In my previous post, I revealed numbers 10 through 6 of my top female superheroes - check them out to see if there are any surprises! Meanwhile, read on to find out who comes top...
Let's move to a classic X-Men example - the weather goddess known as Storm! Storm is a fantastic character, revealed as one of the 'Second Genesis' team back in 1975's Giant-Size X-Men #1 - the same comic that added Wolverine to the X-Men's roster, and introduced characters like Colossus and Nightcrawler.
What's remarkable about Storm is that she is easily one of the most powerful of the X-Men. She has a symbiotic relationship with the Earth's environment, and can manipulate the elements at a whim. In one tremendous issue, she went out of control and literally generated a super-hurricane that threatened to consume the entire United States! Only in the X-Men comics do we really find women who are more powerful than the men!
With Chris Claremont as her scribe, Storm became a capable and confident leader; she was in charge back in the fan-favourite 'Outback years', and into the 2000s is currently the leader in Extraordinary X-Men. Artistically, she's gone through countless phases, often dressed like a queen or a goddess - but sometimes (as current) going Gothic or Punk! Unlike many female characters, though, these costume switches have usually been used to explore different aspects of her personality; the most radical redesigns have always had a point to them.
Into the 2000s, Storm was given a central role as wife of Black Panther and a brief member of both the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. The marriage failed, but at least Marvel had tried to make her bigger than her X-Men roots.
Storm has been a crucial part of every X-Men animated series to date, and Halle Berry played her in the original X-Men trilogy of films. She's being reinvented in the rebooted X-Men universe as a Horseman of Apocalypse, played by Alexandra Shipp, and is likely to become a staple of the next X-Men movies.
4. Jean Grey
There's real irony in Jean Grey's being included in this list; when she was created by Stan Lee in 1963, Jean was the obligatory 'female' on the X-Men team and, according to comic book legend, he regularly forgot her name! Jean was originally treated as a love interest, with the very first issue featuring the rest of the team ogling at her ("A girl!" Iceman exclaimed). In one of his weirder touches, Stan Lee even had Professor X musing on his love for the teenage redhead!
As is so often the case for the X-Men, it was Chris Claremont's legendary run that transformed the character. He increased her powers to a cosmic level, dubbing her 'Phoenix' - originally intended to be the X-Men's equivalent of Thor, a cosmic heavyweight who could battle Marvel's giants. From here, though, Jean's story became truly iconic; she gradually succumbed to the manipulations of Mastermind and the lure of limitless power, becoming Dark Phoenix - and even destroying an entire star-system! Editor Jim Shooter felt this was an irredeemable act, and he insisted on Jean's fate being death.
Naturally, these are comics; Shooter had put out the challenge that Jean could only be brought back if writers could somehow absolve her of her crimes. It was Kurt Busiek who came up with the solution, revealing that the Phoenix was a powerful entity that had replaced Jean. Over the years since, the story's been subtly changed many times; nowadays, it's not unusual to read of Jean and the Phoenix having somehow become synonymous once again.
The character's played a crucial role in the X-Men books, and writers commonly view her as the 'heart' of the team. She eventually married her childhood sweetheart, Cyclops, but the marriage collapsed in the wake of Cyclops' psychic affair. Another common suitor has been Wolverine, and love triangles have been a staple of comics, animated series, and even the movies.
Famke Janssen played the part in the first X-Men trilogy, reprising her role as a vision of Jean that haunted Wolverine in The Wolverine. With the timeline rebooted in the wake of X-Men: Days of Future Past, Sophie Turner is playing the role in X-Men: Apocalypse. The intent is for Jean to be at the centre of the team going forward.
3. Kamala Khan
While many of the superheroes I've talked about today have been around for decades, Kamala Khan's Miss Marvel is a new recruit. Created by writer G. Willow Wilson and editors Sana Amanat and Stephen Wacker, Kamala made her début as the new Miss Marvel in 2013. She's a massive step forward for the comic book industry in terms of diversity; an American Muslim, the book explores issues of multiculturalism and teenage life. There's not a little 'classic Spider-Man' vibe to the character, who embodies the 'everyman superhero' trope for the modern generation. Even her costume was consciously modelled on the shalwar kameez!
Critical reactions have been tremendous, and Miss Marvel is one of the few comics performing better digitally than in paper copy. In 2015, the comic won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story, a whole host of Eisner Awards (including Best Series, Writer, and Penciller / Inker), and two Harvey Awards (Best New Series and Best Writer). It's already won the Prize for a Series at the 2016 Angoulême International Comics Festival. In the wake of Marvel's "Secret Wars" event, they've made her an Avenger, and she looks to be set to play a key role in this summer's Civil War II.
Miss Marvel has started a new trend, with Marvel consciously creating more diverse characters - often 'legacy' characters, such as the All-New Wolverine or the new Korean 'Totally Awesome' Hulk. In keeping with Miss Marvel's formula, a lot of these characters have been young female superheroes, with the most recent being the young star of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.
Kamala may be new on the scene, but she's transformed the comic book industry pretty much overnight!
2. Wonder Woman
As with many female superheroes, Wonder Woman's origin is a little... awkward. William Moulton Marston felt that strong female characters in comics were virtually nonexistent, but his creation carried more than a few bondage subtexts. Manacles at the wrists? A magic lasoo? In a 1942 interview with Olive Richard, Marston explained:
"Tell me anybody's preference in story strips and I'll tell you his subconscious desires...Superman and the army of male comics characters who resemble him satisfy the simple desire to be stronger and more powerful than anybody else. Wonder Woman satisfies the subconscious, elaborately disguised desire of males to be mastered by a woman who loves them."
In the decades since Marston created the character, she's become a staple of the DC universe. Apart from a brief hiatus in 1986, there has always been a Wonder Woman comic. She's featured in countless animations, and Lynda Carter played the role in the legendary TV series. Now, though, fans are watching with excitement; Gal Gadot plays the character in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, and early reports are that she's one of the best parts of the film. With a solo movie on the way, Wonder Woman's popularity is only set to increase...
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Yes, you read that correctly. My number #1 on this list doesn't originate in comics, but instead started off in a tremendously popular television series created by Joss Whedon. Inheriting the line of the Slayers, Buffy is a champion against the forces of the night. She was partly inspired by Whedon's love of superhero comics - he's stated that the X-Men's Kitty Pryde was a major influence - and starred in seven seasons, and spawned a spin-off Angel series that starred her vampiric romance.
Buffy is a fascinatingly complex character; an ordinary schoolgirl who (often unwillingly) becomes part of a superhuman world. Whedon paid homage to countless superhero tropes - from witty one-liners to death-and-resurrections - while constantly subverting them with tremendous style. The result is one of the most critically-acclaimed television series of all time, famed for its depth of cultural commentary. TV legend has it that more academic papers have been written discussing Buffy the Vampire Slayer than any other TV series. Check out this clip from the outstanding musical episode, "Once More With Feeling"!
Although Buffy's TV adventures ended in Season 7, Whedon continued them with ongoing Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics (the 'Season Eight' comics were also adapted into an animated series). These have allowed writers to carry on the rich social commentary, and to tell the ongoing stories of Buffy and her 'Scooby Gang'. Unfortunately, the comic book setting has kind of meant the writers sometimes run a bit out of control; in one arc, Buffy's sister Dawn is turned into a centaur, while in another Buffy is granted super-powers so she can have some sort of weird 'destiny sex'.
So far as I'm concerned, though, Buffy rules the roost.
So there you have it - my top ten all-time female superheroes! As you'll see, comics have a much broader range of female characters than many fans would expect; from barbarian warrior women to teenage culture icons, from powerhouse goddesses to wise-cracking athletes. The women haven't always been treated well, as Supergirl's costumes attest, but the times, they are a-changing. Bring it on!