Tag Archives: women in comics

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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What Geek Girls Wear (Is None of Your Business)

Superheroes are hot right now. So hot, in fact, that some of the merch (occasionally) gets targeted at girls.

When sparkly pink and black retro Batgirl, Supergirl and Wonder Woman t-shirts first turned up in the girls section of Target a couple of years ago, I bought them for my daughter Raeli because I thought they were awesome. Luckily, she agreed with me, and they came at the beginning of a long and fun (and occasionally frustrating) journey of discovering comic book heroes together.

For the next year, though, the only superhero t-shirts I found were “for boys” and though I grabbed a couple I thought she would like, she immediately recognised the dark blue and black code as not being “for her” and rejected them. (she has since got over this and I suspect still regrets the loss of the awesome plain black Batsymbol t-shirt that her younger sister wore as a dress for 3 years because it was enormous on her)

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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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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: #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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