Aside from a few independent books, comics have traditionally been an all-boys club. In the past, female characters were most often relegated into the category of damsel in distress or scantily clad bad-ass. Today, things have changed. Girls have joined the boys on the comic book playground and the comic world is slowly starting to reflect that change. Now, there are more great female characters than ever in comic history. Let’s take a look at my top 10…
Bad girls gone good are a dime a dozen in the comic world so I could have added any number of them to this list. Catwoman takes the lead though simply because she is one of the few female characters in comicdom that could run toe-to-toe with the Batman. When she first appeared in ‘Batman’ #1 in 1940, she was simply ‘The Cat’ and didn’t wear her now trademark outfit. As time progressed, Catwoman underwent multiple character changes and overhauls, including having her origin re-written in Frank Miller’s influential ‘Batman: Year One’. She has evolved from a simple cat burglar to almost a hero at times. Despite all these changes, one thing has remained constant. Selina Kyle is one of strongest women in the DC Universe.
9. Frau Totenkinder (Fables)
Bill Willingham’s Vertigo series ‘Fables’ has no shortage of strong female characters but none so amazing powerful or interesting as Frau Totenkinder. When the Fables, characters once believed to exist only in myth and story, escape a war in their own world and come to Earth, all evil characters are given a full pardon from their past crimes. Frau Totenkinder, who is really the unnamed witch in most every story mankind has ever heard, takes full advantage of the situation. She becomes advisor to the ruling parties of Fabletown and the virtual leader of all magic-users in the Fable community. From her cozy room on the 13th floor of the Woodlands government building, Totenkinder manipulates events, provides favors to those in power, and eventually confesses to Sheriff Beast that she has been running the show like a chess game against her opponent, The Adversary, who began the war in their world. I have a fondness for powerful ancient characters and Frau Totenkinder is almost the oldest and most powerful lady on this list.
8. Mary Jane Watson
“Face it Tiger… You just hit the jackpot!” When Mary Jane made her first full appearance in ‘Amazing Spider-Man’ #42, she delivered one of the most iconic opening lines of any character in comics. Mary Jane began as a love interest for Spider-Man/Peter Parker, eventually becoming his wife. Not content to be the damsel-in-distress, Mary Jane was one of the few constants in Peter Parker’s life until that all changed with 2007’s ‘One More Day’. In that storyline, which was derided by many comic fans, Mary Jane proved her strength when she gave up her marriage and more to save the life of Peter’s Aunt May and give Spidey’s secret identity back so that Peter and his closest friends and family would be safe. Her unwavering faith that her love for Peter would overcome Mephisto’s magical manipulations caused more than one fanboy to shed a tear. It has yet to be seen if Mary Jane’s faith was unfounded.
7. Susan Storm
Being the only female member of the world’s greatest superhero family isn’t easy, yet Sue Storm has more than proven herself up to the task time and time again. She’s wife to one of the smartest men in existence and mother to children that are living up to their genius family name. She’s saved the universe on more occasions than most other Marvel characters can boast. Yet what makes Sue Storm different than most female characters on this list is that she is not only a great hero but a loving mother and caring wife as well. She is the heart of the ever-growing Future Foundation family and often the voice of reason in both her family as well as the extended Marvel Universe.
6. Kitty Pryde
When teenager Kitty Pryde first appeared in the Chris Claremont ‘X-Men’ tales of the early 80s, she went by the unfortunate codename Sprite. She was often stuck playing sidekick to more established characters, most notably Wolverine. Since then, she has defeated aliens, mutant, and monsters. She had one of comics’ greatest romances with Colossus. Now grown and going by the name Shadowcat, Kitty has matured into a great character, a hero in her own right, and one of the X-Men’s key members.
Speaking of X-Men… no list like this would be complete with out Storm. As a character, Storm broke boundaries by being one of the strongest African American characters in the comic world and one of the few starring in a flagship comic title. Storm is one of the most powerful mutants on Earth with her power to control the elemental power of the weather. She is also one of the strongest and most well-rounded female characters in comics. Born Ororo Monroe, Storm has been a pickpocket, a goddess, a world traveler, a princess and leader of the X-Men.
4. The Question (Renee Montoya)
The character of Renee Montoya was originally created for Bruce Timm’s classic ‘Batman: The Animated Series’. She began as a partner for Gotham cop Harvey Bullock. She was an awesome character in that role but she’s since grown, changed, and become even moreso. During her time on the force, she took down some of Gotham’s greatest villains including Two-Face who outed her as a lesbian before framing her for murder. Eventually, Montoya left the Gotham City PD, disgusted with the corruption she saw within the organization. During DC’s ‘52’, she became friends with Vic Sage, the original Question who begins training her to take his place. When Vic dies of lung cancer, Renee reluctantly takes up the Question mantle. I never thought I’d like a new Question but DC has proven me wrong with Montoya’s version. I hope she still exists after the ‘New 52’ relaunch because I’d love to see The Question get her own book.
3. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is one of the first, most enduring, and definitely one of the most recognizable female characters in comic history. Psychologist William Moulton Marston, who also invented one of the precursors to the lie detector, created Wonder Woman in 1941 to offset the glut of male superheroes that was dominating the comic book world. Wonder Woman’s origins and powers have changed over time but one thing has remained constant. She is the epitome of the strong female superhero. She’s battled gods, villains, governments, and her own inner demons and now stands alongside Superman and Batman as the only female in the “big three” of the DC Universe.
2. Death (Sandman)
When award-winning author Neil Gaiman (Coraline, American Gods) created The Endless in the pages of Vertigo’s ‘Sandman’, he invented one of most wonderfully envisioned mythologies in the literary world. The seven beings known as The Endless are the embodiment of the various facets of mankind. They are Dream, Desire, Despair, Delirium, Destiny, Destruction, and Death. In stroke of genius, Gaiman envisioned Death not as the obvious grim reaper but as a cute goth girl with a sad smile on her face and a perk in her step. During the ‘Sandman’ series, Death was a constant voice of reason to her younger brother Dream. She has had several of her own spin-off mini-series including one of my favorite books of all time: ‘Death: The High Cost of Living’. In this series, Death is allowed to visit earth as a mortal for one day. During her time among the living, she helps a young near-suicidal kid realize the beauty and joys of life. It is that juxtaposition of happiness and gloom that have made Death one of the greatest comic book characters ever printed on the four-color page.
1. Barbara Gordon
It’s easy to be strong when you’re a super-powered mutant or god but how one deals with real life catastrophes is the true test of strength. When Barbara Gordon first appeared in 1967, she was Batgirl, a costumed crime fighter and the female counterpart to Batman. As Batgirl, Barbara fought crime for over two decades alongside Batman, Robin, and the rest of the extended Bat-family. Her career in tights came to a crashing end in Alan Moore’s influential ‘The Killing Joke’ (1988) when the Joker shot her through the spine, leaving her a paraplegic and wheelchair bound. She’d defeated countless criminals as Batgirl, but it was what she did next that proved her strength and earns her the number one spot on my list. Rather than giving up her fight on crime, Barbara used her computer expertise to become Oracle. As Oracle, Barbara became the all-seeing, all-knowing, coordinator and source of information to nearly all the heroes of Gotham City. She returned as a supporting character to Gotham’s heroes before moving into her own comic series as part of the ‘Birds of Prey’. Alone in the dark with her computer, Barbara Gordon became one of the most fascinating characters in the DC Universe. Next month, she is making history again in DC’s ‘New 52’ when she makes her controversial return to the role of Batgirl.
That’s it, gang! A list like this is purely subjective so I’m sure I left out some of your favorites. Heck! I trimmed my list from nearly thirty down to this final ten! Now it’s time for you to chime in. Head below to the comments and voice up. Tell us: Who are your favorite female characters in comics?