I’ve been trying to avoid writing listicles on this blog of the overtly listicle type (“10 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books to Read Before You Die” sort of thing). Nothing against the thing itself – just an attempt at keeping myself honest and this blog a place for my longer form, more analytic writing.
That said, every so often a girl has to indulge herself. In this case, that means writing a list to plug for a few underappreciated female superheroes of Marvel (I could have done DC too, but then this list would probably end up getting out of hand).
1. Monica Rambeau (Captain Marvel/Pulsar/Spectrum)
Before there was Carol Danvers Captain Marvel, there was Monica Rambeau. Born to ordinary parents in New Orleans, she gained her powers – the ability to transform into any form of light on the spectrum – in an accident. She joined the Avengers somewhat unexpectedly, and actually led them for a time – before she almost died in a confrontation with the villain ___. However, she returned to the Avengers in Kurt Busiek’s run on the Avengers in the early 2000s. She also moonlighted alongside a team of D-listers penned by Warren Ellis, Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Most recently, she made a cameo in Captain Marvel to confront Carol Danvers for taking her former name, and then joined Luke Cage’s team in Mighty Avengers. Now she can be found taking on cosmic level threats in Ultimates.
Monica has always been a no-nonsense, forthright character, strong-willed and independent. She deserves more recognition than she’s gotten – the first female Captain Marvel, the second woman to lead the Avengers – and the first black leader.
Read Her In: Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. by Warren Ellis, Mighty Avengers by Al Ewing
2. Jessica Drew (Spiderwoman)
All right, Jessica Drew’s profile has risen recently, with her own solo series and a role in a spider crossover coming up. All the same, she’s still not a character your average person on the street would recognize by name.
Jessica Drew gained her spider powers when she contracted a deadly illness as a child. In an attempt to save her, her father injects her with an irradiated serum made with spider blood (comics!) in an attempt to save her life (comics!!!). She survives, but develops super powers, including the ability to manipulate pheromones, shoot venom blasts from her hands, and climb walls. Captured by the evil organization HYDRA, she is recruited into their ranks and brainwashed into being their spy. However, when she is assigned to assassinate Nick Fury and instead realizes the true nature of HYDRA, she defects.
In the years since, she’s been on various Avengers teams, was replaced by the Skrull queen during Secret Invasion, and traveled in astral form back in time to defeat Morgan Le Fay (comics!!!!). In her current incarnation, Jessica is frequently cynical and has difficulty trusting others due to her past, but nonetheless has managed to form a few close friendships – such as with Carol Danvers, Jessica Jones, and (recently) Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow). Jessica Drew is an example of a superheroine who is frequently written as struggling with self-loathing, a hard-bitten woman who has suffered a great deal and nonetheless persists.
Her current series has her trying to balance the life of a superhero with the life of a single parent – a decision that has raised some controversy due to Jessica’s previous adamant insistence that she didn’t want children. Speaking personally, while I was uncomfortable with the first arc of the comic, the most recent issue (#7) gave me some hope.
Read Her In: Spiderwoman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. by Brian Michael Bendis, Spider-woman by Dennis Hopeless
3. Phyla-Vell (Captain Marvel/Quasar)
Now moving away from Earth, the first alien on this list: Phyla-Vell is the artificially created offspring of the original Captain Marvel, the alien Mar-Vell. She first appeared alongside her brother Genis-Vell in 2003, and had her first major role in the Annihilation event (write a short character biography)
Phyla-Vell is one of Marvel’s few canonically lesbian characters, and was in a relationship with Moondragon for several years prior to her death in 2010 (from which she has still not been resurrected). Her relationship with Moondragon is close and affectionate – and only improved by the fact that Moondragon can shapeshift into her namesake, thus allowing her girlfriend to ride her into battle.
Read Her In: Annihilation: Conquest , Guardians of the Galaxy by Dan Abnett
4. Brunnhilde (Valkyrie)
Valkyrie is an older character than any other on this list, first appearing in Avengers #83 – though that was really just Enchantress disguised as Valkyrie, and Brunnhilde’s real first appearance is in Defenders #4. A fierce, independent warrior woman, one of Valkyrie’s defining traits has always been her refusal to be defined by the approval of men. Riding a winged horse, as an Asgardian Valkyrie can go toe to toe with the Marvel Universe’s strongest enemies and hold her ground.
While after the Defenders (an excellent series for those who like their superhero teams composed of a bunch of misfits who can barely work together) there was a long period of silence, Valkyrie returned to the comics scene as part of the first Secret Avengers team. She left after the dramatic events of Fear Itself to fulfill a quest of her own, and appeared leading an all female team in Fearless Defenders. While not appearing regularly in any current series, she has made a few guest appearances in Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat, assisting her former Defenders teammate – and hope springs eternal for more!
Read Her In: Fear Itself: The Fearless by Cullen Bunn, Fearless Defenders by Cullen Bunn
Best known as Doctor Strange’s girlfriend, Clea is in fact a powerful sorceress in her own right. While she appears human, she in fact hails from the mystical Dark Dimension and is the daughter of the evil sorceress Umar, niece to Doctor Strange’s greatest enemy, Dormammu. In the Dark Dimension she is the Sorceress Supreme, just as Doctor Strange is the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth.
She makes her best and strongest appearance in the arc written by Roger Stern which features her return to her home, where she leads a rebellion against her evil mother (aided by Doctor Strange). Revealing to the people of the Dark Dimension that Umar doesn’t care about their welfare, she is appointed Queen by them. She defeats and banishes both her mother and father in mystic battle, and takes the throne.
Since her most recent appearance in Fearless Defenders, Clea’s whereabouts in the current Marvel universe are unknown. I am still holding out for a team up between her and Scarlet Witch, or at least a guest appearance in Doctor Strange.
Read Her In: Doctor Strange: Into the Dark Dimension by Roger Stern
6. America Chavez (Miss America)
America Chavez is probably the newest character on this list, making her debut in 2011. A teenage Afro-Latina woman with the ability to create interdimensional portals, America is a fierce and determined young woman who left her own dimension – a peaceful paradise – in order to save others. America’s two mothers sacrificed themselves when she was a child to keep their utopia safe, and she was inspired by their sacrifice to be a hero herself.
She first appeared in an uneven miniseries called Vengeance, in which she led a team of superheroes as they battled the Young Masters of Evil. From there, she joined the Young Avengers, helping them to defeat the interdimensional parasite calling itself Mother. Most recently, she’s working with the Ultimates team to thwart cosmic threats before they reach Earth. She also appeared in A-Force during the Secret Wars event.
America has shown herself to not only be a powerful, ass-kicking young woman but one with a heart of gold and intense devotion to her ideals. Her origin story is basically that she wanted to help people so much that she left her home dimension – which didn’t need a hero – and crossed dimensions until she found one where she could save lives.
Also, she’s one of the few out lesbians currently appearing in comics, as of Kieron Gillen’s Young Avengers run.
Read Her In: Young Avengers by Kieron Gillen, Ultimates by Al Ewing
7. Shuri (Black Panther)
During a brief period in the 2000s, T’Challa (the character most know as Black Panther) was left in a comatose state and was replaced by his younger sister, Shuri. Formerly princess of Wakanda, Shuri attempts to challenge her uncle for the Black Panther mantle at a young age. Driven and ambitious, she finally got her chance to take up the legacy in 2009. Initially the panther spirit rejects her because of her ambition and arrogance, but she gains the powers after proving herself by defending Wakanda from long time Black Panther villain Morlun’s attempt to destroy it.
Shuri can be headstrong, rash, and impulsive, but she is a capable fighter and helped to defeat Doom during Doomwar and Klaw in Klaws of the Panther. Since her early appearances, she’s matured into a warrior queen of great confidence and power. She’s intelligent, a prodigy in almost every subject from math to literature to nuclear physics.
While she seemingly died in the fight against Thanos during the Infinity event last year, the first issue of the new Black Panther comic by Ta-Nahesi Coates showed T’Challa attempting to resurrect Shuri.
Read Her In: Black Panther: The Deadliest of the Species by Reginald Hudlin
There are any number of other characters who might have made this list: Jessica Jones, Mockingbird, She-Hulk, and Sif all narrowly missed inclusion, but are all well worth checking out – Mockingbird has a series currently being released, and She-Hulk has a recent series out in trade paperbacks. Readers looking for Sif should go straight to Journey Into Mystery Featuring Sif: Stronger Than Monsters by Kathryn Immonen, and Alias is required reading for anyone looking into Jessica Jones.
There are others, too – scratch the surface of the comics world and while they may not be as well known or popular, you will find any number of female characters who shine.