Tag Archives: where the wonder women are

Where the Wonder Women Are: #35 Big Barda

Big barda YayWhen I first met Scott and Barda Free, they were living a life of domestic bliss, occasionally punctuated by explosions and the other side effects of having a superhero in the family. Scott went off to his day job as Mister Miracle, stage escapologist and member of the Justice League International, and Barda stayed home to do the housework.

The twist was, if she wanted to bench press the house, she pretty much could.

This era is often panned by Barda fans, and I can see why – she’s a mighty space warrior, acting out a slightly less sexist (but only slightly) version of Bewitched, with no apparent desires beyond a simple, gender essentialist life as a housewife. She’s often reduced to the role of Her Indoors, hosting a barbecue for Scott and his superhero friends, or nagging him about getting home in time.

When she finally does strap her space armour back on and go into battle, it’s to rescue her husband rather out of a general sense of identity or completion. It could certainly be argued that from a character point of view her, identity revolves entirely around rescuing her husband. Which is… both problematic and awesome? Problamatawesome?

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #34 Molly Hayes/Bruiser of the Runaways

Okay, I have another favourite. Don’t tell Gert! But how can you not love an eleven-year-old who goes by the superhero name Bruiser?

Well, she was Princess Powerful first, but even that is pretty awesome.

Molly is the one element of the Runaways series which makes it a far more morally crunchy story, and helps to take some of the potentially romantic gloss off the running away plot. When the teens discover that their parents are evil – and not just a bit evil, but probably going to sacrifice all of us in their bid to rule the world evil – their first moral quandary is what to do about Molly. She’s one of them, she has to be, but they are all in their mid to late teens, and while running away isn’t a choice they take lightly, it feels like the responsible thing to do.

Choosing to take the eleven-year-old from her parents raises all of the stakes, and a great deal of tension in the story comes from the part that this ragtag bunch of teenagers have dragged the far more innocent Molly along with them. It doesn’t help that Molly doesn’t believe in the evil of their parents, isn’t entirely sure why they are on the run anyway, and pretty much thinks everything is a big fun game.

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #33 Gertrude Yorkes of the Runaways

When I first read my way through Runaways, I enjoyed all the characters from whip-smart Alex and doofy but sweet Chase to the troubled, angsty Nico and the even more troubled, even more angsty Karolina. I loved the feisty little girl that was Molly Hayes, too.

But Gert got me where I live.

You don’t see fat girls in comics very often. You don’t even see average-sized girls, most of the time. The occasional not-stick-thin figure and She-Hulk’s wider than average shoulders are usually the best you can hope for.

But Gert is chubby. She’s round. And she’s pissed off. Her hair is dyed purple, she wears glasses, she’s both Jewish and agnostic, she’s a socialist, she’s snarky as hell and she has HER OWN DINOSAUR. When they are choosing names for themselves so as to distance themselves from their parents, she chooses Arsenic, purely so she can call her dinosaur Old Lace.

[many many spoilers follow]

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Where the Wonder Women Are #32: Karolina Dean of the Runaways

So you think your teen years were tough. Karolina is an alien AND a lesbian. When she and her fellow Runaways discover that their parents are all evil, she has rather more to take in than the rest of them because of the sudden revelation that instead of being the daughter of two famous Hollywood celebrities, she is in far the daughter of two solar-powered alien invaders.

On the bright side, she can fly and shoot rainbows out of her skin. So there’s that!

When we first meet Karolina, she appears to be every bit the stereotype of a Californian blonde – remember Dawn from the Babysitters Club? Karolina is a bit of a hippy, a vegan, a flawless beauty, and the sort of person who generally believes the best of people.

This is a bit of a problem because unlike the other kids, she misses the moment when their parents sacrifice an innocent girl, and then struggles to take their word for it. Later, when the Runaways decide to ransack their various family homes to collect evidence as to the wrongdoings of their parents, Karolina finds a message she is supposed to read in the event of her parents’ deaths: she is to remove the medical alert bracelet she has worn her whole life.

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Where the Wonder Women Are #31 Nico Minoru & the Runaways

Consider this Runaways Week in the Where the Wonder Women Are Universe!

Just when I thought I understood comics, and the Marvel Universe in particular, Runaways came along to shake up my perceptions. The original self-contained Volume of 18 issues (2003-2004), created by Brian K Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, is an edgy teen paranormal story about six kids who have to entertain each other once a year when their parents gather for a secret meeting… and finally discover the horrible truth that their parents are in fact “the Pride,” a group of criminal magicians, super-villains, aliens and so on.

The kids go on the run, in a story that feels far more like a Scott Westerfeld novel than a comic, except for the fact that they are grounded in the Marvel Universe – characters such as Cloak and Dagger and even Captain America cross their paths from time to time, and ultimately it is superheroes who are responsible for the resolution of the story and the “happy ending” temporarily created for the runaways (which they ultimately reject because superheroes, what do they know about real life?).

But for the most part, despite the universe they belong to, the Runaways of the original series are in their own genre, telling their own story. They’re not out to save the world or fight for justice – they just want to escape the fate that their evil parents have in store for them. And along the way they discover their own innate powers or gifts: one of them is a mage, one a mutant, one an alien, one has a telepathic connection to a dinosaur, one has his father’s futuristic tech-gloves, and so on.
It’s not a happy story, but these misfits form a fractured and dysfunctional family group to replace what they have lost. Right up to the point that they discover that one of their own is every bit as evil as their parents…

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #30 Maya

This teen super heroine stems from the period (1993-94) when Justice League Europe transitioned into the second incarnation of Justice League International, and made a serious attempt to be actually globally representative with the team, rather than filling it with mostly Americans and a couple of token “exotic” members. The JLE moved from their Paris Embassy to a haunted castle somewhere in London (handy for the shops) and while they lost the management of the competent Catherine Cobert, Sue Dibny made a very good replacement. Sue had joined the JLE as the wife of Elongated Man, and soon took over the computer and communications systems as her regular job, freeing the others up to actually fight crime.

The new JLE/JLI that set up home in England included Aquaman of Atlantis, Power Girl of Ancient Atlantis (this was the period when they were pretending she wasn’t Superman’s cousin), Crimson Fox of Paris, Tasmanian Devil of Australia, Dr Light of Japan, and occasionally even included British superhero Lionheart. And of course a handful of American male superheroes too (wouldn’t be a superhero book without them): Elongated Man, the Flash and Metamorpho.

The team also acquired a teenage runaway from India, Chandi Gupta. This frightened thirteen-year-old found her way to the JLE castle in the hopes they could help her deal with the water and fire powers that had come upon her with the onset of puberty. Chandi, who took the name Maya for superhero purposes, could transform into an older and more controlled version of herself, whose weapon of choice was to form a bow and arrow from either mystical water or mystical flame.

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #29 Hawkeye

One of the big traditions of superhero comics is the legacy name – a superhero identity that gets passed from character to character, either permanently or (more commonly) until its original owner returns to duty. There’s also a tradition of the gender-switched version of a famous name, such as Supergirl, which is often interpreted as a sexist gesture and a copycat character when in fact it’s often a sensible business decision in an industry where association with iconic status counts for a lot (as well as being at least partly a sexist gesture, but what are you gonna do?).

Batman, Superman, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Spider-Man, Captain America, Black Widow and the the Hulk have all had someone else try out their name or costume at least once, and/or had at least one younger or gender-switched version of their own character spun off from their famous name.

But it usually comes back to the original being, well, the original. The one with enough nostalgia mileage that they can be used at any point to sweep the universe back to the status quo. The most ‘iconic’ version of the character. When the original makes a return, the stand-in always steps aside, or is conveniently killed, or takes a new name with a certain amount of good grace.

And then there’s Hawkeye.

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #28 Doctor Light

Dr Light is a second rate villain, and a first class heroine. Funnily enough, I prefer the latter version.
Kimiyo Hoshi, AKA Dr Light, a Japanese astronomer, scientist, medical doctor and mother, was introduced in the original 1985-6 Crisis storyline. Struck by an immense wave of power sent to Earth by the Anti-Monitor, she received the powers of “photonics” and could bend and manipulate light with her mind.

She became an occasional member of the Justice League in the late 80’s, dropping in for occasional missions, but joined them full time after Justice League Europe moved to London, eventually taking on greater responsibilities with the UN as Justice League International. She also changed her costume from all white to all yellow, which might seem like a trivial detail, but marks the point at which she became a fully fledged character.

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Where the Wonder Woman Are: #27 The Invisible Woman

Sue Storm/Richards, AKA the Invisible Girl, AKA The Invisible Woman, has at various times in her long career with The Fantastic Four reflected everything that is bad and mishandled about the writing and general depiction of female superheroes – from the early days in comics all the way through to Jessica Alba’s revelation that she was told not to express any emotion in the Fantastic Four movies, because it might make her look unpretty for a fraction of a second. And let’s not forget all those stupid jokes whereby her invisibility powers lead to her being accidentally naked in public whenever a writer, director or artist wants to add a bit of cheesecake slapstick. But it’s not all doom and sexism, and the Invisible Woman is generally regarded as one of the most intelligent & powerful women of the Marvel comics universe today.

The Fantastic Four, usually made up of Reed Richards (Mr Fantastic), Sue Storm-Richards, Sue’s brother Johnny (the Human Torch), and Reed’s friend Ben Grimm (the Thing) who all received their powers from exposure to “cosmic rays” on the same space flight, are always pitched as being a ‘family’ of superheroes, which is what makes them different to other super teams. In the ‘Silver Age’ early days of their team they represented a move towards comics stories based on science rather then mysticism, and their stories have often involved sci-fi tropes such as space travel, miniaturisation, mad scientists, interdimensional travel (such as to the Negative Zone) and so on.

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #25 Kitty Pryde


I came late to the Kitty Pryde party. She was one of the X-Men characters I always managed to miss, somehow. She wasn’t a part of the 90’s cartoon I loved, and never appeared in the X-Men comics I happened to read. She was in X-Men Evolution but I didn’t feel I had a handle on her there, and I was so much in the ‘I love Rogue’ camp that it was hard to pay attention Kitty in the live action movies, despite her being played (eventually) by the immensely likeable Ellen Page.

But I kept hearing about her. She was the favourite character of many comics readers that I knew, especially the women. Apart from the fact that she could travel through walls, though, I didn’t have much to go on.

So it was that the first Kitty I properly read happened to be in the Joss Whedon Astonishing X-Men run and let me tell you, being scripted by Joss Whedon is a REALLY good way to make a character lovable. It didn’t hurt that Kitty was Whedon’s favourite too – he says in the notes to the Astonishing trades that she was one of the main inspirations for Buffy.

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