The brave hero. The wicked villain. These archetypes, and the tales of their struggles, lie at the heart of the comic book medium, providing the basis for many of our favorite stories. While some may scoff at these aspirational stories, we know that they can be empowering, uplifting, and even inspiring. That's often especially true when the hero at the heart of the story is a woman.
When women slay monsters, the stories are never just about protecting the kingdom and preserving the status quo. When women slay monsters, they challenge their own oppression, they overturn expectations, and they seize control of the future. When women slay monsters, they change the world. These are some of our favorite comic book stories that celebrate that idea.
Kitty Pryde versus The N'GaraiUncanny X-Men #143 (Marvel) by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Glynis Wein, and Tom Orzechowski
Kitty Pryde had been a member of the X-Men for a few months by Uncanny X-Men #143, and been proven herself in a couple of adventures. But if she was an X-Man, she wasn’t really a superhero yet. She was the kid sidekick, dressed in the uniform nobody else wore anymore. Then one Christmas Eve, she was left alone in the school while everyone else was out doing holiday stuff. And naturally, that was when the giant demon attacked, left over from a forgotten battle and looking for people to eat. Kitty ran, but the demon was faster. She phased, but it could still hurt her. She tried to trap it in the Danger Room, but the demon escaped. Finally, all she could do was wait in the Blackbird, finger on the ignition, until the monster got close enough to the engine, and then roast it alive. It was surely the worst night of Kitty’s life up to that point, but she won. And since that night there’s been no doubt: Kitty Pryde is a superhero in her own right, and a formidable member of the team. [Elle Collins]
The Bride versus The VillageAmerican Vampire Anthology #2 (Vertigo) by Marguerite Bennett, Mirka Andolfo, Anf Prianto, and Carlos M. Mangual
Marguerite Bennett's story "Bride", in American Vampire Anthology #2, tells of a 14-year-old girl sold by her family to a monster that lives inside a cave. She dreads it, but her family doesn’t care. When she gets to the cave, the monster is kind and gentle, telling her she may do anything she likes, that he will never mistreat her, but if she is to be his wife there is one thing she must do. She must go back to the village and show them what happens to people who would dare to sell women. The story is a brilliant deconstruction that echoes the reality of our lives; there are dozens of people portrayed as the monsters at the fringes of society — queers, Muslims, sex workers — that our families use as scary stories. However, we often find that the people who love us most, the family that we really belong to, are the "freaks." While the creature that hides in the mountain appears to be a monster, the real monsters are those pious pilgrims, living in a village, "who would sell women... as cattle." [Tara Marie]
Nara Kilday versus BalaboggDead@17 (Viper Comics/Image Comics) by Josh Howard
One of the few true underground print comics successes of the 2000s, Josh Howard’s Dead@17 focuses initially on high school student Nara Kilday. After being murdered, she's revived and given an axe to help take down hordes of demons, and prevent the coming of the demon lord Balabogg. Dead@17 is full of energy, action and, most importantly, Howard’s wonderfully vibrant Dan DeCarlo-meets-Butch-Hartman art style, which offers modern take on the classic “good girl art” that’s sexy without being exploitative. Like Mike Mignola before him, Howard crafts a grand, sweeping horror epic that’s also eminently approachable. The series ended in 2015, so it’s all out there for your perusal, and fans of Revival or Birthright will find a lot to love. [Tom Speelman]
Bombshells versus Sea MonstersDC Comics Bombshells #11-12 (DC Comics) by Marguerite Bennett, Mirka Andolfo, and Elizabeth Torque
DC Bombshells has featured a great many fight scenes since it started over a year ago, but when you’re talking about big brawls with heroines and monsters, you go to the Battle of Britain. Taking up the whole of print issues #11 and #12 (chapters 31-36 in digital), the Battle of Britain has Big Barda, Dr. Light, Amanda Waller, Supergirl, Stargirl, Wonder Woman, and Mera battling Nereus’ sinister sea monsters and the Baroness’ undead Tenebrae. These issues mark the first big team-up in the whole series, and the scope of the battle feels massive. Among other great moments, it includes Amanda Waller being a badass in a fighter jet, and also gives us the Barda/Dr. Light romance. This book is amazing. [Katie Schenkel]
Squirrel Girl versus Doctor DoomUnbeatable Squirrel Girl vol. 2 #5 (Marvel), by Ryan North, Erica Henderson, Rico Renzi, and Travis Lantham
Thanks to the laziness of a student with a gun that could send things back in time, Squirrel Girl recently became trapped in the past. One thing led to another, and history changed enough that in the present, Doctor Doom became all-powerful emperor of the Earth. Stuck with no way to defeat him one-on-one, Squirrel Girl used the gun to send herself back into the past dozens of times, creating an army of Squirrel Girls that could vex and confound Doom at every turn. It's a great story featuring one of Marvel's most fearsome villains, and one that shows Doreen's exceptional resourcefulness, and how intelligence and lateral thinking can solve the toughest of problems. [Kieran Shiach]
Red Sonja versus ZarkovoRed Sonja: Monster Isle (Dynamite), by Roy Thomas, Pablo Marcos, Caesar Rodriguez, and Simon Bowland
One of my favorite monster-slaying women in comics in Red Sonja. She fights monsters constantly, both the literal and figurative kinds, and in the Monster Isle one-shot, she and the crew of her boat are shipwrecked on a mysterious island. As they make their way inland, they get attacked by strange creatures who they discover are the "pets" of a man named Zarkovo, the warden of a jail on the island, who transformed these men into half-human, half-animal monsters using magic, and kidnapped women to breed with these monsters. It's a classic "man is the real monster" story, but one that's especially resonant in the way it portrays a world that men have ruined and turned monstrous, where women's strength and compassion is called upon to save the day. And don't worry; the monster gets slain. [Emma Lawson]
Glory versus SilverfallGlory (Image Comics), by Joe Keatinge and Sophie Campbell
Part of the revived Extreme Studios line, Glory breaks down the "bad girl" trope of the '90s and rebuilds it in meaner form. In this series, the formerly thin-waisted generic Wonder Woman stand-in is reinterpreted as a giant brick of solid muscle, slaying nightmarish monsters as only Sophie Campbell could illustrate, and bonding with a young girl who looks up to her as a role model. Glory's fight against her father, Silverfall, stands out as a great example of how roles for women are defined by society and shattered by women's own actions, as she was sired as part of a peace agreement that eventually broke down, and took up arms to do the right thing on her own terms. It's metal as all hell, where every fight is definitely ruining someone's day. If you ever wanted to see someone throw a punch so hard every bone in their arm shatters, Glory is your ticket. [Charlotte Finn]