As a follow up to my earlier post about comics and the gender gap, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite female characters. This is not intended to be the end all/be all list, but rather a good starting point for some characters to check out. Also please note, this is my list and only my list and only my list at the time of writing. I am extremely fickle when it comes to the word ‘favorites’. And yet, here goes.
I started with a list of twenty-five. Getting that down to ten was impossible. So if you’ll forgive me, here’s an over-indulgence of honorable mentions.
Kate Bishop (Hawkeye, Young Avengers), Barbara Gordon (Batgirl, Birds of Prey), Blink (Exiles), Tulip (Preacher), Death (Sandman), Nico (Runaways), Alana (Saga), Jakita Wagner (Planetary), Jenny Sparks (The Authority), Channon/Yelena (Transmetropolitan), Scandal Savage (Secret Six), Giselle (Carbon Grey).
10. Rachel Grey
Who is she?
Few families are as messed up temporally as the Summers/Grey clan, but that’s precisely what makes Rachel a great character. She endures so many crazy and insane predicaments that could only happen to a time displaced X-Man, and still comes out better for it and (relatively) smiling. Born into a dystopian future where machines rule? Check. Forced to hunt down the remaining members of your species? Check. Being the host for a fire deity who likes to eat stars for breakfast. Check. Jumping into the future and bringing your parent’s consciousnesses to raise your little brother? Check. Seeing your entire family wiped out in 30 seconds (literally) because of said deity? Check…?
Rachel is a character I read by accident. I started reaching Excalibur because I wanted more Nightcrawler and Kitty. And lo and behold there’s another X-Man there. So she’s Jean Grey’s daughter, ok, from the future, ok, and she has the Phoenix, that’s awesome, but she’s not in danger of going Dark Phoenix? Sweet. The three of them were absolutely great together. Also she seems to share a few characteristics with her time displaced brother Cable, personality wise. She’s very much a ‘get it done’ character. Rachel is all around a great team player, and a survivor. These reasons are why Rachel Grey gets the number ten spot on the list.
And I have to say, I love the way Terry Dodson draws her.
Notable Reads: Excalibur, The Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire, End of Greys, Days of Future Past
Where is she now? Teaching at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. Can be found in Wolverine and the X-Men, and (adjectiveless) X-Men.
9. Pearl Jones
Who is she?
Many comic book characters have parent issues. Fewer still are the last of their species. Virtually none could claim to be the second of their species, with an uncaring first. But that’s precisely the predicament Pearl Jones finds herself in. A struggling actress in Los Angeles in the 1920s, she goes to a wrong party and ends up the main meal for a host of European vampires. Once they’re done, she’s discarded and left for dead. Shortly before she expires, the first American vampire (there’s a difference) Skinner Sweet finds her. In some twisted sense of compassion, he turns her and saves her (un)life and creates the second American Vampire.
Naturally, she’s a bit freaked out by all this, but not for long. Despite Skinner not being the best mentor in the world, she acclimates quickly. Her first task is taking out the Europeans that killed her, which she does readily. A new fledgling takes out a score of significantly older vamps. Yeah, she’s a bit awesome. And she only proceeds to get more awesome as the series goes on. There really isn’t much debating or ethical dilemmas after she’s turned. It more of ‘this is me now? Fine. Time to rock’. Pearl’s a fun character to read in a very dark world.
Notable Reads: American Vampire. All of it, but particularly the first arc, and the The Blacklist.
Where is she now? American Vampire is currently on hiatus, but will resume shortly and Pearl will be back with it.
8. Renee Montoya
Who is she?
It’s not easy being a cop, putting your life on the line each day. It’s worse being a cop in Gotham. Imagine the folks from Law and Order trying to deal with Joker or Riddler. And yet that’s exactly what the Major Crimes Unit has to deal with, in which Renee Montoya is a detective, second grade. Naturally this leads to some intense scenarios which change Renee’s story forever. Unlike most of the rest of the list, Renee has no superpowers. Only her wits, detective skills, and occasionally her fists. She won’t be fighting Darkseid soon, but she serves the cause in her own way.
One other defining characteristic, addressed in the extremely well received arc ‘Half a Life’, is that Renee is a lesbian in a largely homophobic unit and city. Author Greg Rucka weaves a very compelling and believable story that hit on all fronts. It takes a bad situation and some great supporting characters, and creates a situation which changes and matures Renee. And therein lies her other characteristic: she’s constantly changing and evolving. Sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse, but she’s a highly dynamic character that slowly gets to where and who she needs to be.
Notable Reads: Gotham Central, 52, The Question
Where is she now? Sadly, nowhere. DC didn’t deem her worth enough to be alive in The New 52. Yes, I’m bitter.
7. Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers)
Who is she?
Carol Danvers is not a new character in the Marvel Universe, she’s been around since the 60s, but it seems to many that Kelly Sue DeConnick’s recently run is what finally propelled her into the spotlight. The question of the best Marvel analogue to DC’s Wonder Woman is something many debate, but to me the answer is clearly Carol, especially recently. One’s an ancient goddess, the other an alien infused military officer, but as far as stand out female on the Avengers, it has to be Carol. Headstrong, nigh-invulnerable, flying and super strong, Carol shows time and time again that she earned the stripes on her uniform.
Carol’s simply a fun character to read. She’s not perfect, she doesn’t always think things through, but her tenacity, willpower, and ability to lead get her through. She does have a tendency to let her firsts do the talking, though. But there’s a reason Steve Rogers told her to take the name Captain Marvel instead of Ms. Marvel, and not just because she outranks him. When push comes to shove, Carol Danvers will be the one fighting until she can’t, and beyond.
Notable Reads: Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, Infinity
Where is she now? Heading into space as Kelly Sue DeConnick launches volume 2 of Captain Marvel
6. Psylocke (Betsy Braddock)
Who is she?
“I’m a bloody ninja, Erik”, Betsy says to Magneto at one point. And that’s really a good summation of her character. She’s a telepathic British noble inside the body of a ninja. With purple hair. See if THAT makes any sense. But when the X-Men need someone taken out, Psylocke is usually on the roster, as evidenced by her being on three different X-Force teams. A conflicted killer, she struggles with her capacity to kill versus the need. Do the ends justify the means? Not sure she knows the answer yet.
To me, Psylocke was always ‘that cool psychic girl with the energy blade’. While the rest of the team was debating about how to handle the situation, Betsy and Wolverine were already charging ahead with weapons drawn. And that was always really fun to read. Then came Uncanny X-Force and the Dark Angel Saga. An overwhelmingly great story, it added a great deal of depth and humanity to an already great character. I love X-Force, and that Psylocke shows that girls can deal it out as well as as the boys, and in some places more. Wolverine and Archangel would have been gone without her powers. For being a ‘bloody ninja’, Psylocke earns the number five spot.
Notable Reads: Uncanny X-Force, X-Men, Uncanny X-Men
Where is she now? X-Forcing around with Cable in the newly relaunched X-Force
Who is she?
Cassandra Cain, daughter of David Cain, crafted to be the perfect assassin. She was one of those characters I just found interesting and enjoyed reading. I came very late to the DC party and read everything long after the fact. But one of the books I read and greatly enjoyed was No Mans Land. And in the midst of all this mess was a mute girl with expert martial arts moves that got the attention of Oracle and Batman. She was a very neat character to watch and grow (until that happened). Because I didn’t read much early Batman and Robin, Barbara Gordon was always Oracle to me, and Cassandra was Batgirl.
Because Cass didn’t speak, or when she did it was very little, her sequences tended to be art driven, with the other characters and readers having to rely on visual cues to understand her. The effectiveness of this varied from artist to artist, but when it worked, it really worked. It was neat having a character who you had to read in a different way.
Cassandra really had a dichotomy to her. One one hand, she was raised and trained by David Cain to be the perfect assassin, and her fighting moves and style reflect this. On the other hand, Batman abhors killing. A tale of two dads, two natures. Cass was really a fun character to read and see her interactions with the rest of the Bat family. The New 52 is greatly lessened by her absence.
Notable Reads: No Mans Land, Batgirl
Where is she now? Nowhere. Like Renee, she didn’t make the cut for The New 52. Still bitter.
4. X-23 (Laura Kinney)
Who is she?
The first X-Men event I read was Messiah CompleX, the Ultimate collection with all the tie-ins. Most of the characters I was familiar with through TV, movies, friends etc. But there was one group, the Academy X kids, that were completely foreign to me. But I was immediately fascinated by them and the girl with claws like Wolverine. I mean, to this day, Wolverine is in my top five favorite X-Men, and then there’s this girl who has powers like him, and some connection to him. Did Wolverine have a kid?
Well, not exactly, but that’s how I got introduced to X-23, a character I have enjoyed reading ever since. I went on to read X-Force and Academy X, both written by Chris Yost and Craig Kyle, and it really fleshed her out. And yes, she was a Wolverine clone (literally), but because all this was new to me, and Wolverine was older and different now, it didn’t feel like a retread of old ground. Another possible reason I enjoyed reading X-23 so much is that her action scenes felt like a dexterity fighter to Wolverine’s pure strength, and I always roll dex. (Dungeons and Dragons players will know what I mean).
Characteristically and appearance wise, she’s fairly similar to Cassandra, actually. Cloned from Wolverine, has a kill count through the roof. Conflicted about her past and abilities. Not socially comfortable. Another character I’ve enjoyed seeing grow and evolve over the years. I do miss Marjorie Liu’s run. Few others than Kyle, Yost and Liu have been write her just right. There’s a line to write with her. No too much Jubilee, but also not too much Wolverine.
Notable Reads: X-23, New X-Men:Academy X, X-Force, Avengers Academy/Arena
Where is she now? Heading into space with the All New X-Men to rescue Jean Grey! And the Guardians of the Galaxy. I could see her becoming great friends with Rocket Raccoon.
3. Tara Chace
Publisher: Oni Press
Who is she?
I love Greg Rucka, as evidenced by three of his characters (Renee, Tara, Kate) being so high on my list of favorites. He simply knows how to write complex, interesting and dark characters. Queen and Country and its’ star Tara Chace went a great length to get Rucka noticed. Since then he’s done other characters, but Tara will always be a favorite and she’s the quintessential Rucka girl. She’s talented, great at her job, deadly, tough, dedicated, quick thinking, dark, beautiful, and mysterious. She has a messed up personal life, drinks, smokes, shoots, stabs. All in the name of Her Majesty.
Queen and Country is an espionage story, based out of Great Britains SIS, where Tara is Minder Two. Her missions involve everything from theft to assassination, all over the globe. It’s Black Ops, as we call it here in America. To add to is, she usually runs solo. So you have Tara, alone in the Middle East, sent to assassinate a drug warlord and get out. By herself. The stories Rucka penned are simply incredible. Queen and Country ran for thirty two issues and three novels. You owe it to yourself to see what the fuss is all about.
Notable Reads: Queen and Country
Where is she now? Queen and Country is complete, and you should read it.
2. Batwoman (Kate Kane)
Who is she?
It has been said that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but that’s precisely what I did with Batwoman. JH Williams III’s art jumped (not literally) off the shelf and grabbed my eye (again, not literally), and sucked me into a beautiful side of Gotham I’d previously not seen. Come for the art, stay for the characters and story. Works that way.
Kate Kane is a superhero in and out of costume, or as she refers to it, her uniform. West Point almost grad until the violation of article 125. With help of her dad, a Colonel, she eventually begins her life of fighting crime after finding her way to serve, after being unable to do so in the military. It’s a book (and character) I just fell in love with. The writing is great, the art is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Watching Kate transition from a soldier to another type of hero and then as she tries to find her place in both worlds. It’s fascinating, and also interesting to see her take on vigilantism. Being a military family, they have protocol they follow, briefings, precise goals and plans. Quite a bit different from Batman or Nightwing.
Of course, the reason that Batwoman is best known among general public is that she is the premier lesbian superhero. Previously she dated number 8 Renee Montoya, and Kate is now engaged to the head of Gotham’s Major Crimes Unit, Maggie Sawyer. I think it’s important to have heroes that all people can identify with, and Kate fulfills an important niche, in addition to being a fantastic read and character.
I have to admit, I was ready to drop the book a few issues ago. After some severe editorial backlash, the creative team of Williams and Blackman walked off the book. The future of the book was in question. But it’s not bad. It’s not the same, but I am enjoying the new team. It is sad though that we’ll never see a wedding. Hopefully that just means a long term engagement and not a breakup (or worse, a death). But until then, Batwoman remains a fantastic read.
Notable Reads: 52, Batwoman
Where is she now? In the capable hands of a new creative team. Yes, it’s not the same but I do like it.
1. Kitty Pryde
Who is she?
If you haven’t read Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, stop reading now and go do so. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. No really. Read it? Good. Now you know why Kitty Pryde is number one on this list. When I first started reading X-Men, Kitty was one of my least favorite characters. She has (to my naive mind) a boring power. You’ve got a blue elf guy who teleports, a guy with claws who can’t be stopped, and dude who shoots laser blasts from his eye, and then a little girl who can walk through walls. Boring.
But then I read Whedon’s Astonishing and it completely changed the way I looked at the character. The point is that she’s not like the others. Her power isn’t flashy or destruction, but it’s so incredibly useful.
She does what she can and ends up saving the world right along with the rest, and it’s more than you’d think. She’s quite capable, especially after some training from Logan, and a trip to Japan. Strength isn’t just in the raw force of your power or your muscles. It’s also the strength of character. Which sounds cliche, but works when applied to Kitty. And talk about characters growing and changing. We get to see her from her first day at Xavier’s all the way up to when she’s Headmaster at the Jean Grey School and beyond. How’s that for a transition?
Fun fact: Did you know Kitty was an inspiration for Buffy? Yes, really. Also, I do believe that Ellen Page is the perfect casting. Especially lately.
In a world where you have heroes who can travel to the dark side of universe, beat the bad guy and be home in time for dinner. it’s refreshing to have a character whose real strength is her character and her resolve. You have this characters who for all intents and purposes is just a girl in a very prejudiced world, thrown into some unbelievable situations. Most of us, myself included, would bail and go home, but apparently Kitty doesn’t have a ‘flight’ response. She keeps moving forward, regardless of the danger. Time and time again she shows what it means to be a superhero.
Kitty Pryde is the hero that all characters should aspire to be like.
Notable Reads: Astonishing X-Men, Kitty Pryde and Wolverine, Wolverine First Class, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine and the X-Men
Where is she now? Professoring the time displaced All New X-Men
This is just my list, but hopefully it’s give a good idea of a few of the great female characters out there. They really are out there. I promise you they do. Consider adding to your pull list or looking up a few of these arcs. Leave a comment with your favorite characters!