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.)

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:
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
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)

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.

Maya Lopez (Echo/Ronin)

Publisher: Marvel Comics
First Appearance: Daredevil (vol. 2) #9 (1999)
Created By: David Mack & Joe Quesada

As Maya’s father, a Cheyenne mob enforcer nicknamed Crazy Horse, lay dying, he did two things that changed the course of his young daughter’s life: he touched her face, leaving a bloody handprint on her skin, and asked his boss to raise her. This was readily agreed to, despite the fact that the boss, Wilson Fisk, aka Kingpin, was the one who killed Crazy Horse in the first place.
Deaf from birth, Maya was initially placed in special education classes, but it soon became obvious that she was, in fact, a prodigy; she had a talent for music, art, and dance, and thanks to Kingpin, she also the benefit of the best education money could buy. She never forgot her roots, though, and when she was a young woman, she asked her foster father how Crazy Horse had died. The answer: he’d been murdered by Daredevil.
From there, she made it her mission to avenge her father’s death. Painting a memorial handprint on her face, she made the most of her powers (the ability to mimic whatever motion she sees) and sought to destroy Daredevil. She almost succeeded too, only stopped by the discovery that Daredevil was Matt Murdock, the man she was dating. (Kingpin had actually kind of set them up to exploit Matt’s weaknesses. What a matchmaker!) Once she figured out what the hell was actually going on, she was understandably furious and ended up shooting Kingpin in the face, blinding him. Poetic justice?
One ended relationship and a vision quest later, Maya reformed completely and joined the New Avengers as Ronin, a ninja whose costume completely concealed her identity and gender; later, she ditched the persona and went back to Echo. This was a pretty unawesome time for her, considering she got murdered and resurrected, and also because she basically had no friends on the team, other than Wolverine (sort of). But at least she got to bang her hottie bad boy teammate, Hawkeye.
Since leaving the team, she’s been working undercover as a stripper, because this is comics.
So What’s So Great About Her?

In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Daredevil went through a renaissance of sorts, becoming a top-shelf book (not the porno kind) with both high quality art and writing. I read it avidly for several years, but when it comes down to it, the things I remember best about the era were the amazing Kevin Smith/Joe Quesada run…and Maya.
More than anything else, this was because of her design, which is incredibly striking, and the arty splash pages that mark her time in the book. But the more I think of it, the more I realize that Maya has the potential to be an absolutely amazing character, if she were just given a little more face time and room to grow.
I mean, look what she’s got going for her. She has a beautiful, memorable design (honestly, I remembered her costume details but not the fact that she can’t hear, which is actually not a good thing). She’s brilliant in a fairly unusual way for comics, but it’s still a huge asset to her crime-fighting. She’s a woman of color who is usually depicted as being such, instead of a white girl with a great tan; as an added bonus, her Native American heritage doesn’t tend to get very stereotypical, the occasional vision quest aside. She’s also a hero with a disability, which is very, very rare in comics, though Marvel’s not depicting that as well as they should.
So Maya has all the marks of becoming a strong, progressive, thoroughly kick-ass hero. And yet she gets ignored; she only pops up occasionally in the Marvel Universe, despite a stint on an A-list superhero team. There are so many places where she could shine—I just wish she were given more of a chance.
Notable Appearances

Daredevil (vol. 2) #9-15; 51-55
New Avengers (vol. 1) #11-13; 27-39; annual 2
Secret Invasion #1-8
New Avengers (vol. 2) #7
Moon Knight (vol. 4) #2

Lulu Moppet (Little Lulu)

Publisher: Originally, The Saturday Evening Post. When Lulu joined the comic book world, she was published by Dell. Dark Horse Comics currently owns the reprint rights.
First Appearance: February 23, 1935 edition of The Saturday Evening Post
Created By: Marjorie Henderson Buell aka ‘Marge’

Lulu Moppet lives with her parents, George and Martha, tiny dog, and cat (a female inexplicably named Christopher) in a suburb where a kid can get nearly anywhere just by walking. Her best friend is supposedly a little girl named Annie, but her main partner in both crime and adventure is the aptly named Tubby Thompkins; their relationship goes from a mutual quasi-crush one minute to barely tolerated disdain the next. That’s pretty much how I remember my grade school crushes too.
Lulu’s a bright, creative girl, and she usually has the best of intentions, but sometimes her imagination gets the best of her, leading to accidental mayhem. She’s also feisty and has a well-developed sense of moral outrage, which usually emerges when the neighborhood boys tease her for being a girl. A lot of her adventures center around her attempts to infiltrate their ‘boys only’ club, much to their dismay. Unfortunately for the boys, she’s smarter than all of them and almost always gets the better of them.
When not championing feminism, Lulu is often found babysitting neighborhood sociopath Alvin Jones (the elaborate fables she tells him are amazingly hilarious), running errands for her mother, and playing with dolls. Oh, and she sometimes helps ghosts solve their problems. For serious.
So What’s So Great About Her?

When I was a little girl, my familiarity with Little Lulu came from a few animated shorts. I don’t think I even realized she was a comic book character, and even if I had, it wouldn’t have mattered. When I initially got into comics, my interests were solely superhero-based and remained so for well over a decade. I wish I’d read Little Lulu as a kid, though, because in the two years since I’ve discovered these comics, Lulu’s become one of my very favorite female characters, full stop.
Lulu is one of those very rare characters who’s mischievous but manages to also be totally likable. She usually doesn’t mean to cause chaos; in fact, more often than not she’s a nice, helpful girl, a voice of reason for selfish, opportunistic Tubby to clash with. But while she’s very clever, she’s also never takes the time to ponder the full effects of what she’s doing. In this way, despite the cartoon-y nature of her stories, she’s also a very realistic child, which I love.
It also helps that she’s extremely brave and rather fierce. Granted, Tubby is a coward, but he’s also a male chauvinist. Yet he’s the first to acknowledge that Lulu has a way of solving problems, whether it’s with her brain or a fearsome snarl. But she’s also so feminine—she’s often busy minding her baby dolls, almost always wears her little dress and matching cap, and is absolutely always depicted in her signature ringlets.
So Lulu proves that you can be a strong, forceful person without sacrificing your femininity. No wonder Friends of Lulu, a group that promotes women readers and creators of comics, chose her for their mascot. Lulu’s constant attempts to break into the boys’ club was also pretty symbolic to FoL, which was frustrated by the male domination of both the comics industry and fandom. I think Lulu would heartily approve of her namesake, and not just out of vanity (though, being Lulu, that would be part of it).
Also, I have to say that her comics are genuinely some of the most hilarious I’ve ever read, and considering some are over 60 years old, that’s really saying something. (Have you ever read ‘funny books’ from the Golden Age? Let’s just say that sometimes tastes in humor don’t pass down from generation to generation.) There’s a timeless quality to them, and it always lifts my spirits to find an amazing comic that I would feel comfortable handing to a child.
In conclusion, go read Little Lulu. I mean, right now. I’ll wait.

Notable Appearances

Yeah, okay, you could go back and try to collect 40+ years of individual comic books, in which case you’re far richer and more patient than I am, or you can pick up the extremely comprehensive reprint trades from Dark Horse. There are currently 27 slimmer trades, featuring about five comics’ worth of material each, and many of them are in full color. Giant Size Little Lulu trades are in black and white (which I prefer, but that’s just me) and contain around 15 stories. Dark Horse has also been reprinting Little Lulu’s Friend Tubby comics in their own volumes, which obviously feature Lulu from time to time.

Janet van Dyne (Wasp)

The world came crashing down on happy-go-lucky socialite Janet van Dyne when her scientist father was killed. Vowing revenge, she talked his genius colleague, Hank Pym, into sharing his ‘Pym particles,’ which give people the ability to grow or shrink. For good measure, he also added wings and fire blasts to her power roster, and together they started teaming up as Ant-Man and Wasp. It wasn’t long before their relationship grew romantic, even if they had a tendency to bicker.
Jan and Hank remained a couple for several years, during which they also became founding members of the Avengers. (In fact, Jan named the team.) But it wasn’t until after Hank had an accident with some chemicals, causing him to start developing different personalities, that they headed down the alter. This ended up not working out so great for her as his mental state grew more erratic. During the course of her breakdown, he was verbally and, on one occasion, physically abusive. Understandably, Jan divorced him, though they continued being a couple off an on after Hank stabilized. She also dated some of her hot teammates, like Tony Stark and Hawkeye. (Him again!)
During the recent Secret Invasion storyline, a Skrull posing as Hank injected her with some super-cool-fun growth hormones. Turns out this really turned her into a bomb of sorts, and she was on the verge of exploding and taking out civilians when Thor was forced to kill her. Everyone was sad.
In her honor, Hank took up the mantle of Wasp, except now he’s Giant-Man again. I guess he’s over her.
So What’s So Great About Her?

I’m hard pressed to think of a superhero, male or female, who’s more fun than Jan. From her powers to her friendly, flirtatious personality to her endless stream of costume changes (for an amazingly exhaustive list of her eight billion costumes, check out this site), Jan is just an exuberant force of nature. With every scan I looked at for this post, I found myself wondering whether I’d rather have a BFF just like her or be more like her myself. She’s magnetic.
What’s even more interesting is that she’s always been this way. In the 1960s, particularly under the legendary Lee-Kirby helm, women were mostly present to serve as both a domestic mother figure and a place to stick a thought bubble filled with tearful, secret pining for some dude. When they were actually heroes, they often joined the good fight through relatively passive means (i.e., Sue accidentally getting hit with cosmic rays, Jean just being born a mutant, etc.).
Not so with Jan! She actively wanted to be a hero…or, she wanted to avenge her father with superpowers, and heroics came as a side dish. Either way, it was something she knowingly courted. And while her early comics with Hank are filled with typical romantic hemming and hawing, Jan often muses about her feelings for him right in front of him. Screw you, thought bubbles! And when he ignores her, Jan has zero problems flirting with any warm man-body to make him jealous—and to have a little fun.
Speaking of Hank, for someone with the reputation for having one of the worst relationships in comics, Jan is actually a rare woman in comics who doesn’t have terrible taste in men. While he might have been a squoosh old for her and maybe a little staid at times, Hank was actually a pretty good guy at first. It just so happened that he lost his mind. None of the abuse happened before his accident, and the one time he hit her, he was particularly lacking in lucidity. Which is not me trying to say that this makes it totally okay that he abused her—not at all. But if it’s not clear that there were mitigating circumstances to the abuse, it makes the fact that she got back together with him down the road sort of horrible.
In any case, Jan is beautiful, vibrant, and strong, and provides an enduring legacy to the Marvel Universe. So, naturally, she was killed off, and despite a recent tease at a resurrection, she remains dead. Shortly after her death in the main Marvel U, her Ultimate version was also murdered. When you do a Google Image search for ‘Janet van Dyne,’ the first result that pops up is a full-page illustration from Ultimatum graphically depicting her corpse being eaten by the Blob.
That pretty much sums up almost everything I hate about comics these days.
Notable Appearances

Tales to Astonish #44-69
The Avengers #1-75
Marvel Feature #6-10
The Avengers #137-278
Marvel Team-Up #59-60
West Coast Avengers #32-69
Solo Avengers #15
The Avengers (vol. 3) #1-84
The Avengers #500-503
Avengers Finale
Beyond! #1-6
Mighty Avengers #1-20
Secret Invasion #1-8
Incredible Hercules #129

Elvira Coot Duck (Grandma Duck)

For this last day of May, we’re ending our month-long tribute to mothers with a bit of an odd duck. rimshot The world of comics is not all superheroes!
Publisher: Disney, and whatever companies currently hold the Disney licenses in various countries (so, like, a lot of companies).
First Appearance: Donald Duck newspaper strip (as a painting in 1940, in person in 1943)
Created By: Al Taliaferro

Elvira was born in Duckburg, Calisota, the daughter of Clinton Coot, founder of the Junior Woodchucks, and granddaughter of Cornelius Coot, founder of Duckburg itself a very illustrious pedigree, duckishly speaking. She married Dabney Duck (sometimes called Humperdink), with whom she started a farm and raised three children Quackmore, Daphne, and Eider.
When Scottish billionaire Scrooge McDuck moved in next door, hot-tempered Quackmore fell in love with one of Scrooge’s sisters, the equally hot-tempered Hortense. They eventually married and had twins, Donald and Della, and then seem to have just…disappeared, leaving the twins with Elvira and Dabney. Matters were made even more difficult when Dabney passed away, leaving Elvira to run the farm and raise her grandchildren no mean feat where Donald was concerned!
At the tender age of 20, Della married and had triplets: Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Then she abandoned them to the tender mercies of their ‘Unca Donald,’ and hasn’t been seen since. Somehow, Donald managed to turn three even worse hellions than himself into model young ducklings, but it’s widely agreed that he wouldn’t have managed without the calming influence of Elvira, as well as her father’s Junior Woodchucks.
Now Elvira is the matriarch of four generations of ducks, running her farm with the ‘help’ of her lazy great-nephew Gus (and, occasionally, the mice from Cinderella. Disney comics are weird).
So What’s So Great About Her?

Disney comics have a long and storied tradition, though they’re not very widely read in the US. The biography above is based mainly on the work of Don Rosa, following an informal family tree laid out by the all-time king of Duck comics, Carl Barks. In older Italian comics, Scrooge and Elvira are brother and sister, and in others, they’re cousins, though those traditions have mainly been supplanted by the Barks/Rosa storyline.
But Donald and his family are cartoon characters, existing continually in the present and wearing the same thing every day, and so the details of the past are less important than those of today. Regardless of tradition, some things are always true about Grandma Duck: she runs a farm, she raised Donald, and she helps him keep Huey, Dewey, and Louie in line.
That alone would be enough to make her awesome. Running a farm is really freaking hard work, and Grandma has done it basically alone since her husband died, since Gus is pretty much useless. (Actually, considering his main characteristics are ‘lazy’ and ‘gluttonous,’ he’s probably worse than useless.) Raising three kids is also really freaking hard work, especially as difficult kids as the Duck family tends to turn out, and Grandma Duck was, by all accounts, an excellent mother.
But Elvira went above and beyond, raising her grandchildren and running the farm alone despite her grief (not only had her husband just died, but it’s probable that Donald and Della were left with Elvira because Quackmore and Hortense were dead). That’s a heroic effort. And though no one really knows what became of Della, Donald turned out all right hot-tempered and foolhardy, sure, but basically good-hearted and happy. And the nephews are paragons of little ducky virtue (in the comics, at least).
Disney comics can be unkind to female characters (Barks’s depiction of Daisy makes one want to weep), but Grandma Duck is consistently portrayed in a positive light. The undisputed matriarch of the whole motley clan, she’s strong, capable, and self-reliant, yet also nurturing and cozy, ready at a moment’s notice to provide a plate of fresh-baked cookies and some sound advice or a boot in the bottom and a no-nonsense talking-to. She takes no guff from her hot-headed grandson or his blustery uncle, and is Daisy’s go-to for help and guidance despite the fact that until Donald puts a ring on it, they’re not actually related. (Well, probably not. The Duck family tree is tangled.)
Donald may be a star and Scrooge may be a fantasticatrillionaire, but there’s no question who wears the pants in the Duck family…
…Actually, no one. Lack of pants-wearing is a longstanding family tradition. But Grandma Duck is most definitely the lady in charge.

Notable Appearances:
Grandma Duck has never had her own title in the US, but she’s had over ten thousand appearances worldwide (I told you Disney comics were big!), and over 500 comics in the US alone. You can find a full list of her appearances here. Nowadays, you’re most likely to find her in Walt Disney’s Comics, currently being published monthly by Boom! Studios.

Anita Fite (Empress)

Anita Fite’s grandmother was a voodou priestess who relocated from Haiti to the Louisiana bayou, where she raised Anita’s mother. When Anita’s mother met and married Donald Fite, agent of the government’s All Purpose Enforcement Squad (A.P.E.S.), the young couple permitted Anita’s grandmother to beseech the gods’ favor for their unborn child.
Whether it was divine intervention or not, young Anita was born with enhanced athleticism, plus a piece of the Anti-Life Equation in her brain that allowed her to telepathically command others to do simple tasks. Her grandmother finished the job by training Anita in voodou, giving her the ability to perform various spells and teleport.
Years later, Anita happened to be at the mall when she witnessed Cissie King-Jones (who had just hung up her Arrowette mantle) stopping a thief, and was inspired to become a vigilante. Taking the codename Empress, she started hanging around Young Justice in a semi-creepy fashion, every so often stepping in to save their bacon. Eventually she officially joined the team, started a sort-of romance with Li’l Lobo/Slo-bo, and even befriended her idol Cissie, who was initially hostile towards her ‘replacement.’
When Anita’s father was killed by the evil voodou practitioner Agua Sin Gaaz who, years before, had killed Anita’s mother Anita went after him seeking revenge. Instead, thanks to Sin Gaaz’s experiments with cloning and resurrection, she found her parents again, reborn as infants. She took a break from Young Justice (which was soon to disband anyway) to concentrate on raising her parents. Comics, everyone!
So What’s So Great About Her?

I’m not going to lie. There are aspects of Anita’s character that make me go ‘Wait, what?’ Like, did the only non-white member of Young Justice really have to be the voodou-spell-casting granddaughter of a voodou priestess? Did she really sometimes have to get naked to perform her oh-so-exotic-and-spooky bloodletting spells? And why does she speak with a Jamaican accent, mon, when she’s from Louisiana?
But if you can get past the problematic origin (unfortunately all too common with characters of color in comics) and train your eyes to gloss over the ‘accent,’ Anita is a welcome addition to the YJ crew. She’s witty and entertainingly badass. She’s open-minded enough to date someone like Li’l Lobo, and is able to see the humor in the inevitable farce that is their date. And though she has a certain amount of hero worship for Cissie, she’s both empathetic enough to understand why Cissie is being catty towards her when Anita takes her slot on the team, and bold enough to tell Cissie where to stick it when Cissie tells her to quit.
That last bit is important, because if Anita’s got anything, it’s the courage of her convictions. She becomes a superhero simply because she realizes that she wants to use her exceptional abilities to help sadly, a rarity for female characters. She charges fearlessly into danger both to rescue her father and to revenge herself upon his murderer (though due to plot machinations, she’s not the one who kills Sin Gaaz). And when she finds herself a bizarre comic book version of a teen mom, she goes right ahead and raises her parents (presumably A.P.E.S. is footing the bills?).
Anita hasn’t been seen much since the cancellation of Young Justice, though a guest spot in Supergirl shows that she’s still taking care of her folks even if that means fighting a Kryptonian. But she’s a great, fun character, and hopefully some writer will pull her out of limbo soon.
Notable Appearances
Young Justice #16-55
Titans/Young Justice: Graduation Day
Infinite Crisis #6
Wonder Girl miniseries
Final Crisis #1
Supergirl v5 #33Anita Fite (Empress)

Raven Darkholme (Mystique)

Publisher: Marvel Comics
First Appearance: Ms. Marvel #16 (as Raven) & 18 (as Mystique) (1978)
Created By: Chris Claremont & Dave Cockrum

Not much is known about the early life of the shapeshifter knowb as Mystique—not even her real name; Raven is merely her most favored alias. She is certainly much older than she looks, having been an adult at the turn of the 20th century, when she met her partner and love of her life, the blind seer Irene Adler. Years later, Mystique active in the espionage game during World War II, apparently unaged.
During the Cold War era, she was both busy as a spy and assassin and getting busy, if you know what I’m saying. First she knocked boots with crazed murderer Sabretooth, which resulted in a son, Graydon; she later abandoned the boy when he turned out to not be a mutant. She then had an affair with a demon-y looking asshole, Azazel, which led to a second son, born with blue fur and a tail; to save herself from the resulting freaked-out mob, she threw the newborn off a cliff. Being comics, he landed in a river and safely floated into the arms of a fortune-teller, growing up to be the X-Man Nightcrawler.
You might guess that Mystque isn’t too into kids, but actually, she and Irene went on to adopt and raise a little girl, Rogue, from a very young age. Being the great mom that she is, Mystique convinced Rogue to join her team, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (guess what: they were bad guys). Rogue’s powers, which cause her to absorb the powers and memories of others through skin-to-skin contact, almost unhinged her; she went to the X-Men for help, which made family reunions kind of awkward.
Mystique sort of reformed for a while, renaming the Brotherhood a more PR-happy ‘Freedom Force’ and working for the government, but Irene’s death led her to fall off the murder wagon. In time, a chip was implanted in her brain to control the use of her powers and she was forced into the service of another government team, X-Factor. Obviously, that goes really well; once the dust had cleared, her mutant-hating son and presidential nominee, Graydon, was dead by her hand, and Mystique was on the run again.
She spent some time impersonating a senator’s wife and living it up as a top European model, but most of her focus was investigating a widespread anti-mutant conspiracy. Repeated flip-flopping from the side of good to the side of evil and back again (she’s worked with the X-Men many times, despite having tried to kill Xavier’s son and successfully killing his lover; way to be, Charles) has done little but leave a trail of bodies and confusion in her wake. At the moment, Norman Osborn’s infected her with nanites, which would blow her up if she tried anything funny, and more or less forced her onto his Dark X-Men. She’s impersonating Jean Grey right now, which probably isn’t upsetting anyone (note: this is a lie).
So What’s So Great About Her?

Whereas Ms. Marvel was Marvel Comics’ optimistic take on what women’s lib might lead to — strong, powerful, heroic women who follow the American Way and just so happen to be blue-eyed blondes who look great in a bathing suit — her first major arch-rival, Mystique (haha, get it?) represented the horrors that could result. She was tirelessly self-serving, inflicted pain without remorse, and was a traitor to the USA. Her racial origin was impossible to ascertain with a glance, and she was in love with another woman. Possibly worst of all, she had a daughter and was encouraging her to take a similar path! Ooooh, terrifying, right?
Or, you know, awesome. I think it’s pretty telling that while Ms. Marvel eventually went more or less dormant as a character, only popping up now and then to freak Rogue out (they’ve been using her more effectively in recent years), Mystique went on to become one of the company’s most iconic villains. From her frankly bizarre design — bright blue skin! bright red hair! bright yellow eyes! it’s like a preschooler colored her in with some jumbo crayons — to her slinky, pristine white fantasy bad-girl getup, she cuts a memorable figure to say the least.
But even more striking is how totally terrifying Mystique is, when you really think about it. Yes, part of that is the fact that she could be anyone, but even scarier is her total lack of predictability. When it serves her to be, she’s an excellent ally, but she’ll also kill you if you happen to stand of the way of her goal. Even if you’re her child.
I think you could spend days trying to analyze Mystique’s motherly instincts and not get very far; they’re complex and confusing and thus totally realistic. Her firstborn is heartlessly abandoned when it seems that he won’t be useful, yet even when he becomes mutantkind’s worst enemy, she still seemed reluctant to actually kill Graydon. Then she tossed her second son off a cliff to save herself, but many years later, she confessed that she had dreams where she killed Rogue, but couldn’t bear to harm Kurt. So, does she love them? Hate them? Lukewarm about them? Who the hell knows! Probably not Mystique.
And then there’s Rogue. Jeez louise, talk about a mother-daughter relationship from hell—Rogue abandoned her, Rogue tried to thwart her, Rogue faked her death and failed to send Mystique the memo, Mystique keeps trying to kill her friends, Mystique tries to seduce Rogue’s boyfriend, she shoots Rogue, they stab each other. As you do, right? But when you don’t have to look to closely to realize that it’s ultimately the classic tale of a parent and child constantly seeking validation from each other, only to lead to disappointment again and again. They do love each other—and I wonder if Rogue’s Mystique’s favorite because this is the child she raised with Irene.
Oh, Irene and Mystique. It’s the love that former editor-in-chief Jim Shooter’s homophobic ‘no gay people in the Marvel Universe’ policy could not kill. For all the dudes who have come and gone in Mystique’s life, her true love will always be a soft-spoken blind woman. It’s the one touch of sweetness in Mystique’s entire history, and their interactions are incredibly moving. Oh, and P.S. apparently they were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes (with Mystique masquerading as the male detective). COMICS, YOU ARE STUPID AND I LOVE YOU.
But soft spot or no, Mystique is clearly not a person you want to tread lightly with. Especially if she happens to be your mommy.

Notable Appearances
Ms. Marvel #16; #18
Uncanny X-Men #142
Rom #31
Uncanny X-Men #177-178; 183-185
Marvel Fanfare #40
Uncanny X-Men #199
X-Factor #10
Uncanny X-Men #223-224; 225-227; 254-255; 266; 269
X-Factor #69-70
Uncanny X-Men #289-290
Sabretooth #1-4
X-Men Unlimited #4
X-Factor #108
X-Men Prime
X-Factor #112-139
Uncanny X-Men #359
X-Men #93-94
Uncanny X-Men #379
X-Men #99
Uncanny X-Men #380
X-Men Forever #1-6
X-Men #104-105
Uncanny X-Men #388-389; 401-406; 428; 431
X-Treme X-Men #1
Mystique #1-24
X-Men #171-174
Wolverine #62-65
X-Men: Manifest Destiny #1-5
Dark X-Men: The Beginning #1-3
Uncanny X-Men #513-514
X-Men: Legacy #226-227
Dark X-Men #1-5
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