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The Best and Worst Super-Heroines In Comics! [Girl Week]

It’s Girl Week on ComicsAlliance, and as part of our celebrations of women in comics, we’re taking a look at the women who actually are in the comics! Today, we’re taking a look at a few of our favorite (and least favorite) super-heroines to see how they stack up, as ranked by CA Senior Writer Chris Sims!

WONDER WOMAN

The Queen Mother of all super-heroines, Wonder Woman was one of the first, and certainly the longest running female hero in comics, and in the years since her debut in 1941, she’s been a feminist icon, the subject of Frederic Wertham’s controversial scrutiny, and one of the core members of the DC Universe. Pretty impressive, considering that she’s never actually been good.

Okay, okay, that’s exaggerating a little: Greg Rucka’s two-and-a-half-year run on the title was phenomenal, George Perez’s post-”Crisis on Infinite Earths” reboot had a lot of strong points, and Gail Simone’s current work has been praised up and down, but the rest of the past 70 years have been pretty hit-or-miss. And considering that they played host to Robert Kanigher’s mid-60s attempts to recapture the bizarre elements of the ’40s by creating characters like Egg Fu, a giant Chinese communist egg who whipped his enemies with his Fu Manchu moustache, I’m going to say that it’s mostly miss. Maybe it’s just me, but most of the fondness for the character seems to come from Lynda Carter’s portrayal on TV rather than the comics.

Don’t get me wrong: When she’s done well, Wonder Woman can be totally awesome, and I want to see that more than anyone. But unfortunately, she just doesn’t have a great track record.

SHE-HULK

You’d think that being a female knock-off of a male super-hero that was created solely for the purposes of getting a copyrighted name on the books (which is also the secret origin behind Supergirl‘s creation) would be a recipe for a lousy character, but She-Hulk has steadily become one of Marvel’s most solidly entertaining female characters. While her original appearances in “The Savage She-Hulk” mirrored the Hulk’s in more than a few ways (just substituting a torn white dress for ripped-up purple pants), creators like John Byrne and Dan Slott turned things around, recasting Jennifer Walters as a smart, capable, fourth-wall shattering heroine who occasionally drops a Shoryuken on her own logo.

I’m not saying it’s all been roses, what with series that constantly teetered on the edge of cancellation and some huge storytelling missteps — we’re looking at you, Geoff Johns’s “Avengers” Run, which said that her transformation was motivated by fear, thus making her the biggest fraidy-cat in the Marvel Universe, and which is best left completely ignored — but with over a hundred solo issues and a long run as a member of the Fantastic Four under her belt, she’s actually had a pretty good time being green.

POWER GIRL

Very few super-heroines have had it as rough as DC’s Power Girl has over the past twenty years. Originally created to be the Earth-2 Supergirl, PG found herself in a sticky situation after “Crisis On Infinite Earths,” which removed Earth-2 from continuity. In need of a new origin, Power Girl was made a mystical descendant of Atlanteans, depowered, suffered through a bizarre “mystical pregnancy” that saw her giving birth to a character who grew to adulthood in around ten minutes and was never seen again (for the best, believe me), and finally starred in a book that was revealed in its last issue to have all been a dream. Thanks, Chris Claremont!

Making matters worse was the fact that among readers and creators, Power Girl was the subject of a running gag centered on her breasts, which were improbably large even for comics. Allegedly, artist Wally Wood just kept drawing them bigger and bigger to see what he could get away with, and it stuck, making her a popular subject for convention sketches, but not really doing her any favors as a character.

With the reinstatement of the DC Multiverse, however, Power Girl not only has her original (albeit complicated) origin back and a slot as the Justice Society’s heavy hitter, she’s also starring in a new series that was easily one of 2009′s best new titles. Writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray and artist Amanda Connor seem to be having a great time working on the character, and as seen above, they’re not averse to poking a little fun at the character’s history either. It’s a fantastic example of taking a character’s potential and running with it, and we hope it’s a trend that keeps up.

JENNY SPARKS

As the Spirit of the 20th Century and the leader of the Authority, Jenny Sparks is a foulmouthed, whiskey-swilling misanthrope who is basically the female version of Warren Ellis with super-powers, except that Ellis did not, to my knowledge, sleep with Hitler in his youth.

The key phrase here being “to my knowledge.”

THE SCARLET WITCH

As the daughter of Magneto and one of the first recruits to the Avengers, the Scarlet Witch has a pretty strong legacy in the Marvel Universe, which is somewhat complicated by the fact that she’s one of those super-heroines that occasionally goes completely insane and tries to kill everyone. Most recently, that minor personality quirk manifested itself into remaking reality and removing the X-Gene from every mutant who was not currently starring in an ongoing series — and some who were.

Which leads to our second big problem with Ess-Dubs: I’ve read a lot of comics, but I have no idea how her powers work. As near as I can figure, she’s an actual witch, but she’s also a mutant with “hex power” that’s been so ill-defined that her abilities seem to amount to “eh, whatever,” thus explaining why she can completely change the genetic makeup of six billion people with three words, but still has trouble fighting the Wrecking Crew.

To be fair, though, I totally love the “X-Men: First Class” version of Scarlet Witch, as illustrated by Colleen Coover.

LOIS LANE

Oh, Lois. Sweet, inquisitive, bat-s*** crazy Lois.

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: I love Lois Lane, and her relationship with Superman is one of the few romances in comics that can get me all choked up — if you don’t get a little misty at the end of “All-Star Superman,” then I’m not sure we’re even the same species — but the fact remains that during the age where she had her own comic book series, Lois was out of her mind. I mean really, the picture above comes from an issue where she goes back in time to Krypton before it explodes to romance Superman’s father, then deciding to bail without telling anyone that the planet’s going to explode, and then making a stop on her return trip to make out with super-tot.

I’m not even sure there’s a word for that kind of crazy.

CATWOMAN

First appearing in 1940′s “Batman” #1 (the same issue that introduced the Joker), Catwoman’s one of the few characters to have success in almost every way she’s portrayed. Not only was she comics’ prototypical forbidden romance for Batman — an idea that even bled over to the 1966 TV show with Julie Newmar’s hilariously matter-of-fact assertion that she and Batman could be happy if he’d only let her murder Robin — but she also found success as her own character, first in a “bad girl” style ’90s ongoing, and then in a crime-focused relaunch by Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke.

There was also a movie, but we don’t talk about that.

THE BLACK CAT

On the flipside to Catwoman, we have The Black Cat, and… well, I want to like Black Cat. I really do. A love-interest for Peter Parker that’s only interested in his super-heroic alter-ego is a neat hook, and the idea of a girl who becomes the world’s greatest (and most literal-minded) cat burglar to carry on her father’s dubious legacy is a strong basis for a character in its own right, especially for stories where she gets on the bad side of the Kingpin. All the pieces are there.

Unfortunately, those aren’t the only pieces. Between a starring role in Kevin Smith’s atrocious “Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do” — which would’ve easily been the worst Marvel comic of all time if it wasn’t so well-drawn — that replaced her original motivation with a sloppily written trying-too-hard story of sexual assault (because that’s what we need more of in comics) and a current role as a friend-with-benefits who’s forbidden to look at Spider-Man even in mid-coitus lest she learn the identity of the dude she’s shtupping, it’s like writers have been doing their best to ruin any sort of independence the character could’ve had.

AMANDA WALLER

As the leader of the Suicide Squad, Amanda Waller isn’t just the toughest woman in comics, she’s bar-none one of the toughest characters in comics. Not only is Waller — who has no super-powers save for utter cunning ruthlessness — hard enough to boss around a group of hardened super-villains into going on suicide missions for the Government (which more often than not leave at least one member of the team dead), when Batman comes to shut down the operation that’s pardoning super-criminals, she’s one of the few characters to stand up to DC’s ultimate badass in a battle of wills… and win.

Add that to the work John Ostrander did on building her as a character, showing the depth of the events that led her to be so ruthless, and you’ve got the centerpiece of one of the best comics ever printed.

KITTY PRYDE

Kitty Pryde was originally created to be a viewpoint character for the X-Men, a teenager with a passive power that lent itself to observation that readers could identify with once the original teens had grown up into full-blown (and less relatable) super-heroes. It’s a great idea, but the popularity of the X-Men and the effectiveness of her role led her to becoming — for lack of a better term — the surrogate girlfriend to a generation of readers, which in turn led to her just having way too much going on.

As it stands now, Kitty Pryde is a teenage ballerina computer genius mutant super-hero S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who once learned how to be a ninja in exactly one day, which is the sort of thing that makes her original role as someone the average reader can relate to a little bit harder to pull off. It can be done, and done well — Kitty makes a great viewpoint character in Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men” — but you’ve got to ignore an awful lot.

BECKY BURDOCK: VAMPIRE REPORTER

When I talked about my deep and abiding love for “Jack Staff” last week, I mentioned that Becky Burdock is one of comics’ best female characters, and that’s a statement I stand by. Originally billed as “Becky Burdock: Girl Reporter” before an encounter with a vampire gave her her current sobriquet, Becky’s cynical frustration with the utter, out-of-control weirdness of Castletown (of which she’s now a part) and her status as the reluctant focus of a love triangle with Jack and Harold Bramble: Vampire Hunter make her one of the most fun characters to read.

Essentially, she’s everything great about Lois Lane — smart, curious, capable, willing to punch people in the mouth if they step to her — but without being a lunatic, and also she’s a vampire. Which, c’mon, is pretty awesome.

BATWOMAN

When she was introduced during “52,” the big news about the new Batwoman was that she was going to be DC’s most prominent lesbian character, but any fears readers might’ve had about the character being just a stunt to grab headlines were rendered completely irrelevant when she took over the starring role in “Detective Comics” last year for one of the best comics on the shelves. It shouldn’t really have shocked anyone, though: with his work on characters like Wonder Woman, “Queen and Country” star Tara Chace, “Stumptown’s” Dex Parios and “Gotham Central”/”Question” star Renee Montoya, Greg Rucka’s an old hand at writing strong heroines, and the fact that JH Wiliams III kicked off the book with some of the best art we’ve ever seen in comics didn’t hurt matter either. She’s still new, but her track record so far speaks for itself, with sharp, smart storytelling that uses her sexuality not to pander, but to weave into a complex character.

And it’s a trend that’s spreading, too: Batwoman’s recent appearances in Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart’s “Batman & Robin” saw a subtle admiration from The Squire (the Knights’ female teenage sidekick) that underscores her potential as a prominent role model. And I’m all for it.

THE INVISIBLE WOMAN

Despite the fact that the Invisible Woman is another super-heroine that occasionally went crazy and tried to kill her teammates (in a story by the same writer who introduced the same idea to Scarlet Witch in what we’re sure is a complete coincidence), she’s always been one of the strongest female characters in the Marvel Universe. Ever since the beginning, “Fantastic Four” writers have taken great pains to showcase her as a great character, although it hasn’t always come off quite as well as they wanted.

Witness, for instance, a story from the early days where Sue gets bummed out about reader mail complaining that she’s useless:

That’s right: Sue isn’t useless because Abraham Lincoln’s mother, that’s why. And who are we to argue with Reed Richards?

TAROT: WITCH OF THE BLACK ROSE

According to her creators — and a sizable legion of female fans — Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose is an empowering role model. Apparently they’re working from a definition of “empowering” that allows for a character who battles her far more capable male equivalent in a fight that sees him using his sword to strip her of her clothing, with Tarot only escaping certain death because he gets distracted by the fact that she has become sexually aroused by her impending death.

Seriously. That’s what happens in #50.

Like we said, these are just a few of our favorite heroines, and we’ve barely scratched the surface, so why not share one of your favorites in the comments section? Do you back Big Barda? Are you one of those Spider-Girl fans we keep hearing about? Miss the Wasp? Let us know!

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