Female Superheroes My Little Sister Can Admire

Posted by thecomicscove (412 posts) - - Show Bio

Originally posted on my blog, The Comics Cove, not too long ago...

I recently had a conversation with my teenage little sister that led to something of a comic book quandary. It was both somewhat frustrating--I'm used to having all the answers for the new and uninitiated when it comes to comic books--and a little satisfying, as I enjoy finding the answers to questions I don't know about, particularly in this arena.

It started off in about as positive a way as it could have. She made the comment that superheroes are so cool these days--she's excited about The Avengers coming out in May, among other superhero films--and we started talking about comic books in general. I mentioned a few of my favorite heroes, and then she asked me what women superheroes whose exploits and adventures I thought she should follow.

This question actually caught me off guard. I remember hemming and hawing about it for a bit, not actually able to give her a quick, immediate answer that wasn't "Buffy."

I read comic books of all stripes and types, though I make no apologies about favoring superhero comics. I can list off plenty of good superhero comics. I can list off plenty of good children's comics. I can list off plenty of good comics with strong girl characters. But that wasn't what my sister was asking me.

She was asking me about female superheroes. And I just didn't have any ready answers.

Tough? Yes. Admirable? Yes. Relatable? Not
so much, oftentimes.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of recognizable and admirable women superheroes out there. But when viewed through the lens of the question, "Do I want my little sister to emulate this person?" it became a lot harder to really put their names forward for consideration.

I told her as much, explaining that, while I have plenty of superheroines I admire, for various reasons, there were too many stigmas I attached to them as being good enough or accessible enough for me to want her to look up to them. Wonder Woman was a prime example: super-strong and powerful enough to sometimes give Superman a run for his money, she was also from a culture that removed her worldview from that of a typical teenage girl. In many ways, she was characterized like a man, only with a woman's body and costume. She could be hard to relate to for that reason.

And, of course, there was the cheesecake factor.

Can not recommend to aspiring girl
superhero fans.

And that factor is a big deterrent for me in terms of recommending a superheroine for her to follow regularly. There are plenty of women superheroes I admire, but it's overwhelmingly difficult for me to separate them from the perception and depictions as fan service characters. The recently reviewed Black Cat is an excellent example of this. Does she have stories where she is compellingly written and portrayed as a three-dimensional character? Yes, thanks especially to Kevin Smith. But how many stories are written about her where she's not flashing cleavage or titillating the reader in some other way? To be honest, nothing comes to mind.

As much as I like Felicia--and as much as I personally like the cheesecake images of her--I would never recommend her as a hero I want my sister to follow and emulate.

Same thing goes for She-Hulk. And Power Girl. And Catwoman. And so many of the women superheroes out there.

We finally solved this question by visiting my local comic shop and asking for help from one of the knowledgeable salespeople there. At first, he initially had the same problems I did, particularly when I explained why so many popular women heroes were not acceptable. After a few tentative recommendations, including the Jessica Jones title Alias, the Batgirl trades featuring Stephanie Brown, and perhaps some of the X-23 material out there, he finally hit upon a title that we both smacked ourselves for not thinking of from the get-go.


I've personally never done more than skim the Runaways books, but I didn't need to. I can tell from the writing credits alone that I should have thought of these immediately. Joss Whedon. Terry Moore. Brian K. Vaughan. I've read enough of their work to know that not only would it be good, but the depictions of women and girls--girls with powers--would be nothing short of stellar. I've also seen enough of the titles to know that, when I finally do get to sit down and read them, I'll enjoy them.

I took my sister to the area where they were, had her look at the summaries for some of them, and she quickly got excited about the premise. I ended up buying her the first two volumes, which she devoured in a matter of a couple days. A few days later, I got a message from her, saying that they were REALLY good, and she wanted more, please.

It's the kind of thing that makes me smile, even when I'm having a rough day.

So now, when I'm looking for comics, I keep an eye out for stuff for my sister. I still enjoy the cheesecake female superheroes, but now I look at them in a slightly different light, or at least, a more developed way than I had before. That they're so widely portrayed this way, with so few alternatives that make for positive portrayals of strong women characters, says that this is something that needs to change.

As a male, I do enjoy and want the guilty pleasure portrayals to continue, at least a little bit. As an older brother with a cool little sister who's getting into comics, however, I want them to not be so widely distributed as to be the expected norm in superhero comics.

There needs to be more Buffys in comics. There needs to be more solo titles for women that don't depict them purely as objects of lust and titillation. And there needs to be a variety of them.

I want to be able to take my sister to the comic shop, and for her to have a hard time picking and choosing the titles of her favorite superheroes because there are just so darned many of them--a quandary I'm constantly in. I want her to have that same experience. And I don't think, the way comics are currently set up, that it's really possible.

It's something I would urge comic readers to keep in mind when they think about how women are portrayed in comics. Just ask yourself, "Is this what I would want my little sister/cousin/niece/daughter to emulate?" If you're the object of admiration for a young female comics geek, and you want the best for her, chances are that answer will be no.

#1 Posted by Supreme Marvel (11569 posts) - - Show Bio

I admire Superman, is he relatable? No. But I still admire him.

#2 Posted by Supreme Marvel (11569 posts) - - Show Bio
#3 Posted by COBRAMORPH (1822 posts) - - Show Bio

@Supreme Marvel said:

I admire Superman, is he relatable? No. But I still admire him.

Yeah, when I first started shooting fore from my eyes, I tried to kill myself by jumping off a building, but then I flew past a locomotive. Then I read superman comics & new I wasnt alone.

#4 Posted by lykopis (10868 posts) - - Show Bio

Thank you for sharing your experience -- very true on all counts.

#5 Posted by jhazzroucher (18711 posts) - - Show Bio

@thecomicscove: Ororo Munroe aka Storm. Good leader, She's unique and beautiful. She also is compassionate. and cool weather powers. : )

#6 Posted by Squares (8661 posts) - - Show Bio

Personally I find it somewhat silly that you seem to base the admirability of a character on how they dress. Sure, you don't want your little sister to think that it's okay to dress like a streetwalker, but as you mentioned characters are about more than just their costumes- or at least, they should be.

And why do her role models have to be female? I see no problem with male role models. Why does she need a superheroine at all? And while Alias is pretty damn awesome, I don't think it contains exactly exemplary behavior...

All that aside, I've found the Invisible Woman (since the mid to late 80s, give or take) to be a pretty upstanding character. Wonder Woman is pretty safe, I guess, but I haven't seen much in the way of her being particularly interesting. Shadowcat is probably (and sadly) the only female member of the X-men that I'd recommend given your apparent criteria. And no, Jean Grey is not a good role model.

#7 Posted by Teerack (9236 posts) - - Show Bio

Stephine Brown, Cassie Cane, Wonder girl, Bat Girl, Super girl, Bat Woman, Wonder Woman, Storm, Kitty Pryde, Valkyrie, Spider-Woman, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Wasp, Rachel Grey, Rogue, Hawkeye, White Tiger, etc.

The best ones are bold.

#8 Posted by thecomicscove (412 posts) - - Show Bio

@Squares: You're welcome to your opinions, of course, but my beef isn't as much with how they're dressed, it's how they're portrayed. Most of the characters I listed in the former examples are blatantly objectified, and often written to appeal to male sensitivities and desires. Dress certainly factors into that, whether you admit it or not. Admirability is based on overall portrayal, as I believe I pointed out with Felicia as an example, with good points and bad.

Male heroes simply aren't going to be as interesting to my sister, because my sister is not male. They will not have many important, fundamental things in common with her, which is of incalculable importance when looking for interesting characters to whom you relate. I say this out of observation as much as common sense. I'm not saying she should only find female role models, and there are plenty of good male characters out there, but I don't see any threat in having an equally plentiful cache of women characters to admire in the same way.

I'm actually surprised that Kitty Pryde didn't come to me sooner, but I think she's not particularly interested in X-Men (yet, hopefully). Storm would work as well. Sue Storm would be okay, but... I don't know. Maybe I need to read more Fantastic Four (working on this), but she just doesn't stand out based on what I know about her. I'm willing to learn of course, but if you know any stories in which she (or any other suggestions listed) shines particularly, please tell me.

She did LOVE Runaways, and after reading the first three volumes, I can understand why. I will read just about anything BKV writes!

I never said Jean was a good role model. ;) That whole Phoenix-world-star-system-ending thing really counters all the good she tries to do.

#9 Posted by Manbehindthewires (361 posts) - - Show Bio

amazed to see nobody has even considered new 52 Supergirl yet! She's at a "growing up" stage of becoming a superhero at the moment too, so you can see many parallels for a teenager to relate with. On a similar scale, check out NYX and Livewires from back in the days of Marvel NEXT! which featured, for me at least, a lot of relateable teenage characters. NYX also spawned X-23, who's strength and independence are really prominent parts of her personality.

#10 Posted by Squares (8661 posts) - - Show Bio

@thecomicscove: I'm not male, yet most of my favorite characters are male. Maybe I'm just an anomaly... :P

1,2,3,4 is good, but The Invisible Woman doesn't really stand out that much in it. I hate to admit it, but I've found the Fantastic Four title had some pretty spectacularly unexceptional writing- it wasn't really bad or anything, it just wasn't all that great.

If you're worried about finding her good role model characters (without objectification etc etc), I'd suggest keeping her away from the X-men for as long as you can. The exception to that being, of course, Joss Whedon's run writing Astonishing X-men. Kitty in particular was depicted fantastically for it's entirety, so it's definitely worth a look.

Storm could serve as a pretty good role model, I guess, but stories in which she's really stood out often feature her scantily clad and surrounded by the other X-men. If your sister doesn't mind older comics, Second Genesis is probably worthwhile.

Depending on how old your sister is (and whether she's willing to read older comics) she might enjoy the New Mutants- this is the stuff from the 80s, with Claremont writing. It's a bit cheesy and it's pure fluff, but it's not bad.

#11 Posted by V_Scarlotte_Rose (6721 posts) - - Show Bio

@thecomicscove: Batwoman is good. :)

@Squares said:

And why do her role models have to be female? I see no problem with male role models. Why does she need a superheroine at all? And while Alias is pretty damn awesome, I don't think it contains exactly exemplary behavior...

A lot of the team titles seem to have more men than women, so getting some female solo titles could be a good idea to even up the ratio of male to female heroes, so you're reading both as equally as possible.

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