These days, I hear a lot about sexism in comics, and I agree that it’s a huuuuuuge problem (especially in mainstream superhero comics)—read Kelly Thompson’s essay if you don’t believe me.
So today I’m going to tell you about some of my favorite women characters in mainstream comics who are done well (I’ll probably talk about less mainstream characters another day)—strong, kick-ass heroines who are dressed appropriately (Emma Frost, I’m looking at you).
First up is Batwoman. Batwoman is relatively new to the DC Universe—she premiered briefly in 2006 and got her own major storyline in Detective Comics in 2009 (collected as Batwoman: Elegy and HIGHLY recommended), leading to a series of her own in 2011. She has a great backstory—raised by her career military father, she followed in his footsteps until having to leave the army due to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (I wonder if the repeal will change any future storylines). After an encounter with Batman, she decides to take on the Bat-mantle, and with her father’s help on gear and weapons, starts fighting crime in Gotham. Like the various Batgirls (who are also generally well-done), her costume isn’t at all revealing, and she doesn’t even wear heels. Very practical.
The women of Fables are also worthy of mention. Fables is a long-running series about a bunch of fairy-tale characters who have fled an evil power in their homeland and have taken refuge in Manhattan (yes, this is similar to several currently-running TV shows, but Fables came first and I assure you is better). Since many fairy-tale characters are princesses, there are a lot of interesting women characters in these books. Snow White is one of the major characters early on, serving as deputy mayor but really running the community (later she becomes a stay-at-home mom, but is still active in planning/plotting on her fellow Fables’ behalf). Her sister, Rose Red, has a troubled past and realistic angst. Another princess is eventually revealed to be a very competent spy and warrior. Then there are the witches . . . the most powerful of whom appears to be a little old lady who likes to knit. Because this is set in a contemporary world, the characters wear normal clothes and aren’t really sexualized at all (impressive, considering they’re mostly all beautiful princesses).
Another kickass spy/warrior is Agent 355, from Y the Last Man. One of the great series of the early 2000s, the story here involves something killing all the men on earth—except for one guy, Yorick, and his pet monkey. There are a lot of complex and interesting women in Y (along with the problematic Amazons), but 355, the agent assigned to protect the last man and take him various places to try and save humanity, is by far the most interesting (and awesome!). Her friendship with Yorick is one of my favorite fictional relationships.
Finally, my all-time favorite character—Kitty Pryde. Kitty is basically the best character—her powers aren’t that great compared to some (she can phase through solid objects like walls), but her heart and her brains make her one of the strongest of the X-Men. (Not to mention her pet dragon.) Plus, unlike many of her cohort, she wears clothes that keep her covered—perhaps this is because her character was only 14 when she first appeared, but she’s a grown-up now and still sticks to a basic uniform. Kitty has appeared as part of the X-Men since the 80s, so if you’re looking to read something including her, there’s a lot to choose from. I recommend the Joss Whedon run on Astonishing X-men, or the new series Wolverine and the X-Men, where Wolverine and Kitty are running a new school for mutant kids.
This week’s recommendation:
Along with all the series mentioned above, I want to point out Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant. Her website has been around for a while but now many of her comics have been collected into an awesome book! If you like history, literature, general hilarity, and mystery-solving teens, this one’s for you.