At a recent “Women in Comics” panel at New York Comic Con, Alpha Girl Comics founder Amy Chu pointed out that Wall Street was doing a better job of closing the gender gap than the comic book industry. Perhaps this seems like an outlandish claim, but illustrator Becky Cloonan also revealed during the panel that, although 40 percent of NYCC’s attendees are women, only six percent of its special guests are female. This is not a negligible gap.
You don’t need to do any calculations to notice that, while there have been a spate of comic book movies in the last few years, those movies have all been rather male-centric. Instead of asking the question, “Why is it so damn hard to make a female superhero movie?” (there are too many irritating reasons to list), let’s celebrate a few of the women who do exist in superhero comics — and who deserve both our recognition and some screen time.
If you’ve heard of one female comic book hero, it’s probably Wonder Woman. She’s one-third of DC Comics’ The World’s Finest Trinity (other members: Batman and Superman), has been using her Lasso of Truth since WWII, and starred in a ‘70s television series. Though The CW has a Wonder Woman adaptation called Amazon slated for release in 2014, Diana Prince is the obvious choice for any future superhero movies. Um, remind us again, why hasn’t she had one yet?
Superhero names that end in -girl sound inherently infantilizing, but the character of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl is an undeniable rebel. When her father Commissioner Gordon won’t let her join the police force, she decides to fight crime in Gotham City on her own time. In addition to her wicked computer and forensic psychology skills (STEM is cool, y’all) and her Batcycle and Batarangs, Batgirl is currently being written by awesome female comic book writers like Gail Simone and Marguerite Bennett.
The current Black Canary took over crime-fighting duties for her mother, the original Black Canary and one of the founding members and sometimes-chairwoman of the Justice League. Now Black Canary is a part of the rad female crime-fighting team composed of bird-themed superheroes Birds of Prey, of which she’s also been the leader. Three cheers for women in leadership positions!
Captain Marvel (previously Ms. Marvel)
While Carol Danvers was first introduced as Ms. Marvel, she has recently taken on the name Captain Marvel, a more commanding — not to mention gender-neutral — name. With a background in the military and CIA, Danvers was designed to be a counterpart to Captain America. But more importantly, she challenges him when he oversteps his bounds. Which is oh-so-very necessary sometimes.
Raven is every goth kid’s favorite superhero. The offspring of a human mother and an inter-dimensional demon father, she was raised in an alternate dimension that helped her learn how to control her emotions. Thankfully, her sardonic wit remains firmly intact. Though Raven was rejected by the Justice League of America, she helped create an iteration of the Teen Titans. And the Teen Titans eventually got their own popular animated TV show on Cartoon Network. So there.
Like with many heroines on this list, being a superhero is basically just another family business for Natasha Irons. When her uncle Steel gets injured, she takes on his name and duties, and dons her own steel armor. Over time she gets embroiled with Lex Luthor, undergoes major superpower power shifts, and takes on the names Starlight and Vaporlock — while she’s still just a teenager.
The Runaways girls
No, this isn’t that Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning movie. The Runaways are a group of teens who run away from home after they watch their families murder and sacrifice an innocent girl for ritual purposes. They soon learn that their families have kept a slew of secrets from them: one of the girls discovers she’s part alien, another that she’s a mutant, etc. The group is predominantly female, super-sassy, and the stuff of teen-girl fantasies.
Elektra is pretty much the only female superhero who’s gotten her own movie in semi-recent years. (Jennifer Garner played her in the eponymous 2005 movie, which was mainly a spin-off vehicle for Daredevil.) Well-trained in martial arts, Elektra spent years as an assassin and bounty hunter for hire. Needless to say, girl is tough, even when she’s wearing pretty much no meaningful protection.
Hawkeye (Kate Bishop)
Like all the ladies on this list, Kate Bishop kicks ass, but it’s her personal background that really makes her character. Although parts of her story follow the typical rich-girl narrative, Kate starts training after being attacked and raped in Central Park — and dealing with feeling safe or unsafe as a woman would never be covered in your typical comic book plotline.
OK, OK. Burka Avenger technically didn’t spring up from a comic book, but she’s a cartoon superhero too awesome not to include. The Burka Avenger is really a Pakistani teacher named Jiya who, in the first episode of her show, uses books, pens, and martial arts to keep bad guys from shutting down girls’ schools in her city. Seriously, beat that kind of heroism.