the rails for me at some point and I stopped caring. I thought about both ladies for the list…but because of where the series went and how I ended up feeling…they just didn’t hold onto my heart the way they originally did. All that said, if I went back and read it all again…maybe I’d feel differently…maybe someday I WILL feel differently.

@Mary: Kitty almost made my list. She came SO close. I should probably add her to the “so close it was physically painful to cut” paragraph…

Shade The Changing Man is on my list, has been for a while now…but I’ll move it up!

And thanks for all the other recommends as well.

@Sam: My love for Maggie over Hopey is right there in the text. It’s all to do with her weight and especially the fact that it’s rare to see “non-supermodels” in comics and even more so, a character that acknowledges it openly, but never really changes it. It’s something I think is rare and important and it endears her to me a little bit extra. It doesn’t make Hopey any less awesome, but it’s a very specific reason that I respond more to Maggie. Make sense?

WHERE’S SQUIRREL GIRL???

Hmmm interesting and fun list Kelly…. I got some counter points regarding the Jean vs Emma thing that I hear from people all the time

“Jean Grey is boring or she’s only popular because of the Scott relationship or the Phoenix…and that’s why Emma Frost is better” – Um in what ways is Emma “better”? All she is is Jean “Grey” except with a bitchier side. You know when I thought Emma was at her best? Not with Morrison…not with Wheldon…Go back further to the year-two year long subplot when she lost The Hellions in the Upstarts’ Sentinel attack and through circumstances ended up “bonded” with Iceman. To me THAT is when Emma came into her own… As an admitted Jean fan all I see is that they have slotted her as “Grey”Jean Summers….

As far as Jean herself, I get that people think she’s bland (and believe me the 90′s cartoon REALLY didn’t help that image) but they discount storylines in which we did get depth outside of the “Mary Sue” and stereotypical depictions of her that people fall back on consistently. But I think that is human nature I guess. I love Emma as a character, I just hate that a lot of fans use that she isn’t Jean as a reason why. I just wanted to support Jean a lil.

Quick things about other choices:

5 Bat-related women huh? Any truth to the rumor that Kelly has stock in Batman Inc.?

Sign me up for a Michonne vs 355 fight right now. Screw that who’s stronger Hulk vs Thor debate… Michonne and 355 would probably be a battle people would talk about for YEARS!

Nice to see Jakita get some love. Since I am making dream matchups, how about a Jakita/She-Hulk adventure in terms of say “Tango and Cash” or “Lethal Weapon”?

Cute story regarding Monica Rambeau. Loved her since the Captain Marvel days but at my local comic shop during a discussion of NextWave when I brought this up, a comics “expert” responded “You’re wrong. Captain Marvel has always been white!” The laughter from the crowd at this poor sap could be heard across the block Kelly. I was just glad that Monica has earned some popularity from being in NextWave…

Thx for the thought invoking diversion!

…and I have to concur with Ark….on my top 20 I have a couple of Terry Moore characters…but not Francine…. Katchoo is a given but I always loved Casey and Mary Beth. Their 2 stories of growth along with the twists and turns in and out of F & K’s lives was fascinating. I still measure women characters against the gals of SiP to this day!

And I guarantee that this time next year, Ivy from “Echo” will be the next Terry Moore character to reach this list for me. She’s a constant surprise…..

Color me abashed for forgetting Katchoo. Kelly, I agree the series ended up wandering a bit, especially past the midpoint, but I still love Katchoo.

I’ve never been a fan of Monica Rambeau *except* in the Nextwave series (which was seven shades of awesome).

OMG. How many comments before someone wishes me “Happy Anniversary”?

WAH!!!

*pouts*

Happy Anniversary.

Great list, many would be on my own list if I made one!

Two female characters that are favorites of mine that no one’s mentioned so far (and frankly, I’d be shocked if someone did) are Volcana Ash and Carmilla Frost (and to a lesser extent, Mint Julep) from the 70′s Don McGregor/Craig Russell (and others) War of the Worlds featuring Killraven. These stories may be an acquired taste by today’s standards, but I’ve always loved ‘em and McGregor did all right by his female characters, in my book.

ha! I was just going to post Happy Anniversary….and then you pouted. Which somehow is adorable considering that this post was so awesome people forgot about the anniversary. (Amazing how SIMILAR our tastes get toward the top of the list, as I’m a big fan of Cassandra Cain and miss her desperately, but also really like Kate Kane. I only picked up that run because you recommended it and I was really pleased with that character and her back story).

@ Kelly Thompson:

I am with you on STRANGERS IN PARADISE. Terry Moore is fantastic at drawing women and his designs are fantastic, but his scripting never approached his artwork for me. Francine and Katchoo never acquired a life of their own beyond the needs of the plot.

Also, I would love to know what your personal origin for Catwoman is. Oh … and Happy Anniversary!

Very cool list. Couple too many Canonical Rule 63 characters for my liking, but avery cool list. Jakita Wagner, Knives Chau, Rogue, Catwoman and Barbara Thornson are a few personal faves of mine as well.

@T: Normally, I wouldn’t argue for a change of sexual orientation. However, in the example I proposed, I would unfortunately be removing a positive lesbian character. In order to preserve that aspect, I would incorporate it into Barbara Gordon, which would not be difficult to do if I followed her pre-Crisis model. In that case, she wasn’t really involved with anybody except Jason Bard and a few other minor supporting characters in her strip toward the end of that era. The whole Nightwing/Babs shipper thing was post-Crisis, and largely a result of synching up their ages.

Oh, and before anybody starts typing, I do not believe that healing Barbara Gordon eliminates a role model for the disabled. She was crippled by a bullet. She was permanently damaged. This doesn’t make sense for any hero in a world with Lazarus Pits, Purple Healing Rays, alien technology, the Atom, Dr. Fates and a backwards spell-speaker. No super hero crippling works. In order for super hero crippling to make sense, IMO it must take place in a world that’s more realistic, which is why the immediate post-Crisis was a better operating environment for a character like Oracle.

DC didn’t immediately embrace the outrageous, but once Shondra Kinsolving entered the scene, all bets were off; they started to lose ground rapidly. When they started mucking up their timeline, it was over. Arguments such as Kelly’s lost all their strength. And as I have pointed out, massive amounts of testosterone appears to be the only defense against crippling in the DCU; great against death as well. Men do NOT stay crippled. Wendy of the Super-Friends was incorporated into the DCU just to cripple. Figure that one out.

Ray

@ Darryll B.:

Regarding Jean Grey, there are certain characters who simply have one (and only one) great story in them. Every Jean Grey story winds up re-visiting the Dark Phoenix saga in one way or another, because that is her story.

That isn’t a slight. I wouldn’t want Morpheus turning up in the next issue of JS-of-A. However, it is a limitation.

Ray tate:

I actually agree with your ideas. I’m just saying most people will go against them simply because they go against conventional wisdom, namely that Barbara Gordon is better off staying crippled because she’s such a good role model for handicapped people. I disagree with that idea for the reason you do: why is it good for the woman to remain crippled to become a role model for handicapped people, but it’s too horrible a fate to be allowed to happen to Bruce Wayne? If it’s an okay fate for Bruce to be cured, it should be an acceptable fate for Barbara.

Solid list, 79semi-finalist! If you haven’t had the pleasure, try the following for Big Barda:
Jack Kirby’s Fourth World (by John Byrne) Barda is prominent in the 2nd ish, i believe. Overall she is a regular in that series.
Orion (by Walt Simonson) Barda & Mr. Miracle are more prominent towards the end of the series
Action Comics #592, 593 (The one where Superman and Barda make a low budget porno)

“Jack Kirby’s Fourth World (by John Byrne)”…

Is that like Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola?

(Just poking fun!)

@ T., Ray Tate:

I like the Oracle character. She has the rarest thing in superhero comics: a great, long-term character arc that pays off with a “second origin” that is better than the first.

If you talk to an advocate of progression in superhero comics, then you would think it happened all the time. The old school Golden and Silver Age origins are often silly, but they generally provide a solid jumping off place for a character. Characters that get progressed forward tend to become less compelling. Lois Lane and Clark Kent get married. Spider-Man becomes an adult. A status quo gets created that has less drama built in than the original.

Barbara Gordon is the major exception to that rule.

Almost entirely by accident, a group of creators patched together a character arc for her that is amazing. If it all happened in the course of single story by one creative team, then it would have the potential to sit up next to the great pieces in the genre.

“Rebis: You must have gone to art school…”begin with praise, end with criticism” it’s the standard operating procedure of all critiques.”

Busted. :-) But I was going to open with “WHERE THE HELL IS BLACK CANARY!?!?” and then I remembered my manners. This is a really fun iteration of a fine column you’ve got going on, and I didn’t wanna spoil the comments by sounding like a whiny dick.

Now on to the substance of the debate:
“I definitely didn’t forget about Black Canary. I like Black Canary. I do. I don’t quite love her though. I haven’t read EVERYTHING out there on her in fairness, and to be honest I didn’t love some of the BC/GA stuff that I did read. It’s possible I’ll fall in love with her one day…maybe even when I catch up on reading everything that’s out there…but to me…I mean, she’s definitely an absence but there are tons of Black Canary level omissions on the list. Where’s Hawkgirl…where’s Storm…where’s Supergirl…where’s Ms. Marvel…you know? Why did you specifically pick BC? Just a personal fondness?”

Here’s the thing: She caught my eye from the time I first saw her. When I started going back and collecting old JLAs, I realized she was one of only two women on the team for the longest time (ditto the Justice Society before that, from what I’ve seen in reprints). Also, excepting Zatanna (who gained prominence by joining the JLA), any other significant DC heroine* — Batgirl, Hawkgirl, Supergirl — they’re all distaff versions of the pre-existing male hero. Black Canary was something different: Her own person.

* I feel like this is party true of Marvel’s women too. We’ve got She-Hulk, Spider-Woman, Spider-Girl, Ms. Marvel … the most prominent women who stand alone were created as part of a team, and that’s how we almost always see them: Invisible Woman, Jean Grey, Storm.

Sure, Canary’s been written poorly for various stretches. But hell, you could say that about almost anyone on your list (surely about Wonder Woman too), and any major male hero as well. I like that she can hold her own stories, or appear side-by-side with Green Arrow (or Starman or Oracle or Huntress), or lead the entire JLA. And of course BoP has done wonders for her.

I would’ve even bought her reunion and marriage with Ollie, except that it was clearly a choice made by editorial, part of the miserable period in the late ’00s (and we’re still in it) when DC was largely invested in returning everything to its pre-”Crisis” status quo. (Hence the return of Barry Allen, in particular.) If it had been purely story-driven, well, sure, people change. Sometimes couples do get back together when they’re older and more mature — and they were trying to show that with Ollie — but then DC goes and fucks it all up again just to give him his own comic back. So screw that. She’s better with the Birds anyway. (And they better get her ass back on the JLA soon!)

Enough about Dinah! … Now for the rest of the list: Of the characters I’m familiar with, I especially love Batwoman, Emma Frost and Catwoman (I’d place her higher) (did you read the Will Pfeifer run on her series? Was my favorite comic, while it lasted; Greg B. loved it too). Knives is awesome (but we’re really getting into apples-and-oranges when we start to lump superhero tales in with the work of O’Malley and Los Bros Hernandez). And I’d give Wonder Woman props too.

My number-one would probably be Oracle. And my reasons for leaving her in the chair have nothing to do with “role models”; I just find her an infinitely more interesting character this way. (And I liked Babs at Batgirl! “Batgirl Year One” is one of my fave comics.)

Missing from the list, methinks, are:
Crazy Jane (perhaps Grant Morrison’s most amazing creation, and that’s saying something!)
“The Wall”/Amanda Waller (check out the latest “Secret Six” for a reminder about how bad-ass she is)
Vixen (along with J’onn, the best of the Detroit League; well-used by Morrison; and I like Willow Wilson’s miniseries, too)
Kitty Pryde (I really fell for her in Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men” run)
Lenny and Kathy from “Shade” (yep, you definitely have to move that up your list)
Kate Spencer Manhunter. (man, that was a great book.)
Delirium (completely unique)

What a fun way to blog and celebrate your CSBG anniversary, Kelly!

Cheers!

Superman made a porno?!?

I totrally agree about not seeing Cassandra Cain anywhere! I am a Batman junkie (besides for Fables and Powers that’s all i read anymore) and I have missed Cassandra for a couple of years now…. As much as I love Steph Brown as Batgirl, they really need to being Cassandra back for something…. Can’t wait for Batwoman!!!!!

Your mentioning of FRAU TOTENKINDER reminded me of my favorite wise old women in comics, Lenore Fenzl, nicknamed Twilight, from DP7 (which if you have not read, are still 32 of my favorite superhero stories of all time). She was not THE main character, but she is one of the seven ensemble and is focused on well through out the series.

I am with you on Batwomen, Maggie, Rogue, Valkarie and I am discovering along with you the joy of Big Barda

It kills me that Kitty Pryde is not on this list. There are others, but it’s your god damn list.

Congradualtions!

Superman made a porno?!?

I’m afraid so. John Byrne has much to answer for.

What? No Buffy!?! ;-)

Just kidding.

Happy Anniversary, Ms. Thompson, tho’ it’s hard to believe it has been a year!

And still, no mention of Tulip from Preacher. One bad-kick-ass girl there!

Any chance of seeing a list of your favorite 20 Male characters?

Besides wishing you a Happy Anniversary, thank you for your effort on this. Besides identifying the top 20, you made compelling cases for each. It’s great to be able to have read about so many of these and nod my head in agreement.

Big Barda appeared in the recent Giffen/DeMattheis Booster Gold run (although it hasn’t been collected yet.) There’s one scene in particular that’s just classic Barda.

I’m pretty sure the Barda/Superman thing was John Byrne doing a “reader”s individual interpretation” thing. The art of doesn’t actually show what’s happening so it is what you think it is as a reader. He did the same thing (not a porno but a reader’s interpretation) with Sue and Psycho-Man in the FF and Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man in WCA.

Happy anniversay, Kelly!

Jessica Jones is eight shades of awesome, or was in Alias, when I was last reading the character (the Pulse isn’t the same to me).

Wow, that Wonder Woman scene is awesome. Did Gail write that one?

And nothing about Batwoman as you describe is interesting to me. Nothing.

“Discharged from the military for being gay’ is one of the lamest, PC-oriented, striving-for-relevance origins I’ve ever read.

For Barda, have you read the original Fourth World stuff and JLI by Giffen and Dematteis? Wonderful stuff. Avoid her appearance in Byrne’s Superman.

“Superman made a porno?!?”

Yes, Superman and Big Barda made a porno while under mind-control at the hands of Sleez, an Apokaliptan so depraved Darksied exiled him. I’ve always felt that other writers should be acknowledging that incident when Superman, Mister Miracle, and/or Big Barda have to work together. Not necessarily rehash it, but have Supes and Barda seem ackward around each other, Supes and Miracle unable to look each other in the eye, that sort of thing.

Kelly: What, no Supergirl?

Happy Anniversery!

Largely, I like your list, but have to take exception with the inclusion of Emma Frost. She is the reason why I recently dropped the X-books like the bad habit they were becoming.

“Discharged from the military for being gay’ is one of the lamest, PC-oriented, striving-for-relevance origins I’ve ever read.”

Please elaborate on how referencing the US military’s discrimination against homosexuals is “political correctness”.

Oh man, great list.
I feel the exact same way about Rogue.

” ‘Discharged from the military for being gay’ is one of the lamest, PC-oriented, striving-for-relevance origins I’ve ever read.”

Well, stealthwise, if you’d actually read the comic, you’d know that’s not why she becomes Batwoman. It’s not her “origin” per se; that military discharge for her unwillingness to lie about her sexuality is instead a character moment, an example of her integrity. (It’s also an example of her frustration with injustice, an argument in favor of sometimes working around the system.) The real roots of her adult drive to take on the cowl extend back to childhood tragedy, just like it did with Bruce and Dick.

Btw, dismissing something as “PC” just because it involves homosexuality is one of the lamest insults I’ve ever read.

kisskissbangbang

November 15, 2010 at 9:50 pm

Nick Marino: Matt Fraction has brought back Mrs. Arbogast in his current Iron Man run. I think you’d still enjoy her.

I’m so sorry, Kelly. I keep forgetting to wish you a happy anniversary.

Happy Anniversary!! :)

@Ray

This obsession with nostalgia among fans is corrosive. The sixties were such a comics boom because you had a bunch of young artists creating a ton of new characters and superhero comics have been stagnating ever since. Everyone wrote Batwoman off as a cheap Batgirl knock off with lesbians, and she went on to headline probably the only worthwhile superhero comic on the racks. That wasn’t because JH Williams just propped her up with his art. It’s because both Williams and Rucka worked together to create a fully fleshed out character who has more humanity, and more opportunities to express that humanity since she’s free from crippling continuity, than any other superhero published today, and then they both worked together to tell her story in a way that people will be analyzing for years to come. Meanwhile you want to change a character’s sexual orientation and erase a bunch of her history to make her more like this character you claim is a vapid knock off… don’t you see the irony in that?

I realize everyone has their favorites, and one person’s favorite isn’t necessarily going to make another’s persons favorites list.
Even so, any list that doesn’t include Dinah is significantly incomplete.

@Ross: yeah, 20 is a lot. i kind of maxed out with the ones i named before. i think i’d have to start just naming characters i think are so-so by the time i hit 15. still, now that i think about, i could probably hit 20 female characters before 20 favorite male characters. but then again… if it was an X-Men themed list i could probably name 20…

@Kelly: you should do a favorite female X-Men list like this one!

@kisskissbangbang: thx for letting me know! did he just bring her back? cause i was reading that book up until recently (haha or what i thought was recently but was probably actually two years ago).

@Nick: It was in the most recent arc, the one starting after Siege in which Stark is rebuilding his life and company from the ground up. Past 6 or 7 issues, I’d say. (I don’t have them, sad to say–I read a friend’s copies, so I can’t check–but I’d definitely be getting them if I could afford more books.)

Mrs. Arbogast is a great character! (Is anything being done with Agatha Harkness these days? She rarely came anywhere near the potential in her debut in FF #94, but there’s an older woman who simply didn’t take shit.) Another old favorite of mine is Leiko Wu from Master of Kung Fu, a series unlikely to be collected due to licensing issues.

Kelly, I’m glad to hear that you’re moving Shade, the Changing Man up on your list (and I’m especially glad it’s finally being collected).

Happy anniversary! May we have your column for many more!

My two favorite characters in all of comics are women, and neither of them are on this list.

You’ve commented some on Jean Grey – who has been boring many times, I’ll agree. And Scott is better with Emma. But when Morrison wrote Jean she was utterly transcendent.

But where’s Promethea?

Man, I came to this party late. So, first up: Happy Anniversary!
I like many of your choices, but esp. Barda (who would probably be my #1), Catwoman and Monica Rambeau, a character I only truly learned to appreciate after reading Nextwave – she was so f***in’ awesome in that.
Greer Nelson (Cat/Tigra) is a character I would add as one with great potential from the start that was never quite realized. It’s kind of sad to me that she was always a B- or even C-lister, given the cool fact that she was co-created and written in the early 70s by a woman, Linda Fite, with Marie Severin participating in much of the early artwork.
By the way – and I know I’m really dating myself with this – I think both Emma Frost and Rogue would have been much better characters if they had remained villains…

Amanda Waller is on top of my list, and I’d also love to see more love for Gamorra. What with her being the most dangerous woman in the Galaxy.

funkygreenjerusalem

November 16, 2010 at 4:19 am

Casandra Cain – There must be a reason you love her, but she was in a period of Batman that I haven’t read… and that write up makes it sound like the creators fell a little too in love with her.
Not only can she take on everyone, but Batman also adopted her? And she’s really sweet and caring?

Although I know she’s got a devoted fan base, maybe they aren’t that numerous, and DC has pulled back on using her because they did too much too soon?

I can see one big reason they moved her out though – there’s no room for her in Morrison’s run.

But seriously, Batman adopted her?
I still don’t like that he did it with Tim, but at least Tim was around for two decades first – seems like they really forced her into the Bat-world there… did she really work in the overall mythos?

Great list!

I loved that you have the relatively new Question on there. I know that Question 2.0 is controversial, but I think she’s an excellent mantle receiver. I love the Vic Sage Question (one of my favorite heroes overall), but if he had to be replaced (for now – I’m sure he’ll be back at some point), I think Renee is an excellent choice. I got into comics as a young teen due to Batman:TAS. And although Renee was always somewhat minor supporting cast member on the animated show, she was one of the few regular non-villain female characters on the show and it’s been fun to watch her evolve and come into her own over these past 18 years.

Also, on my list, I’d have Jessica Jones a whole lot higher, but that’s because she’s my version of your Michonne. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I got back into mainstream comics because of her.

And oops…forgot to wish you…

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!

I can’t believe it’s already been a year. Amongst all the cool things Brian does on this blog, adding you is near the top of the awesomeness.

Great list! Props for including Barbara Thorson, Maggie, & Eliza!

Happy Anniversary! I enjoy your column quite a bit!

The lack of a character someone likes or inclusion of a character someone doesn’t like does not invalidate a list based on personal opinion!

Here’s my obligatory list of characters you didn’t include that I would have included!

Luba (Love & Rockets, the Palomar stories): kicks so much ass! Three-dimensional! As capable being wonderful as despicable!

Luba’s daughters: see above!

Kabuki: I think I’m the only poster on this board that likes the series! Still, she’s my favorite introspective character in comics!

Hawkwoman: The model for the JLU Hawkgirl! She’s independent, with a wicked sense of humor and a devotion to duty! Her relationship with Hawkman develops naturally! Hawkworld is so freakin’ underrated!

Dutchess: In Suicide Squad, she was the ultimate badass, except for maybe Amanda Waller!

Amanda Waller: see what another commenter wrote!

Luv your top 3 and your list in general… except for Rogue but still excellent article ! :D

Hi, Kelly. Great column. It was here I discovered Gabrielle Belle and went on to purchase “Lucky,” which has become one of my favorite non-cape comic collections.

Do you read Mike Mignola’s work? Specifically, his work on BPRD with John Arcudi and Guy Davis (among others). Liz Sherman and Kate Corrigan are my favorite female characters in comics. They’re not drawn as sex objects, and one is an self-assertive heroine who’s saved the world from Lovecraftian monsters several times over, and the other is an academic who’s risen to Field Director of an United Nations-backed monster fighting organization.

Thoughtful list, though being a fan of the original Question, it’s tough to stomach Renee. She was more interesting in Bat comics as a detective than in 52 as the Question, where we saw the bulk of her in that role.

I would have loved to have seen Scarlet from the Icon series that’s 3 issues in on this list. Three issues in and she’s already my favorite female comic book character of all-time. If you haven’t, READ. Also, Executive Assistant Iris, or someone from Morning Glories… But hey, these are clearly YOUR choices as laid out by your writing, which was enjoyable.

Happy Anniversary! Excelsior!

Really cool list. The only additions I’d make would be Scandal Savage and Knockout, who totally stole my heart under Gail Simone’s writing.

Mind you, I can say that of all the characters Simone’s written – I mean, Canary and Huntress really deserve to be on a list somewhere too. :)

From the Jakita Wagner entry:

“well until Elijah figures out he’s the fourth man”

Really? You had to post a revelation that significant with no spoiler warning? I have only just read PLANETARY for the first time (and agree with everything you said about Jakita, by the way–she’s *awesome*), and I have friends who are reading it now for the first time–I’d hate to have had this major story point spoiled for me, and I’ll now have to warn off those friends of mine from reading this column (as I know they normally do) so they won’t get spoiled either.

Missing: Hopey, Death, Promethea, Halo Jones, and Joyce Babner. Otherwise, good article!

@DC Guy: The spoiler warning is that the very top. Maybe your friends that read the column read it more carefully and will see where I said: “Potential spoilers after the cut…read with caution”

Casandra Cain – There must be a reason you love her, but she was in a period of Batman that I haven’t read… and that write up makes it sound like the creators fell a little too in love with her.
Not only can she take on everyone, but Batman also adopted her? And she’s really sweet and caring?

I totally agree, she definitely fell into the pet character/pygmalion/Mary Sue category to me, just horrible. She came out of the blue and she’s already the second best fighter in the Batman family (even more disrespect heaped on Dick Grayson), people like Deathstroke in awe of her, gets to inherit the mantle of Batgirl despite the fact that characters like Spoiler were around for years before her paying dues? And the adoption thing, didn’t know about that…

Thanks for all the anniversary wishes guys…I’m sorry I bullied you into it!

For those crying out for Promethea. As some of you may remember I wrote about her in my 10 Great Characters Of The Decade…and she is great (and important)…but for me, as the series became less about characters and more about talking heads exploring ideas, I became less invested as Promethea as a character. It’s what keeps her from being on MY list.

As for Death, though I’m interested in her, I’m apparently one of the only girls on earth that didn’t read all the Sandman stuff…so she remains for me, largely unexplored.

Re: Huntress. That will probably never happen for me, I don’t really “get” Helena, though I keep trying. Same for Stephanie Brown. There’s an obvious block for me with her as Batgirl because of Cass, but I never really liked her as Spoiler either. To each his own and all that, right?

@Eamon: So glad to hear I helped bring you to Gabrielle Bell. I re-read Lucky about once a year, I just love it.

As for Hellboy/BPRD…I’ve only ever dabbled but it’s something I’ve been meaning to get into for years…maybe next year Liz and/or Kate will have a chance!

@Salome: Scarlet never had a chance for this list. I liked issue #1 and even wrote about it on SHNH. But #2 and #3 are not impressing me, and even if they were, I definitely don’t know enough about Scarlet in those issues to say I like or don’t like her. Morning Glories is also way to early to tell.

@Stephen Wegner: I agree that the most interesting Jean has ever been was in Morrison’s hands. But it’s the only time I’ve seen her written that way…so it feels like the exception, not the rule, y’know?

@Daryll B. I WISH I had Bat stock.

@stealthwise: Yes, Gail Simone is the author of that Wonder Woman page.

@Mer: Thank you. That is one of the nicest compliments anyone has given me in…well…a loooong time.

@Tom Fitzpatrick: Unlikely that I’ll be doing a list of my 20 favorite male characters on a column about “women in comics”? How would I justify that? That said, I’ll give you number one…for all time. THE GODDAMN BATMAN. :)

“…when what she’s doing and represents seems so much more unique and important.”

I agree, it’s very important to remind disabled women that only men get to use cutting edge prosthesis, no matter how smart or technologically inclined women may be.

Good list, I agree 100% with everything (except Wonder Woman, whatcanIdo), and miss Fran and Katchoo from Strangers In Paradise. Both of them, actually, since one is the perfect complement of the other.

I can’t believe you two forgot Linda Danvers-the former Supergirl and the Mayday Parker Spidergirl!! They both kick major bad guy butt…

Kelly,

Hellboy Volume 3: The Chained Coffin and Other Tales has the most Liz/Kate content of the Hellboy books (as well as Mignola’s best one-shot, “The Corpse”). Dark Horse is releasing a BPRD omnibus in early 2011 which collects the first three BPRD trades, which is where Liz and Kate really begin to shine.

My number 1….. is Angelfood McSpade!

Funky:

She couldn’t take on anyone. She was one of the best fighters in the world but so is Connor Hawke and he also has a bow and the skill to use it. So there’s a good reference on how powerful Cass was in the scheme of things.

In a honest, no weapons, no superpowers world she would be a force, but we all now DCU isn’t like that.

Cass was a result of a cruel experiment done by her father. Witch just didn’t result in her fighting powers but also a strange void where family and friends where suppose to have been. resultiing in her trying to find these in her own ways later on.

I think a strong reason why people like her is because she has strong advantages and strong disadvantages. The idea that someone is so good at fighting and can read body language but must pay for it by missing something we all take for granted. Understaing language, words, social rules. She is strong and can give us the cool moments but also the moments when we feel with her, both in her struggle to find a home and also just to understand the littel things and communicate with another person.

The whole adopted by Batman was thrown in as a apology because DCU had made some strange editorial choices about Cass. They canceled her series, recast her as a villian in Robin, changed all of her personality, how her powers worked and then they got suprised when fans asked “why?”. So a miniseries by the same writer tried to do something, half a fix and half just weird plots that took away more of the good points with her, this time on her familyside. So they eneded it with Batman adopting her. To show that DC does care about the fans and the character.

After that she sort of disappearded. She have had 1-2 cameos a year since then.

I’m really disappointed that Amanda Waller isn’t number one. Oh well. At least I see that a few agree with me. Some will call me crazy, but I always thought that The Wall was cooler than Batman. She’s more realistic yet not too mundane or too grim and dark.

My own list would include Ilyanna Rasputin (the old one anyway), Dove (I grew up on Hawk & Dove) and Delirium (Death is a manic pixie dream girl… Delirium is a cloudcuckoolander).

Happy Anniversary… and when can we get a list of the 20 WORST FEMALE CHARACTERS?!

Great list. But you’re totally off your rocker! (just kidding) For me, Katchoo is the greatest comic character ever created, man or woman. Thank you Terry Moore!!!!! And it’s hard for me to see a list like this without Canary, Ms. Marvel, Black Widow or Huntress on it. And Jenny Sparks… HELLO! But alas, this is your list. :) I was really happy to see 355 on your list. I yead “Y” all at once in trades. I didn’t even realize how much I LOOOOOOVED her until I lost her; incredible character. And I agree with the poster above who said Terry Moore’s Echo will be on this list a year from now; without a doubt. Lastly, the trick with Black Canary is to only read stories written by Gail Simone! You hear that DC!!!!!?

I like your list– though I agree with with others about The Question (I think Renee Montoya in Gotham Central is a much more interesting and nuanced character) and your love of Cassie Cain (which I personally cannot get). But what I think bugs me is that most of the women on this list are so… badass. Sparkle Park and Maggie seem like the exceptions that proves the rule.They’re all tough, flinty, kick ‘em where it hurts kind of women (with appropriate moments of vulnerability). And I’m glad they exist in comics and I’m glad they’re around. But I look at your list and felt it was samey by the end of it. I was left asking is that all there is for women in comics?

What about Death? (Or even Delirium). Crazy Jane from the Doom Patrol? Promethea? Lois Lane (if even the Mindy Newell version)? Madame Xanadu? Enid from Ghost World? Even Spider-Girl (Mayday Parker version). All of these are great female characters that are less of the tough-as-brass kick-assers.

Ultimately, the list you have are the 20 that inspired you. I can’t deny that. To me, it doesn’t feel like such a diverse list. But that’s the fun of these things.

I couldn’t agree with you more about Cass Cain. I was so upset when she left Gotham after Bruce’s disappearance (I call it a disappearance because he wasn’t technically dead). Although I like Stephanie Brown as Batgirl (mainly because that’s my wife’s name) I have to give props to Cass for being totally kick ass and the only one worthy of being called Batgirl. Let’s hope that now Bruce is back she will find her way back to Gotham and either take over for Stephanie or have some involvement with Bruce’s Batman Incorporated. Crossing my fingers.

@ Kelly Thompson

Re: Huntress

You’re best chance at liking the character is tracking down the Paul Levitz/Joe Staton material. It has been collected under the title “The Dark Knight’s Daughter”.

The one one warning is that Helena Wayne took a lot of showers. Staton is not as exploitive as later generations of artists, but it is an element that is pretty prevalent. The old comic fan in me wishes someone clever, like Gail Simone, would reference a joke of it.

Anyway …

My memory is that the Helena Wayne version of the character is fantastic. She is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. She inherited her Dad’s detective skills and her Mom’s attitude. The premise was essentially BATMAN BEYOND with an extremely smart female lead. Also, her friendship with Power Girl was non-rivalry based female bond that I remember seeing in comics.

The Helena Bertinelli version of the character has always been (at best) a rough approximation of Helena Wayne.

This is a great list. Very well thought out and using heroes from some many different comics. I have to say, though, back in the day, before women were leading super hero teams Janet Van Dyne led the Avengers, and under Roger Stern’s pen she was great at it. Stern also created Monica Rambeau. Kurt Busiek did amazing things with her, too.

My favorite comic heroiens are Moondragon and the Scarlet Witch, but I can see why they didn’t make the list.
Moondragon can be a real badass, though.

Also, Kitty Pryde. Awesome. One of the best. I need more Kitty Pryde in my life…especially when handled by Joss Whedon.

@Graeme Burk: I agree the list trends toward badass in a way I’m not entirely comfortable with (although I would say Sparkle, Maggie, Eliza, Knives, and maybe even Barbara Throson are the ones I would be unlikely to label “badass”). I think it has less to do with that being the only role available for women in comics and more to do with the list having a lot of superheroes on it, and “badass” and “superhero” being somewhat synonymous.

I don’t know really, but it’s worth thinking about.

I already addressed Death in the comments and Promethea.

Lois Lane is just not there for me…not even close, even with the Mindy Newell revelation in the past year. She’s just not a character I really respond to…and even if I did…she feels kind of like a “badass” in her own way anyway, so I’m not sure she would transcend that word for me.

Madame Xanadu who I also wrote about this year has grown on me tremendously and I’m so upset that MX is canceled, but she’s still not on this list for me…and again, I feel she also trends a bit toward the ‘badass’.

Spider-Girl, what I’ve read of her (which admittedly is limited), has not been written in a way I’ve liked…in fact, I’ve thrown several Spider-Girl comics across the room. Doesn’t mean the character isn’t great, just means I haven’t been able to get there.

Supergirl, until fairly recently has been the same problem for me.

I do love Enid from Ghost World though and though I considered her for the list, like Kitty Pryde she probably belongs on the “physically painful to cut” paragraph…although again, she feels a bit bad ass as well, maybe in a slightly different way, but still.

Rogue as “Anna” never sat well with me either. What would actually fit her? Nadine, maybe? I’ve never heard the perfect suggestion.

I honestly do not understand the Wonder Woman infatuation. I WANT to like her. But as far as I can tell, here’s a character with no central conflict. What does she want?

Still no love for Alpha Flight, eh? I don’t know why Heather Hudson is constantly passed over when these kinds of lists are put together. Not only was she a great leader, both with and without the powersuit, she never lost her femininity nor had to act like a bitch when letting others know who was in charge.

Oh yeah…. Madame Xanadu is all kinds of awesome!!!

Great list. Though Miss Thompson, I would greatly recommend reading Gotham Central (which I believe is getting snazzy new HCs) and I’m POSITIVE you’ll bump up Renee Montoya at least 5-6 spots up your list.

Coming in late to say that’s a great list. I’d take someone out (probably Rogue) to include Carrie Stetko, from Whiteout, though.

I love this list because it includes some of my favorites, like Kate Kane, Barbara Gordon, Jakita Wagner, and Jessica Jones, but it breaks my heart that Tara Chace wasn’t in the #2 positition behin Batwoman. I know you mentioned her as an also ran along with Kate Spencer, Cameron Chase, Dex Parios, and the DV8 crew, but no Tara Chace – that’s a deal-breaker!

My list would have included her, Abby Brand, Death, Kitty Pryde, Traci 13, and certainly the women of Terry Moore’s Echo.

Here, Kelly — just for you!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knp9-GY6fHE

Interesting list, some I agree with, some I don’t, as with all such lists.

But no love for Chance Falconer (Leave it to Chance)!??!

I’m disappointed!

Carlos…there are 2 Rucka characters on the list already, and he’s just not that nuanced of a writer. Most of his women fall very closely to his stock template. Interestingly, his Wonder Woman didn’t..shame DC canceled it to make way for Crisis on Infinite Johns.

While I could see that Cassandra’s appearance in the new Red Robin is a too soon to tell kind of thing…I’m not sure how you can say it’s not her…and that she seems to be being seeded for Niceza’s big plans is a good thing…

One thing that stands out to me is that just how many of these are recent creations— and even of the ones that aren’t, the reason for their inclusion is something fairly recent. Monica Rambeau is on there because of Nextwave, and not her Avengers appearances where she did in fact lead the team back in the eighties. Babs is on there because of Oracle and Emma not for her villainy but because of her breaking up Jean and Scott and her plotlines as an X-man. This extends to the indie characters too a bit, but it’s especially interesting with regards to the superheroines because the grand cooperate narratives are the ones where history matters. There’s Wonder Woman, of course, how could anyone leave her out? And Catwoman too. But there aren’t many ladies with histories going back as far as the Silver Age on this list. The only one from Marvel is on the “I’d like to see more of” list.

I think that this speaks primarily to the historically problematic treatment of women in superhero comics. But I also think the quasi-feminist comics blogosphere focuses on certain franchises— X-men, Wonder Woman and Gotham/Birds of Prey, and characters outside that sphere slip through the cracks even more. I don’t think I’ve ever read an examination of Sif in Simonson’s Thor run, or Wasp’s tenure as Avengers chairperson, say, from the perspective of a female fan.

@Alex: It’s not that interesting…I’m just not that old. ;)

More seriously, I think you probably have a point about “historically problematic treatment of women in superhero comics” and it’s certainly a worthy topic for future exploration (here or anywhere) but I think the reality of this list is more practically to do with me being a woman in my early 30′s that didn’t start reading until she was 15/16 (1992/1993). So while there are certain stories (especially X-Men stories) that I have gone back pretty deeply on as far as back issues…it’s not true of most of this stuff…for example I’ve never read the 70′s Defenders stuff with Valkyrie…which has been recommended to me many times. So my scope is definitely limited to a degree…and probably like any reader’s is, though in different ways.

That said, I will confess, at the risk of being jumped on by fans of more classic work, a lot of the older comics leave a lot to be desired for me. My boyfriend (my same age, but he started reading much earlier) knows TONS about older/classic characters and books and story lines – and LOVES that stuff. But whenever I go through ominbuses of his (etc) that have more classic work…I’m not that excited by it…and I would say that DEFINITELY has to do with both portrayal/treatment of female characters and the general lack of abundant/good female characters. There are of course exceptions – and tons of examples anyone could bring to the table about groundbreaking, revolutionary, or just straight up well done women from more classic books, but I’d be lying if I said my perception of what I’ve read thus far doesn’t color my perception of earlier comics works to a degree.

It’s definitely something I’d like to look into more, especially since I started doing this column…it’s mostly a time/money issue. And I have very little of both these days.

She couldn’t take on anyone. She was one of the best fighters in the world but so is Connor Hawke and he also has a bow and the skill to use it. So there’s a good reference on how powerful Cass was in the scheme of things.

It’s funny you mention Connor Hawke as a comparison to redeem Cassandra Cain, because I think all the criticisms are equally valid for him. He’s another pet character that came out of left field and was annoying in all the same ways.

Another thing weird about Cassandra Cain is that she seems to have been introduced from the beginning with the mind of putting her in an ongoing series. Her series and that of Impulse always baffled me. I mean Spoiler was around for a while but not even a mini for her. Nightwing took a long time to even get a one shot, then a miniseries and THEN he got an ongoing. Robin had to get through 3 miniseries before getting an ongoing. Then comes Cassandra Cain, who gets a few appearances and then BAM! inherits the Batgirl title and goes straight to an ongoing.

Emma’s best moment is when she’s being insecure? Barf.

funkygreenjerusalem

November 16, 2010 at 4:28 pm

It’s funny you mention Connor Hawke as a comparison to redeem Cassandra Cain, because I think all the criticisms are equally valid for him. He’s another pet character that came out of left field and was annoying in all the same ways.

I’d justify Connor as not being a pet character – he was still totally green when he started out, and there’s plenty of stories about him learning his way, as well as always being in his fathers shadow.

Maybe Cass Cain had similar things going on – I’ve just honestly never read a comic she was in for more than a panel or two or a group shot, so that paragraph on her was a lot to take in at once.

Then comes Cassandra Cain, who gets a few appearances and then BAM! inherits the Batgirl title and goes straight to an ongoing.

Batgirl is a name with history, and that sells.

I don’t care who’s on someone’s list, but Wonder Woman should always, A-L-W-A-Y-S be #1!

Some of those would make mine, but there would be others.

I’m younger than you, I think, Kelly, because I’m in the first half of my twenties, and only started reading comics in the past few years. I just was lucky enough to have access to a huge collection of comics going back to 1963-ish when I started, and I admit I have a weird fascination with puzzling out continuity that draws me to some older stuff. So yeah, I get that some of this is taste. I also get that it’s frustrating to go through old stories because a lot of the times misogyny is blatant. But let’s be honest, if you’re going to read superhero comics at all, you have to wade through misogyny. It’s unfortunate, but that really hasn’t gone away. I’m planning to buy the Women of Marvel #2 issue next month but I am going to be gritting my teeth at the Greg Land cover. But we all have different levels of what we can tolerate, and also different tastes in what we like.

But I read a fair number of women-centric comics sites and blogs, b/c as a female reader that stuff interests me, and I think I see a definite trend towards certain franchises. DC over Marvel, with a specific focus on Batbooks, and then the X-men. There are pretty obvious reasons for this, because the Gotham and X-men books are both identifiable franchises that have had a bunch of cool women in them these past few decades, and also some stuff to be mad about. (Since I didn’t grow up with the X-men cartoon or pick up Birds of Prey in its heyday, I am a bit of an outsider here— my first superhero comic I got really into was Daredevil.) But a lot of times I find myself reading an issue of something and I think, “wow, I just wish more people knew about this!” Good example here would be Thunderbolts, which isn’t even an older comic, but is a 100+ issue series from Marvel that has the really fascinating female characters Songbird and Moonstone at the heart of it. But I never see Songbird or Moonstone mentioned on lists like this, and I suspect it’s because Thunderbolts is sort of an Avengers spin-off book and so doesn’t appear on the radar. I think that’s sort of what happens going farther back in the “women in superhero comics” tunnels. As readers we can really only pick a few franchises to follow devotedly. We also know that if we stray outside the familiar franchises and try something new, we’ll encounter yet more frustrating misogyny. I just wish there were some way to direct people to the good stuff, because I do feel there’s more of it out there. But the less recent/Gothamish/mutant-y it is, it seems like the harder it is for the people who’d appreciate it to find. Notice the poor sales of Black Widow and Hawkeye and Mockingbird, which are books I’d definitely recommend to fans of Birds of Prey (despite how I hate the new Black Widow artist’s ridiculous unzipped fighting-in-the-snow cleavage it’s not like BoP with Benes has been free of this of late.)

Ugh, basically I just wish it was easier to find good superheroine stuff. I wish they made more of it and I wish that the stuff they have made was more easily accessible and that you didn’t have to go swimming through some highly problematic stuff to find it, because that would be really great and give us more to celebrate and also, I think help expand fanbases so, you know, it becomes easier to find out more about Sif. (Marvel has been reprinting some classic stories as part of the Women of Marvel promotion but I think they have not always picked the right ones.)

And wow I get really long-winded when I go on tangents. Sorry! I did enjoy reading your list!

I like that list! Wonder Woman would be at Number One for me though.

What? No Modesty Blaise? :)

Odd no one from the Superman mythos. But I agree with you as I personally don’t get Lois Lane at all and think she is only popular cause she is overexposed but in terms of really getting me to empathize and care for her. I have not read or seen anything. Supergirl I think is problematic cause of all the different versions and Kara is just a kid at the moment. If I had to choose one woman from Superman mythos it would be Martha Kent.

Black Canary in my opinion needs to ditch Ollie permanently and the day she does that then I think she should be on that list. ;)

Love the love for Cassandra! Great origin story and great series! One of my favorite moments:

- “He didn’t say no.” As the Bat family argues about whether or not Bruce Wayne committed murder, Cass quietly reminds Dick, Tim, etc that when asked if he committed the crime, Bruce did not deny it.

Haters gonna hate.

@ Alex:

You can trace 90% of the problems in superhero comics (including gender issues) back to the following dynamic:
1. DC was the dominant player during the Silver Age.
2. Marvel was the innovative upstart during the same period.
3. While the Marvel brain-trust was packed with geniuses in the use of the medium (Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko), they were not perfect.
4. The next generation of Marvel creators were Baby Boomers whose primary frame of reference were Marvel comics and the more typical Boomer touch-stones.
5. Marvel rapidly gained market share, which caused DC to hire those creators to Marvelize their line with varying degrees of success.
6. The news stand market collapsed and was replaced by the hobbyist driven direct market.
7. The market was made even more insular by hobbyist driven magazines and conventions.
8. Yet another generation of creators came of age defined by that environment.

With regard to gender, the founding generation of female Marvels were underwhelming (#3). I doubt Sue Storm, Wasp, Scarlet Witch or Betty Ross make many lists of this type. The most noteworthy stories featuring female characters tended to use them as victims or prizes (#4). Gwen Stacy went off that Bridge. Jean Grey committed suicide. Reed won Sue from his rival Namor. More enlightened creators made little nods toward Political Correctness, but making someone the leader of the Avengers does not transform them into a compelling character.

It has been fantastic this past year to read Kelly asking why things are the way they are.

Good list, but I’m going to give you a hassle over your #1, only because I feel like you’re “suffering” from the Shock of the New.

Kate Kane is a great character, and in the Detective run her story was well told and written, but . . . just about all the other characters you wrote about (all the ones I know) have proven themselves to be GREAT over time, after having been written/drawn by dozens of creators–sometimes hundreds probably. They’ve proven they can hold up under lots of different circumstances—including poor writing and stupid creative decisions.

Kate may get top pick for Best Up & Comer, but Catwoman, Barda, and Frost have proven themselves to be torch bearers for the long hull. I guess if I have an issue w/ Batwoman–and I don’t–it’s precisely the opposite reason you love her so much: she was created to be this symbol and magnet, so no matter how much I love what they’ve done for her as a character so far, it feels to calculated and forced; as well as all the energy and “capitol” they used to build her up instead of putting that same energy into strengthening the roster of character who are already on deck.

. . . I just realized, this post makes me one of those jerks on the internet who tear people down for having a personal opinion. I suppose I could have just deleted this before posting it, but I’m curious what other folks say back too.

Also, I thought I was going to love Renee as The Question, instead it felt really flat to me.
Looking back on it, what if they’d replaced Tot with her? . . . just think about it.

funkygreenjerusalem

November 16, 2010 at 10:46 pm

Dean, I’m not sure your list quite works – all the points contributed, but 6 & 7 would have happened regardless of what was going on creatively.
Also, up until the mid to late 80′s, the big two carried on exactly the same as they did pre-DM.
(To my untrained eye, anyway).

@Dean

Primarily, the thing I don’t like about the narrative wherein “Stan Lee and Jack Kirby aren’t perfect” and then all creators have been doing since then is retelling the sixties since then is that it doesn’t allow for change, when comics have clearly changed and not on a simplistic “things are better now” way either (superheroines get drawn a lot more like pornstars then they did a few decades ago), it doesn’t allow for when Lee and Kirby did get it right (Black Widow was the first Marvel woman to get her own solo feature, and she was written pretty compellingly before that— Cornell wrote her with less agency than Lee did), and it condemns a whole slew of female characters to be forever underwhelming, and any attempts otherwise mere “nods towards Political Correctness.” That’s damning in a genre so defined by its history, where the older characters, the “iconic” characters tend to reappear again and again, with the Monica Rambeaus and Cassandra Cains being jettisoned off into obscurity. That phenomenon in itself is really terrifying (not least because of the racial implications) but if we can’t look at Sue Storm and see a character that can’t be redeemed, or worse, one that isn’t worth redeeming, we are in a bad spot. (Though I am not sure Sue needs to be redeemed, at this point.)

We let characters be defined by new writers all the time. Kate Kane wasn’t very compelling in her first appearances in 52, for all the press her debut got. It was really Rucka/Williams who fleshed her out into something believable and distinct. Barbara Gordon was crippled in a story that was completely not about Barbara Gordon, but a bunch of creators managed to take that and make her an even stronger character because of it. There are a ton of other examples, and I dunno, I like to define characters by their best moments rather than by their worst.

@ FGJ:

I am not saying all (or even any) of those events were bad in and of themselves. The rise of the Direct Market probably saved comics. That ’80s wave of indies that it made possible were some of the best comics ever published. However, it did transform comics from a mass medium into a hobby.

The issue with points 6 & 7 is that the environment has become progressively less hospitable for change. Trends compounded upon themselves and then re-compounded.

@ Alex:

I think that you misunderstood me.

What I am talking about is primarily a mind-set. The women in the founding generation of Marvel characters were less developed than the men. Even in team books, they seemed like supporting characters without clearly defined interests beyond their romantic entanglements.

By itself, that is not the end of the world. The sci-fi and horror films of the period were structured similarly and those genres evolved. There have been dozens of diverse and interesting female characters in those genres over the last four decades.

In contrast, superhero comics have become progressively more insular and self-referential. Characters exist in reference to earlier characters, who (in some cases) exist in reference to still earlier characters. Everything echoes and is amplified. Comics went from Gene Colan drawing Black Widow toweling herself off to Dave Cockrum drawing Storm showering outside to the X-Men swimsuit special to photo referencing porn scenes in X-Men comics.

It is a chain. No link in the chain is so different from the one that proceeds that anyone inside the comics bubble thinks anything of it. Nor is all of it bad. It is just unexamined. For example, I don’t think Sue Storm needed any redeeming, just contrast.

To me, having this character lead that team (or some other character take some legacy mantle) are just fig leaves. It is saying “I know there is a problem in this area, so here is a symbolic gesture.”

I had never heard of this Shadoweyes series, but after reading that page…I think I’m gonna have to track that down. That Sparkle is really, really adorable, and if the rest of the book is half as cool as those pages you linked to…seems like kind of a no-brainer. Thanks for turning me on to that.

Someone mentioned Hellcat earlier. I actually didn’t buy Avengers Prime #4 because of Iron Man asking Captain America if he ever hooked up with her. Thor basically copped to it. I know it was supposed to be funny but not only do we have Cap, Iron Man, and Thor acting out of character (even if Tony Stark is a ladies man, Patsy Walker was still an Avenger and would have his respect) but Bendis basically writes Hellcat off as the team slut. I try to get my wife to read super hero comics and this kind of stuff still happens.

@Dean

This seems relevant:

http://digital-eraser.livejournal.com/56186.html

I’m sure you could dismiss it as Kirby revisionist history, but given his creation of Barda, his relationship with his wife, and some offhanded comments by some of his colleagues I think there might be something to it.

My advice for comics readers looking for quality comics with strong female characters: Dark Horse.

[...] On “She Has No Head!”, Kelly Thompson lists her twenty favorite female comics characters (link via Thompson’s blog). I think she makes good cases for all of the selections, but notable exclusions for me are: Kate Spencer/Manhunter, Helena Bertenelli/Huntress, Liz Sherman (B.P.R.D. and Hellboy), Tamsin from Skeleton Key, and Esther de Groot from Scary Go Round and Giant Days. If I were to really do this exercise, I would seriously consider Patsy Walker/Hellcat, Elsa Bloodstone (NEXT Wave), and Bethany Black (Strange Girl). I’m not sure if or how autobiographical characters fit into these kinds of discussions, but Marjane Satrapi would certainly make me want to think about it. As always, the tough question is who do take off of the original list. [...]

I think Dean’s analysis is a pretty fair breakdown of what a large portion of the field’s structure is. There are of course notable exceptions and trends develop from those exceptions. (A prime example would be the “dark and gritty” movement that began in the late ’80s, a misinterpretation of the driving forces behind the success of The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, etc., which further exacerbates the problems.) Comics is largely an inbred industry in the mainstream, which is why we celebrate the advances, criticize the wrong turns and lambast the truly horrid series.

On an unrelated note, I’ve been thinking a lot about Monica Rambeau. A lot has been done with the character since I last read her regularly (15 or 20 years, I guess). She sounds like a great character and it’s astonishing that so much care and attention has been given to her – even from the beginning – when it seemed at the time that she was created as a token character. (Marvel needed a placeholder for the Captain Marvel trademark, decided to make the character a woman and further, a woman of color.) But even from the beginning she was interesting. (Which makes me think that maybe the character came first and then someone decided to graft the Capain Marvel tag on her.) Roger Stern and John Romita, Jr. put a lot of thought into her creation, and quite a few people have done good work with her since then.

@Dean

Well, I know that comics are to some degree self-perpetuated, and I don’t think it’s particularly unexamined phenomenon. The insular nature of the fanbase and authorial community is oft-cited. It also doesn’t have a lot to do with what I was talking about: which would be a specific (female) part of the current fanbase, and the fact that the comics narratives are so huge it’s impossible for anyone to follow any of it…and, the selective redemption we have for our favorite characters. (By this I mean, ignoring bad stories or terrible retcons, making up a new much-needed personal canon origin of Catwoman, or overlooking cheesecakey art when buying Birds of Prey but not in other books. It’s stuff we all do when we like a character and get attached, but that same charity doesn’t always extend outside of our favorites.)

My issue with women taking up a leadership position or a legacy mantle being seen as tokenism is that it is problematic way to look at things. No, making someone with ladyparts the leader of the Avengers doesn’t make them a compelling character, and neither does making Captain America leader of the Avengers make him a compelling character, it’s all about how they are written taking on the responsibilities of the position. But sometimes a woman is a logical choice— I think given the roster at the time Rambeau made more sense than anyone, and it provided progression in her character arc. “The writers are just doing it to be PC” an extra criticism female characters have to face that their male counterparts do not, mirroring a common sort of real-life casual sexism.

@ Julian:

Thanks for the link. That is great piece.

I hate chalking everything up to Stan Lee. The issue might have been Lee, the Lee-Kirby dynamic, the marketplace or higher up within Marvel.

But, I think it is fair to say that (at the time) DC was more progressive on gender than Marvel for whatever reason. Ralph and Sue Dibny were full, co-equal partners. Jean Loring was an attorney and primarily focused upon her career. Carol Ferris dumped Hal Jordan when she took control of Ferris Aircraft from her father. Both Wonder Woman and Lois Lane supported their own titles throughout the Silver Age. Once Kirby left Marvel, he was in an environment that was more inviting to creating a characters like Big Barda.

It also warrants mentioning that Claremont & Byrne’s X-Men totally changed that relative dynamic three decades ago. However, Marvel from 1960-73 really formed the basic template of what superhero comics are supposed to be. Any error that was made during that period got endlessly replicated along with all the good stuff.

The problem is the replication.

@Shawn While there are some oddities about Avengers Prime, and about that bit of dialog in particular — I really didn’t see it as “writing Hellcat off as the team slut” — unless one brings the assumption that if Patty slept with Thor then *she’s* the slut.

I was never a big fan of Hellcat. I wouldn’t think Cap would “hook up” with a member of the team (a soldier seeing this as something that would interfere with morale). I can easily imagine Tony. Thor — especially the Thor of that period, not really. (Hercules, on the other hand …).

@Julian – Thanks for the link – great article!

@ Alex:

PC is a loaded term and I regret using it.

My point is that giving a female character a nominal leadership role, or a legacy mantle, tends to act as an extension of an underlying that is the real problem. That attitude is pretty neatly expressed in one of the panels in the article Julian linked:

Sue Storm: – Looks like I’ll be going along for the ride! I’m not sure how I can help!
General: – Miss Storm, a pretty lady can always be a help — just by keeping the men’s morale up!
Reed Richards – That’s the way we feel about Sue, General!

That dialog would never show up in a modern comic, but it has never left the subtext. There is a level of confusion about what to do with female characters in adventure stories. The main options are either:
a. Have them “keep the morale up” with brokeback poses and the like, or
b. Have them act (and occasionally dress) exactly like an existing male character, or
c. Kill them off.

Honestly, most of the time giving a character the nominal leadership of The Avengers (or The X-Men, or the JLA, or the Teen Titans, or almost any Silver Age team except the LoSH) is just a variation on Category B. Being a good Avengers Chairperson means acting like Captain America until Cap becomes available. That is why Monica Rambeau being the leader of Nextwave is so much more significant than her brief tenure as a place-holder for Cap.

Before I even read any of this, the first thing I did on this page, knowing comic book writers and fanboys, was do a CTRL-F search for the word “rape”. Surprise surprise, it showed up.

@ Dave
I see your point “slut” probably wasn’t a good word to use. But I just felt that the dialogue was disrespectful to the characters. I agree with you, it’s more of a Tony Stark thing to do (like trying to hook up with the Wasp when she didn’t know that he was Iron Man). But I just can’t wrap my head around Cap, Iron Man, and Thor having that conversation.

@Shawn
Well, there are two aspects here: (a) The issue of Tony, Steve, and/or Thor possibly having hooked up with Hellcat back in the day, and (b) Chit-chatting about it during an interlude in their rather dire conflict.

On the latter, I can in fact imagine Tony trying to come up with something light-hearted to natter about. And, the more I think about it, I can also actually imagine Steve and Thor going along with the topic. It’s an in-the-moment sort of thing, an enforced intimacy in a brief calm during some life-or-death struggles in a strange land where all three of them have been lost and are once again together. It is, to be cliche, a guy thing; it may also be a gal thing, I don’t know, but I’ve seen these sorts of conversations come up amongst guys at odd, isolated, stressful times.

I can’t imagine the discussion with these characters taking place during a battle, or afterwards sitting around at the Mansion, or even over a few beers. But in the context here? I think I can see it, without it being disrespectful to what the characters are normally like (or being disrespectful to Patsy).

Very good points, Dave. I may try to re-read the story with those aspects in mind.

And alas, no Legion love. Although I’ll admit, there haven’t been many strong Legion portrayals in the last decade to compare with stuff in this list. But Dream Girl and Sensor Girl from the 80s, or XS and Kinetix and Leviathan from the 90s coulda been contenders in their eras.

[...] Favourite 20 comic book females. The list is a little light on supervillianesses but I agree with many of the choices. I might compile my own one shortly! [...]

I’d like to make a subtle point here. The lack of character flaws in Superman and Wonder Woman may be offputting sometimes, but right now we have a *shortage* of characters like that. The bigger-than-life, better-than-life, archetypal, *mythical* characters.

And we need them. They’ve been a part of writing since it was invented, and although they’ve been unpopular for (frankly) centuries, they speak to a need we have as readers — or at least that some of us need.

And If you write Superman with “character flaws”, you get offensive dreck like _Superman Returns_.

But I think all too many writers have forgotten how to write such larger-than-life characters. Jerry Siegel knew how, William Moulton Marston knew how and did so very deliberately. You can find numerous examples from ancient myths (Odysseus makes only one mistake of character, by the then-prevalent standards, in the entire Odyssey — taunting Polyphemus; Rama makes none, by then-prevalent standards, in the Ramayana). The Lord of the Rings has at least three (Frodo, Sam, and Gandalf).

What’s harder is to find female examples. For an interestingly similar example to Wonder Woman, try Glinda or Ozma in the Oz books. Or even Dorothy.

So, I bought Batwoman: Elegy after this list and your review and holy shit…that shit was amazing. AMAZING.

[...] For her one-year anniversary as a CBR contributor, Kelly Thompson lists her twenty favorite comic book heroines. [Comic Book Resources] [...]

First saw this list quite some time ago and some characters I knew of and have read, others I hadn’t. I’d never heard of I Kill Giants before I read this but I liked the look of it so I eventually got myself a copy. I’ve just finished reading it and it was brilliant. About halfway through I was thinking to myself “Okay, this is going straight in my Top 10 Favourite Comics list if I ever make one’. So, thanks for introducing me to it.

Have you ever considered publishing an e-book or guest authoring on other blogs?
I have a blog centered on the same topics
you discuss and would love to have you share some stories/information.
I know my subscribers would value your work. If you’re even
remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an email.

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