There is no shortage of amazing female characters in comic books. From the civilian to the super, from damsels to deities; sequential art is filled in abundance with women who choose to either fight on the side of the angels or the forces of darkness with fervor equal to their Y chromosomal colleagues.
10. Black Widow
First appearance: Tales of Suspense #52 (1964)
Created by Stan Lee, Don Rico, and Don Heck
Originally somewhat stereotypical “Russian femme fatale” in her first appearances, Natalia (also known as Natasha) Romanov soon became a freelance agent for the international spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. Romanov uses her skills as a master martial artist, sniper, spy, and field operative to protect and defend humanity. She possesses indefatigable determination in the face of monsters, gods and beings who level buildings with a snap of their fingers. Even when her entire backstory has been called into question or outright changed, she still pushes forward with an iron will as strong as her kicks and grace like a ballet dancer. With her increased visibility in popular culture due to the Marvel movies and Scarlet Johansson’s terrific performance, Black Widow definitely has more than earned her place among Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
9. Jean Grey (Phoenix)
First appearance: X-Men #1 (1963)
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Recruited to become a student at Charles Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters, Jean Grey has seen and been through it all. Heartache, violence, cosmic possession, death, resurrection, Onslaught, Rob Liefeld, death again, and time travel. All the while always giving off the feeling that she is holding back and the world is all the better for it.
She’s one of the original children of the atom, the vessel of The Phoenix and all around magnet for men with broken and/or underdeveloped psyches. Jean Grey is a telepath on par with Charles Xavier and possesses telekinetic abilities so vast, she makes Carrie White look tame by comparison. Though she has been out of action for a long while due to being killed off, her impression on the Marvel universe is unmistakable. Currently her time-displaced younger self (along with her other fellow OG X-Men) has reawakened interest for modern readers. Ms. Grey is no stranger to the big screen, either, as she was portrayed by the lovely Famke Jansen. While I, personally, felt the movies could’ve fleshed her out a bit more, (as well as not favor Wolverine so heavily), she is still a unique and dynamic character that commands respect and is not to be ever be taken lightly, by foe or friend.
8. Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel)
First Appearance Captain Marvel #14 (2013)
Created by Sana Amanat, G. Willow Wilson, and Adrian Alphona
With Carol Danvers becoming the new Captain Marvel (more on her later), Marvel’s decision to have the new Ms. Marvel be a Muslim-American teenager was a controversial decision to say the least. However, through terrific relatable characterization and terrific, fun storytelling, Ms. Marvel is a delightful breath of fresh air, as well as someone who can bridge cultural gaps between Muslim and Western society.
Kamala Khan, a young woman who (due to events in the greater Marvel universe too convoluted to bring up here) found out that she has the power to shapeshift and otherwise alter her size and strength. She originally started going out as her idol Carol Danvers before realizing she needed to be confident in herself and (for lack of better phrasing) her own skin. It’s something that anyone who has ever considered themselves or treated like an outcast can relate to. Along with fun team-ups with Wolverine, Spider-Man and Lockjaw of the Inhumans, Kamala Khan is destined for great things, both on and off the page.
First Appearance: Savage She-Hulk #1 (1980)
Created by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Jennifer Walters was a shy, bookish young woman when mobsters had attacked her and left her for dead. Fortunately, her cousin Bruce Banner was in town and donated blood to help save her life. However, being this was AFTER Bruce had long since became the Hulk, Jennifer began to transform into a marvelous muscular maiden of might.
She-Hulk was originally conceived by Stan Lee in response to the popular Bionic Woman and Incredible Hulk TV series that were running at the time. Fearing (for some reason) that the show would create a female counterpart for their lead and retain all the rights, Marvel decided to publish a series of books named Savage She-Hulk.
She-Hulk in my opinion, is a character who embodies wish-fulfillment for women as well as shows that you can be more than what you are on the outside. Many women would love to just snap their fingers and turn into their ideal self (regardless of looks) could be the “ideal” man/woman, as evidenced by Jennifer’s long periods of time as She-Hulk. She isn’t anyone’s plaything, though. While not always having the most consistent writing in the past, She-Hulk has become a comic book feminist icon alongside great examples like Wonder Woman and Power Girl. Her most recent run, ending at issue number twelve, is a well-written (if, at times, pedantic) maxi-series of her trials and tribulations as a lawyer who also happens to be a superhero. (Which is not the same as a superhero with lawyer powers.)
6. Lady Sif
First Appearance: Journey Into Mystery #102 (1964)
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
A loose interpretation of the Norse Goddess, The Lady Sif swings her swords in defense of Asgard, the shining beacon of the nine realms. As a child, she played alongside Thor and Balder and had shown excellent proficiency as a warrior. While she has usually played a third wheel in the relationship between Thor and Jane Foster in some stories, Sif is no milquetoast who spends sleepless nights pining for the Thunder God. She is a fierce combatant with the respect of allies, fellow gods, and even the All-Father Odin himself. Jaimie Alexander solid performances in the Thor films and on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Sif’s courage and never say die attitude (she pulled herself into a supersonic jet plane while it was in midflight!) translate beautifully on screen and are an inspiration to all.
5. Mayday Parker (Spider-Girl)
First Appearance: What If (vol. 2) #105 (1998)
Created by Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz and Mark Bagley
Once upon a time in an alternate future, the daughter of Peter Parker (aka the Amazing Spider-Man) and Mary Jane Watson Parker, May “Mayday Parker” is an average teenage girl living in New York City who also happens to do whatever a spider can. Although her parents are initially reluctant for her to take up the Spider-mantle or be a superhero in general, she wins them (as well as readers) over with her tenacity, ingenuity, and wits as quick as her old man’s.
May’s determination doesn’t stop in the realm of comics, either. After her initial appearance garnered positive fan reaction, Marvel decided to start their own Spider-Girl series, thereby creating the imprint of MC2, where the legends of today have passed the torch to the heroes of tomorrow. Despite multiple threatened cancellations and two actual cancellations, Spider-Girl has persevered as a fan and creative darling, never truly going away for long, if ever. At the time of writing this article, she has been brought back for the storyline “Spider-Verse” as she is among an army of Spider-People who set out to defeat a race of beings who feed on those of the Spider-Totem.
4. Mary Jane Watson Parker
First Appearance (obscured) Amazing Spider-Man #25 (1965) (Full) Amazing Spider-Man #42 (1966)
Created by Stan Lee, John Romita Sr. and Steve Ditko
She is, in my opinion, the one true love of Peter Parker’s life. She’s brave, bold, beautiful, sassy, and every bit the Snark Knight that Spidey himself is. A young actress from a troubled and broken family, Mary Jane Watson became a party girl who did just about anything to keep life from getting her down. That was until she developed into a complex, multi-faceted character while caring for her then-friend Peter Parker after the death of his girlfriend at the time, Gwen Stacy.
After multiple failed proposals, where Mary Jane had to work out several family issues, mostly those involving her abusive father, she finally agreed to tie the knot with Peter. For over twenty years, she was the rock, the anchor, the constant in his life. That is until the tale One More Day, but I’m not going to go into that.
Even prior to One More Day, Mary Jane’s history with writers and editors at Marvel hasn’t always been one of distinguished respect. It’s been said that many writers simply didn’t know how to incorporate Mary Jane into the Spider-Man stories aside from “long-suffering wife waiting for Peter to come home.” Even in the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man movies, she wasn’t too much more than “girl Peter pines after” or “Damsel in Distress” (a huge flaw in an otherwise good series of films). In my opinion, they either didn’t try hard enough or they simply lacked the ability to write a compelling female character that wasn’t a superhero.
That all being said, Mary Jane has shown her own capability as a hero in her own right, beating up the Chameleon when he tried to masquerade as Peter. Showing proficiency at web-slinging during Spider-Island (when she was granted temporary spider-powers), knowing how to keep a cool and level head during the recent Goblin War and the not-as recent Maximum Carnage.
I know I said I wouldn’t get into One More Day earlier, but allow me to briefly elaborate why, in relation that I gave Mary Jane’s married name as opposed to her unmarried one. It’s not because I think she isn’t a complete and whole character on her own or needs Peter to complete her. That isn’t it at all. She’s no more defined as a person by her nuptials to Spider-Man than Lois Lane is defined by her relationship to Superman. It’s something she happens to be ON TOP of her strength of character, loyalty, bravery and determination. She is, in every way that has nothing to do with superpowers, Peter Parker’s equal match.
3. Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers)
First Apperance Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (1968)
Created by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan
Carol Danvers was an officer in the Air Force when she met the first Captain Marvel during an encounter with The Kree. An explosion severely injured Danvers, but also changed her on the genetic level, making her a Kree-Human Hybrid. Despite her powers coming from Captain Marvel, she was not just a female counterpart.
After sporadic appearances in The Avengers, Ms. Marvel finally received her own standalone series in 1977, where she stood up to naysayers and blowhards who wanted to put her in typical female roles. But she wouldn’t stand for it, showing detractors and villains alike that women can kick just as much ass as men can, and then some.
In 2012, Kelly Sue DeConnick began the current ongoing Captain Marvel series where Carol has finally assumed the mantle of her predecessor and has proven her mettle time and again when it comes to defending the universe. She is an inspiration to many female comic book creators (like the aforementioned Kelly Sue DeConnick) and icon for gender equality that can never be praised enough for her progressive characterization and storytelling.
2. Ororo Munroe (Storm)
First Appearance Giant Size X-Men #1 (1975)
Created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum
Storm holds great significance on this list not just for her accomplishments in comics, but in real life as she is the first African-American female superhero, not to mention the first female of color to be a main cast member in a superhero team book. Her debut, along with other prominent heroes like Black Panther, Luke Cage, Bill Foster (Giant Man), and Vixen brought in a much more diverse and interesting universe of characters to appeal not just to mass audiences, but to give positive representation to ethnicities who had been denied such in comics for far too long.
Raised in the streets of Cairo as a pickpocket, Ororo Munroe grew to realize her power to manipulate the elements to her whims when she was found by Professor Charles Xavier. After a successful first mission rescuing the original X-Men from the mutant living island Krakoa (ain’t comics weird?) Storm has gone on (primarily under the pen of longtime X-Men writer Chris Claremont) to evolve from eloquent goddess of the elements, to punk-rock badass, and back again. She once usurped leadership of the X-Men from Cyclops during a Danger Room trial at a time when her powers were gone. That’s right, the X-Men were once led by someone without any mutant powers whatsoever.
On top of her immensely powerful weather manipulation which, in my opinion, should make her just shy of Phoenix level dangerous, she is also a compassionate, wise leader whom many in the mutant and superhero community look up to and respect. So much so that when Reed and Sue Richards had to work out their marital problems from Civil War, they asked Storm and Black Panther to fill in as their replacements until the couple was ready to come back.
While I am hesitant to bring up the editorially mandated and almost completely out of nowhere marriage to Black Panther, it does mark a significant turn as the first prominent wedding for a couple of color in comics, which would be followed up years later by the first homosexual wedding in comics with Northstar and his partner. Although her portrayals in the X-Men movies by Halle Berry are nothing to really write home about, Storm continues onward (especially in her current ongoing series by Greg Pak, which I reviewed the first issue of here), blazing trails, and enemies with the lightning she so effortlessly commands.
1. Sue Richards (Invisible Woman)
First Appearance Fantastic Four #1 (1961)
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Tagging along on an experimental mission to beat the communists into space (it WAS the sixties, folks), Sue Storm, her brother Johnny Storm, test pilot Ben Grimm and scientist leader Reed Richards hijacked a rocket and made it into space. Suddenly, cosmic rays altered their genetic structures, and their lives, forever.
Susan “Sue” Richards is the First Lady of the modern Marvel Universe. The progenitor, the forerunner, the woman whom many of the women on this list can credit their existence to. At first a demure and ineffective member of the Fantastic Four by her comparatively limited power of simple invisibility, Sue, over the years, grew into her own as not just a confident and capable woman, but as one of the most powerful women in the world, capable of astonishing feats.
Along with her children Valeria and Franklin Richards, Sue is a consummate caregiver, provider and protector. Anyone who threatens her loved ones; be they demon from Hell, Doctor Doom, S.H.I.E.L.D. or even the Avengers, will face a terrifying wrath that one wouldn’t think someone like Sue capable of. In a recent Fantastic Four story, she leveled Castle Doom to try and reclaim her daughter from the custody of Doctor Doom. Her force fields are capable of withstanding intense energy and physical assault, though it can tax her greatly.
She can create tiny bubbles of invisible force to block a person’s bloodstream, or massive concussive waves that can drive back even the Incredible Hulk for a time. Her constructs are only limited to her imagination and concentration. She can make them as soft as pillows or as hard as granite. She can also make them able to help someone survive underwater for a period of time with a bubble on their head.
Sue Richards, aside from being the matriarch of the Fantastic Four, is also the heart of the team, often providing a counterbalance to Reed’s often rigid adherence to science and logic. Which isn’t to say she’s a slouch in the intelligence department, either. Despite a problematic start and wardrobe malfunctions that make Power Girl’s “boob window” look sensible, Sue Storm has cemented herself as a mainstay of the Marvel Universe and truly one of its greatest heroes.
Honorable mentions: Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, Janet Van Dyne (Wasp) Mystique, Medusa, Gwen Stacy, Jessica Jones, Monica Rambeau (Captain Marvel)