Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

10 Mainstream Superhero Comics that THIS Feminist Likes...

While compiling WFA today, I came across an interesting assertion that implied heavily that there were no mainstream comics that are "what feminists want"? (Here's the link if you want.)

Now, I personally admit that I hesitate to recommend something based on feminist issues. Mostly because all feminists are different. And also, to be honest, I don't tend to think about the issues when I read except to notice the problems. Otherwise, I'm just enjoying the comics.

But because I like being contrary, I decided to think deeply about what mainstream comics I really like from a specifically feminist standpoint (omitting all other factors), this isn't the totality of my list. But ten is a good even number I think.

Green Lantern Corps: Green Lantern's traditionally kind of hit or miss when it comes to feminism vs sexism issues, but GLC is awesome both from a storytelling standpoint, but also from a feminist one.

While Guy Gardner owns my heart of course, from a feminist standpoint, the real draw is Soranik Natu. She's tough, strong, a bit uncertain with her role yet, torn between her planet and her job, incredibly competent, intelligent, a doctor and NOT defined at all by the standard "female" roles. Soranik is essentially the second lead of the GLC and thus is very prominently featured.

Soranik's partner Iolande is fairly new and undeveloped yet, but she's interesting too. She's much more traditionally feminine, a (former?) princess, but so far she's been proving herself to be fairly competent herself and an easy match will-wise to her partner. As an added bonus, when she and Soranik talk or argue, it's never about silly things like men or their love lives.

Gleason's art is also wonderfully adept at giving all the female characters distinct and varied looks.

JSA: Not only is Power Girl Chairman now, she's a very good Chairman. There's no question that Power Girl is appealing from a feminist perspective. She's attractive, powerful, stubborn and tough. Seeing her lead and get recognition for it is wonderful.

She's not the only interesting female character though. Stargirl is always the spirit of the team for me, her development and growth as a young woman is very much a draw to the comic book. The reboot made a good choice, I think, in casting her in a mentor/older sister role to Maxine Hunkel, who is another appealing example of a different type of young woman.

We lost Hawkgirl in the reboot but got Liberty Belle, so I'm not too upset. Jesse can be giggly and annoying, especially when the topic of her marriage comes up, but so many newlyweds are. And honestly, it's nice to see a portrayal of a woman who is happy in her marriage and truly gets joy out of it. Her nurturing relationship to Damage is nice as well.

And of course, there's Ma Hunkel. She doesn't get to do much, but it's nice to see an older female character still taking an active role in herodom, even if she's not out there fighting herself anymore.

Manhunter: Yeah, I'm cheating a little since it's still on hiatus. But whether in Trade Paperback or Issue form, it's never not awesome.

Birds of Prey: A staple of course, lots of sexy, kickass heroines with very distinct designs and costumes. (Also, the acknowledgement of Oliver Queen's sexual assault at the hands of Shado was long overdue.)

JLA: JLA's writing's been uneven of late, but its not a team that suffers for interesting, dynamic and powerful female characters. Wonder Woman, Hawkgirl, Vixen, Dinah Lance all kicking badguy ass for our amusement. Can't really go wrong there. (Okay, that Roy and Vixen underground one kind of did, but in general, I'm pretty satisfied).

Checkmate: Power games, espionage, and awesome female characters. Jessica Midnight, Fire, Amanda Waller, Mlle. Marie and Sasha Bordeaux couldn't be more different from each other, but they're all awesome, powerful (in their own ways), kickass and interesting.

Superman: Lois Lane is very much a feminist draw for me. She might get captured and need rescue a lot, but she's also a force of personality to reckon with. She's never not on equal standing with her husband, powers or no powers. She's fun. (Also as an added bonus, Ma Kent. And Clark's bevy of generally professional, assertive and appealing ex-girlfriends. :-))

Captain America: Sharon Carter was by and large the best Silver Age love interest ever in my opinion and she's still going strong today. She might not be as powerful or physically adept as Steve, but Agent 13 more than manages to carry her own. There was the whole killing Steve thing admittedly, but we all know he'll forgive that. And she's got a lot of interesting plot going on right now.

Ms. Marvel: I think Ms. Marvel's not necessarily the most appealing female character out there right now, but she's particularly interesting to me because she doesn't fit a typical female hero mold at all. Her assholish tendancies, her blindspots, even her alcoholism tend to be traits largely limited to male characters. She doesn't fit the mold which makes for interesting variety. Also, she punches things. I like that.

She-Hulk: Yeah, I dropped the title myself. Slott's humor started getting way too meanspirited for me. Still, when talking about what I like seeing from a strictly feminist standpoint, I can't leave Jen out. Big, green, sexy, smart, fun and a lawyer! What more could you want? (I'm totally leaping back on with the writer shift)

Mostly what I look for as a feminist in my superhero comics are women who are varied, interesting, powerful (in terms of actual power, ability, or personality), attractively designed and very developed as characters. I won't say I haven't encountered problems in individual storylines or issues of any of these series, and hoo boy am I willing to complain when I do, but in general THESE are the sorts of comics that this feminist likes and I'm generally very happy with them.


  • At September 06, 2007 3:13 AM, Blogger elias A. said…

    Out of genuine curiosity: What is the feminist view on Powergirl's costume?

    I always hear the argument "she's proud of her body, so what?".
    However, to me it seems that while either the rediculously large breasts OR the boob-window might be acceptable, together they send the message that she WANTS to be defined by her breasts.

  • At September 06, 2007 3:38 AM, Blogger Andrea James said…

    The problem with that question is there's no consensus hive mind feminist view on just about anything. Ask for *a* feminist's view, or the author's view. Ask 9 different feminists & get 9 different answers.

    Personally, I don't mind the costume itself. If Powergirl is drawn with ridiculously large breasts (or any other character) that are out of proportion with the way the rest of her body is drawn, I tend to get annoyed at the artist for his/her lack of understanding of human (even idealised) anatomy.

  • At September 06, 2007 3:41 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Elias: What ARJ said.

    There is no one "feminist view" of PG's costume. Some folks like it. Some don't. No hivemind. :-)

    Me, I like the boob window. It makes sense given the structure of the top. It provides support. (Similar to gowns with an open chest window, it's got something to do with material tension, AFAIK)

    I do think that it's pretty...awkward to say that a woman can have "ridiculously" large breasts (in quotes, because there are a lot of women who are naturally quite well-endowed in the real world. And usually PG is drawn of comparative size...depending on the artist of course. Turner's PG is ridiculous, but Ross, Eaglesham, Morales, Conner, or her originator Wally Wood drew a very naturally built Power Girl. Notice that they're her most frequent artists...) OR she can wear a boob window.

    Breast size, unless someone undergoes surgery at least, is not a matter of choice. And a large busted woman has as much right to showcase them for admiration without being defined by them.

    Also, showing them off to be admired is NOT the same as tacit permission for a guy to be a jerk. An appreciative glance downward and then back up to the face is usually okay (though that of course depends on the woman), that's often the goal of the outfit. However, TALKING to the breasts and never looking at the woman's FACE? That's being a jerk.

    No woman wants that and no woman deserves that. And saying that a large breasted woman should avoid a garment that would be perfectly okay on a small-breasted woman or else she's saying she WANTS this kind of jerkish behavior is blaming the victim for being well endowed rather than the jerks for being jerks. (Especially since those jerks are NOT usually representative of the greater male population, in my experience. But they do have negative effects on the reputation of the whole gender.)

  • At September 06, 2007 4:03 AM, Blogger elias A. said…

    I hope I didn't venture into a minefield...

    Of course I didn't want to imply something like "all feminists know each other." I should have said ONE feminist opinion... my bad.

    I get what you say, kalinara, but your arguments are more in-story. I was talking more from the point of view of the artists and editors, why to do it like that.
    It just reminds me too much of Pamela Anderson-type posturing.

    You have some good points.
    But I just would be extremely uncomfortable to show typical PG pictures in an all-ages context. Or to show a typical PG cover to someone new to comics...

    Maybe it's just me, I don't know.

  • At September 06, 2007 5:08 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Elias: Heh, maybe a little bit of a minefield, but that's not your fault. I get a bit sensitive about the topic. :-)

    Sorry to leap down your throat. :-)

    I think really it depends on who's doing the drawings for me. I don't think I'd show Turner's to a kid, but certain of Amanda Conner's (as seen on JSA Classified 1-4) or even Wally Wood seem like they wouldn't be necessarily as big a deal. In my opinion anyway.

    Other artists definitely go a bit far into the Pamela Anderson thing. Fortunately PG is one of those heroes who has changed her costume on occasion and probably will again. :-)

    I think it all depends on individual tastes and sensitivity though. I don't agree that it's quite that bad, but that doesn't make you wrong either. :-)

  • At September 06, 2007 5:10 AM, Blogger elias A. said…

    No problem. :)

    As I said, it might be a question of taste. Part of it may actually be that I hate PG's cape and especially the ugly thing on her shoulder, what ever it's called (I'm not a native speaker).
    I admit I rather liked Galatea's costume in JLU. Hope that doesn't make me a hypocrite...

    Just to add to what I said about combining the big breasts and the boob-window:
    I guess what I meant is something like that there's probably a difference between "look, I'm sexy" and "look, I have big boobs".

  • At September 06, 2007 5:17 AM, Blogger Sarah said…

    Awesome list. I've been looking for things that'll make me happy rather than angry, and am taking notes. :)

  • At September 06, 2007 7:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Don't be too quick to slight Iolande: she's largely defined by her role as a member of her royal family, but that makes for some interesting twists. Most notably: while she is top dog on her world, in the GLC she respects the hierarchy and does not behave like she was born to rule. While she's reluctant to roll over for Soranik, she does reliably defer. That's a pretty good trick.

    And yes, Soranik is inarguably the best new GL -- frankly, I like her better than the human ones.

  • At September 06, 2007 7:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    And I'm still pretty convinced you'll like Girl Genius (, from a feminist perspective, and from a comics perspective in general.

    Tip: the writer/artist (Phil Foglio) has done some work for DC. In one of his miniseries ("Angel and the Ape"), he actually managed to work the Guardians into Gorilla City lore. (!)

  • At September 06, 2007 9:13 AM, Blogger Vail said…

    I would also check out PS 238 (you should be able to get this at the comic stores). It's a great comic to get kids started on and adults love it too.
    Another comic (not in comic stores)you might want to check out is

    Also if you want a good manga, try The Wallflower.

  • At September 06, 2007 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Far as webcomics go, I've always found Something Positive ( ) to be a good one for strong, female characters.

  • At September 06, 2007 10:55 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    elias, The funny thing is that the tassel is the only thing I like about the costume

  • At September 06, 2007 11:01 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    All good choices. And don't forget Blue Beetle. Brenda is a hoot, and his mom is amazing. She actually was able to cow Guy Gardner...albeit momentarily.

  • At September 06, 2007 1:05 PM, Blogger Vail said…

    I love Something Positive! Queen of Wands (which isn't being updated but is worth reading) has wonderful female characters. Evil Inc is kinda fun also.

  • At September 06, 2007 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "Mostly what I look for as a feminist in my superhero comics are women who are varied, interesting, powerful (in terms of actual power, ability, or personality), attractively designed and very developed as characters. I won't say I haven't encountered problems in individual storylines or issues of any of these series, and hoo boy am I willing to complain when I do, but in general THESE are the sorts of comics that this feminist likes and I'm generally very happy with them."

    I wonder, does that criteria allow for extremely negative characters who happen to be female? I'm not talking just supervillains, but unsympathetic female characters who exhibit nasty, non-role model behavior.

    In other words, you've defined what it is you like in such bright, shiny, positive light, that I'm wondering if any of the dark reflections of those qualities can be portrayed without a penalty flag being thrown.

  • At September 06, 2007 7:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think you have a good list going.The only book I think is missing is X-Factor.I think Peter David does a great job at portraying Siryn,M and Wolfsbane(one of my favs).As complex women who are all very different and in some cases even more competent then their male team mates.Though Jamie still rocks.

  • At September 06, 2007 9:08 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Mark: I think you're misunderstanding my approach to this post.

    What I've asserted in the paragraph you quote is something that I consider pretty much a requirement for something to be satisfying to me on a feminist level.

    There is no such thing as a penalty flag in this case. A very unsympathetic evil villainess can very well be awesome and if she exists in a series that has a strong female protagonist as well, then that's just more to enjoy.

    I adore characters like Martika from Warrior or Roulette from JSA, no question about that. I do like characters that deviate from the paragraph quoted. I even like certain series on a personal level that I dislike from a feminist perspective.

    The thing is, I can never consider the presence of a character like Martika or Roulette on their own to be a draw by strictly feminist terms. Mostly because a powerful appealling villain can easily become very frustrating in a series if, for example, this villain is the only female character in the cast who expresses any sort of self-initiative, ambition, fortitude or strength of body or will.

    It's much much less common in superhero comics, I think, but I originally came from manga. Not all manga has this situation, of course, but it does occasionally crop up.

    When the "desireable" and "relatable" female characters are all entirely passive, incompetent and weak then the strength in the villainess starts to present this unconscious element of "well, only BAD GIRLS can be forceful or powerful. GOOD GIRLS ought to be rescued and cheer their guys on."

    Which, you must understand, is a very frustrating message to me, from a feminist standpoint.

    So yeah, basically, while I tend to really enjoy strong unsympathetic villainesses I only consider them a draw in terms of feminism when they co-exist with strong heroic characters.

    Heck, I've got nothing even against weak, passive, incompetent female characters from a feminist standpoint. But again, that's as long as they co-exist with strong heroic female characters to balance them.

    Essentially for me, the crux of whether a superhero comic is appealing on a feminist standpoint has to do completely with the heroes. Anyone else is a side issue and could easily go from being a plus to a minus, or vice versa, based on the presence of these heroes.

    As a quick example of how it works for me: I saw Flash Gordon, the current series, the other day and saw the standard feminazi Amazon trope on the screen...and I laughed my ass off. Caricatures, sure, but because the lead protagonist type female characters are very appealing to me on a feminist level, I could find it very funny.

    In the same way, I really like Aura, the shallow, petulant scheming daughter of Ming.

    However, say for a moment Dale or the bounty hunter were portrayed consistantly as weak, passive or incompetent...

    Then the Feminazi Amazons and Aura would be very offensive to me. As the lack of positive counterbalances would establish them as less a wink-and-a-nod and indicative of something more serious. What was fun ends up soured due to very unpleasant associations.

    I hope that makes sense. It does in my head!

  • At September 07, 2007 10:45 AM, Blogger Vail said…

    I totally agree with you. For example I do table top roleplaying games. When I pick up a supplement for Champions and page through the sample characters, almost all the females are "evil sexy villains" TM. Since these are sample characters how tough would it be to make half female and half male? Personally for these sample characters I think that they should make the characters first then randomly assign the sexes. I know that I can just say "now this character is female" but then I wouldn't have a picture to match. Darn it, these books aren't cheap, I want my female sample characters!!

  • At September 07, 2007 7:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi Kalinara,

    I was just wondering; when did you stop reading She-Hulk? What is it about Slott's recent humor that turned you off the book? I'm sure you've mentioned this elsewhere but I can't remember where I might've seen it. Great post as usual.



  • At September 08, 2007 7:16 PM, Blogger kalinara said…


    I think I made it to the second Starfox trial (with Thanos) before I finally quit.

    Honestly it wasn't any one thing in particular so much as I realized that honestly I was buying the title by rote. My enthusiasm was gone.

    I do think a part of that was that I started perceiving a mean-spiritedness here and there (again, nothing I could put my finger on, so it admittedly could just be me) in the writing.

    Nothing big though, just didn't sit right. :-)

  • At September 09, 2007 12:30 AM, Blogger Scott (The Mad Thinker) Anderson said…

    I'm a little suprised that X-Factor isn't on your list. Do you read it?

  • At September 09, 2007 3:55 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    X-Factor? I think I've read an issue or two, since I have friends who rave about it.

    I'm not a huge Peter David fan though and I'm not particularly drawn to any of the characters, so I've never really been inclined to read more.

    I don't doubt it's fairly good though. For all my problems with David's work, I usually find it fairly satisfying on a purely feminist level.

  • At November 28, 2011 3:19 PM, Anonymous Flashlight Vagina said…

    No doubt, the chap is totally fair.


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