Superheros are rising in popularity these days with studios banking on big budget blockbusters like The Avengers movies, Chris Nolan’s Batman films, and the newly cast Spiderman. But, where are the superhero women? It’s hard for most people to name a female superhero beyond Wonder Woman. They may not get a lot of press, but there are actually lots of lady superheroes worth reading about who don’t have that iconic golden whip.
Batwoman (DC) –
Kate Kane was reintroduced as Batwoman in 2005, before Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed in the real world. She was making top grades and seemed to have a bright future at the U.S. Military Academy until word got out that she was dating another woman in her class. When she refused to lie about her identity as a lesbian, she was asked to leave school. After returning to Gotham, pursuing a wild party girl lifestyle, and entering a relationship with similarly badass Renee Montoya (a Latina police officer who later becomes the superhero The Question), Kate has a brief run-in with a mugger and a brush with Batman that inspire her to start fighting crime. With the military training from her past and even more rigorous training from her awesome and supportive ex-military father, Kate puts on the cowl and starts fighting crime as a freelance member of the Batfamily.
Why She’s Awesome: Just like Batman, Robin, and the Batgirls, Kate Kane lacks superpowers, but that doesn’t stop her from kicking ass and taking names. And, the fact that she was able to put on a Batsuit and earn her way into the Batfamily without getting shut down by Batman is a sign that her presence as a superhero is both necessary for the survival of Gotham and worthy of the Bat logo. As headliner for Detective Comics, it became evident that Kate was both tough and smart, using her talent of deduction to piece together what little bits of information she could scare out of people to track down a particularly tricky villain. Also, while not the first, Kate is perhaps the most high profile lesbian superhero in comics. Her refusal to hide her sexuality and her willingness to both enjoy and explore it in ways that don’t cater to the male gaze add depth and authenticity to her character.
Where To Start: 52 #7, Detective Comics #854
Molly Hayes (aka Princess Powerful) (Marvel)
Yes, you read that right. Molly likes to be called Princess Powerful. Sure, it’s a little goofy, but that can happen when you let a child pick her own superhero name. Molly is the youngest of the Runaways, a group of kids with superpowers who run away from home when they discover their parents are all supervillains. As the youngest of the group, Molly is the most emotionally vulnerable, but she is also quite literally the most powerful. She is invincible and has amazing superhuman strength, but when she first starts to use her powers, one punch is enough to make her want to nap for a few hours. Don’t tell me that’s not adorable.
Why She’s Awesome: Following her story is an interesting take on what a life of crimefighting would actually be like for a kid. Yes, it would probably be overwhelming and scary. But, as Princess Powerful, Molly has the same issues as any other kid coming of age- she discovers both her talents and her weaknesses, has to figure out how to balance the two, and manages to thoroughly enjoy herself in ways only a kid can while doing it. Despite being the youngest member of the Runaways, she plays a pivotal role in the series and has a knack for saving the day. It isn’t often that you see a child, let alone a young girl, with this much agency in her story. She also threw Wolverine (yes, of X-Men fame) through the brick wall of a church.
Where To Start: Runaways, Vol.1 #1
Manhunter (DC) –
Kate Spencer hates a lot of things. She hates socializing. She hates her boss. She hates that she doesn’t understand how to connect with her 6-year-old son. But, mostly? She hates when criminals walk free. Kate is a federal prosecutor by day, but when one criminal too many was acquitted on her watch, she snapped, stole a supersuit from the evidence room at the precinct, hunted the criminal down, and killed him herself. When the justice system doesn’t work for her, she creates it on her own terms. She’s a lot like Batman: deeply flawed with a questionable moral compass… and she doesn’t even have Batman’s personal rule against killing. Talk about Chaotic Good.
Why She’s Awesome: She’s not your typical female superhero who can save the world and smile for the camera afterwards. She is just a normal person trying to figure out her own life. And, I think that’s what makes her interesting to read. To her, justice is very black and white and ultimately, it is easier for her to create order by crimefighting than to create order in her own life. While other female superheroes like Wonder Woman can sometimes be written as paragons of strength, justice, and ultimate feminine perfection, Kate Spencer is written as just another angry person trying to make sense of things, which makes her character both refreshing and surprisingly relatable.
Where To Start: Manhunter (Vol.3) #1
Big Barda (DC)–
Barda was raised on the planet Apokolips, a miserable planet ruled by the most evil being in the universe, Darkseid. Granny Goodness (who is incidentally neither good nor Barda’s grandmother) trained Big Barda to be a fierce warrior and groomed her to eventually be the leader of the Female Furies, a band of warrior woman killing machines who were loyal to Darkseid. But, Barda had other plans. After falling in love with Scott Free (adopted son of her boss, Darkseid), she joins the rebellion, frees Scott and eventually herself, and dedicates herself to a life of crime-fighting with her fists and her weapon, the Mega-Rod.
Why She’s Awesome: I like to view Barda’s story as an allegory for recognizing privilege and battling oppression. On Apokolips, she had it better than most people on the planet, as a handpicked member of Darkseid’s loyal honor guard. But, when it occurred to her that her privileged position and Darkseid’s regime were damaging, not just to the planet, but to the entire universe, she sacrifices her position of power to free others, and then dedicates the rest of her life to fighting the good fight. Her great relationship with her husband, Scott (aka Mister Miracle, the illusionist), also manages to subvert traditional gender roles and stereotypes. Barda is so big and strong that she is bigger and stronger than her husband. Nobody in comic world seems to care, least of all the happy couple who also happen to have one of the healthier marital relationships in the DC Universe. Barda is known for being protective of Scott and for saving him on numerous occasions. It’s interesting to note though, that her debut and many of her appearances are in Mister Miracle titles, none under her own name.
Where To Start: New Gods Vol. 3 #13
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series that focuses on Superhero Women of Color!