I am the father of a proudly geeky daughter. She adores comic books and graphic novels — not a huge surprise since I’m an old-school nerd — but I really admire how committed she is to her fandom. She pours over superhero encyclopedias, we cosplay together at comic conventions (she makes an imposing Thor), and she’s a valued regular at our local comic book store.
However, when you’re a dad and you take your daughter into a comic book store for the first time, you quickly realize that comic books haven’t always been the most welcoming places for female readers. (So much cleavage, so little pants.)
Thankfully, fans have started pushing for greater representation of women in comics, and publishers have responded. And no one is currently doing it better than Marvel Comics. At the moment, Marvel is publishing 20 comic books that are led by strong, capable female characters, more than any other comics company.
It’s an eclectic range of titles — books like Thor, Spider-Gwen, Ms. Marvel, A-Force, Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur, Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and Captain Marvel, to name a few — and I think it’s amazing how many options they’re offering my daughter when it comes to her female heroes.
But this isn’t entirely a recent development. Here are eight of my favorite times where Marvel really got it right when it comes to the portrayal of their female characters.
1. When Spider-Woman proves that moms are superheroes, too.
In the awesome new Spider-Woman series created by Dennis Hopeless and Javier Rodriguez, Jessica Drew (a.k.a. Spider-Woman) is pregnant, but what’s remarkable is how the creative team is treating her pregnancy.
They’re making it feel real.
Jessica has doubts, anxiety, a birth plan, and back pain. She alternates between being bored on her maternity leave and being terrified about what it means to be a mom. And yet, because she is who she is — a superhero with legit spider-powers — she never stops trying to make the world a better place, even if that means asking for help occasionally or reluctantly taking down some evil alien invaders during her third trimester. (The birth scene in the most recent issue, Spider-Woman #4, is equal parts touching and insane.)
I love that my daughter gets to read about a mom superhero. The single most selfless, tough-as-nails, heroic thing I’ve ever seen in real life was watching my wife give birth, so it makes so much sense to have a female hero where that experience is given as much weight as her super-strength or venom blasts. That is the kind of heroism I want to share with my daughter.
2. When female Thor has no problem being worthy of a thunder god’s hammer.
In 2014, the handsome, bearded Thor Odinson (think Chris Hemsworth) was deemed “unworthy” of wielding Mjolnir, the warhammer that gives him his powers. Suddenly, a new female version of Thor appeared, lifting the hammer with ease.
But this wasn’t some cheap stunt.
Writer Jason Aaron’s storyline beautifully showed that the importance of Thor (as a concept) has always been how it combines the power of a god with the humility of a human. Having a woman take up that role — Jane Foster (think Natalie Portman) — just opened up a whole new world of storytelling opportunities.
3. When Kitty Pryde, the mutant Jewish superhero, becomes a ninja, teacher, and a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
When Kitty Pryde first joined the X-Men in 1980, she was nervous and unsure of herself, even with her superpowers. (She can walk through walls.) Over the years, Kitty has developed into a strong, respected hero, constantly winning people over with her intelligence and spirit rather than her brawn or skimpy costume.
She’s trained as a ninja, gone drinking with Wolverine, led superhero teams, taught at her old superhero school, and now she’s a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. (She inherited the role of Star-Lord from her new husband, Peter Quill — take note, Chris Pratt fans.)
4. When Jessica Jones learns that she doesn’t need an alias.
When Marvel debuted Alias in 2001, it introduced us to Jessica Jones, who would bring a whole new perspective on what it meant to be a hero in the Marvel Universe. Jessica spent some time as a C-list superhero until an unimaginable trauma inspired her to hang up her tights and work behind the scenes as a private investigator.
Jessica is one of the most emotionally realistic characters Marvel has ever created — she’s struggled with relationships, money, and becoming a new mom. And she inspired an awesome Netflix series, too.
5. When Captain Marvel and The Carol Corps step into the spotlight.
It’s amazing what a difference a new costume can make. Carol Danvers (a.k.a. Captain Marvel) had been a supporting character in Marvel books since 1968, but she was rocketed into super-stardom in 2012, thanks to a new series written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and a kick-butt new costume designed by Jamie McKelvie.
The costume was an enormous hit — Carol’s previous costume can best be described as a “tactical swimsuit” — and helped inspire a legion of fans and cosplayers around the globe, who started calling themselves “The Carol Corps.” Now Danvers is one of Marvel’s biggest heroes with her own movie, the first female-led movie in Marvel history, scheduled to debut in 2018.
6. When the “other” Captain Marvel became the first ever African-American leader of the Avengers.
Carol Danvers, however, was not the first female hero to use the name “Captain Marvel.” That honor goes to the often-forgotten Monica Rambeau. Not only did Monica have tremendously powerful energy powers (she now goes by the name “Spectrum”), but she was also the first ever African-American leader of the Avengers. (Her short tenure as leader began in 1987.)
7. When Storm gets a punk rock makeover.
While Monica Rambeau was the first African-American leader of the Avengers, Ororo Munroe (a.k.a. Storm) was both the first female and first African leader of the X-Men (she’s originally from Africa). However, when she was introduced, Storm was portrayed as a long-haired, naïve, nature child who was constantly befuddled by the modern world.
That changed in 1983 when, recognizing that Storm had matured during her time in the X-Men, artist Paul Smith redesigned the character, giving her a Joan Jett-esque makeover complete with the coolest mohawk ever. It may sound frivolous, but the visual change brought attention to how empowered Storm had become over the years and helped define her as a leader.
8. When Kamala Khan brought a much different take on Ms. Marvel.
Kamala Khan might be the most energetic and enthusiastic teenaged superhero since Spider-Man. And she’s also the first Muslim character to have her own comic book in Marvel history. But the best thing about Kamala Khan is how real she feels.
When the “new” Ms. Marvel appeared in 2014, we were introduced to a wonderfully multifaceted young girl who was bubbling with pride in her identity — all of her identities, really — as a new superhero, a geeky teen from New Jersey, and a Muslim. Regardless of your religion or background, we can all identify with the eager, shapeshifting Kamala Khan.
Captain America: Civil War will be available on Disney Movies Anywhere, Digital HD and Blu-Ray September 13.More On