Gender-Bending: The Female Analogue in Comics

Gender-Bending: Female Analogues

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).

Final Crisis: Revelations #3
Final Crisis: Revelations #3
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 include:

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.

Wonder Woman

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 backstory.

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.


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