There’s a lot to critique about the role of women in superhero comics and associated media — and I spend a lot of time and energy doing exactly that. But today, I’m here to talk about a bunch of reasons to be super excited about female superheroes, and what’s being written, drawn and performed either right now or in the future.
1) Wonder Woman
It’s a really good time to be a Wonder Woman fan. We’re drawing to the end of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang’s legendary run on the character, which was one of the few creative success stories to come out of the DC Comics New 52. I’ve particularly liked the heavy focus on Greek mythology, the retro and non-exploitative art direction, and the supporting cast. Keeping Diana mostly outside the rest of continuity for these comics has helped with the consistency of the story, meaning (hopefully) that they can continue in graphic novel format to be an accessible gateway to the character for many years to come.
Speaking of accessible gateways, can we talk about Sensation Comics? This digital-first comic is a fantastic platform for continuity-free, standalone stories featuring our favourite Amazon, allowing for a wide variety of artists and writers (including many female creators) to play with the possibilities of one of the longest running characters of the DC Universe. It’s about time that DC acknowledged that Wonder Woman’s iconic status is at least equivalent to that of Batman and Superman, and this fun and creative comic is a great start. Major shout out to the first couple of issues, in which Gail Simone asks the question: what if Wonder Woman was sent in to replace Batman in Gotham City?
Then there’s the movie. There are a lot of opinions out there about the Wonder Woman movie, which is rough because we know almost nothing about it, but let’s not forget how important it is that she is finally, FINALLY getting one. Wonder Woman has not appeared on screen since the Lynda Carter series in the 70’s, and yet she has a powerful hold on the pop culture memories of people my age and older (and younger — my 7 year old godson is a big fan) because of the sheer power of her awesomeness. She needs her own movie. She needs ten movies. GIVE HER ALL THE MOVIES.
2) Captain Marvel
And while we’re talking about superheroes who are overdue for their own movies, I was delighted to see a Captain Marvel title included in the recent announcement for everything that’s happening in the Marvel movieverse over the next 5+ years.
Sure, it’s only one female-led title in a huge number of movies, but the distance between zero and one is pretty huge until someone makes the leap.
I arrived at Captain Marvel pretty late in the day, jumping on board with the character only with the recent Kelly Sue Deconnick written series rather than catching up on her many decades as Ms Marvel first — but I’m completely in love with Carol Danvers. A tough, competent military pilot with strong friendship ties and super strength powers? Hell yes! Put that on a screen and I will watch it to bits.
One of the strengths of the excellent DeConnick run on the character is the emphasis on friendships and alliances with other women, and I hope that’s something that comes out in the movie – and that it means another female face in the Avengers lineup, as well.
3) Harley Quinn
I’m a huge Harley Quinn fan, based largely on the Batman animated series which created the character, but for a long time her portrayal in comics and games has made her a poster child for everything that’s wrong with women in comics.
Enter Amanda Conner, whose work as an artist I’ve always enjoyed — she tends towards cheesecake art, but does so with a knowing wink. Sure, she made Power Girl’s boob window even more of a salient feature than any previous artist, but she also gave her a sweater and business casual clothes when the plot called for it.
When I first heard that Conner was working on the new Harley Quinn series, I assumed it was as artist — but instead, she’s co-writing the title with Jimmy Palmiotti, and it’s nothing short of brilliant.
This is no G-rated Harley, but the comic features a savage, cynical sense of humour and delves into all the dark corners of this crunchy, fascinating and slightly damaged character. Her visual style comes across as roller derby queen rather than bendy bondage queen, and I love the fact that she is being drawn with a bigger, more substantial body than ever before.
A ridiculously fun comic, which more people should be reading, but only if you appreciate a dark, dark sense of humour.
4) Ms Marvel
So the current Ms Marvel is a Muslim-American teenager with super strength and a strong family/friends network, written by G. Willow Wilson. All these things are great. But my favourite thing about this comic is how much my 9-year-old loves it. Finding great female-led superhero comics that are appropriate for my daughter has always been difficult (yeah, Harley Quinn, NUH) and it has always frustrated me how little Batgirl and Supergirl have been utilised for this age group.
But Ms Marvel is a fantastic, fun title for all ages — and the fact that it adds to the diversity of my daughter’s reading pile is almost incidental. (Which is not to say it’s not hugely important, but it’s not something she thinks about)
5) Agents of SHIELD and Melinda May
I enjoyed Season 1 a lot (though I came to the show only recently), and I’m really impressed with what the show has transformed into in the wake of all the changes that happened to SHIELD after Captain America: Winter Soldier. There are lots of things to like about this show, particularly in the diversity of the regular cast. But in particular, I’m appreciating the huge range of active female characters in the line-up. The series so far has given us innocent scientist Jemma Simmons stepping up into the role of undercover spy and hacker and rebel Skye stepping up and growing up as she trains to be a real agent. We’ve also had a new addition to the show, including a brief but memorable Isabelle Hartley as played by Lucy Lawless and the hardcore spy Bobbi Morse (AKA Mockingbird in the Marvel comics) played by Adrienne Palicki. Most of my attention, however, has been on the always magnificent (but getting even more so) Melinda May.
Created by Joss Whedon, this character is an amazing addition to the Marvel movieverse (can we call it mediaverse now?), and I’m hoping that she ends up with her own comic some day as well. From her steely gaze to her extraordinary fight scenes (which are only getting more and more intense as the show goes on) she has been consistently portrayed by Ming-Na Wen as the scariest person in the room no matter what room you’re talking about. She’s complex, interesting and kickass… She’s our new Xena, and she should be getting all the recognition for that.
More to the point, while Season 1 of Agents of SHIELD mostly showed May’s interactions and relationships with the male characters like Coulson and Ward, this new season is giving us scene after scene of her training Skye, partnering with Bobbi Morse, and serving as a role model and leader to the whole team as well as being Coulson’s trusted second-in-command.
Did I mention that this action hero is not only played by an Asian-American actress, but that she is 50 years old? Seeing an older woman in this kind of role is super exciting to me, especially when she destroys whole teams of of Hydra soldiers using only her feet and their own guns.
A recent series of one-shot alternate universe versions of Spider-Man gave us the character that everyone is calling Spider-Gwen, with a gorgeously drawn issue (Edge of Spider-verse #2) telling the story of Gwen Stacy, balancing her grrrl rock band The Mary Janes, her protective police chief father, and her life as the mutated superhero known as Spider-Woman. She was awesome, and more to the point, she’s coming back. The one-shot was so popular that Spider-Gwen is now going to be an ongoing series from February 2015.
Voting with your dollars can actually work. Who knew?
There’s more. My list could go on and on. I could talk about the recently completed Gail Simone run on Batgirl, and the amazingly cute new teen-friendly reboot of the character written by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher, with art by Babs Tarr. I could talk about the amazingly exciting news that Gail Simone is bringing back her hard-edged, darkly hilarious Secret Six series to the DCU. There’s Gotham Academy, written by Becky Cloonan. There’s the Peggy Carter TV series and the fact that Hayley Atwell is so amazing that all the movies want to have a cameo with her. There’s the female Thor. There’s the Black Widow solo title. There’s the (sadly now ending) She-Hulk title, which was great while it lasted. There’s the fact that Hawkeye, one of the most celebrated titles in superhero comics right now, is as much about the female character with that name as the male character. Oh, and that all-female X-Men title? Is at 21 issues and counting.
It’s not perfect, there’s a long way to go, but now is a pretty good time to be looking for female heroes, super and otherwise, in comics, film and TV. My biggest problem is actually trying to keep up with it all — and that’s a brilliant problem to have.
Tansy Rayner Roberts is an Australian fantasy author, blogger and podcaster. She won the 2013 Hugo for Best Fan Writer. Check out more of Tansy’s writings about female superheroes with the blog series Where The Wonder Women Are. Her latest fiction project is Musketeer Space, a gender-swapped space opera retelling of The Three Musketeers, published weekly as a web serial. Come and find her on Twitter!