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Women In Comics: Superhero Edition

Image by Julian Fong. CC BY-SA 2.0.
Image by Julian Fong. CC BY-SA 2.0.

Last month when I started writing my Find a New Favorite Female Comic Artist or Graphic Novelist post I envisioned it as a one-time list of suggestions, but as I got into the process of collecting books with women in charge of the story, artwork, or both, I realized that (1) there are far too many examples for a single post and (2) I was having way too much fun to only go through the process once. When I published the post and started getting supportive comments with even more reading suggestions, I decided that I wanted to turn it into a recurring series. So, my current plan is to continue writing Women In Comics posts that offer suggestions for those interested in finding great new comics and graphic novels.

As I was preparing to write this post, both Marvel and DC released plans for upcoming superhero movies for the next several years and this gave me the inspiration to focus on the contributions that women have made to superhero comics. This post will highlight a wide range of superhero stories written or illustrated by important women in the field. Without further ado, here are some more great stories to choose from:

GothamAcademy1Gotham Academy #1: Welcome to Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan & Brenden Fletcher with art by Karl Kerschl – Debuting last month, Gotham Academy is set at a fancy boarding school in Gotham City that was attended by Batman during a short period of his childhood. The story follows Olive Silverlock, a young student at the Academy who is struggling to rebound from the mysterious events of the summer. The first issue introduces the main characters and sets the mood for a mysterious school story. The look and feel of Gotham Academy itself and the characters who inhabit it seem to have been designed to appeal to fans of Harry Potter and similar boarding school stories and overall the first issue will leave readers wanting more.

BatgirlBatgirl #35: Burned by Cameron Stewart & Brenden Fletcher with art by Babs Tarr – With issue #35, Batgirl begins a new arc with Barbara Gordon moving to the hip Burnside neighborhood. This issue manages to be very accessible to those who aren’t familiar with Barbara’s backstory without losing the interest of long-time Batgirl fans. The creators have built a very current world, where emails, text messages, and apps are central to the story and the characters reflect the diversity of any major city. It manages to be approachable and fun at the same time, making it a great option for anyone interested in starting to read Batgirl comics.

Catwoman35Catwoman #35: Comfort to the Hurt of the King by Genevieve Valentine with art by Garry Brown – As with Batgirl, issue #35 of Catwoman starts a new story arc, making it a great place for those unfamiliar with the character to join the story. As the story opens, Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) is taking over the Calabrese crime family (a concept introduced recently in Batman Eternal). This premise makes it just as much a mafia story as a superhero story and the two elements blend nicely together. The style of the artwork complements the mafia themes and brings to life a Gotham City that is dominated by organized crime. This issue only has time to set up the background for the arc, but it nevertheless ends on a note that will leave readers eager for the next issue.

KatanaKatana Vol. 1: Soultaker by Ann Nocenti with illustrations by Alex Sanchez – This book takes Katana, a character that has appeared as part of both Birds of Prey and Justice League of America, and gives her a story of her very own. It follows Katana as she journeys to Japan to get her sword, Soultaker, repaired and seeks to avenge her husband’s death. Fans of the TV show Arrow will be particularly interested in learning more about this character as she is joining the cast of the show this season.

RedSonjaRed Sonja Vol. 1: Queen of Plagues by Gail Simone with illustrations by Walter Geovani – The story of Red Sonja, as reimagined by Gail Simone, is not a traditional superhero tale. Rather than a supernatural origin story, Red Sonja’s origin is one of deep pain and captivity. However, I would argue that she is a superhero in the mold of Batman, a person who made herself into the warrior that she needed to be to avenge her family and protect those who were important to her. The story is a dark and violent one with imagery befitting such a story, but it also has elements of humor and hope blended into it. The edition that I read included Simone’s original script, which shows how the illustrations bring to life this world where the normal and the supernatural intermingle. This edition also includes a series of reimagined covers from some of the top female comics artists, which shows some great perspectives on this iconic character.

HarleyQuinnHarley Quinn Vol. 1: Hot in the City by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner – This Harley Quinn story by husband and wife team Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner is unlike the other stories on this list. From its first pages, it is an irreverent story that opens with short vignettes of Harley Quinn interpreted in a wide range of artistic styles. Throughout this entire section, Harley breaks the fourth wall, interacting directly with the artists who are creating the story around her. Even once the book moves onto a more traditional story, it maintains a gross, violent, silly, bawdy, and just plain unusual sensibility that makes for a read that is unique and yet in keeping with the Harley Quinn character.

TheAdventuresOfSuperheroGirlThe Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks – Have you ever wanted a superhero who lives in your world? If so, you will love Faith Erin Hicks’ Eisner-award-winning story of a young woman who happens to be a superhero. Follow her as she deals with all of the good and bad of daily life while also being a superhero. Hicks’ take on life as a superhero is fun and also more relatable than your average story of a caped crusader.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 9.47.21 PMEl Deafo by Cece Bell – In this autobiographical story, Bell describes her life growing up with a hearing aid. This may seem like an unusual choice for a list that focuses on superhero comics, but woven throughout the book are Cece’s daydreams about putting on her hearing aid and becoming the superhero El Deafo who uses her super hearing for all sorts of purposes. While the book is on Bell’s early days at school, readers of all ages will enjoy this adorable story in which all of the characters are portrayed as rabbits. It offers an honest and compelling view of Bell’s childhood and her experience using a hearing aid. It is no surprise that it has been getting rave reviews.

SecretHistoryOfWonderWomanThe Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore – For those who find themselves wondering about the historic context of superheroes, Jill Lepore’s new book offers a fascinating insight into the creation of Wonder Woman and the way that the character was influenced not only by her creator’s personal life, but also by the suffragist and feminist movements of the early 1900’s. It places Wonder Woman’s many incarnations into a larger historical framework and will give comic book fans a new way of looking at this classic character. I recently had an opportunity to hear the author speak about the book and can’t wait to read the whole thing!

This list is far from comprehensive and new superhero stories are being created by women all the time. Let me know in the comments if I have missed any of your favorites!

-Carli Spina