Superwoman, in her modern form
Behind every strong man...
With the debut of a new Superwoman underway in the New Krypton story that’s currently crossing over into Action Comics, Superman, and Supergirl,
not to mention the debut of Lady Bullseye in Daredevil, it’s the right
time to take a look at the history of heroic spin-offs. More to the
point, it’s time to take a look at some of the best female versions of
male super-heroes. Though you may not realize it, these distaff
descendents go back to the earliest days of the medium, and one even
precedes Wonder Woman. We’re going to take a look at some of the
significant women that wear the symbol of another, and some of the
roles that they’ve played.
Before we get into the list, we did ask Newsarama’s legal expert Jeff
Trexler about some of the practical nuances of “reversioning”
characters. Obviously, there’s an intent to expand the audience. But
what benefit might this approach bring to publishers?
Trexler said, “You can look at this from a couple different
perspectives. With regard to copyright, a copyright holder has the
right to exploit the property by developing or licensing derivative
works. One way to do this is by selling the property across
formats--Superman from comics to radio to toys to TV to movies, for
example. Another way is to create new properties arguably derived from
the original, such as the Superman family. Such characters don't extend
the copyright of the original material--Supergirl has no effect on,
say, the length of the copyright in Action
#1--though they do maximize that material's potential. Such derivative
works may also be a way of staking a more viable claim against others
who are likely to be inspired to create similar material.
Lady Bullseye, from Daredevil
He went on to explain, “An equally important reason you'd want to
create material such as this is to stake a claim to the trademark. If
you don't register the mark, someone else might register it or
something similar. Moreover, one key aspect of a trademark is use in
commerce--by creating the character, registering the mark and putting
it in play every decade, you get to keep that mark in perpetuity so
long as you renew the registration. From this perspective you can look
to, say, the Superman and Batman families as trademark farming.”
But, even though there are legal benefits, the real legacy here is the
sheer number of female super-heroes that have been created from the
mythos of their predecessors. Among the highlights:
Hawkgirl: You might be amazed to find out that Hawkgirl predates
Wonder Woman, certainly the most famous female of the Golden Age of
comics. Hawkgirl first donned the wings in All-Star Comics #5;
that was in June of 1941, months before Wonder Woman arrived. Some
sources erroneously list her first appearance in a later issue of Flash Comics, which was then the home of Hawkman stories, but that’s actually only her first appearance to help Hawkman in that series. Hawkgirl became Hawkman’s partner, wife, and fellow member of the Justice Society of America.
Mary Marvel: The sister of Captain Marvel, Mary acquired her powers in Captain Marvel Adventures
#18 from December of 1942. Like her brother, Mary says “Shazam!” to be
transformed into her heroic self. The fun bit is that the Shazam
anagram was altered for Mary so that each letter of the word stands for
a goddess that she derives her powers from, rather than a god (except
for Zephyrus; the lady gods must have been short on Zs).
Batwoman, from Final Crisis: Revelations
Batwoman: The first Batwoman was Kathy Kane, a yellow-and-red
garbed crusader for justice that carried her gear in a purse instead of
a utility belt. If you guessed this was the ‘50s, you’d be right; it
was Detective Comics #233 from 1956, to be exact. Batwoman even
had a partner, Bat-Girl, that predated the familiar Barbara Gordon of
later years. The pair eventually faded from the books, and Batwoman was
killed off. A new version of Batwoman debuted in 2006 in the pages of
DC’s year-long series 52; this one has a romantic history with another female legacy heroine, The Question.
Supergirl : National, now DC, Comics flirted with the idea of a
Superwoman for several years before settling on the iconic blonde. Lois
Lane briefly became a Superwoman in one story in 1943, and Jimmy Olsen
met a dream version of a Supergirl later on. However, the culturally
familiar version of Superman’s cousin arrived on Earth 1959’s Action Comics
#252. Adopting the secret identity of Linda Lee, Supergirl helped
Superman, joined the Legion of Super-Heroes, headlined a feature film,
and led a couple of comic series before being killed off in the mid
‘80s. She’s been revived a couple of times; her current incarnation
places her squarely back as Kal-El’s cousin.
The Wasp, in her final "appearance"
The Wasp: Though she got a name of her own, Wasp received her
shrinking powers and wings from her love interest, Ant-Man, in Marvel
Comics’ Tales to Astonish #44 in 1963. The pair joined The
Avengers together; after their contentious early ‘80s break-up, Wasp
even led the Avengers team for a time. The Wasp died during 2008’s Secret Invasion story, but, in a reversal of what we've been talking about, her ex honored her memory by making a new costume and taking over the name of The Wasp as a tribute.
Batgirl: The second conceptualization of Batgirl had the most
pop-culture impact. Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Jim
Gordon, made her million-dollar debut in Detective Comics #359 from 1966. She quickly joined the third season of the Batman TV series in the form of Yvonne Craig. Paralyzed by The Joker in seminal ‘80s story The Killing Joke,
Barbara dedicated herself to computer-crime detection and leadership,
becoming a new form of super-heroine, Oracle. Oracle leads the Birds of
Prey, a group that got their own short-lived WB TV series. These days,
a new Batgirl, Cassandra Cain (who was introduced in the late ‘90s),
helps keep Gotham safe.
Ms. Marvel: The first thing that you need to understand here is
that DC and Marvel each have their own Captain Marvel. DC’s is Shazam,
while Marvel’s is an alien warrior of the Kree race. That Captain
Marvel found a love interest in Air Force Colonel Carol Danvers, a
woman bound for her own super-identity. Debuting in Captain Marvel
#18 in 1969. Ms. Marvel got her own title in the ‘70s. She joined the
Avengers, and after some identity changes and a struggle with
alcoholism, came back into prominence at Marvel during this decade.
She’s been a leader of the Mighty Avengers spin-off and currently has
her own title.
She-Hulk Co-created by Stan Lee himself, the cousin of the
Incredible Hulk debuted in February of 1980. Though she could get green
and strong like her cousin, “Shulkie”, as fans call her, retained her
intellect. Actually, she ever preferred to be big, green, and
beautiful. A perennial fan favorite, the wise-cracking She-Hulk has
headlined a number of series, a few of which used the character’s
irreverent personality to comment on comics and pop culture itself.
While She-Hulk just had her solo title cancelled, she can regularly be
found in the page of Hulk at this writing.
That’s barely scratching the surface of all the gender analogous
characters that comics have seen. A sampling of other notables would
Superwoman: A Superman ally from the future that appeared
briefly in the ‘70s, ‘80s and one Superman novel, she’s the inspiration
in part for the new version.
Spider-Woman: Marvel’s boasted four Spider-Women, but none as
popular as P.I. Jessica Drew. Recently returned after alien abduction
and replacement, she’s primed to join the New Avengers. Marvel also has
a Spider-Girl, the future daughter of Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson.
Aquagirl: There have been four Aquagirls; the first two only
made one appearance each. The third one, a romantic interest for
Aqualad and ally to the Teen Titans, perished in the ‘80s. Present
Aquagirl Lorena Marquez has also served with the Titans, though she is
presently in the thrall of evil alien god Darkseid.
Speedy: Mia Dearden is the second sidekick of Green Arrow to
bear the name Speedy. The first was Roy Harper, who has grown up to be
Justice League member Red Arrow.
X-23: The “sister” of Wolverine, X-23 was created from his
genetic material. She too has claws; while only sporting two per hand,
she also has them on her feet.
The lingering question here has to be this: which super-heroines are
more successful? Those that bear the name and symbol of a male
inspiration, or those that are created somewhat independently? One
supposes that turns on the definition of success.
In terms of publishing, Wonder Woman as a character has been in almost continuous print since 1941. That’s why she
is The Icon, the most famous female super-hero. It’s an unbeatable
track record coupled with a striking, patriotic visual and a mythic
Fellow DC star Black Canary has fared decently, despite having fewer
solos series. The original character first appeared in 1947. The
present Black Canary, the original’s daughter, leads the Justice League
and co-headlines a book with her husband, Green Arrow.
Catwoman, alternately depicted as villain and heroine in her long
history, is inextricably linked to Batman. Though she had a
long-running book, film appearances, her own film (if you can say
that), and even a male character inspired by her (Catman!), Catwoman
simply doesn’t exist in awareness outside the comics world as a
character that is much other than a Batman antagonist.
Those characters can claim separate creation. Still, Supergirl and
Batgirl can claim popular awareness on a level that Canary lacks. This
is possibly owed to their associations with two of the most popular
characters in any kind of fiction. Clearly, it’s Wonder Woman that
commands the preeminent spot in any discussion of super-heroines. And
perhaps that’s the answer. The one that’s the most memorable at the end
of the day is, indeed, the one that’s her own woman.