Top 10 Girls of Comics

 

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TOP 10 GIRLS OF COMICS

 

Comics are notorious for their idealized female figures – the uneasy schizoid dichotomy between the fanboy male gaze and female characterization. Of course, one could argue that male figures in comics are equally as idealized, although arguably not as sexualized (although there are male characters in comics that go around totally naked ALL THE TIME – I’m looking at you, Silver Surfer and Dr Manhattan, although I’m trying not to…)

 

Anyway, these are my top ten girls of comics.

 

 

 

(10) BLACK CAT (MARVEL 1979)

 

Black Cat is the platinum blonde feline fatale of Marvel Comics, reminiscent of a certain other female character but to Spiderman in place of Batman. She is similarly an anti-heroine and cat burglar, but flirts with heroism, particularly in the person of Spiderman.

 

 

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Initially, she had no superhuman abilities, but conveniently acquired ‘bad luck’ powers (or psionic manipulation of probability) to match her namesake. She has yet to have a live cinematic adaptation – at least in full character, as her ‘civilian’ alter ego Felecia Hardy did appear in the second Amazing Spiderman movie, presumably with a view to introducing the Black Cat in subsequent films, such as the proposed Silver & Black film teaming her up with Silver Sable.

 

 

 

So essentially, Black Cat is Marvel Comic’s carbon copy of  a certain DC Comics’ character (who also appears in this top ten). But really – can one have too many catwomen? I think not. Meow!

 

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(9) BLACK WIDOW (MARVEL 1964)

 

My ninth place entry goes to that other favorite black leather skintight catsuit clad heroine of Marvel Comics, Black Widow – particularly to recognize her prominence within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

 

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Black Widow is actually a spy codename for more than one character in Marvel Comics, although thanks to Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of the character in the Marvel Cinematics Universe, moviegoers are more familiar with redhead Natalia Romanova / Natasha Romanov rather than her blonde successor Yelena Belova.

 

 

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Black Widow originated in 1964 as a Soviet superspy and antagonist to Iron Man (who in turn originated as a cool capitalist anti-communist superhero), but she subsequently defected to the United States and joined the Avengers. She originally appeared in a different costume (purple with fishnets and brunette wig?) before being upgraded to her iconic black skintight catsuit in 1970. Her origin as a Soviet spy was also upgraded and made more dark – being raised from early childhood with other female orphans by the ‘Black Widow Ops’ program of the Soviet ‘Department X’ and their covert ‘Red Room’ facility (of which there were flashback glimpses in the Avengers Age of Ultron film).

 

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Prior to Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of her in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, she was not particularly well known outside comics circles. In fairness however, with the arguable exceptions of the Hulk and Captain America, all the characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe were not particularly well known outside comics circles, as Marvel had to draw from its B-list (or C-list) characters, as its A-list characters – Spiderman, Fantastic Four, X-men – were owned by other studios.

 

 

She might also be argued to be the second most useless Avenger in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – the most useless Avenger of course being Hawkeye (although the Falcon is also pretty useless). I mean, come on – archery?! That’s it?! At least get a gun! Mind you, I have the same issue with the Green Arrow or any archer “superhero” in the age of modern weaponry. When was the last time you saw archers in any modern military, intelligence or police service? Never? Exactly.

 

 

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But back to Black Widow, I’m not arguing she’s useless as a person. She’s a highly skilled and trained intelligence and military operative. She’d certainly be better than me at, well probably everything, and would kick my ass without even getting out of her chair (as she does to adversaries in a scene in the first Avengers movie). However, when you’re comparing her to her superhuman colleagues in the Avengers – a green rage monster of near limitless superhuman strength and a freaking Norse god – she seems pretty useless. Of course, Iron Man is pretty useless without his robotic supersuits (or even more so, his money) and she actually compares closely to Cap himself, if not actually better. In the comics, not only is she “a world class athlete, gymnast, acrobat, aerialist capable of numerous complex maneuvers and feats, expert martial artist (including karate, judo, kenpo, jujutsu, ninjutsu, aikido, savate, various styles of kung fu and boxing), marksman and weapons specialist”, she has been enhanced by biotechnology.

 

 

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(8) X-MEN – EMMA FROST / WHITE QUEEN (MARVEL 1980)

 

Long iconic in comics, Marvel Comics’ mutant X-men heroes moved into the mainstream with their movie franchise (aka Wolverine & Co). The X-women have always been prominent in the comics and achieved an even larger profile with the cinematic adaption, enough for a top ten list of their own – telekinetic Jean Grey (played by Famke Janssen) and her dark Phoenix manifestation, African weather goddess Storm (played by Halle Berry) and lethal touch Rogue (played by Anna Paquin). 

 

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However, they are all eclipsed in the comics by fanboy favorite bad girl, Emma Frost, who unfortunately would seem to have been one telepath too many for the original film trilogy (and perhaps too much like a blonde version of Jean Grey). Although the X-men themselves date back to 1963, she was a relatively late introduction in the comics in 1980, but rose to prominence as the White Queen of the chess-themed inner circle of the Hellfire Club, a mutant criminal fraternity with extreme wardrobe requirements to match its suggestive name. It was in her Hellfire Club persona that she featured in X-Men: First Class (played by January Jones, contrary to rumors of Alice Eve) along with the Black King, Sebastian Shaw (played by Kevin Bacon). Like many characters in the X-men (and indeed, bad girls in comics), she changed sides (but not her lingerie costume) to join the X-men, where she was so popular that writer Grant Morrison cloned her for five more versions as the Stepford Cuckoos. Because why not?

 

 

 

And she teaches a class of adolescents at Professor Xavier’s school, in her same Hellfire Club BDSM-themed lingerie, while somehow maintaining (dare I say it?) discipline, which alone would earn her a spot in the top ten. I wonder what the tuition fees are…?

 

 

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(7) WITCHBLADE (ANGELUS) (IMAGE / TOP COW 1995)

 

Witchblade originated as one of the signature ‘bad girl’ comics of the 1990’s. Published by Image Comics’ Top Cow Productions, the ‘Top Cow’ universe is a world like ours, but with an underworld of dark supernatural forces – and stunningly beautiful ‘bad girls’.

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However, the titular Witchblade is not a character. As the name suggests, it is a mystical and sentient artefact – in the shape of a gauntlet that forms a symbiotic bond with a female ‘host’, spreading over the body and shredding (or is that stripping?) clothes to form highly revealing ‘armour’ (as well as extensions such as blades or wings and other things) because…comics!

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The Witchblade (which is apparently ‘male’) has bonded with (or groped) various stunningly beautiful female figures throughout the ‘history’ of the Top Cow Universe, including crossover characters (such as Red Sonja and Lara Croft) and notable historical personages (such as Cleopatra and Joan of Arc). However, the primary host for the main narrative of the comic itself is NYPD homicide detective Sara Pezzini, who, in the usual style of comics, has the appearance of a glamour model

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There’s not too much cosplay of Witchblade, perhaps because she wears a glove and not much else.

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I stand corrected by cosplay model Christina Fink

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However, I do like this promotional movie poster – alas, the actual movie was not to be:

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Close runner-up is one of the other mystical artefacts in the Top Cow Universe – the Angelus. The Angelus is the primal but brutal force of light that bonds with women in its eternal running battle with its dark male counterpart, not surprisingly known as the Darkness (although apparently getting together with the Darkness at some point to produce the Witchblade as their offspring).

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Comics!

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The Angelus renders its female host into a glowing, golden angelic figure, with huge, ahem, horns and the appearance and demeanor somewhat like a centerfold on crack. Because, you know, comics!

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(6) LADY DEATH (PURGATORI) (CHAOS – COFFIN COMICS 1991)

 

Lady Death is the definitive comics ‘bad girl’ of the 1990’s. The ‘bad girl’ subgenre of comics was the female embodiment (and I mean embodiment) of the nineties antihero in what has been dubbed the Dark Age of comics – typically dark action girls or avengers, anti-heroic or villainous in nature, with supernatural or occult themes (commonly demons or demon hunters, vampires or vampire hunters, fallen or militant angels), armed and dangerous (preferably with blades or swords) and above all, voluptuously statuesque (with the most common superpower) and stripperiffic or scantily clad in clothing generally resembling fetish lingerie.

 

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Lady Death by writer Brian Pulido originated as an outright villainous figure, a ghostly pale beautiful female personification of death promising eternal love in exchange of omnicide (or killing everyone on Earth). Originally seeming just a sexy psychopathic hallucination, she subsequently took shape as an independent character, transformed accordingly from villain to more sympathetic anti-hero or hero. Her story has repeatedly changed as she has bounced back from one publisher to another, but her classic story was that of an innocent medieval girl, damned to hell by her father’s black magic, where she is transformed into a white demonic figure (and I mean figure) and rose through the ranks by infernal coup d’état against the Devil himself to wage war in hell. (Her original omnicidal motivation was retconned as the Devil’s last cuse that she could never return to Earth while the living walked – fortunately, her original direct solution to that problem was forgotten or subverted as she took a third option).

 

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Sadly, such a potentially promising story has been consistently let down by her plots, which mostly consisted of pin-up covers and catfights with other demon girls (lacking only splashing mud through hell). It is tempting to think what other writers might have made of her and all the possibilities of her mythic underworld setting (or settings) – Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore with their mythic sensibilities, Grant Morrison or Mark Millar with their subversive humor (which they applied to the similar Vampirella), Mike Carey with his play on infernal power politics. Hell, even Frank Miller would have offered up something interesting a la his anti-heroic Sin City  – or at least been outrageously fun about it.

 

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So alas – she might have ranked even higher, but she certainly earns her place in my top ten as befits any girl confident enough to wage war in hell (and rule it) in a g-string and high-heeled thigh-high boots…

 

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Honorable mention must also go to bad gal pal, Purgatory – Lady Death’s infernal nemesis, presumably fighting over the same outfit (as the supply of fetish lingerie is limited in hell…or is it? Not in my hell!). Whereas Lady Death defined the trend in 90’s ‘bad girl’ comics, Purgatori visually embodied it as devil girl pin-up – you don’t get more visually bad girl than that! Not just demon or vampire, she was both – a vampire queen from ancient Egypt (where else?), who was then transformed into demon queen of hell. With hells like these, who needs heaven?

 

 

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(5) VAMPIRELLA (PANTHA AND BLOOD RED QUEEN OF HEARTS)

(WARREN – DYNAMITE COMICS 1969)

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With her 1969 debut, Vampirella was the original classic ‘bad girl’ of comics, a precursor of the ‘bad girl’ style of comics in the 1990’s – and a precursor of that other modern fantasy figure, the good vampire (or ‘vampire with a soul’) who hunts other vampires, although with tongue firmly in cheek in Vampirella’s case.

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Cosplay by Christina Fink

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In her deliberately campy origin story, she is an alien vampire – part of a race that evolved on the planet Drakulon, a world in which the water was blood (just go with it, ok?) – and she is clearly a cut above Earth’s evil supernatural vampires when she is brought here by interstellar travelers, obviously packing only her holiday swimwear and boots.

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She has certainly been immortal ever since, albeit through different publishers and with an ever changing origin story – involving variations on the general theme that she is the daughter of the mythic Lilith and that Drakulon was actually part of Hell (which admittedly makes far more sense than the original planet of blood), but still a good vampire hunting demons or evil vampires.

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She has even had her pick of the top writers of comics – Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, Mike Carey, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Kurt Busiek – and even the occasional clothing over her traditional costume.

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She has become sufficiently iconic to be portrayed by live promotional models and even a cameo in-joke in television’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer – as Buffy scouts the lair of her fanboy adversaries in her sixth season, she briefly examines a small Vampirella figurine with quizzical distaste. Buffy vs Vampirella! Not bad for a vampire girl from Drakulon…

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Close-runners up are Vampirella ally and adversary respectively, Pantha and Blood Red Queen of Hearts.

 

Pantha is – what else? – a semi-divine immortal were-panther from – where else? – ancient Egypt (although this was retconned from her initial origin as an alien shapeshifter). She originally started in a somewhat adversarial relationship with Vampirella, not surprisingly given her more feral and violent nature, but then became an occasional ally. Even more – ah – curvaceous than Vampirella, Pantha is perhaps the only character with her body measurements actually quoted in the narrative – because comics!

 

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On the other hand, the Blood Red Queen of Hearts has consistently been an adversary of Vampirella – a recurring, immortal body-hopping villainess. Originally the Whore of Babylon and high priestess of the Cult of Chaos, her spirit was infused into a Queen of Hearts playing card, which magically possesses any woman who touches it and transforms her into the Blood Red Queen of Hearts (until her mortal body is completely worn out), hell-bent on collecting hearts for Chaos. (What do you expect in a story of a vampire alien girl from Drakulon fighting supernatural evil on Earth in her swimwear…?)

 

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(4) RED SONJA (MARVEL – DYNAMITE 1973)

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Red Sonja, the “she-devil with a sword” is your archetypal barbarian babe, the scantily-clad voluptuous warrior or sword maiden that has emerged as a stock figure in fantasy art, even down to her utterly impractical chainmail bikini – which more resembles swimwear or lingerie than anything offering any armoured protection in combat or utility as clothing.

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Not surprisingly, she has continued to show off her, ah, swordplay ever since her 1973 debut in Marvel Comics’ Conan the Barbarian, even earning her own title, somewhat like Xena to Conan’s Hercules. She was loosely based on an earlier character, Red Sonya, in a short story by Conan’s creator Robert E. Howard (but not one of his Conan stories)

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In her original incarnation, Red Sonja acquired her legendary skill in combat from the red goddess Scathach. Despite wearing no armor (since her chainmail bikini hardly counts as such), Sonja has fought her way through countless bloody battles and performed numerous death-defying feats while emerging virtually unscathed but for scratches or minor wounds – due to her uncanny fighting skill, superb athleticism and perhaps divine protection as chosen favorite of the goddess.

 

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I have a particular soft spot for her as an embattled fantasy figure, striving against numerous foes, symbolic of the battles of life itself – “Life is one long battle; we have to fight at every step…if we succeed, it is at the point of sword”.

 

 

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As for her famous chainmail bikini, Sonja has explained that it is deliberately provocative for good reason – “Men are easily distracted. Most of them never even notice my sword…until their heads roll off their necks”. Indeed.

 

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(3) HARLEY QUINN (DC 1993)

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I do like a hot slice of crazy, so of course I like the pin-up girl for crazed co-dependency, Harley Quinn (formerly – and conveniently for her alias – Dr Harleen Quinzel). She actually originated in the Batman animated television series (Batman: The Animated Series) in 1992 as the Joker’s accomplice and girlfriend (both of which are of course distinctly hazardous to health), but then proved so popular she was imported into the comics in the following year. And of course, while Suicide Squad may have been, ahem, an average film at best, Harley’s cinematic incarnation by Margot Robbie certainly made her more well known to the general public and hence earned her the third top spot.

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Although her cinematic costume is now the one most known to the general public, Harley Quinn has had a dazzlingly diverse range of costumes in various media – comics, television and video games as well as film.

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And that's not all of them...

And that’s not all of them…

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Harley Quinn originated as a psychiatric intern at Arkham Asylum, who became fascinated (and falls madly in love) with its most infamous inpatient, the Joker. Although the Joker does seem to have some feelings for her, this relationship is as abusive and unhealthy as one might expect with the insane Clown Prince of Crime.

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She has a much more healthy relationship, ironically enough, with Poison Ivy, one of the latter’s few enduring human relationships. (Ivy genuinely cares for Harley, particularly because of the latter’s abusive relationship with the Joker). Whatever her relationships, Harley Quinn has proved an endearing and enduring character in Batman. After all, who else could get away with calling the Joker “Pudding” and live…?

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And particularly since her cinematic incarnation, she has proved a popular subject for cosplay, although predominantly in her cinematic costume

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Perhaps a little too popular…? But then, too much Harley is barely enough.

 

 

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(2) CATWOMAN (DC 1940)

 

No surprises here – Batman’s feline fatale Selina Kyle or Catwoman is one of the original bad girls of comics. Catwoman has been one of Batman’s more titillating adversaries, with her nine lives of costume changes and accessories, most notably her whip or cat-o’nine tails – indeed, Catwoman has had a dazzlingly diverse array of costumes since her debut in 1940.

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The nine lives of Catwoman...

The nine lives of Catwoman…

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Her criminal tastes limited to upmarket cat-burglary, she has oscillated between hero and villain, but is sadly yet to substitute for Robin.

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Perhaps most memorably clad in a shimmering skin-tight black catsuit, she was even more memorable in her film and television incarnations (as well as one of my earliest childhood crushes), most notably by Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt in the camp television series;

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by Michelle Pfeiffer (albeit in an uncharacteristically blonde Catwoman moment) in the Tim Burton cinematic version;

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and Anne Hathaway in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight cinematic trilogy.

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Of course, that standard comics catsuit renders cosplay straightforward (and versatile too, as with a few trimmings or accessories it can double for other characters, such as Marvel’s carbon copy Black Cat, or Black Widow for that matter), but even so Catwoman cosplayers still stand out from the crowd.

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She is Catwoman, hear her roar – MEOW!

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(1) WONDER WOMAN (DC 1941)

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Could there be any doubt? There can be only one – Wonder Woman. The top position has to go to THE most famous, THE most iconic and THE most durable superheroine in comics – with a story drawn from classical mythology and in publication since her 1941 debut as a classic comics ‘good girl’.

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Visually striking – blue-eyed, raven-haired and voluptuous in her patriotic star-spangled lingerie, with her golden lariat of truth and her bullet-deflecting bracelets – the Amazon Princess Diana of Themyscira (to use her formal title) has loomed large in popular culture. She was created by American psychologist William Moulton Marston, who also invented the polygraph lie detector – something which was also manifested in Wonder Woman’s lariat of truth, although it goes one step further by compelling those it lassoed to tell the truth.

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Her lasso also originated in Marston’s keen interest in – ah – bondage, which also manifested itself in the recurring bondage theme of his Wonder Woman comics. Perhaps not the most auspicious theme for a character who was to prove a symbol of female empowerment and a feminist icon – but it was more than counterbalanced by Marston’s ideal for the character, as a “feminine character with all the strength of Superman, plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman” (not to mention the influence of Marston’s female collaborators, his wife Elizabeth and Olivia Byrne).

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So she is as powerful a superhero as Superman, and to be quite frank, less of a pacifist pussy about it – and much more of a badass when it comes to doing what it takes to get the job done (and saving Superman’s ass). Whereas Superman professes to be overwhelmingly concerned with being “good” or “truth, justice and the American way”, in practice this simply amounts to mincing around like a useless pansy with a code against killing (which is total crap by the way, because he – like Batman – does break it, except, you know, someone like the Joker or Lex Luthor). When the villain Maxwell Lord was mind-controlling Superman into trying to kill Batman and then Wonder Woman herself, she showed her true strength of character – first by being beyond Lord’s mind control in the first place, and secondly by doing everything possible to stop Lord some other way, until Lord himself revealed under compulsion from her lariat of truth that the only way to stop his mind-control of Superman was to kill him. So she did. The end, or it should have been, as it put her at odds with both Batman and Superman, who saw her as a cold-blooded killer – well you can take your Justice League boys club and shove it, as she just saved your asses, Supes and Bats.

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Needless to say, she is one of the most popular subjects for cosplay.

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Anyway, along with Catwoman, she was my other earliest childhood crush, and she loomed even larger in popular culture by her television incarnation, famously played by the statuesque Lynda Carter:

“Wonder Woman! Wonder Woman!

All the world is waiting for you and the power you possess

In your satin tights, fighting for your rights

And the old red, white and blue!”

The absence of a film incarnation merely showed the cultural bankruptcy of Hollywood – until finally, after oh, seventy years or so, she has been portrayed by Gal Gadot on the big screen

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