Strong Women in Comics
Women have always been a part of comics, whether portrayed simply as superheroes, spies, damsels, villains, temptresses, scantily-clad distractions, or merely one-dimensional characters. The following brief (and certainly not comprehensive) list contains more recent titles and women characters who cannot be confined to one-dimensional comic tropes, but more diverse and complicated women of our modern age. If you are looking for more suggestions on this theme, check out J.C.'s list of Comics Featuring Adventurous Girls.
Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe
This graphic novel series stars the funniest, booze-loving, and pub brawl-starting adventurers for hire: Hannah the crass elven mage, Violet the rebellious dwarven fighter, Dee the atheist Cleric of a tentacle god, and Betty the halfling thief with an addiction to candy and hallucinogens. Together they form the Rat Queens, ne’er-do-wells that are always about to get kicked out the town if they didn’t keep saving it from horrible tentacle gods, giant trolls, plus your everyday orcs and goblins. What makes this series one of the best examples of female protagonists is not only that it celebrates Rat Queens’ hetero or queer sexuality and body positivity, but also that the women are strong whether they are crass and outgoing or shy and modest. This series has the strength and heart of nuanced women who have left their troubled pasts and support each other on their journey to make a living fighting monsters, getting into bar brawls, and even finding love.
Jessica Jones: Alias by Brian Michael Bendis
Jessica Jones: Alias was part of Marvel Comics short-lived Max Comics division, which consisted of multiple series for the more mature reader, similar to movies with a R rating. This series was the inspiration for the Netflix show Jessica Jones, which stars the alcoholic former superhero. Jones, having left the superhero life behind, is now a private investigator, trying to eke out a living and staying out of trouble. However, when your past life comes back to haunt you, and the superhero community calls upon you for help, it is not quite so simple. This comic is styled like a film noir, where the plot twists and turns as evidence is discovered, and where everyone has secrets and cannot be trusted. Despite Jessica’s flaws, she is someone the superhero community and her clients can count on, because when faced with finding and rescuing missing persons, she is tough as nails and does not give up until she can save them, even if she struggles to save herself from her own demons.
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan
This tale is a space opera, a love story, a war epic, and is the greatest ongoing series in comics today. Saga follows Alana, a soldier from Landfall, and Marko, a soldier of Landfall’s moon, Wreath, who fled from the long-running war between the two celestial bodies when they met and fell in love. The story begins when they are on the run and Alana is about to give birth to their daughter Hazel, who occasionally narrates the story in the past tense about how her parents met and lived with hints of what might happen in the future. This series has so many strong female characters: Alana the soldier and mother; Izabel the ghost of a teenager killed by a landmine, and also Hazel’s babysitter; The Brand, a mercenary on a quest to save her brother; plus so many more among a large cast of revolving characters. There are few other series out there that are so sex-positive, depicts breastfeeding and childbirth as quite normal, or just both celebrate and break the so-called gender rules.
Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Are you a woman? Are you non-compliant? If you are sent to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, colloquially known as Bitch Planet, you may have been charged with patrilineal dishonor, seduction and disappointment, emotional manipulation, genetic error, disrespect, bad mother, insubordination, aesthetic offenses, wanton obesity, and much more. A new inmate and athlete, Kamau Kogo, agrees to play Megaton, a violent sport consumed by the masses, after an incident at the prison lands her in trouble. Playing Megaton, she learns, might not only be a way out of trouble, but a way to bring down the system that subjugates them when she aligns herself with other inmates who know the secrets of the men who created the system. This book is an allegory of our own world, where women are persecuted for many of the offenses listed above, offenses that men would get away with without any judgement or consequence. It also contains a discussion guide at the end and information on feminist theory to stoke the mind to thinking about gender roles, which is much needed and a definite bonus for a title that is heavy with the potential consequences of extreme gender roles.
Fables by Bill Willingham
A complete 22-volume series, Fables is a sprawling epic following dozens of classic fairy tale characters exiled from the Fable lands and living in our universe. Having escaped the mysterious Adversary who conquered the Fable lands, characters such as the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White and Rose Red, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio, and Prince Charming have made their home in a magically hidden part of New York City called Fabletown. While this series has nearly a dozen storylines, it centers strongly on the relationships between women, from the rivalry and reconciliation between estranged sisters Snow White and Rose Red, to the common bond of women scorned among the ex-wives of Prince Charming, and the many witches that protect Fabletown from the outside world. In this world, Cinderella has become a skilled and deadly spy, Snow White a general and battle strategist, and Beauty the mayor of Fabletown, tasked with protecting their new community from the Adversary. Women in this series are not merely damsels in distress, but characters with power and agency to fight for the new world they have created in ours.