A Chronological Look at 13 Classic Comic Heroines

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Shannon Donnelly over at the The Daily Beast recently put together a list of the greatest female action heroes of the small screen. As these women all owe something to comic book heroines who’ve been fighting both physical and political battles on the page since Fletcher Hanks’ Fantomah was born back in 1940, we’ve decided to round up 12 essential characters who’ve contributed the most to the cause.

A brief disclaimer: Please consider that when many of these comics were created, they were exclusively aimed at men. Boys. Teenage boys. So yeah, grain of salt. And if we missed your favorite heroine, add to our list in the comments.

Disclaimer out of the way, our first heroine is quite the awesome figure. Created by William Moulton Marston in 1941 as a response to the dearth of strong female characters, Wonder Woman has it all. Her mythology goes back to the Greeks — she’s an Amazon. Her powers start simply (flight, speed, strength, etc.) but she can also commune with animals and use her lasso to force people to tell the truth and her bracelets are indestructible because they’re made from Athena’s shield. You get it. She rules. As feminist icons go, WW is on par with Rosie the Riveter.

Because, as we all know, two straight dudes who fight crime might share a bond deeper than partnership, and there’s really nothing like the “threat” of homosexuality in comics to spur creation of several female characters, Batman needed some ladies. Enter Batwoman (circa 1958), the Caped Crusader’s love interest, and her sidekick Batgirl (who first appeared in 1961), who hooked up with Robin. Though they began as two-dimensional characters, Batgirl survived longer in the series — there have been, in fact, six Batgirls. Our favorite is Dr. Barbara “Babs” Gordon, daughter of Police Commissioner Gordon.

Andromeda, also known as Laurel Gand, was created as a replacement for Supergirl in 1990, but is still the female answer to Superman. Originating from Daxam, a planet near Krypton, the yellow sun of the earth gives her the multiplying powers of her male counterpart, except that her powers are nullified by lead, not Kryptonite. Andromeda played many roles in the DC Comics universe, but just faded away after the Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis warped time in about 341 ways.

First appearing as Marvel Girl in 1963, Jean Grey’s main purpose was to be the central, almost mother figure, of the X-Men franchise. She was the wife of Cyclops, illicit love interest of Wolverine, a student to Charles Xavier, and a friend of Storm’s — and she had a lot of other ancillary relationships, too. Though she went through a dramatic transformation — into Phoenix, then into Dark Phoenix — Jean Grey is best remembered as the mysterious telepathic, telekinetic fulcrum of the X-Men force.

We all know Storm’s ability is controlling and summoning weather, but her appearance in 1975 marked the first role for a black female in comic book history. And what a role! Storm has appeared in almost every issue X-Men and nearly all of the movies, video games and other ephemera to spring from the comic. Also, she can fly, and that will never not be awesome.

Jennifer Walters, or She-Hulk, was created by Stan Lee back in 1980 to stop TV producers from introducing a female Hulk against which Lou Ferrigno might act. She-Hulk, not surprisingly, grew into her own entity. She defends justice everywhere – as a lawyer and as a member of several hero teams. We love the above picture, where She-Hulk looks casual and supremely powerful over the oafish male counterparts.

Working mainly with her trademark sai and martial arts, Elektra, who was created by Frank Miller in 1981, is a surprising combination of Greek woman and Kunoichi, a ninja assassin. While her mythology is a little confusing, she is one of the most notorious mercenaries in the Marvel Universe. Elektra appears mostly as a heroine, not a villain, and is usually opposite Daredevil, a love interest and frequent partner in fighting crime and evil (perpetrated by the Kingpin).

Whatever you think you learned from the movies, Rogue — who was created by author Chris Claremont and artist Michael Golden in 1981 — was originally a villain, not a member of the X-men (she would eventually join the gang). Her ability to absorb the skills, thoughts and powers of other mutants and people make her well-suited for the job. Though the Mississippi native grew out of her phase in the evil Brotherhood of Mutants, her transition to the X-men was not smooth. (She did share a kiss with Wolverine, but that was because she got shot by a laser and he has healing powers… or something.)

Silk Spectre II is the female heroine of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, which was introduced in 1986 and is frequently praised as the best graphic novel of all time. Her depiction is thoughtful and subdued, especially for a comic book — she’s human, after all.

Tank Girl, who first appeared in 1988, is the filthiest, nastiest, meanest heroine. And that’s why we love her. She became a major figure in Riot Grrrl and amateur anarchy circles. Her misadventures earned her a cult following that started in the UK, but expanded when the (admittedly terrible) movie exposed her to an international audience. If the illustrations look familiar it’s because the artist Jamie Hewlett went on to draw the Gorillaz with Damon Albarn.

Created by Daniel Clowes in 1993, Ghost World‘s Enid Coleslaw is the anti-hero of suburban ennui. Excepting her friend Rebecca, Enid hates just about everyone in their small American town. She’s funny, sharp, dark, but filled with angst and confusion about what her life should be. That’s a difficult question when you’re 18 and you don’t really care about anything.

Echo is in the same breakthrough vein as Storm, though not quite so grand. Introduced by David Mack and Joe Quesada in 1999, she’s a Hispanic Native American, a deaf woman, and as her name might indicate, quite the copycat. Echo’s ability is exactly mimicking the movements of others — especially the acrobatics of her boyfriend Matt Murdock, who she later discovers is Daredevil (who gets around apparently). Echo is one of the more emotional comic book characters, though never in a bad way. The path from Maya Lopez to Echo begins when her dying father leaves a bloody hand-print on his daughter’s face and she sets out for revenge.