Well, MV I couldn’t be happier to answer your question as strong female characters are a particular passion of mine. Unfortunately they ain’t all that easy to find in superhero-ville. But I will do my best to use my Jedi powers to guide you through he minefield of :
DECENT FEMALE PROTAGONISTS IN THE COMIC BOOK SHOP
I wouldn’t shy away from She-Hulk
at all. Ever since they made the decision to bring back SHs Jennifer Walters alter-ego and have her join a prestigious law firm that specializes in superheroes She-Hulk has had some of the funniest storylines in the Marvel ‘Verse. However she’s since been drafted into the Initiative
and I’ve no idea where the character stands today.
I’ve also got a soft spot for Ms. Marvel
. Although occasionally mishandled she’s consistently been one of the more fascinating characters in the Marvel Universe.
The upshot here is that, unfortunately, females have, for the most part, been relegated to the roles of ancillary characters in both the DC and Marvel universes (and really in a good deal of the bigger Indie markets as well). This isn’t to say that ancillary means boring-obviously, most of the teams in both verses have a good deal of strong women characters-
, Black Canary
, Heroes for Hire
, Birds of Prey
, even the Avengers
have stolid female characters but when it comes to single hero titles? Yeah, not so much. Part of this has a lot to do with the vicious circle of mainstream comics: Writers and artists tend to be male and tend therefore to write male protagonists. Nothing wrong with that but it can feel a bit exclusionary if you happen to sit down to pee. Thus we get little female interest in superhero titles and therefore few female artists and writers willing or interested to enter the field.
Sad to say, but the ladies in comic books are still solid second class citizens (just like Africans, Asians, Hispanics and Homosexuals unfortunately). The comics universe is not quite representative of our own social reality. Despite the occasional brave choice (like finally admitting that Susan Richard’s Invisible Woman
was the most powerful member of the Fantastic Four
) we’re still not seeing the comic book hero world reflect the true demographic of the real world (C’mon guys! Women make up more than 50% of the frakkin’ planet!).
And I frankly think that blows.
That being said, there are some damn fine comic books out there doing incredible work with female protagonists. Here are a few:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
-thankfully Joss Whedon
shares my love of kick-ass female heroes and Buffy (the TV series
) will be the inspiration and prototype for lady-ass-kickers for years to come. I’ve gotta admit that I had my nose in the air about Buffy comics for years-I basically associated them with disappointments concerning both Star Trek and Star Wars comic offshoots. But the current run of Dark Horse’s Buffy is written by Joss himself and undertakes an Eighth season of the original series-unrestrained by budgetary concerns, mind you. There have been a few low points but by and large Buffy rocks and is one of the few series I actually buy single issues of. Oh, and the recent issues feature a crossover with:
- Melaka Fray is the future Slayer and dwells in a nice little Dystopia where vampires are not only a threat but are as commonplace as maggots on a five week old corpse. This was one of Whedon’s first forays into comic writing and, although not a stunning triumph, its still pretty damned entertaining and you can’t beat Melaka very easily when it comes to factors of bad-assed-ness.
—Don’t let the less than impressive Movie
fool you, Alan Martin’s Tank Girl is one of the best alternative comics around. It’s anarchic, disorganized, sloppy and drug-addled. It’s also some of the best fun you’ll ever get out of a comic book. Martin’s first run with Jamie Hewlett
’s art is stunning but the most recent issues with Rufus Dayglo
(who, like Hewlett collaborated on the artwork and videos for The Gorillaz
) is just as, good (and even occasionally more coherent!). If you have ever wondered what would happen if Hunter S. Thompson
decided to write comics and if he happened to have ovaries instead of testicles well, then, just read Tank Girl and find out.
-If you’ve ever wished Grant Morrison
would write something as dense, psychoactive and downright metaphysical as the Invisibles
but featuring a female protagonist, then look no further than Alan Moore
’s Promethea. Alan’s No dab hand at creating strong female characters (The cast of Top 10
and Tom Strong
come to mind here) but this is his attempt at a female driven story line and he manages to make it interesting as only Moore can (although one should brace oneself for treatments upon Moore’s own religious beliefs- Kabbalah
, for instance-and an occasionally pedantic mode of storytelling). There are tons of interesting female characters here-most of the time they tend to end up being the same person however-just facets of the same hero. If nothing else it is very interesting.
Hopey and Maggie
-Actually almost all of the Hernandez Bros. Love and Rockets stories feature strong females (almost exclusively!) but I’ve a special place for Maggie and Hopey, the stars of Jaime Hernandez’ “Locas” series. Starting out as a send-up of superhero tropes set in a Pseudo-Utopian 80s era L.A. Locas has evolved into a dense character exploration of two women over the course of twenty years (and they age in real time-a marked difference from mainstream tropes). Jaime has abandoned most of his superhero/science hero references at this point but still maintains a touch of magical reality making Love and Rockets one of the best indies around even twenty-five plus years after it’s launch.
-If you haven’t read Neil Gaiman
’s “The Sandman
" (and you should. Now.) you’ll be familiar with the ancillary character of Thessaly, the millennia old witch who eventually becomes Dream’s lover and ,incidentally, plays a part in his Death in “The Kindly” ones, the series’ penultimate storyline (if you aren't, don't worry, I'll wait.
WHAT IN HELL ARE YOU WAITING FOR??? GO READ THE GODDAMNED SANDMAN. NOW!!!!!)
Thessaly is also featured as the protagonist in The Thessaliad
and Thessaly, Witch for Hire
by Fables writer and artist Bill Willingham
. Both are available as Trade paperbacks and both are pretty damn delightful. Speaking of Bill Willingham
-although an ensemble piece, Willingham does manage to write several compelling female characters including Snow White, Goldilocks, Madam Totenkinder
and, my own personal fave, Cinderella
. In the series Cinderella is, unbeknownst to most of the main cast, a deep cover secret agent and happens to be as deadly as anything on two legs. Willingham has done two one off storylines featuring Cinderella and by god I hope he does a lot more (please Bill?!??!).
Madame Xanadu-This is a bit of a wild card but DC vertigo has recently relaunched Madame Xanadu ( a well below the radar DC hero)...
. So far I’ve got nothing to go on but those credentials but they ain’t bad by half. I’ll be checking it out for sure.
So, there’s some cannon fodder for you there. Pretty good, eh? Except for…
-by Marie Severin
Well, you probably noticed that with no exception all the aforementioned products out there are written by folks that regularly stand up when they pee. WTF? Right? It’s not as if females have never been involved in comics up until the last decade. Hell, even in the silver age you had such folks as Marie Severin
and Glynis Wein
(nee’ Glynis Oliver) slugging it out with the boys. The Bronze age brought on such talents as Wendi Pini
and Trina Robbins
to the fold. But for the most part females haven’t broken the glass ceiling at Marvel or DC. That may have a lot to do with the fact that for the most part comic book heroes inhabit a world of guys fantasies (“no one knows that when I doff these glasses, this bad haircut and move out of my Mom’s basement I am secretly ULTRA-SUPER-COOL-LEOPARD-GUY-MAN!!!!). Other off-putting factors may be the fact that (the Hernandez Bros.
aside few female protagonist are ever shown as anything less than six-foot tall supermodels (except my first and biggest crush, Kitty Pryde
. DAMN YOU WHEDON!!!). And there’s also the good ol’ vicious circle to blame: Guys write about guys, appealing to guys' interests and thus you get mostly guys seeking to enter the industry ( and being as afraid of girls like Cyrus...umm, I mean Superman is afraid of girls, uhh...Kryptonite).
Thus, we get a majority of female artists going into the so-called indie scene. And a mighty force they are: Jessica Abel
), Julie Doucet
), Roberta Gregory
), Dame Darcy
), Dianne Dimassa
and Jokes and the Unconscious
) and Phoebe Gloeckner
(A Child's Life and The Diary of a Teenage Girl
). Not a superhero to be found here I’m afraid-just some of the best comics you will ever read (and, guys, you just may buy yourself a ticket out of your parents basement with these as well)
Still, as a life long comic fan (and a pretty big fan of intelligent amazing writers) I’ve still a lot of hope that someday soon we’re going to see some of the sexist tropes and practices of the comic book industry fall by the wayside and have as many women writers out there as male writers. The writers of the stories above (penises notwithstanding) are talking a step in the right direction and making the comics universe a wee bit more hospitable for EVERYONE on the planet. I look forward to hearing from the women they inspire with greedy readiness.