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Superhero comics have come a long way

Superhero comics have come a long way. The range of female superheroes, vigilantes, and villains has broadened considerably since earlier times. There’s a lot more on offer for feminist fans of mainstream comics.

But today’s fans face a whole new set of stumbling blocks: objectifying, inappropriately sexualised art styles; gruesome deaths designed only to forward a male character’s story; and a generally held public opinion that superhero comics are the domain of boys and men and therefore have no need to be female-friendly.

movie downloadWe love comics. We want to see them remain a vital, energetic, engaging, popular art form enjoyed by a range of audience groups. If this objective is to remain viable, comics have to pick up their game. We’re here to see that they do.

One of Girl-Wonder.org’s primary aims is to get comics fans talking to each other in an environment where everyone feels equally free to express their opinions. Toward this end, visitors are strongly encouraged to make use of the forums.

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December: Avengers Academy, by Christos Gage

Avengers Academy is possibly the best book Marvel is currently publishing. Written by Christos Gage and drawn by a number of fantastic artists (including Mike McKone, Sean Chen, Tom Raney, and soon Tom Grummett), Avengers Academy tells the tale of 6 new teenage superhumans who share a history of capture and torture at the hands of H.A.M.M.E.R. director Norman Osborn. In the wake of Norman Osborn’s fall from grace, these troubled teens (Veil, Striker, Mettle, Finesse, Hazmat, and Reptil) have been taken under the Avengers’ wing to become the inaugural class of Avengers Academy. But, as the kids very quickly discover, they weren’t chosen because they have the best potential to become heroes – they were chosen because the Avengers fear that, without guidance, they might turn into villains.

What separates this book from the dozens of other teen superhero books that have passed through comic shop shelves over the years? The answer is Christos Gage, a writer who has rapidly risen to become one of Marvel’s brightest stars. Gage’s work deals with consequences at a level that few other superhero writers are willing to tackle. No canon, no matter how old, is irrelevant for Gage. He expertly weaves the past and the present (without, it should be noted, relying on fans’ assumed knowledge of past stories) to illustrate the ways that past experiences and actions shape the lives and futures of all human beings. The Avengers Academy faculty includes characters like Hank Pym and Pietro Maximoff, characters who have made their fair share of mistakes and want to pass along the lessons they’ve learned to the next generation. The lives of superheroes are difficult and messy, and this book addresses that fact with a rare honesty.

Yet the book is far from glum and gloomy. Ultimately Avengers Academy is a story of hope, of adults trying to help kids and kids trying to help themselves and each other. The kids have their problems, but they’re still very much kids – they even have a prom! – and their interpersonal relationships are bright spots amid the stresses of battle. They have successes to match their failures, and the book is frequently quite funny. I rarely finish an issue without a smile on my face.

For those whose interest has been piqued, I highly recommend picking up all the trade paperbacks of the series so far. But for those looking to dip their toes in, the book’s recent status quo change – moving the school to the old West Coast Avengers headquarters and adding new characters – is a perfect jumping-on point. Pick up last month’s issue 21 and see what the fuss is all about.

Violence: This is a superhero comic, so there’s plenty of fighting of all kinds, including violence that ends in death (though not for our protagonists). Given the premise, all of the characters also have some kind of torture in their backstories. But violence in this book is rarely graphic or gory.

Sexualized Violence: There are references to the past sexualized attack on faculty member Tigra (which happened in another book) and one of the male characters is implied to have been molested as a child. Sexualized violence is never graphic or cast in a positive light, however.

Gender: Half of the original team was female, and more recently two more regular female students have been added, in addition to a number of part-time students (including former solo title stars Spider-Girl, the Savage She-Hulk, and X-23). The girls come from a variety of backgrounds and have distinct personalities, and gendered plots and dialogue are extremely rare. The girls are both as heroic and as screwed-up as their male counterparts.

The Bechdel-Wallace Test: Since the gender-balanced cast spends most of its conversations talking to each other about their powers, fights, and education, I doubt any issue has failed to pass the test, though I don’t have specific figures.

Minorities: From its inception, this book has made a conscious attempt to include diversity in its cast. Reptil is Latino, Hazmat is half-white/half-Japanese-American, and Mettle in flashbacks appears to be at least half Native Hawaiian (he’s also half-Jewish). The new cast includes a white queer character (Julie Power) and a Puerto Rican female character (the new White Tiger, taking up the mantle from wholesale jeans, Hector Ayala), and recent writer comments have hinted that one of the original team may be gay. The teaching staff, relying as it does on older characters, is totally white and straight (and mostly male), but that could change at any point as the cast shifts. In addition, the new part-time students come from a variety of backgrounds.

Parents May Wish to Be Aware: I would rate this book at least PG-13; it is definitely aimed at teens and adults, and the level of violence and implied sexuality is probably too high for younger kids. But compared to some superhero comics, this book tends to be less graphic and grim-and-gritty; the costumes and art are not sexualized and there is a strong moral center to the story. Teenagers should be fine.

Review by Jennifer Margret Smith

How to Draw off Jogger Jeans in the Office

Let’s face it — if you had a choice to wear sweatpants to work, you would do it; so do most of your colleagues. Fortunately, you can now pull off the office version of denim jogging pants, the “cooler cousin” of sweatpants. You just need to know and follow the ground rules of the office to do this with aplomb. To learn more, read on.
The last day of the work week is a time to wear a new fashion trend in the office. Give it a test, maybe once a month, and push the envelope. If there’s no resistance, make it a casual Friday staple. Add a jacket, a professional shirt (preferably with buttons) and dress shoes, and see if your boss notices. If you get caught, you can excuse yourself for not knowing the “casual fridays” rule. You also may want to have a second outfit ready to go in your vehicle.
Jacket makes everything and everyone look a little more professional, even college professors. By pairing your navy blue jean joggers with a customized jeans, you are hiding the fact that you are pulling off wearing sweatpants to work.
If you’re convinced that a shirt makes the whole outfit look more formal, it can also cover up a lot of mistakes. Choose muted colors and patterns. Make sure your button-down shirt matches your jogger and it is as professional as possible.
There is a plan to test out your blue and black joggers on a day where you will spend most of your time sitting at your desk. Until you’ve mainstreamed to wear joggers to work, you shouldn’t wear them on a day when you have to give a big presentation to your boss. By planning to wear them on a down day at the office, you can minimize your exposure to the office and thus make it less noticeable.
Give your joggers a polished look with twill or other professional-looking wholesale jeans. Don’t wear patterns because they draw attention to you. Match them with an all-business jacket, shirt, and shoes, and you will be able to pull it off with ease.
Jean joggers are basically sweatpants that, when paired properly, can be worn in the office. The key is the pairing and the timing.
Jeans jogging pants are basically sweatpants that you can wear in the office with the right combination. The key is pairing and timing.

Suzanne ‘Cissie’ King-Jones (Arrowette)

Publisher: DC Comics
First Appearance: Impulse #28 (August 1997)
Created By: Tom Peyer and Craig Rousseau
Biography:


Cissie’s mother Bonnie was Miss Arrowette, an extremely minor Silver Age character
who popped up in a handful of appearances to tag along after Green Arrow and Speedy
and try to get them to let her join the team. When that failed, she took journalist/fanboy
Bernell ‘Bowstring’ Jones on as her ‘sidekick’ until her carpal tunnel syndrome forced her to retire from archery. Bowstring died a few years later, leaving Bonnie with a young daughter to mold into the repository of all her failed hopes and dreams…I mean, raise.
Bonnie became the ultimate stage mother, training Cissie to be the new Arrowette,
endangering and verbally abusing her. Eventually Cissie was taken away by Child Welfare Services and placed in the Elias School for Girls. She continued fighting crime and became a member of Young Justice. However, when her state-appointed therapist and close confidante was murdered, Cissie flew into a rage and nearly killed the murderers before being stopped by Superboy. Realizing she couldn’t trust herself as a vigilante, Cissie quit being Arrowette.
She didn’t retire from archery, however, and wound up winning the gold in the 2000 ‘Summer Games’ (read: Olympics) and becoming a minor celebrity. She also volunteered as medical aid during the Imperiex war alongside her former YJ teammates. Since the end of Young Justice, Cissie’s appearances have been few and far between, but she’s shown up a couple of times, usually helping out her best friend Cassie Sandsmark (Wonder Girl II). In the most recent of these, the Wonder Girl miniseries, Cissie donned the Arrowette costume again, but it remains to be seen whether she’s back in the game for good.
So What’s So Great About Her?

As is probably clear by now, I loves me some plucky teen girls, and I loves me some archers. Cissie fits the bill both ways.
But I also love Cissie for what’s going to sound like a weird reason. I love that she doesn’t really get along with other girls. I know that sounds odd, especially since I love strong depictions of friendship between girls, but hear me out:
Cissie and Cassie (Wonder Girl II) hated each other in the early issues of Young Justice, not least because Cissie was good at flirting with the boys on the team and Cassie wasn’t. And Cissie and Anita had a fairly fractious relationship when Anita ‘replaced’ Cissie on the team. And the sad truth is that that’s how a lot of women view each other: as competition.
The great thing about Cissie’s story, though, is that she gets past that. She becomes close friends with both Cassie and Anita, not to mention their other teammate Secret and her roommate Traya. She’s not unaffected by the intense social pressure to view other women as the enemy (probably in large part thanks to her mother, who raised her to view all of life as a competition), but she has the maturity necessary to move past that and make deep and abiding friendships. And that’s a wonderful thing to see.
She also has the maturity to give up the superhero lifestyle when she realizes it’s not right for her. How many other superheroes have pulled a Spider-Man No More and stuck with it? (Heck, Ted Kord ‘retired’ four times before his death!)
Also, one time she told off the Justice League. And she has really pretty hair. And having been a tween in the 90s, that Britney-Spears-circa-1998 costume really charms me.
Basically, Cissie is fantastic. And even though it seems like she and Young Justice have been retconned out of the DCnU, pick up some back issues. You won’t regret it.
Notable Appearances:
Cissie was a regular cast member of Young Justice from issues #4-17 and appeared frequently afterwards, most notably in:
Young Justice #23-24 (the Summer Games)
Young Justice #33-34 (Cissie guest stars on Wendy in the Werewolf Stalker)
Young Justice #35-37 (the Imperiex War)
Other appearances include:
Impulse #28, 41, and 59
Teen Titans v3 #7
Teen Titans and Outsiders Secret Files 2005
Wonder Girl #2-4

Sif

Publisher: Marvel Comics
First Appearance: Journey into Mystery #102 (1964)
Created By: Stan Lee & Jack Kirby
Biography
Sif was born in Asgard, a land of immortality and adventure. While her brother Heimdall became the keeper of Bifrost, the rainbow bridge linking Asgard to Earth, Sif distinguished herself as an incredible warrior, even by Asgardian standards; in fact, she was the best female warrior in the whole land. Also notable was her status as the lover of Odin’s son, Thor. In other words, life was pretty awesome.
Once Thor was banished from Asgard, though, things got more complicated. While her feelings for him never wavered (in fact, she only seemed to become attracted to men who wielded his hammer, Mjolnir, such as Eric Masterson and Beta Ray Bill), Thor became intrigued with a number of women. Sif was especially befuddled by his romance with Jane Foster, a mortal woman, but even still, she did everything she could to save Jane on several occasions, even merging life forces for a brief time.
Upon Odin’s death, Thor took the Asgardian throne and decided it would be a major time saver if he settled Asgard on Earth, so he could mortals out of harm’s way. In doing so, he reshaped the world as he saw fit and became a tyrant. Despite her love for him, Sif protested his reign and ended up exiled. Later, she encouraged Thor’s son Magni to revolt against his father, and eventually Thor realized he was being a douche and turned back time.
Unfortunately, this was just in time for Ragnarok, aka the end of the Norse world. Sif fought bravely with the other warriors, even continuing to battle after losing an arm, but she fell with the rest of the Asgardians. But luckily, being gods, they were resurrected before too long. Not so luckily, Loki ended up possessing Sif’s body at first, while she was stuck inhabiting an elderly terminal cancer patient. Once she was back in her true form, she was more than ready to get back to kicking ass.
So What’s So Great About Her?

It’s probably not surprising that I was recently reintroduced to Sif via the Thor movie. As a strong supporting character, she was portrayed as an incredible warrior, trusted friend, loyal subject, and all-around gorgeous person. Pretty much as awesome as canon Sif, except more so. Because, you know, there’s less fixation on how much she loves Thor but he doesn’t want her anymore. Ugh.
But you know, it’s interesting how wildly comic book movies can differ in terms of how their female characters are portrayed. Thor was kind of wonderful in that the filmmakers were able to take the major women—Sif and Jane Foster—and extract the very best from their characters and build on that. So instead of Sif mooning over Thor all the time, we get a few moments where she looks a little wistfully at him, then she moves on to battling frost giants with the best of them. Then we have movies like Green Lantern and how Carol Ferris was treated and…well. The less said about that, the better.
Like a lot of comics women, particularly women imagined by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Sif’s stayed mired in her original characterization for far too long. Yeah, okay, she loves Thor. We get it. But with any luck, the movie will end up influencing what we see in the comics. Will it hold? Who knows. I mean, it’s not like the X-Men are wearing their post-movie trilogy leather costumes anymore.
Notable Appearances

Journey into Mystery #102
Thor (vol. 1) #136-150; 154-157; 163-164; 176-177; 201-221; 231; 236; 249; 274-276; 313; 334-335; 349-359; 442; 450-455
Thor (vol. 2) #41-75; 79-85
Thor: Son of Asgard #1-12
Thor (vol. 3) #1-5; 8
Thor #601-603
Sif #1

Debra ‘Deb’ Whitman

Publisher: Marvel Comics
First Appearance: Amazing Spider-Man #196 (1979)
Created By: Marv Wolfman & Al Milgrom
Biography


One of the times Aunt May was presumed dead/dying/just taking a really long nap, Peter Parker found a sympathetic ear in Debra Whitman. A secretary at Empire State University, where Peter was a student, she had recently separated from her husband and was up for some hot sad sack lovin’. However, being Spider-Man meant that sometimes Peter had to unexpectedly cancel dates or just not show up altogether, so they never got truly serious.
At the time, Debra was seeing a therapist due to some issues she was having, one of which was her tendency to idealize people. This was what kept her from divorcing her husband, whom she still saw as a good guy despite the fact he’d been physically abusive. It also led to her having hallucinations that Peter was — gasp — Spider-Man, because apparently this was the only way her brain could justify him being a douche. Luckily, her completely awesome therapist decided to break any implicit promise of confidentiality and tell Peter this. (Please note that the previous sentence should be read with a totally sarcastic tone in your mental voiceover.) So Peter put on his Spider-suit, told Debra that she was right and, faced with how absurd the idea actually was, she was shocked into realizing that Peter couldn’t possibly be Spider-Man. She decided to start fresh, divorce her husband and move away, leaving Peter behind.
Years later, when Peter revealed to the world that he really was Spider-Man, Debra reemerged at the co-writer of a tell-all book about how he’d ruined her life. Peter was, understandably, rather butthurt about this, and to be honest, Debra wasn’t crazy about it either. It turned out that the editors of the book (who just so happened to be Daily Bugle staff members) had pressured her into portraying Peter as being worse than he actually was, and since she needed the money to take care of her sick mother, she went along with it. This information ended up being leaked to the Daily Globe, the Bugle‘s arch-rival.
So What’s So Great About Her?

Forgive me, I’m going to open with an anecdote from Friends. In one episode, as Phoebe regales the group with her happy memories of watching Old Yeller as a little girl, they quickly realize that Phoebe’s mom had been turning off the movie before it reached its ultra-depressing climax. Phoebe’s horrified by the real ending, along with the sad endings to a lot of other movies she’s just finding out were edited for her consumption.
That’s kind of how I feel about Debra Whitman. My introduction to her was the incredibly rad mid-1990s Spider-Man: The Animated Series. You know, the one where Peter always ran around in really tight jeans and sounded suspiciously like Greg Brady. But anyway, on that show, Debra was one of Peter’s college classmates. She had a hot-nerd thing going on, with huge glasses and a tall blonde pony and cheekbones for days. She was also sharp, a brilliant student, and kind of bitchy in a wonderful way that made me want to be exactly like her. Eventually, she also started dating Flash Thompson, the resident Big Dumb Boy of the Spidey mythos and, well, I don’t exactly hide my love for Big Dumb Boy and Uptight Girl pairings.
So imagine my dismay when, years later, I found out that the Debra of my childhood was gussied up for the show. Instead of a snide, borderline genius college student, she had insecurities about her intelligence, and rather than just being banter buddies with Pete, they were rather underwhelming steadies. Moreover, a lot of the time Debra’s portrayed as being rather hysterical, and it’s sometimes played off for laughs.
But for all I prefer my caustic animated Debra, there’s still a lot to like about her four-color counterpart. For all she had to be ‘shocked’ into it, she did leave an abusive marriage, which takes an incredible amount of strength and courage, especially at a time when resources for women were even more limited than they are now. I also admire that she realizes she needs therapy and is actively seeking treatment.
And of course, the biggie—yes, Debra is among the first to realize that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, even if it’s a result of her hallucinations. Of course she, along with several others who’d seen Peter being unmasked, immediately realized the ludicrousness of Peter being a superhero and shrugged it off, but the fact that she was able to figure it out at all, in any state, is a testament to her level of intelligence. Plus, she’s the co-writer of a bestseller. Even if a lot of that bestseller was lies. Um.
So, Debra Whitman, you may not be my Debra Whitman, but hey, you’ve got potential. Maybe when Spider-Man sold his marriage to the devil, things somehow worked out so you got a university scholarship and are now discovering your untold aptitude for science and sarcasm.
Notable Appearances

Amazing Spider-Man #196
Spectacular Spider-Man #36; 42-43
Amazing Spider-Man #207
Spectacular Spider-Man #47-48
Amazing Spider-Man #209
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #14
Spectacular Spider-Man #50-51
Amazing Spider-Man #211-213; 215-218; 221
Spectacular Spider-Man #60-62
Amazing Spider-Man #228
Spectacular Spider-Man #67-70; 72; 74
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #14-16

Valeria Richards

Publisher: Marvel Comics
First Appearance: Fantastic Four (vol. 3) #15 (as Valeria von Doom); #50 (as Valeria Richards)
Created By: Chris Claremont & Salvador Larroca
Biography
For a very little girl, Valeria has gone through some major drama. In fact, when she first showed up, it was a grown adult randomly materializing in the Baxter Building and announcing herself to be the daughter of Invisible Woman and Doctor Doom, the FF’s arch foe. Needless to say, this was incredibly weird, even for a superhero team, especially since Sue was already happily married to Reed. It all made a little more sense when Reed ended up trapped in the Doom armor and pretended to be him, even marrying Sue in this guise. (Though it leads one to wonder—how the hell would Valeria have been conceived while he was trapped?)
Maybe things would have been tied together more neatly if the creative team on the book hadn’t changed then, freeing Reed and changing Valeria’s backstory. It turned out now that she was the fetus that Sue had miscarried years ago, when Franklin was still a toddler. Franklin’s incredible reality-changing powers saved her, and she was raised by Sue and Doom in an alternate reality, where they actually were married.
Eventually, someone realized this was stupidly complicated, and Valeria was regressed to fetus-hood and took up residence in Sue’s tummy. Her subsequent birth was fraught with complications, though, and since Reed was off saving the world, Doom had to deliver her. (He is Doctor Doom, after all.) He also took the opportunity to cast a spell on her and make her his familiar, which was eventually set to rights.
Since her rebirth, Valeria’s mostly been a normal little girl. Except her parents are world-famous superheroes, and she and her brother were nearly taken from them by Child Protective Services for their own safety. Oh, and she has superhuman intellect and is already almost as brilliant as her father. But other than that, she’s normal.
So What’s So Great About Her?

Personally, I’m not much of a fan of the whole ‘adult kid from the future or alternate universe shows up to fight crime with hero parents’ plot, which is unfortunate because it’s, like, one of Marvel’s very favorite things to do. (Besides Valeria 1.0, please see also: Cable, X-Man, Phoenix/Marvel Girl, Franklin Richards…etc. etc.) So I was totally pleased to see Valeria take on a new direction, what with getting born again and all.
And, in general, I like seeing children in comics. Not necessarily fighting as adult-sanctioned sidekicks — in fact, that’s another thing I dislike — but as supporting characters, definitely. Interestingly, when actual prepubescent children show up in comics, they’re girls at least as often as boys. This is my totally unscientific observation, but think Luna Maximoff, Danielle Cage, Lian Harper, Layla Miller, Traya Red Tornado (that’s her real name, right?), Molly Hayes. Why? I think it’s because little girls seem more delicate and vulnerable, especially when contrasted with the ginormous steel-jawed superdudes who are often their daddies.
One thing I love about Valeria Richards is that she’s not cast in that role. Instead, someone came up with an awesome idea and, rather than contrast her with her father, made them similar. They both have incredibly huge, amazing brains. Not only that, but Valeria will probably grow up to be even smarter than her father. And everyone’s okay with that! Reed and Sue are proud of her! Franklin isn’t particularly jealous of her smarts! (It probably helps that he can create entire universes with his brain, but whatevs.) She’s a little girl who’s brilliant and could probably get herself out of most supervillain-related jams if she really needed to.
The Fantastic Four are the First Family of comics, and for a reason — they squabble, tease, and fiercely love each other. But you can’t be a quintessential family without kids. (No offense to my fellow child-free peeps out there…I just mean in an iconic sense.) When you read Valeria Richards, you’re reading a kid who’s essential to the group dynamic without ever having to throw a punch. Her parents couldn’t be prouder.
Notable Appearances

Fantastic Four #267
Fantastic Four vol.3 #15; 22; 50; 54; 67-70
Fantastic Four #500; 558
Mighty Avengers #24
Secret Invasion Fantastic Four #1-3
X-Factor #200-202
FF #1-5

Shado

Shado’s father was a Yakuza operative who traveled to America to set up Yakuza operations there. However, he was placed in an internment camp during Word War II, where several of the soldiers came to suspect him of having a hidden agenda. After the war, they tracked him down, killed his wife, and made him give up the location of the money. He committed seppuku, and the burden of his disgrace fell upon his infant daughter, Shado, who was trained by the Yakuza as the perfect archer and perfect assassin.
As an adult, Shado tracked down the soldiers who had tortured her father and started picking them off. When Green Arrow tried to stop her because, you know, murder she basically kicked his butt. However, she also helped him kill the men who were torturing his lover Black Canary, saving both of their lives in the process.
Back in Japan, Shado was instructed to cut off her thumb as penance for allowing Ollie to kill one of her targets. Instead, she fled to America. When Ollie tracked her down, she shot him in the chest, but then nursed him back to health. While he was still delirious and recuperating, she raped him and conceived a son, Robert. She forbade Ollie to take a role in Robert’s life, but enlisted Ollie’s help when Robert was kidnapped.
Years later, Shado resurfaced at an archery tournament, where she totally made out with Connor Hawke, Ollie’s other son. Groooooss. Then she had Connor shot as part of a convoluted plan to save her own son. (This is about the point where I along with everyone else stopped reading Green Arrow.)
So What’s So Great About Her?

Let’s face it: Shado’s a problematic character on a number of levels. She’s so unsubtly a stereotypical Dragon Lady that she actually has a giant dragon tattoo. (And all of her plot lines are titled things like ‘Song of the Dragon’ and ‘The Black Dragon Saga.’ And most of her cover appearances have her posed looking over her left shoulder, so as to better show off the dragon tattoo. And also: dragons.) Even beyond the Dragon Lady aspect, she has a lot of the trademarks of Asian comic book stereotypes: Speaking in wise and faux-zen tones of the tao of archery and being the bow or whatever. An obsession with honor. A backstory that involves both the Yakuza and a noble sensei. Come on already, Grell.
In recent years she’s been the victim of bad writing, what with the semi-incestuous makeouts and the out-of-character Machiavellian schemes and the hey hey. And at the end of the day, she is an admitted rapist, even if recent writers like to misinterpret that as sexy, sexy cheating on Dinah (note to writers: it’s not).
And yet when written well, Shado is a compelling character. In her first storyline, we meet a woman who has lived her whole life as a tool for someone else’s vengeance and who makes her first choice for herself when she decides to let Ollie’s vengeance take precedence, knowing full well that she will be penalized for that choice. She’s doing what she believes is a kindness, though deliberately taking a life sets Ollie on a path of self-destruction that eventually ends in his death. It’s a complicated, deeply flawed choice from a complicated, deeply flawed woman.
In a later appearance, she shoots Ollie in the chest. She claims she mistook him for an attacker and that it’s only luck that he wasn’t killed; Ollie maintains that she is too good of an archer you know, the greatest archer in the world to have missed. Either way, she cares for him until he’s well again, and they spend a lovely few weeks in her idyllic garden paradise, swimming naked and talking about archery with Ollie completely unaware that she raped him while he was delirious. (Her justification is that, knowing that Ollie will always love Dinah and that Dinah can’t have children, she wants to have something of Ollie that Dinah can’t have. With the magical powers of comic book ladies, she manages to conceive from one-time intercourse out of sheer willpower, I guess.) So: she shoots him, she heals him, she rapes him, she staycations with him. Again: complicated.
Shado’s hardly a role model. She’s committed violent crimes against both friends and enemies, and if her son is at risk, it’s a fair bet she’ll commit them again. (She’s a very devoted mother! Have I mentioned? Complicated.) But in her heyday Shado was a nuanced and interesting character who always added to any story in which she played a part, and will hopefully add her own particular brand of ambiguous morality to Green Arrow storylines to come.
Notable Appearances:
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters
Green Arrow v2 #9-12, 21-24, 35-38, 63-66, 75, 101, 115-117
Green Arrow Annual #2
Shado: Song of the Dragon #1-4
Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood #1-6
Green Arrow/Black Canary #11-12

Karolina Dean (Lucy in the Sky)

When Karolina and her friends discovered that their parents were actually evil, murdering criminals, she was probably the one who had the toughest time coming to terms with it. For one, the gentle, infinitely kind girl had a hard time believing the worst of anyone, especially her movie star parents. And second, well. Discovering that your movie-star-slash-murdering-criminal parents were also banished Majesdanian aliens, and thus so was she, was kind of hard to take.
She did accept it, though, and ran off with the other kids. Despite some lingering depression and inability to fully control her solar-based powers, she was loyal to the team and joined in on the crime-fighting attempts. But things went from bad to worse when she tried to kiss one of her female friends, Nico, and was rejected.
Soon after, a Skrull named Xavin showed up and declared that she was Karolina’s fiancée. (Skrulls don’t possess male/female gender identities, but Xavin usually defaults to a woman in human form, so for the sake of this post, I’m going to use feminine pronouns.) Their parents had arranged the marriage long ago to broker peace between their warring worlds. Her spirit broken, Karolina agreed to leave Earth to marry Xavin, despite protests from the other Runaways.
On Majesdane, Karolina learned how to fully control her abilities. But before the wedding could take place, war broke again, and Xavin and Karolina ended up back on Earth. During their time together, they’d developed genuine feelings for each other, so Xavin stuck around and joined the team. Despite her loyalty to Xavin, Karolina harbored an attraction to Nico, and her confusion over Xavin’s gender led to friction.
When Majesdanians arrived on Earth arrest Karolina for her part in the recent war with the Skrulls, shape-shifting Xavin knocked her out and took her place. When Karolina awoke, Xavin was already on her way to Majesdane; Karolina was devastated.
Mostly recently, S.W.O.R.D. (Sentient World Observation and Response Department) tried to deport Karolina, along with other aliens on Earth. They didn’t quite manage it, and she helped save the world from truly evil aliens instead.
So What’s So Great About Her?

It’s no big secret that superhero comics are largely constructed to fit a straight man’s fantasy. As such, the women are stacked, gorgeous, scantily clad, and ready to be the nearest male hero’s arm candy. On the rare occasion that they would really rather be on the arm of another lady, it’s usually staged so it appeals to the male gaze first. The romance and women themselves come in a distant second.
With Karolina, this isn’t the case at all. Her coming out process was very quiet and drawn-out, something she was dealing with while also coming to terms with her parents’ true nature. Accepting her sexuality took a backseat, understandably so, and Karolina is such a quiet character that it’s unsurprising that she mostly kept it to herself.
Speaking of which, I have to admit that I love quiet heroes. Obviously, forceful, outgoing personalities are a lot more common among superheroes—not only are alphas more likely to jump into the fray, they’re easier to write. Karolina’s quiet bravery is very nuanced and artfully constructed. Honestly, she’s also often a breath of fresh air amongst the rest of the sarcastic, loudmouth Runaways.
But anyway, Karolina’s coming out and subsequent relationship is personality-driven and comes across as very real, an admirable feat for a glowing alien dating a shapeshifter from a genderless culture. Their relationship is as intense as any first serious relationship and fraught with bickering and promises of undying devotion. The course of their love doesn’t run smoothly—Karolina’s feelings for Nico don’t go away immediately, and she’s not actually comfortable with Xavin not having a concrete, recognizable gender of choice—because hey, what relationship is perfect? Especially a teenage relationship.
Another way the creative teams make it clear they’re keeping the characters’ ages in mind—there are no sexy makeouts or anything close to sex scenes. What we do get are plenty of affectionate moments and implications of a sexual relationship. The fact that I’m actually impressed a comic isn’t sexually exploiting a teenage lesbian is really depressing, but hey, that’s the state of comics right now.
Karolina’s so introverted, so inclined to put others first, that it’s hard to say a lot about her personality. She’s sweet, strikingly pretty, and has a strong social conscious, but sometimes she gets lost in the crowd of extroverts. As pleased as I am to see a realistic, sympathetic portrait of a lesbian hero in comics, the fact that this has been her primary personality trait for the last few years is really unfair to her character. As much as I’ve missed Xavin, I’m excited to see what her absence brings out in Karolina.
Notable Appearances

Runaways (vol. 1) #1-18
Runaways (vol. 2) #1-30
X-Men/Runaways
Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways #1-4
Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers #1-3
Runaways (vol. 3) 1-14
S.W.O.R.D. #1-5

Joan Mason

Publisher: Fox Features Syndicate, then Holyoke Publishing, then Fox again, then finally Charlton Comics
First Appearance: Blue Beetle v1 #4 (Fall 1940)
Created By: ‘Charles Nicholas’ (Originally a penname for Charles Wojtowski, original Blue Beetle artist, this became a catchall credit for all Blue Beetle comics no matter who worked on them.)
Biography:

Throughout the 1940s, young Dan Garret kept the streets safe by day as a rookie patrolman and by night as the Blue Beetle, possessed of powers so mysterious even the writers weren’t totally sure what they were! In both guises he was dogged by ‘demon girl reporter’ Joan Mason, the star reporter of the Bulletin, Daily Blade, New York Chronicle, or Daily Planet, depending on who was writing that particular issue. Though she considered the Blue Beetle ‘a romantic caveman,’ Joan had no particular interest in Dan except as a source of inside tips, but she often found herself entangled in his zany, mobster-and-foreign-spy-battling adventures nonetheless.
In the postwar years, as the popularity of superheroes faded, Blue Beetle stories underwent a shift from jovial costumed adventures to darker, tawdrier stories featuring sexy tied-up ladies on the covers. (Yes, comic books have always been super classy.) As Blue Beetle gradually was reduced to narrating true crime stories in his own book, Joan’s star rose. Her hair was changed from damsel-in-distress blonde to take-no-prisoners brunette, and she began starring in her own backup stories across the Fox list, fighting murderous strippers and engaging in hilarious newspaper-related japes. Sometimes Dan would show up briefly, or his lovably oafish partner Mike Mannigan, but Blue Beetle was persona non grata in these all-Joan, all the time stories.
So What’s So Great About Her?

As you’ve probably surmised from the bio above, the quality of Fox Features’ comics was…variable, as was the artistic integrity. This was, after all, the company that was sued for plagiarizing Superman with their very first issue. And the idea of a feisty girl reporter who occasionally worked for the Daily Planet, was infatuated with a superhero and had no interest in his boring old civilian identity, and whose nose for news often got her into wacky scrapes came from a very clear source.
But two things keep her from being a total Lois clone. One is that she did get those solo stories, while Superman managed to hang onto the limelight throughout the entire Golden Age. (Lois did, of course, get a long-running solo series, but not until the Silver Age.)
The other is that Lois continued past the Golden Age, into the silly, domestic stories of the Silver Age, the clumsy steps towards feminism in the Bronze Age, and the completely rockin’ character she is now. Lois is a well-rounded, complicated character with a back catalogue that stands as a history of women in comics and in pop culture, to a large degree. Joan, fading as she did when Charlton ditched Dan Garret’s police background, remains very purely what Lois was at her inception: a fearless, brassy dame who carries a pen and a gun and is far more dangerous with the former. She’s a fast-talking, wise-cracking time capsule of a bygone era an era, it’s worth noting, when female reporters were few and far between. And she’s usually far more human and entertaining than stilted, awkward Dan.
Joan Mason is inarguably a one-note character, and certainly a product of her time but even after over half a century out of print, she’s a joy to read.

Notable Appearances:
Fox/Holyoke:
All Great Comics
All-Top Comics #8-12
Blue Beetle v1 #4,9, 13,31-41,47-48,56-60
Book of All-Comics #1
Everybody’s Comics #1
Mystery Men Comics #15
Phantom Lady #13
Zago, Jungle Prince #1
Zoot Comics #7
Charlton:
Blue Beetle v2 #118, 120, 121, 140
Space Adventures #13-14

Courtney Whitmore (Star-Spangled Kid II/Stargirl)

Our tribute to Americana continues with another star-spangled heroine!
Publisher: DC Comics
Created By: Geoff Johns and Lee Moder
First Appearance: Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #0 (July 1999)
Biography:

Courtney Whitmore was none too happy when her mom announced that a) she was marrying her doofy boyfriend Pat Dugan, and b) the whole family was moving from LA (hot!) to Blue Valley, Nebraska (not). Courtney blamed Pat for the move, so when she discovered his secret namely, that he had been the adult sidekick Stripesy to the deceased teen hero Star-Spangled Kid she decided to get back at him by stealing the Kid’s Cosmic Converter Belt and wearing it, along with a modified costume, to a school dance. Naturally, bad guys attacked, and Courtney swung into action and found herself hooked on the superhero lifestyle. Unable to dissuade her, Pat decided to fight crime beside her and keep an eye on her in a giant robot suit he called S.T.R.I.P.E.
Courtney soon joined the JSA, and there matured from a bratty kid with braces to a mature, heroic young woman…with braces. After Starman Jack Knight gave her his cosmic staff, she changed her name to Stargirl. While on the JSA, she dated both Atom-Smasher, who was much older than her, and Captain Marvel, who only looked much older than her. She also fought her deadbeat dad, who turned out to have become a hired thug, and when he was killed, acknowledged Pat to be the father she really loved.
As something of a mentor to the other young heroes in the JSA franchise, she split off from the main JSA to form the All-Stars with Power Girl, but that series was recently canceled. With the JSA benched in the new DCU, Courtney’s future is uncertain, but considering her connection to Geoff Johns (see below), it’s unlikely that she’s gone for good.
So What’s So Great About Her?

I first encountered Courtney in her own series, Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E.. Geoff Johns famously based Courtney on his own sister, who died tragically young, and perhaps that’s why Courtney is so appealing. She’s just such a believable kid, even when phrases like ‘Cosmic Converter Belt’ are coming out of her metalmouth.
In fact, maybe it’s those selfsame braces that make her so gosh-darn likeable, or her goofy, Yankee Poodle-inspired costume with its godawful bike shorts. She’s a teenage girl who is trying so, so hard to be cool and coming off like a total goober, and how can you not love that? Even better, she’s a teenage girl who gradually matures and grows out of her gooberhood (though, unfortunately, not her bike shorts), and that’s so rewarding to watch. (Especially for those of us who remember our own bracefaced years. Bike shorts were the least of my problems.
Seeing Courtney as she was ten years ago makes me want to cringe with sympathy and give her a cookie. Seeing Courtney as she is now makes me want to give her a high five and then sit down with her and dish. And surrounded as she is by the most legendary figures in the DCU, Courtney’s very existence is loaded with potential; she’s always portrayed as a teenage girl who will one day be just as legendary. So seeing Courtney as she will be in another ten years will, I’m guessing, also be a joy.
Courtney Whitmore is proof that DC can depict a teenage girl in all her awkward, moody glory, and do it respectfully and well. Three cheers for the red, white, and blue!

Notable Appearances
Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. #0-14
JSA #1-87
Starman v2 #80
Justice Society of America v3 #1-50
JSA All-Stars #1-18

Clarice Ferguson (Blink)

When the techno-organic alien Phalanx started abducting young mutants, Bahamian-born Clarice was one of those taken. Though she was notably freaked out by her teleportation powers, she ended up using them to cut apart one of the Phalanx and save the day. Unfortunately, she was so inexperienced that she also killed herself in the process. Recently, Clarice was resurrected by the ancient psychic-vampire Selene, who manipulated her into doing her bidding.
Meanwhile, in an alternate universe where Apocalypse ruled, Clarice was rescued from slavery by Sabretooth of all people and taken to join the renegade X-Men. She idolized her mentor, ‘Mr. Creed,” who helped her heal and come into her own after years of degradation and sexual abuse. She became a valued member of the team and was prepared to go down fighting with the rest of them when their universe was ostensibly tearing apart at the seams.
At that point, however, Clarice found herself transported to a new world by a being called the Timebroker. He told her, along with a few others, that there was a new mission at hand—to travel to alternate universes and right wrongs. Clarice became the leader of the group and eventually started up a relationship with one of the others, Mimic. Over the years, the Exiles have lost and gained several members, including Blink, but she seems to have a way of coming back to the team.
So What’s So Great About Her?

One thing I love about Blink is how we get to see the duality of her character. In the mainstream Marvel universe, where we first lay eyes on her, she’s a scared teenager in a ridiculously horrible situation. Considering she was already traumatized by the manifestation of her mutant powers (which involved waking up in a pool of blood), it’s no wonder she’s freaked out. She ends up saving the day, but she’s inexperienced and dies doing it, thereby making herself what would normally be a heroic footnote in X-Men lore.
But then came the Age of Apocalypse, and oh em gee. I must say, I was still in my comics fan infancy when AoA ran its course, so it seemed like a HUGE deal to me. And it was…at the time. But over 15 years later, there are very few lingering AoA influences left in the Marvel U — for example, Dark Beast, an evil and truly horrifying version of Hank McCoy; X-Man, a son of Cyclops and Jean Grey; and Blink.
It can be hard to predict who’s going to end up becoming a breakout character, and I truly think Marvel expected it to be X-Man; after all, he survived the destruction of AoA’s universe and crossed over to mainstream Marvel to star in his own outgoing. But really, how could it have been anyone but Clarice? She’s got it all! Her pink-and-purple coloring, paired with a green fantasy-novel-elf-slash-video-game-heroine outfit, is memorable and gorgeous. She has an even more ridiculously horrible situation in her background, and overcomes it to become a valuable member of the X-Men. And to top it all off, Sabretooth is her daddy! That’s right — murderous, sadistic Victor Creed is, in AoA, rather domesticated, thanks in part to a spritely young girl he more or less adopts. Compelling? I should say so.
I know you might not believe me when I say this, but — all this, and she’s really not a Mary Sue.
There’s no wonder there’s pretty much been a constant outcry to bring back Blink since AoA ended. I don’t really care that they brought back the original Clarice, who seems to have reverted to her ‘scared and confused” characterization, but I’m grateful we had Exiles for as long as we did, because that way we got to keep the Clarice and see her grow. Because for all she participated in X-Menning, she was still (rightfully, I guess) treated as a teenager (she was often the designated babysitter for Magneto and Rogue’s son, for example). Plopped into yet another ridiculously horrible situation, and we got to see her pretty much finish growing into womanhood, becoming more assertive and less dependent on Creed emotionally, and evolve into an effective leader and warrior.
While I’m really bummed that she’s been retconned as the survivor sexual abuse (traumatic enough to make her go mute as a girl, but apparently totally over it now — that’s quality writing, kids), Blink’s badass design and growth as a character mostly make up for it. I just hope the AoA version of her pops up again sometimes soon.
Notable Appearances

Uncanny X-Men #317
X-Men #37
X-Men Alpha
Astonishing X-Men #1-4
X-Men Omega
Blink #1-4
Tales from the Age of Apocalypse
Exiles (vol.1) #1-100
Exiles Annual #1
X-Men: Die By the Sword #1-5
Exiles: Days of Then and Now
Exiles (vol. 2) #1-6
X-Necrosha #1
X-Force #25
X-Men: To Serve and Protect #3

Tora Olafsdotter (Ice)

The princess of a hidden kingdom of magic-users somewhere in Norway, Tora was born with a particularly strong strain of the ice-manipulating powers common to her people. When an engineer named Rod Schoendienst found Tora’s tribe, she decided to leave her home and explore the outside world. She wound up joining the Global Guardians, replacing Sigrid Nansen as Icemaiden, and became close friends with Beatriz Da Costa, the Green Flame.
When the UN transferred their funding from the Global Guardians to the newly-formed Justice League International, Bea and Tora joined the JLI, and soon after changed their codenames to Fire and Ice. There, Tora began an unlikely romance with the brutish Guy Gardner. After a series of adventures with the JLI, including battling her brother, who had tried to take over their home kingdom, Tora fell under the thrall of the world-conquering Overmaster, and was killed while resisting him.
Years later, Tora was discovered, alive but comatose, in Azerbaijan. The Birds of Prey rescued her from a mobster who was planning to use his captive ice goddess to manipulate the suspicious locals. Tora reunited with Bea, and has been tentatively rekindling her relationship with Guy.
(Recently, Tora got a new, retconned origin as a Norwegian gypsy possessing inexplicable ice powers. Her reluctant thief father hid her away from her evil grandfather, who wanted to exploit her powers, and when her grandfather finally caught up with them, Tora panicked and killed both men. There’s no explanation for the ice kingdom, or the rest of Tora’s family, who the rest of the JLI have all met. Since this new origin is racist and nonsensical (her new father’s name isn’t even Olaf!), I am ignoring it. It’s my blog and I can do that.)
So What’s So Great About Her?

There are many different kinds of strength. Unfortunately, comics tend to show just the one kind the brash, loud, hit-it-until-it-falls-down kind. Superheroes tend to be aggressive, flamboyant people who hit first and ask questions later.
Tora is a wonderful example of a different kind of strength. She’s soft-spoken. She’s humble. She’s gentle. She loves baby animals and romantic movies, and tries to keep the peace whenever possible, rather than charging headlong into a fight. She is deliberately so, of course a total contrast to her quick-tempered, flashy best friend and her antagonistic, bull-headed boyfriend.
And yet Tora’s quiet pacifism should never be mistaken for cowardice or weakness. She has always been fearless in battle and wholeheartedly willing to risk her life to defend others. In fact, she gave her life to save the world. And in terms of sheer power well, she’s an actual, literal goddess. I sure wouldn’t want to mess with her.
More remarkable than her physical power and courage in combat, however, is her strength of character. Tora surrounds herself with domineering personalities she’s clearly drawn to alphas. But no matter how aggressive the people around her are, she stays true to herself. She may give in to Bea on the little things, like entering a modeling contest or demanding a job from the JLI, but she never lets Bea’s dislike of Guy hell, the whole team’s dislike of Guy stop her from dating him. She may tolerate a few uncouth remarks of Guy’s here and there, but she demands that he treat her with respect, and she’s not afraid to walk out on him when he’s out of line. And she insists that they keep the peace when she’s around, something none of the actual leaders of the JLI were ever able to accomplish.
Tora could so easily be a pushover, bullied by her more assertive loved ones. Instead, she changes them, making Bea more thoughtful and level-headed, and Guy more rational and mature. If you’ve read even one panel featuring Guy Gardner, you know what a feat that is! Tora Olafsdotter: way more powerful than the Guardians of the Universe. (Also, taller.)
At the end of the day, Tora is a woman who could move mountains, but chooses instead to use her remarkable strength of character to love others, who are by far the better for it. Weak? Timid? I don’t think so.

Notable Appearances:
Tora’s branch of the JLI was renamed Justice League America with issue #26. She has also appeared in many issues of the other JLI-related books of the time, particularly Justice League Europe and Justice League Quarterly, but her main narrative is below.
Justice League International v1 #12-25
Justice League America #26-91
Showcase ‘96 #7 (this and the following two appearances are ‘was it really her?”-style posthumous appearances that will totally make you cry)
JLA Annual #2
I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League
Birds of Prey v1 #104-108
Checkmate v2 #16
Green Lantern Corps v2 #19, 20, 28, 29, 39, and 46
Blackest Night #1, 5, and 8
Justice League: Generation Lost #1-24
Tora will be co-starring in the upcoming Justice League International v3.