Tag Archives: where the wonder women are

Where the Wonder Women Are: #24 Mystek

You have probably never heard of Mystek. She always stood out in my mind as a character who had huge potential, and yet was killed off stupidly before she got a chance to explore any of that potential.

The Ray was one of the comics I read voraciously in my teens, the story of a teenage boy who spent his whole childhood out of the sunlight only to discover upon the death of his ‘father’ that he didn’t have a rare sun allergy at all, but sun-based superpowers. Written by Christopher Priest (no, not that Priest, a different one), his comic was the perfect blend of comedy and angst that appealed greatly to my fifteen year old self, and it didn’t hurt that Black Canary made semi-regular appearances.

And then there was Mystek. She was introduced as a supporting/antagonist character in the Ray title (she figured out he was a meta-human from her sensors when he wandered into her Radio Shack and instantly cracked the secret identity he worked so hard to preserve despite having the same first name as his superhero identity). She later crossed over to Justice League Task Force, the junior super team of which Ray was a member, also written by Christopher Priest (seriously, not that one).

Barclay, or Seong (we were never told which of these names were real, and if so which was her first and which her family name – the “demon” Neron calls her Seong first but notes that she prefers to be called Barclay) was a snarky Asian-American teenager with a talent for making machinery do what she wanted to. She had built her own super suit with which to either cause havoc or fight crime, whichever most appealed on the day. Oh and yes, as it turned out, she was claustrophobic which made the whole mecha suit choice a little… retrospectively odd.

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #23 Misty Knight (and Colleen Wing)

Misty Knight came as a total surprise to me. I’d never heard a peep about her, not in any of my varied comic reading. But she turned up in an old Chris Claremont X-Men comic from the early 80’s I was reading very recently, and I was intrigued enough to do some research.

Mercedes “Misty” Knight started out as a Marvel Comics heroine 1975, and her characterisation and storylines owed a lot to the blaxploitation and kung fu trends of the time. She has been a cop, a private investigator and a bail bondswoman, and is bionically enhanced as well as being highly trained in martial arts. She also, it has to be said, rocks a magnificent Afro.

For a long time Misty has appeared as a supporting character: she wasJean Grey of the X-Men’s roommate, for one thing, and was Iron Fist’s love interest in the Power Man/Iron Fist title of the 70’s (Power Man being perhaps more widely known these days by his civilian name Luke Cage). Her relationship with Iron Fist (Danny Rand) has continued on and off into the present day, but she often appeared in comics featuring he or Luke in her professional capacity rather than (or at least, as well as) a romantic one.

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #22 Gypsy

Like Vixen, Gypsy was one of the teen survivors of “Justice League Detroit”, the super team so 80’s it hurt. Like many characters representing cultures other than white American in superhero comics, her concept is… problematic rather than feeling truly representative of diversity.

The odd thing is that as written, despite her wild black hair and “gypsy girl” costume, Gypsy doesn’t actually have much to do with Romany culture. While her origin claims she is of Romany descent, her family appear on the surface to be quite ordinary suburban Americans who don’t themselves identify with the culture she used for her superhero identity. It’s basically an excuse for the costume, and little else. (Having said that, after her mid-90’s recostuming she was briefly drawn with a reddish colour of skin, not sure if that was supposed to signify anything or if it was just an artist’s interpretation)

Cynthia “Cindy” Reynolds ran away to Detroit at the age of 14 when her powers of illusion (including invisibility and chameleon-like tendencies) began to develop, and apparently thought that dressing like an old timey carnival girl (including hoop earrings and serious gold bling) was the thing to do on the streets.

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #21 The Wasp

When Joss Whedon’s Avengers movie screened this year, it certainly felt feminist-ish (or at least not unfeminist) to many moviegoers. But it didn’t pass the Bechdel Test, which asks you to consider whether a movie includes 2 or more named female characters who talk to each other, and if not to at least question why that is the case – and Black Widow was also one of the two non-super-powered characters in the team, which would have been less jarring had she not been the only woman. While Black Widow was beautifully written and performed, and given a significant piece of the movie (she has the third most lines of all the characters, behind the two headline acts Captain America and Iron Man), most people who knew their Avengers comics could put a finger directly on which female Avenger was most obviously missing.

There were many women to choose from, actually, including Ms/Captain Marvel, She-Hulk, Spider-Woman, and Hellcat. But the Wasp, AKA Janet Van Dyne (later Pym) was the only woman to be a founding member of the Avengers in the comics. Leaving her out was a bit like doing a Justice League movie without Wonder Woman (or like rewriting the Justice League continuity so Wonder Woman wasn’t the first female founding member, cough). Well okay, maybe not that. Wasp isn’t quite as famous as Wonder Woman. But it was certainly like doing a Fantastic Four movie without Sue Storm, or a ‘first’ X-Men movie without Jean Grey.

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #20 Supergirl

My recent immersion in the world of superheroes started in early 2010, with Supergirl. Raeli had taken an interest in the character, based almost entirely on the image on a drinking glass (like Superman, only a girl, what else is there to know?) and I started hunting for some kind of media property that I could stand to share with my 5 year old daughter. One thing I learned very quickly from the feminist comics blogs I followed was that it wasn’t going to be the comic, which featured some pretty skeevy artwork (yep, let’s all peer up the teenage girl’s tiny skirt, shall we and OH apparently female superheroes don’t need all their ribs) and was squarely aimed at men, not young and impressionable girls.

So where else? I had a vague memory that the 80’s Supergirl movie had been fairly dreadful but I had loved it, so there was always that. At a pinch.

Finally I decided upon Justice League Unlimited. I’d enjoyed the earlier Justice League cartoon, though not enough to actually buy the DVDs. But it looked like they had a cute, interesting Supergirl character, and so I gave it a punt. Only to discover that in fact JLU was full of all kinds of amazing and well-constructed female characters, and while the Supergirl was indeed spunky and super cute, she didn’t hold a candle to Black Canary, Huntress and Wonder Woman.

Luckily for me, Raeli embraced female superheroes as a whole, and we started out on a long and crazy journey of discovery together. It’s been super fun. And the massive pile of JLU lady action figures I acquired from eBay didn’t hurt at all.

This week, while doing a bit of covert pre-Christmas detective work (as you do) I asked both Raeli (now nearly 8!) and her recently 3-year-old sister Jem which they preferred, Batgirl or Supergirl. To be frank, I assumed that at least ONE of them would pick Batgirl. They’re both thoroughly Bat-obsessed, after all. Raeli has just received the LEGO Batcave she saved her pocket money up for six months, and Jem regularly dresses up as Batman and insists on being called that.

But no, they both immediately picked Supergirl. Which not only put a serious spanner in my Christmas present buying plans, it made me think. What is it about this character that makes her so compelling that she gets to be the best, the favourite, of little girls everywhere, based on a variety of wildly differing properties?

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #19 Lady Sif

My favourite thing about the Thor movie was the little gang of Asgard pals who wandered around the movie, being loyal to Thor and having his back. And my favourite thing about *them* was Sif, the glamorous goddess of war (Jaimie Alexander) who didn’t get nearly enough screen time. I would have been a lot happier if she had got to be one of Thor’s platonic mates without having a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it acknowledgement of her squishy feelings for him, but now that I come to look at her history in the comics, I recognise that we got off pretty lightly.

My first introduction to actual Thor comics after seeing the movie was the short ‘Thor the Mighty Avenger’ run by Roger Langridge which managed to take many of the narrative elements of the movie and make them work so much better. Jane Foster was the head of the department of Nordic Antiquities at the Bergen War Memorial Museum in Bergen, Oklahoma (hence the connection to Thor and his hammer) and ends up rescuing a recently-banished Thor and taking him in as her smoochytimes houseguest. As with the movie, the gang of bromantic mates from Asgard turns up to help Thor out, and I enjoyed the portrayal of Sif very much as one of the gang.

But who was she?

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #18 Fire

Like Emma Frost, Beatriz DaCosta (AKA Green Fury AKA Green Flame AKA Fire) and her journey as a superhero can be charted largely through her clothing.

Bea’s costumes have often been an openly discussed aspect of her narrative. It probably didn’t hurt in this regard that her most active characterisation was settled in Justice League International, a comic which allowed for humorous poking fun and analysis of all that superhero meta.

The thing about Fire, though is… for once, the costumes are (almost all) justified. Because they don’t break her character – far from it. The costumes express her character beautifully.

I’ve already discussed Green Flame’s origins as the Global Guardian Green Fury, and how she and her best friend Ice Maiden crashed the Justice League International party after the Global Guardians fell apart. Bea, the fast-talking one of the comic BFF duo, was determined to talk financial backer Maxwell Lord into letting them on the super team, largely because it was that or modelling. They needed an income!

Luckily, several Justice League members had just quit, including the ‘only girl,’ Black Canary, and they were allowed in on probation, quickly becoming essential members of the team.

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #17 Emma Frost

I still don’t feel like I entirely have a handle on Emma Frost. She’s certainly a fascinating, complex individual, and I like a great deal of how she has been written over the years – why is it that all the ‘started out as a villain’ heroes are so interesting? Maybe I just answered my own quesion. I think part of the reason that I still feel like she’s a ‘new’ character (to me) is that like Kitty Pryde (another one I’ve really only come to read about and understand in the last year), she didn’t feature in the 90’s animated series of the X-Men which was for a long time my only introduction to Marvel’s comic characters.

She wasn’t in X-Men Evolution, either, though I think the Mystique portrayal in that cartoon (as the headmistress of a rival school) owed a lot to Emma. She wasn’t in the original three X-Men movies which again served as a re-introduction to the characters for me. More recently, she did appear in the cartoon Wolverine and the X-Men in a splendid version where she gets to be aloof, bitchy, posh and mysteriously helpful to a bunch of untrusting X-Men, which sums her character arc up beautifully. Meanwhile in the movie X-Men First Class, she appears played by January Jones in a quite dreadfully written part that goes through the motions of Emma Frost, but never gives her a chance to do much more than model the outfit.

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #16 Ice

It’s so hard to write about Fire and Ice as separate characters rather than as a pair! They go together like cheese and chutney. But they are very much individuals, and two of my favourite comic book characters of all time, so I will do my best to tell their separate stories (with of course lots of references back and forth).

What surprised me was when I realised that Ice (Tora Olafsdotter) has the stronger storyline, and is actually the dominant member of the duo, from a narrative point of view. Fire is the one with the big power and big personality, but Ice… well. Ice has hidden depths.

Oh, and she’s the first major Justice League International member I have written about for this series which means this one’s kinda long. Sorry. You know it’s the best comic series ever written, right?

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Where the Wonder Women Are: #15 Jean Grey

When the X-Men first began their (less than popular) run in 1963, the team only had one woman in it – and sure enough, she had ‘girl’ in her name. Jean Grey, AKA Marvel Girl, followed in the early comics superteam tradition of being the token female character whose powers were frankly lesser than all the men (or at least, they were written that way) and whose main character arc was to be the girlfriend/wife of one of her teammates.

But like Wasp of the Avengers, and Invisible Girl/Woman of the Fantastic Four, Jean Grey’s character developed significantly over the years, and her powers expanded to match. In fact, the expansion of her power became a vital element of her character arc, culminating in her transformation away from her old Marvel Girl identity into Phoenix, then Dark Phoenix, and beyond.

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