TOP 10 COMICS (HONORABLE MENTION)
These are my honorable mentions for my top 10 girls of comics, in chronological order of first appearance.
(1) BLACK CANARY (DC 1947)
The Canary Cry! Um, chirp – I guess?
It is a little hard to take a superpower by the name of Canary Cry seriously – or for that matter a superheroine by the name of Black Canary, particularly when she’s part of a superhero team by the name of the Birds of Prey. Has someone told DC Comics that canaries aren’t in fact raptors or birds of prey? I mean, canaries aren’t known for their fierceness – when I think of canaries, my first thought is of the proverbial canary in the coal mine, which is known for, you know, dying.
However, you should take the Black Canary seriously (well, as seriously, as you take any comics character). For one thing, she is one of DC Comics earliest superheroines, with her debut in Flash Comics in 1947 – although not only did she not appear in her own title, she appeared as a backup character to a backup character, Johnny Thunder. Of course, she proved a lot more durable than Johnny Thunder. Who’s Johnny Thunder? Exactly.
From there, her history is convoluted – as it is for any long-standing DC Comics character, with its multiverse (Earth-1? Earth-2?) and its reboots (Crisis in Infinite Earths?! New 52?! DC Rebirth?!) I mean, it’s enough to drive anyone mad. Black Canary’s history is so convoluted that the character was effectively split between mother and daughter, Dinah Lance nee Drake and Dinah Laurel Lance respectively (although I think even those names might change), with the emphasis on the latter for modern comics.
Actually, that’s not too convoluted compared to her television incarnation in Arrow and the wider Arrowverse – where the character is split between Dinah Laurel Lance, her sister Sara Lance (who dies but is resurrected as the White Canary), an evil doppelganger from Earth-2 known as Black Siren and another Black Canary entirely by the alter ego of Dinah Drake.
Speaking of Arrow, it’s fairly consistent that the modern Black Canary is professionally and romantically involved with one of DC’s most useless superheroes, Green Arrow. (I’m not a fan of archer superheroes. A bow is not a superpower! It’s not even Batman levels of badass!).
Another consistency is her costume – you’ve got to admire a superhero who fights crime in a leotard and fishnet stockings, although she usually accessorizes with a jacket and occasionally has variant costumes.
Of course, fighting crime in a leotard and fishnets is a little easier when you are a “prodigious hand-to-hand combatant”, as the modern Black Canary has been portrayed.
In addition to her martial arts skills, she has also been detected “as an expert motorcyclist, gymnast, covert operative, and investigator” as well as “excellent leader and tactician”. So like the avian-themed female version of Batman? Unlike Green Arrow or Batman for that matter, she also has an actual superpower, the so-called Canary Cry – a high-powered sonic scream which can severely damage both inorganic and organic objects, with people being the most obvious example of the latter.
The origins of the Canary Cry have varied over the years – from outright magic, literally “a wizard did it” through the metahuman gene to alien genes.
Black Canary has also been adapted into various media, including video games as well as animated and live-action television series (such as the aforementioned Arrow).
(2) FANTASTIC 4 – SUE STORM / INVISIBLE WOMAN (MARVEL 1961)
The Fantastic Four was the first superhero team of Marvel Comics in 1961 (predating the X-men in 1963) and still remain one of their most iconic teams, although sadly without the successful cinematic adaptation of other Marvel titles (unless you count The Incredibles). Sue Storm is of course the leading lady of the Fantastic Four – and arguably, by extension, of Marvel Comics itself.
Like the rest of the Fantastic Four, Sue acquired her superpowers through a cosmic radiation storm, as opposed to dying horribly as in real life, but that’s superpowers in comics for you. Her superpower was originally a somewhat passive one of invisibility (by manipulating light), but subsequently extended to the more active one of projecting powerful energy fields. The other members of the Fantastic Four were her brother Johnny Storm or the pyrokinetic Human Torch (“Flame on!”), her husband Reed Richards or the humbly named Mr. Fantastic (although as TV Tropes tells us, Reed Richards is Useless) and the team’s walking brick, Ben Grimm or the Thing (“It’s clobbering time!”).
Sue not only married Reed Richards, but was also the object of infatuation for Marvel villains, not least the team’s nemesis, Doctor Doom. (That’s an honorary title, not an actual doctorate of doom). However, none contended for Sue’s affections as much as Namor the Sub-Mariner, whose main power is making DC Comics’ laughingstock Aquaman look cool by comparison (because Aquaman’s costume isn’t a green scaled swimming thong). Jessica Alba memorably played her with dyed hair and blue contacts in the bland 2005 Fantastic Four film (and blander sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer). Kate Mara played her less memorably with a blonde wig in the even worse 2015 reboot.
(3) ZATANNA (DC 1964)
DC Comics occasionally defaults to outright magic as a superpower and its magical superheroine of choice is Zatanna Zatara. She first appeared in 1964, as the daughter of magician Giovanni Zatara from the earlier so-called Golden Age of Comics.
Zatanna is both a stage magician (or illusionist) and a real magician (of the mystical or magical branch of humanity or so-called ‘homo magi’ as opposed to ‘homo sapiens’). She is one of the most powerful users of magic in the world of DC Comics, a sorceress casting her spells through the focus of speaking backwards (although there are exceptions) – so that potentially there would seem to be little limit to her magic and indeed she has used it to manipulate the fabric of space or time. Even without magic, she has almost superhuman dexterity and skill as a stage magician.
Interestingly, Zatanna is a character that has been given some real depth, by two of my favorite writers of comics – Neil Gaiman used her (albeit in a blonde version) in The Books of Magic, an exploration of DC Comics’ magical universe (which has always fascinated me), and Grant Morrison used her as one of his Seven Soldiers, a characteristically Morrisonesque revamping of more minor DC Comics characters. She has seen screen adaptations, most notably in by Serinda Swann in the Superman series Smallville, although she has yet to see a cinematic adaptation – which perhaps awaits the expansion of the DC Cinematic Universe.
(4) WANDA MAXIMOFF / SCARLET WITCH (MARVEL 1964)
A witch called Wanda…
Outside of comics, Wanda Maximoff or the Scarlet Witch is best known as superheroine and Avengers team member played by Elizabeth Olsen in Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or not, since she’s not exactly prominent there, surfacing only as recently as Avengers: Age of Ultron. Perhaps you might know her better as the female other than Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow breaking up the Avengers’ sausage party.
Which is unfortunate, because in the comics, Wanda is one of the most powerful superhumans on the planet – with her power of being able to alter reality in unspecified ways, so…magic! It was originally written as her hex power – or dare I say it, hex appeal? – which consisted of pointing in some direction and some unfortunate event would occur. (Although that pretty much sounds like my everyday life). That then evolved into a mutant power of probability, which in turn evolved into actual magic – and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having red glowing light from her hands and being “weird”.
Like anything else in the Marvel Universe, her backstory is incredibly convoluted and subject to change, even more so when you factor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She originated as a mutant – which is complicated in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Marvel sold off its mutants or X-men to Twentieth Century Fox. That typically included the actual mutant characters themselves, but through some strange loophole Marvel retained the rights to Wanda and her brother Pietro or Quicksilver – although there are two versions of Quicksilver, a Twentieth Century Fox Quicksilver (in the X-men films) and a Marvel Cinematic Universe Quicksilver, with the former being much cooler (and less dead-er) than the latter.
In the comics, they were famously the children of recurring X-men adversary (or ally as it keeps changing) Magneto – but Fox owns him too so they’re orphaned in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of course, Marvel could have gone with the cinematic adaptation reflecting that she was originally the daughter of Golden Age superhero the Whizzer – but no one could have referred to her as the daughter of the Whizzer without laughing. She and Quicksilver have been subsequently ret-conned as non-mutants kidnapped and experimented on by the High Evolutionary, which makes one glad that they keep this sort of crap out of the cinematic adaptations. They were then misled to believe that Magneto was their father. Well, that was needlessly complicated.
In the comics, she has a relationship with the Vision, the Avenger’s resident android – and it looks as if she’s headed that way in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the Vision (played by Paul Bettany) wearing his best sweaters to impress her.
Speaking of clothing, Wanda has had a variety of costumes, if by variety one means primarily variations of swimsuit. Her signature costume in the comics is ridiculous, although in fairness all costumes in comics are ridiculous, but arguably more so for female characters. In this case, it essentially consists of a red leotard, pink stockings and…what is that, a wimple? Anyway, in the words of TV Tropes, “Wanda has the dubious distinction of being one of the least dressed Avengers”, which led to her more practical design in the cinematic adaptations in which she dresses in everyday clothes. Apparently director Joss Whedon reassured actress Elizabeth Olsen that she would never wear the “red bathing suit”.
Interestingly, the “red bathing suit” style of costume seems to be the costume of choice for cosplay models.
(5) MS MARVEL / CAPTAIN MARVEL (MARVEL 1977)
Ms Marvel – or Captain Marvel (although that becomes a little more complicated) – is the first superheroine to be allocated a film in her own name in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (now slated for release in 2019), to be played by Brie Larson.
More precisely, since there have been a number of superheroes in that name in Marvel Comics, my focus will be on the original Ms Marvel, Carol Danvers – who was kind of the blonde Wonder Woman of Marvel Comics, empowered by alien technology (or something) as opposed to classical mythology. (The alien technology being that of the Kree, one of the two major perpetually warring alien empires in Marvel Comics, the other being the Skrull. If you were paying attention in the Guardians of the Galaxy film, Ronan the Accuser was a renegade Kree. Basically, they’re blue humans).
Carol Danvers was originally a non-superpowered member of the United States Air Force.
She became the superpowered Ms Marvel (or Binary or Warbird or Captain Marvel – it changes) from a fusion of her human genes with alien Kree genes after – wait for it – being caught in an explosion of a Kree device in proximity with the Kree hero Captain Marvel (while he was impersonating a human). Subsequently, it was revealed that the explosion of this device, a – wait for it – Psyche-Magnetron, caused her genes to meld with that of Captain Marvel, turning her into a superpowered human-Kree hybrid, because that’s how science works in comics (and conveniently allowing her to adopt the Captain Marvel mantle in her subsequent superhero identity).
(The history of Captain Marvel is quite interesting, as there have been a number of characters from different publishers in that name. Forgotten comics publisher Fawcett Comics originally published the most well-known Captain Marvel – or Billy Batson or Shazam! DC Comics – the cads! – sued for copyright infringement for Superman, although Captain Marvel was a boy empowered by magic into a costumed superhero, albeit one that visually resembled Superman. Marvel Comics then took the opportunity to trademark their own alien superhero Captain Marvel character. Ironically, DC Comics subsequently acquired the rights to the Fawcett Comics character, but then had to publish him under the name Shazam, because of the trademarked Marvel Comics character).
Anyway, Carol Danvers acquired the usual superhuman powers – strength, endurance, flight and invulnerability along with a limited precognitive “sixth sense”. She has also subsequently obtained varying degrees of energy absorption and manipulation, so she can shoot blasts of energy from her fingertips. This was on top of her being pretty capable by human standards as an Air Force pilot (along with skills of espionage, hand-to-hand combat and marksmanship).
She has had a number of costumes, from the usual superheroine costume in the style of swimwear or lingerie (with boots!) to more modest costumes in the style of the original alien Captain Marvel.
She also had her own title, as well as becoming a mainstay of the Avengers (and even joining the X-men).
Both the Captain Marvel and Ms Marvel identities have had other characters in the role – with the latter also being assumed by Sharon Ventura, the supervillain Dr Karen Sofa or Moonstone, and perhaps most interestingly, Kamala Khan, Marvel Comics’ first Muslim superhero to headline her own title.
Ms Marvel in her Carol Danvers incarnation seems to be a popular choice for female cosplayers, possibly because of the relative ease of costume.
(6) STARFIRE (DC 1980)
Starfire is everyone’s favorite alien princess. Both DC Comics and Marvel Comics can get pretty cosmic – the latter notably so in its cinematic Guardians of the Galaxy, although Superman has always famously been an alien. Starfire is not unlike Superman – an alien princess of the planet Tamaran, fled to Earth to join the Teen Titans (after complicated interstellar war and politics involving her rivalry with her sister). Her alien physiology absorbs ultraviolet light energy for use in various powers – like Superman, come to think of it. Is there any DC Comics alien that isn’t superpowered by sunlight? Her original art design was apparently that of Red Sonja in space – her classic image is perhaps that by artist Michael Turner above, although I have a soft spot for her incarnation by artist Amanda Conner.
But then who doesn’t like an orange-skinned alien space babe?
(7) ELEKTRA (MARVEL 1981)
What can I say? I have a soft spot for ninja girls.
Elektra is another Marvel Comics heroine – or anti-heroine. Created by Frank Miller in 1981, Elektra Natchios is a highly trained assassin, of Greek descent but trained in Chinese and Japanese martial arts, including ninjitsu – albeit a school of ninjitsu that apparently favors highly conspicuous red costumes. Her trademark weapons are a pair of bladed sai, but she is also skilled in other weapons – katana, dagger, three-section staff and shuriken (as opposed to guns or snipers’ rifles one might associate with modern assassins).
Miller introduced her as a star-crossed love interest for Daredevil, a superhero notoriously unlucky with – or for – his love interests, so unsurprisingly she ends up killed by the villainous Bullseye, but soon returned through the traditional revolving door of death and resurrection for comics.
As usual for comics characters, Elektra has exceptional physical abilities and athleticism (apart from her mastery of martial arts and weaponry), but these are reinforced by the usual fantastic mystical ninja abilities we love in popular culture and developed by my favorite Marvel Comics ninjas, The Hand.
As for Elektra herself, she was portrayed by Jennifer Garner in the 2003 Daredevil movie and her own spinoff film in 2005, but I choose not to acknowledge those films. Fortunately, she resurfaced in the Daredevil television series, played by Elodie Yung.
(8) GEN 13 – CAITLIN FAIRCHILD (IMAGE – DC 1993)
Founded in 1992 as a confederacy of studios by artists seceding from Marvel Comics, Image Comics embodied the so-called Dark Age of Comics in the 1990’s in many ways – amongst them, the sexy pinup superhero team of Gen 13 and its sexy pinup flagship character Caitlin Fairchild, both of which owed much to the sexy pinup art style of J. Scott Campbell.
Published by Image’s Wildstorm studio (named for the two flagship teams in its story universe, WildCATS and Stormwatch) Gen 13 was derivative of many other titles “focusing on ridiculously attractive teens or teams with superpowers”, in particular, the X-Men – its focus was a group of five youths who escape from a government project to locate young people with “Gen-Active” genes and weaponize their manifested superpowers. As TV Tropes noted, while it was derivative, “it occasionally took it upon itself to hang a lampshade on the very conventions of the genre, including the constant clothing damage, the rambling villains and more, which allowed it to not only cater to its audience, but to wink at them as well”.
As for Caitlin Fairchild herself, the manifestation of her Gen-Active status transformed her from an ordinary girl to give her superhuman strength, agility, speed and endurance – “redhead resident shrinking violet geek girl turned Amazonian team leader”.
The title did well enough at first, but its popularity waned until Wildstorm killed off the entire team with a 6-megaton nuclear bomb. In the usual style of comics, that didn’t take, and the team resurfaced in various forms, ultimately ending up in the DC Comics universe when DC Comics bought Wildstorm.
(9) APHRODITE IX (IMAGE / TOP COW 1996)
Our next honorable mention is again from Image Comics, but this time from their Top Cow studio – a studio notorious for their ‘house style’ of ‘bad girl art’, as evidenced by its Witchblade flagship title. Aphrodite IX was a series published by Top Cow in 1996 and again in 2013-2014.
The title character Aphrodite IX was a female android (which would technically make her a gynoid, but that’s a word you don’t see too often). What’s more, she’s a female android assassin, but then I’ve always had a soft spot for sexy robot bad girls (second only to sexy vampire bad girls). She is apparently part of a series of Aphrodite gynoids, hence the IX nomenclature.
She is designed to carry out undercover missions of infiltration and assassination – a purpose which seems a little at odds with her conspicuous appearance of green hair and makeup (including a large spot on her cheek), form-fitting revealing outfit ringed with ammo belts, thigh-high boots with lug heels and of course very large guns. She retains no memory of her actions as her brain is designed to experience amnesia after each mission – although she increasingly becomes more self-aware of her purpose and rebels against it.
(10) ASPEN MATTHEWS (IMAGE / TOP COW – ASPEN 1998)
Aspen Matthews is yet another of my top ten girls of comics honorable mentions that originated in Image Comics – in the ongoing comic series Fathom from their Top Cow Productions imprint, by Michael Turner with his characteristic art style. (Indeed, Top Cow was known for its ‘bad girl art’ style). Starting in 1998, it was Turner’s first creator-owned series and he took it with him when he founded his own company, Aspen MLT, named after his delectable aquatic heroine.
As for Aspen herself, she – ah – wears a lot of bikinis and swimsuits. That is, when she’s not wearing less. What? You expect me to remember the plot in this one? Sigh. Okay then, it’s essentially your Aquaman-Atlantean-Abyss style story of aquatic alien superhumans. Sexy aquatic alien superhumans. A cruise ship reappears in San Diego after it was reported to have disappeared ten years previously. However, no one on board even remembers having been ‘missing’, and what’s more, they picked up a mysterious girl at sea. She can only remember her name as Aspen, but is fortunately adopted by a vacationing naval officer.
Even more fortunately, Aspen proves to have a strange affinity for water, so that she spends a lot of time in bikinis and swimsuits – I mean, her favorite sports of surfing and swimming, indeed becoming a gold-medal winning Olympic swimmer before being disqualified for an abnormal result to a drug test. She studies marine biology, before joining a secret underwater facility for more bikinis and swimsuits. Ultimately, it is unveiled that she is one of the Blue, an aquatic humanoid race with the power to control water – although Aspen has powers unique even for a Blue. The Blue come into conflict, not only with terrestrial humanity, but also with a warring aquatic humanoid race, the Black – Aspen herself is descended from parents of both races and…bikinis and swimsuits. Sorry – what was that story again?