Women’s History Month: 31 Days of Power Volume 5
The heroes in our comics should reflect the world around us—and that means they should be diverse in their backgrounds, ethnicities, preferences, and genders.
In that spirit, we’ll be celebrating Women’s History Month by honoring female characters in comics history for the month of March.
First appearance: Marvel Super-Heroes vol. 2 #8 (Marvel, 1992)
Created by: Steve Ditko, Will Murray
Alter ego: Doreen Green
The 90’s were a strange time for comics. Simultaneously taking themselves far too seriously while embracing some of the more fantastically extreme aspects of the medium like huge shoulder pads, gigantic guns, and anatomically impossible posturing, it seemed every popular book lived in the shadows with a menacing scowl on its face while awkwardly crouching on a rooftop.
Squirrel Girl, however, was the complete antithesis to that trend. Formed out of creator Will Murray’s desire to write a more light-hearted, goofy superhero, Squirrel Girl debuted in a one-shot story featured in Marvel Super-Heroes #2 in 1992 when she attempted to befriend Iron Man and—with a little help from some furry friends—ends up rescuing him from Doctor Doom in a hysterical battle that would set the entire tone for the future of the character.
See, the thing about Doreen Green is that she was basically created for the sole purpose of being awesome. Since defeating Doctor Doom, she’s gone on to claim victory of such Marvel Universe heavies as Wolverine, Deadpool, MODOK, Thanos, Doctor Doom (again), and Galactus by using nothing but her wits, unyielding youthful energy, and a whole lot of squirrel power. It’s actually accepted canon—according to the Official Marvel Powergrid, which rates characters based on attributes like intelligence, strength, speed, durability, etc., all of Doreen’s abilities are through the roof.
Beyond being courageous, confident, and smart—Doreen majors in Computer Science at Empire State University, the same college that Spider-Man, Reed Richards, and Doctor Doom (again) attended—she is an incredibly body positive role model. As drawn by Erica Henderson in 2015’s ongoing series The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Doreen breaks the super heroine mold with her build—she’s short, big hipped, and thick in the thighs. She doesn’t just accept her, as she puts it, “conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt” that’s created by stuffing her tail in the back of her pants—she embraces and celebrates it.
As mentioned earlier, Doreen currently stars in her own ongoing book, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, written by Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics fame. It’s an incredibly fun book with intelligent self-referencial humor and the type of fourth-wall-breaking approach that was previously only reserved for Deadpool. It’s a consistent topper on critic’s lists, and it’s one of the best all-ages superhero books on the shelves.
First appearance: Conan the Barbarian #23 (Marvel, 1973)
Created by: Robert E. Howard, Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith
Alter ego: n/a
Created in 1973 for Marvel Comics by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith as a foil to Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja has a very complicated history.
In her initial inception, Sonja sowed revenge on the men who killed her family and raped her. Hearing her cries for revenge, the red goddess Scathach appears and grants Sonja superior fighting abilities on one condition—she never lie with a man unless he defeats her on the battlefield. There are endless problems with that origin—the largest of which being that the idea of consent is completely taken away from Sonja in return for the ability to avenge her family. In the 70’s, right around the time that spousal rape was finally deemed illegal, an origin of this nature may have been viewed as empowering. Forty years later, not so much.
Enter Gail Simone, one of the most talented writers and influential women in the comics industry. In 2013, Simone was able to harness the timeliness of Red Sonja’s origin and make some necessary changes that brought the character into the modern age of comics. Most notably, Simone’s Sonja was never raped, and no goddess appeared to bestow her with conditional superpowers. Instead, Sonja prevails over her family’s killers by luring them into the forest and dispatching them one at a time.
Throwing the goddess out with the bathwater also allowed for the modernization of another aspect of the character—her sexuality. No longer bound by conditional chaste as a mechanism to fulfill her desire for revenge, the modern Sonja stares down the patriarchal double standard of promiscuity. Gail Simone had Sonja embrace the same sort of hedonistic barbarism that her male counterpart Conan indulges in. Like Conan, she’s one of the most feared warriors in the Hyborian Age—the fictional time period that the stories take place in. And like Conan, she’s a lumbering drunkard with a moral code that walks a tight rope between self-serving motivation and a greater good.
In preparation for this year’s Red Sonja relaunch by Marguerite Bennet and artist Aneke, the character was recently treated to a redesign by artist Nicola Scott. Scott did away with Sonja’s recognizable chain mail bikini in lieu of a look that preserves a visual sense of femininity while bringing a more battle-ready feel to the page continues Gail Simone’s original journey towards modernization.
First appearance: Stormwatch #37 (Wildstorm, 1997)
Created by: Warren Ellis, Tom Raney
Alter ego: n/a
Throughout history, women—as a group—have been both subjected to the whims of the era they live in while at the same time actively shaped them. In that sense, The Authority’s Jenny Sparks, known also as the “Spirit of the 20th Century,” embodies everything that women have been through, fought for, and accomplished over the course of the 20th Century.
Born in England on January 1, 1900 and died on New Year’s Eve, 1999, Jenny Sparks has seen it all and left her mark on it. Her wealthy family perished with the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and had their fortune seized by her father’s nemesis. Broke and destitute, Jenny’s godfather Albert—as in “Einstein”—took her under his wing in Zurich so she could finish her studies, where she met an Austrian painter whose art was so terrible, she suggested that he take up a career in politics.
Jenny never physically aged beyond her 20’s or so, but her experience was the culminated wisdom of one hundred years of Women’s History. As a result, her attitude and disposition was heavily influenced by the time period she was living in. In the roaring 20’s she was on a constant energy high; she spent time in the United States as a pulp adventurer in the 30’s, and spent the 40’s in a state of despair. By the time the 90’s arrive, she’s both an anarchist and an idealist, and—knowing her life will end soon—forms one of the most powerful groups of superheroes in history in an attempt to get the world back on track.
Right before her death on December 31st, 1999, Jenny’s last act was using her superhuman control over electricity to kill an enormous alien creature known as “God” who had originally created the Earth and had returned with the intent to wipe it clean of all life. It was her final act, and her last words to her compatriots, serving as her last will and testament were simply these:
“Save the world. They deserve it. Be better. Or I’ll come back and kick your heads in.”
Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge
First appearance Betty: Pep Comics #22 (1941)
First appearance Veronica: Pep Comics #26 (1942)
Created by: Bob Montana
Alter ego: n/a
Betty and Veronica: the original female power duo in comics. These two have been around for 75 years, and are some of the most recognizable women in print, though you may not know why. The Archie Comics (and other titles included, like Betty and Veronica, or Jughead) are the only comics that you can find in the checkout lines in nearly every supermarket across the country; I would ask my parents to buy these for me when I was a little girl, and children can still do that today.
There have been countless theories about which girl Archie will choose, and many arguments for one or the other, but in the end, Archie can never choose. The entire Archie timeline revolves around the endless push and pull between Betty and Veronica trying to win his heart. Once he chooses, Archie becomes irrelevant. (This is of course ignoring alternate timelines and any nonsense like that.)
Unfortunately for Betty and Veronica, pretty much their entire identities are based around winning Archie. While the idea of the love triangle can be considered somewhat demeaning, and very old-fashioned, it simultaneously gives them the most power of anyone in the Archie universe. The other characters exist in the world that they control.
One of the most wonderful things about these comics is that everyone can read them. These are so readily available to the masses because they are accessible and appropriate for most age levels. I can’t even remember how old I was when I began to read them, and I’m really mad at myself for falling out of sync with the stories. Betty and Veronica were products of the time they were created in, yet they have survived through the decades, and in the end, they are the two dominant puppeteers in the most conspicuous comic empire that has permeated the American home since the 40’s.
Betty and Veronica’s bio was contributed by Marissa Bea.