I’ve got two of these lists coming by the time Women’s History Month ends. I bet you can guess what the second might be.
(I bet you can also guess, if you’ve ever paid attention to anything I’ve ever written, who #1 will be here. I’m nothing if not consistent!)
I’ve long been a big fan of powerful female characters in comics, and not just because they make such nice Kotobukiya statues and wall art with which to decorate my house. They really defeat the “comics are a male power fantasy” stereotype that the genre finds itself in so often. There’s no reason women can’t enjoy comics, too, and I get it: when women think of female comic book characters, they probably picture damsel-in-distress girlfriends or heroines whose sole purpose is to wear small amounts of tight clothing and impractical shoes.
Really impractical shoes.
That’s fair, though. I mean… that’s what a LOT of women characters were for a long time.
But Marvel and DC have both done a respectable job creating detailed, realistic, and enjoyable female characters over the years, especially in more recent decades. They have done their best to open the genre up to everyone. It hasn’t always worked, and it has met with the occasional backlash from a regrettable subsect of fans, but the idea of getting more folks into comics is always good.
I’m rambling, though.
Women are great! Super heroines with fun books are great! Let’s look at some of Marvel’s best*
*And you know what? I DID limit this to heroes, which unfairly excludes great characters like Mary Jane Watson and Aunt May. But I love them, too!
Wasp is probably the most underrated of all of The Avengers, and we’ll get more into that in a future top ten list I’ve already put together but haven’t written the summaries on yet!
Janet Van Dyne was the only woman among the original Avengers (Stan and Jack loved their token female in every group!), and she has survived through many iterations of the team. She has even been the leader on several occasions, proving her long-term value and how well she has mastered being an Avenger.
What’s unfortunate is that what most fans know Janet for is being a victim–her husband, Hank Pym, famously assaulted her en route to a heel turn–but while that initial story may have been more about Hank’s corruption than Janet, stories since then have really fleshed her out, shown how the attack affected her, and had her grow from it. She’s a great stand-alone character who should be known for much more than being “The wife Hank beat up”.
9. Invisible Woman
It’s another Stan ‘N Jack Token!
Let’s be honest… the legendary duo didn’t do the best job in the world by Sue Storm, their Invisible Girl. During their classic run on The Fantastic Four, Sue was very often put in the role of the team worrywart or the damsel to be rescued. While Ben and Johnny had great depth to them, Sue felt very one-dimensional.
(Though, to be fair, Reed was pretty bland in those days, too.)
It was John Byrne who would really take ownership of Sue, rebranding her as Invisible Woman, show her ferocity as a character not to be trifled with, and gave her the full flavor she always deserved. In his wake, Sue became an extremely strong character–both in her super powers and her moral stances–who knows when to stand up for herself and refuse to be the team’s patsy.
And then some creators gave her a 4-shaped boob window in the 90’s.
So, it’s been two steps forward, one step back at times with Susan.
8. Kamala Khan
The current Ms. Marvel is the newest member of Marvel Comics on my list, and I’ve talked about her impact as a modern character before.
As I said there, Kamala is the modern girl version of Spider-Man. She is a fun, enthusiastic, teen hero who is relatable and a blast to read. She is an extraordinary starting point for new readers. If print media sales as a whole weren’t in the toilet, Kamala should still be up-coming as one of the greatest new characters in any medium.
But the fact that no young people read comics anymore isn’t her or her creators’ faults. Her stories are still so much fun, and she has a bright future in the Marvel Universe.
7. Captain Marvel
God, Carol has the weirdest damn backstory. It’s such a long, strange road she been on to get the point where she is essentially Marvel’s Superman character (after the company had tried and failed so many times to have one).
Where do we start? The time she was raped by her son so that she could give birth to him… and then fell in love with him and ran off to live with him?
Maybe the time she lost her powers to Rogue and vanished for a while?
Or the time The Avengers kicked her out for being an alcoholic and getting drunk on their missions?
Hell, during Civil War, she blindly followed the Pro-Registration side when it was objectively the bad team.
I mean… she is NOT a character who ever had much respect in Marvel for her first thirty years.
And yet, here we are in 2021, and Marvel has done a stellar job rehabbing Carol’s image in the last fifteen years. She has had some great comic runs by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Margaret Stohl, and others. She got her own blockbuster feature film and a good role in the biggest movie of all time! Those days of bananas stories ruining her credibility are long behind her.
When Marvel needed a heroine to match up against Wonder Woman in the Marvel vs DC event, it was somewhat surprising that the job fell to Ororo Munroe of the X-Men. But never forget how massively popular the X-Men were in the early 90’s, and that Storm has always been one of the most relevant of their numbers.
From the early going, it was easy to see that Chris Claremont loved the Storm character and had big plans for her. She was always right behind Wolverine during his run in how prominently characters were featured. It was Storm who became leader of the Morlocks by heroically battling Callisto. Storm was the one who stepped up to the lead the team, even while powerless. She featured prominently with her relationship with Forge leading up to the Fall of the Mutants. She consistently had so much more to do and so much more going on than, say, Nightcrawler or Colossus.
John Byrne’s tongue-in-cheek run on She-Hulk was the proto-Deadpool, and I still enjoy it more than almost any Wade Wilson story ever told. It was self-referential, and the protagonist knew she was in a comic book. It was a bit ironically crude in points (with Shulkie constantly finding herself in gratuitous positions and blaming Byrne for it). It was FUNNY! Maybe the most funny a classic superhero book has ever been.
I’ve got to look up on Wikipedia or something how it came to be that Jen “forgot” she was a comic book character. It seems weird that she has gone on to have a serious run since that title.
She’s been an Avenger and a member of the Fantastic Four in addition to her various exploits in solo titles. For me, her peak was still that Byrne book, though. What a great time that was.
4. Black Cat
We’re still in Cheesecake Row for a bit here; bear with me.
Sure, Felicia Hardy is one of the more sexualized characters in comics–her costume verges on obscene under some artists–but as a character, she has had a striking arc. She grew up drastically over her first several years. She debuted as villain before quickly seeing the error of her ways and dating Spider-Man. However, her view of their relationship was frequently immature, and Peter left her to marry MJ not long after. A spurned Felicia started hatching plans to get back at him through Flash Thompson, but then she realized what she was becoming.
In the wake of that, she became one of Peter’s strongest allies for years, and stories in that time frame set her up as a genuinely good and altruistic person.
And then Dan Slott said “LOL no”, and had her go super heel because Doc Ock punched her in the face one time.
Luckily, that was pretty quickly done away with, and writers since, like Nick Spencer, have rebuilt the classic Peter and Felicia partnership. We’re all the better for it.
3. Emma Frost
Okay. She-Hulk, Black Cat, and then Emma Frost. All known for their costumes and fan art, but also thankfully appreciated for how brilliant their characters shine through.
For YEARS, Emma Frost was just Another X-Villain. A mind controlling, scantily-clad baddie out for world domination.
But then writers such as Scott Lobdell, Grant Morrison, and Joss Whedon got their hands on her, and she was allowed to become so much more.
Emma joins up with the X-Men reluctantly during the Phalanx storyline, but proves herself well enough that Xavier lets her work with Banshee to raise the next generation of heroes: Generation X.
From there, she would join the X-Men proper and forge a relationship with Scott Summers… a relationship that did massive work on both of their characters. Scott finally had a relationship that felt real and not forced, and Emma was shown to have a real heart and the capability of true affection. Scott developed the edge he always needed, while Emma softened up.
All the while, Emma has retained pieces from her villainous origins. Being a hero doesn’t always agree with her. But she never stops trying.
2. Kitty Pryde
Kitty is #2. I probably think Kitty is the single greatest female character in comics. But she’s not #1. Because I am wildly biased in favor of my favorites. You’ll live!
Kitty was the entry point character for X-Men readers in the early days of Claremont’s tenure on the book. She was brought in–right at the start of the Dark Phoenix Saga, no less–to be the New Reader’s In. She, like the reader, was wowed by everything going on and found it strange and amazing! She grew into a role of comfort with the reader, and you often saw things through her lens. You got her fear of the Brood. Her acceptance of Nightcrawler’s demonic appearance. Her loyalty to Storm, Wolverine, Colossus and the rest.
Kitty is the most relatable character in comics. She’s the best.
Except Jubilee is ACTUALLY the best.
Oddly enough, Jubes was basically Neo-Kitty when she debuted. She was the new P.O.V. character for a new decade and a new team of X-Men. After the Australian adventures ended, Jubilee was the character with whom the reader could experience all of the new aspects of X-dom.
From there, she took on the student role that Kitty outright refused in her own heyday (Jubilee went with Generation X, whereas Kitty pouted at possibly joining the New Mutants). Then she faced being depowered on M Day. Became a New Warrior. Became a vampire! And adopted a baby.
So for a character who is so often viewed as that 90’s brat with the sunglasses and bubblegum, Jubilee has grown a LOT in the books. And she has remained a fascinating character ever since.
All right, that’s my list. Who are yours, agree or disagree, yadda yadda yadda.
Am I… am I supposed to feel bad about my Kotobukiya statues now? They do tend to focus on the more sexified aspects of many of these characters, which mostly detracts from the appreciation I have for them as characters.
But I really think these statues are neat and well made!
Am I a hypocrite? Maybe. It’s hard to say. I’m pretty sure everyone on Earth is a hypocrite to some degree. So calling someone a hypocrite… is pretty hypocritical!
That makes me feel better somehow.
Until next time… take care!