It seems strange to write of women as a minority. After all, women make up 52% of the Earth’s population. We include women on our list because they have been neglected a great deal in the history of comics. It was not always this way however. At one point women were the main audience of comics. Pulp comics featured tough and strong women. They were competent, interesting and ready to solve their own dilemmas. This changed as pulp comics went out and superhero comics came into popularity. Women were excluded from the role of hero. They were often given the roles of mothers, girlfriends or victims. The Comic Code Authority had strict regulations regarding the appropriate roles of women. They were to be secondary characters without emphasis.
As time went on the comic book industry struggled to improve women’s roles. In the beginning they were often tokenized as the singular woman on a superhero team. As feminism influenced the roles of women in comics, superheroines became more and more powerful. Things were not perfect though. Women were still hypersexualized. Women of color, women with disabilities and women in same-sex relationships were still ignored. Evidence of comic book sexism was made famous by Gail Simone’s Women In Refrigerators. Gail Simone showed a pattern of depowering and killing female superheroes. Comics will continue to improve the portrayal of women as more and more women edit, write and create art for comics. We have tried to include some of the women who have broken barriers in the comic book world.
Warren Publishing, Harris Publication, Dynamite Entertainment
Appears in Vampirella
First Appearance: 1969
We start the list off with a controversial entry. Vampirella is one of the best known women in horror comics. She is the daughter of Lilith and one kick ass vampire. She lives by her own moral codes and she seems very much at peace with her own existence. However, she is incredibly sexualized. But she’s a vampire and vampires tend to be sexualized in the modern era. So the debate is this: can Vampirella be sexualized by men while also being a feminist icon? Is it ok that she was created by a male writer? Does that somehow lessen her ability to be a strong kickass female horror icon? We debated adding her but in the end we think she is a perfect addition to this list. She is a strong woman who takes charge of her own sexuality. She is also one of the only women to ever hold her own in horror comics. So Vampirella, we salute you!
Appears in She-Hulk, The Avengers, Hulk
First Appearance: 1980
Like many early takes on female superheroes, She-Hulk is kinda the “girl-version” of the Hulk. She is, of course, Bruce Banner’s cousin. She was created due to the popularity of the Hulk TV show. Marvel was afraid that the writers of the show would try to create a female version of the Hulk so they did it first. After being shot by mobsters, She-Hulk was rushed to the hospital. The only donor available was her cousin Bruce. So she got his radioactive blood and became the She-Hulk we know and love. And she loves being She-Hulk. In her everyday normal life, she is shy and timid. Being She-Hulk gives her the freedom to be a badass superhero. So she stays in her She-Hulk form. She-Hulk’s mutation empowers her. And she actively chooses to retain her She-Hulk. She is also a lawyer and legally represents several comic characters. A badass geeky lawyer who throws people when she’s pissed. That seems like someone we know at Den of Geek…
Appears in Batman, Catwoman, Gotham City Sirens
First Appearance: 1940
Catwoman is one the most iconic women in Batman. She is a kickass anti-hero who has created a huge fanbase in her own seventy-year run. She’s been played by beauties like Eartha Kitt, Julie Newmar, Michelle Pfeiffer and in her latest incarnation, Anne Hathaway. But she’s always the same. Classy, sexy and teasing Batman. Catwoman walks a very fine line between being a villain and a hero. It makes her character complicated and is probably why she has had such an enduring impact. We are never sure if she is Batman’s enemy, lover or companion. And that’s ok. She doesn’t have to be defined by Batman. That’s exactly why she deserves a place on our list. She is also one of the oldest female characters on our list. Good for you Catwoman!
Appears in X-Men, X-Factor, Ultimate X-Men
First Appearance: 1963
You can almost follow the history of women in comics by looking at Jean Grey. She starts off as the token girl in X-Men. Not too powerful and the love interest of Cyclops. She was known as Marvel Girl and didn’t carry a strong identity. It isn’t until the Phoenix Saga that Jean Grey really starts to kick some ass. She dies as Marvel Girl and is reborn as Phoenix. Sure, she dabbles with some evil as Dark Phoenix, but we’ve all had those moments right? We love that she is elevated from a teenager learning her way around her powers to an unstoppable force of nature. Suddenly her fellow X-Men take her very seriously. She is easily one of the most powerful women in the X-Universe. Her psychic abilities surpass Professor X’s and her telekinesis is nothing to mess around with. We also really appreciate that she asks Cyclops to marry her. It just exemplifies that she is a woman who defines her own life and lives by her own rules. We only wish X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) had done her and her most famous storyline some justice.
6. Silk Spectre I (Sally Jupiter)
Appears in Watchmen, Before Watchmen
First Appearance: 1986
We chose to include Sally Jupiter and not her daughter for a number of reasons. We feel that Sally Jupiter represents a very complicated, flawed and beautiful hero. She is a contradiction in many ways: she loves her daughter, but she also smothers her. She is assaulted by The Comedian and also has consensual sex with him. She flaunts her sexuality yet blames herself for being assaulted. She’s confident but insecure. She is one of the most fully human female characters in comics. Her status as a rape survivor is interesting and perhaps one of the most complicated parts of her character. And she is one of the very few women in comics to have this kind of story told. And it makes her character a powerful reminder of the real experiences of women.
Appears in Persepolis
First Appearance: 2000
Persepolis is one of the best written graphic novels ever created. It is an autobiographical account of Marjane Satrapi’s childhood and young adulthood in post-revolutionary Iran. It is her coming of age story of life before and after the revolution. It is a powerful graphic novel and, while it is not “superhero” related, we think she is one hell of a badass. She examines her cultural identity and how that identity is changed when the revolution comes about. She is often at odds with the culture and what they expect her to be. She wants to be her own woman and to find her own place in society. She finds herself continually oppressed: she is denied access to an education, freedom of movement and freedom of speech. It is symbolized by her conflicted feelings regarding the veil. We love this graphic novel because she is a hero. And her journey is just as heroic as any crime fighter.
4. Batgirl (Barbara Gordon)
Appears in Batman, Birds of Prey, Batgirl
First Appearance: 1967
We adore Batgirl. Not only is she one of the coolest ladies in the Batman Universe, she is also incredibly intelligent and techno-savvy. We discussed her previously in our Minorities in Comics: Characters with Disabilities and how we love her portrayal as Oracle. Batgirl gave female Batman readers a character to relate to. She’s powerful without being hypersexualized. This is a very rare thing in the comic book universe. And we love how incredibly smart and clever she is. She is often outdoing Batman. She is one of the most iconic women in the Batman Universe.
Appears in X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, Black Panther
We had to talk about Storm again! She is one of the most powerful women in X-Men and certainly one of the most iconic. She has appeared in almost every version of X-Men and we love her. What is there not to love about a woman who can control the weather? She has been worshipped as a goddess, led the X-Men and has served as a badass role model for Black women. She is smart, wise, and fierce. She is calm, cool and collected until you piss her off. Then, you had best just watch out.
2. Tank Girl
Appears in Tank Girl
First Appearance: 1988
What could possibly be better than a punk, tank-riding, kangaroo boinking badass? The author of this article isn’t sure if he is in love with Tank Girl or if he wants to BE Tank Girl. After all, just look at her! Her punk fashion is completely out of control. She doesn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks of her. And that’s exactly why we love her. She gives the finger to traditional female roles in comics. She is a Queer icon that became popular during the conservative reign of Margaret Thatcher. Tank Girl seemed to stick up her middle finger at the prudery of the age. She represented everything about the feminist punk counterculture. And that’s why she is in our number two position.
1. Wonder Woman
Appears in Wonder Woman, Justice League of America, Superman
First Appearance: 1941
Everything that could possibly be said about Wonder Woman has likely already been said. She’s a feminist icon. One of the very first female superheroes to be both powerful and feminine. Her feminine articles (tiara, etc.) are her weapons. And that’s what we love about her. It’s ok that she’s feminine. She is also powerful. And the two go wonderfully hand in hand. And we could think of no other woman who deserved the number one spot. Wonder Woman paved the way for other women to make appearances in comic books. She proved that women could carry their own storylines, television series and could draw in both male and female audiences. She’s an Amazon for crying out loud! How could you not worship the lady?
Honorable Mentions: Harley Quinn, Lois Lane, Black Widow