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The best female superheroes from comics, movies, and TV

From Storm to Miss Fury and more, here are the 10 best superheroes in all of comic books

Image credit: Jen Bartel (Marvel Comics)

Feministas Unite! Boys aren't the only ones who can fight evil in a skintight catsuit or leotard—hopefully, nude tights too—so can girls. But what does it mean to be a female superhero? Stan Lee defined a superhero as someone who does heroic deeds and can do those deeds in a way a normal person couldn’t because they have powers that are more exceptional than any power a normal human could possess. The use of a costume or mask isn’t a vigilante prerequisite; however, some superheroines rely on their armor to help others, like Ironheart.

Superheroines joined the ranks of uber-abled do-gooder with the introduction of Fantomah and Woman in Red in 1940. However, it wasn’t until 1941 that superpowered women really took to the skies, with the creation of Miss Fury followed by Wonder Woman eight months later. The latter character was co-created by former suffragist William Moulton Marston, who infused the hero with his beliefs about gender equality and what society could be if women—or superwomen—ruled the world, the former character was created by the living embodiment of Moulton's ideals: a successful female cartoonist, a genuine female superhero, Tarpé Mills.

Although early superheroines often had to meet impossible standards, both Goddess of Empathy and Arthurian Knight, things changed for the female hero over time. From Harley Quinn to Wanda Maximoff to Selena Kyle, the age of the complicated female hero is here, and she is making people uncomfortable. Why doesn’t she just smile, right? Just kidding. Get Captain Marvel a Harley-Davidson Sportster, so she can get on saving the world and exemplifying how people make meaning out of traumatic experiences to offer hope for a better tomorrow. So who are the ten best female superheroes of all time? Let's get started!

1. Storm

Marvel superhero
Image credit: Marvel Entertainment

Storm, AKA Ororo Munroe, can control the weather and atmosphere. As one of the X-Men's top leaders and Omege level mutant, she is one of the most famous and powerful mutants. In the past, Storm was also leader of the X-Men, Queen of Wakanda, worshipped as a goddess, and a member of both the Avengers and Fantastic Four.

Comic books are more diverse than they ever have been. But when Marvel introduced Storm in the '70s, Black and BIPOC characters were even more scarce than they are today, so it was a big deal that one of the most powerful mutants in the X-Men universe was a Black woman. As an Omega level mutant, Storm is a point of pride for many young Black people like Washington Post writer Karen Attiah wrote, "Because of Storm, I knew I could be a Black girl and a superhero, too!"

2. Miss Fury

Image credit: Bell Syndicate

The Golden Age superheroine Miss Fury first appeared in 1941, created by fashion artist and cartoonist June Mills (writing under the gender neutral pseudonym Tarpé Mills), and ran until 1952. Although the character doesn’t possess any innate superpowers, she gains the power of a cat when she dons the catsuit. Miss Fury uses her abilities to fight Nazi agents, war criminals, and other terrorists at home and abroad.

Miss Fury is the first female superhero created by a woman, and the strip was voted a fan-favorite comic strip among readers of the Chicago Sun in its time. During World War II, Miss Fury was popular enough to grace four bombers' noses. Once Mills introduced her cat Peri-Purr to the strip, he became the unofficial mascot of the Allied troops after she 'donated him to the war effort.'

3. Wonder Woman

DC Superhero
Image credit: DC

Wonder Woman, AKAPrincess Diana of Themyscira, has fought for peace in Man's World for nearly eighty years, first appearing in All-Star Comics #8 by Marston and H.G. Peter in 1941. Often by her side is some of the silliest stuff in comics: a lasso of truth, an invisible jet, and a DC Super-Pet, Kanga the kangaroo sidekick. Notably, Diana is the founding member of the Justice League.

Wonder Woman is the most popular female superhero and has been adapted for radio, television, and film. Although Wonder Woman was created by a man, Marston lived in a polyamorous relationship with three women, a queerness and progressiveness that seeped into early depictions of Diana who was based on his wives. Ever since, Wonder Woman has remained a political hero, with the '70s creator Gloria Steinem reimagining her to be a more modern feminist hero.

4. M.O.M. (Mother of Madness)

Image credit: Leila Leiz (Image Comics)

Maya is a single mother whose emotions give her superpowers in M.O.M.: Mother of Madness by Emilia Clarke, Isobel Richardson, Marguerite Bennett, Leila Leiz, Triona Farrell, and Haley Rose-Lyon. Changes in serotonin, dopamin, and other brain-produced chemicals cause Maya’s superpowers to activate, so they are more pronounced during her period. M.O.M. fights patriarchy and the beauty myth in all its forms.

M.O.M. is the female powerhouse Daenerys Targaryen should have been in Game of Thrones (and yes, there is a 'Mother of Dragons' reference); her femininity isn’t feared and sidelined but celebrated. And while male superheroes in Maya’s position use their privilege to fight supervillains, the evil M.O.M. must fight a very different monster: the beauty myth. With 9% of the US population being diagnosed with an eating disorder, that’s a noble goal.

5. Scarlet Witch

Marvel superhero
Image credit: Marvel Entertainment

Wanda Maximoff was introduced as a member of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, but she quickly said 'no thanks' to Magneto’s villainy. A master of probability and one of the most potent magic-wielders in the universe, Wanda was trained by Agatha Harkness and Doctor Strange and is powerful enough to chain the Elder God, Chthon, to her soul.

With MCU Scarlet Witch having her moment as a heartbroken mother, she is one of the most powerful superheroes in the Marvel Multiverse just like her comic book counterpart. Wanda’s a complicated character who messes up BIG, but those mistakes are what make her a great hero. Due to jer probability powers combined with her impressive hex magic, Wanda can use her abilities to go back in time to save Spider-Man, use magic to dress She-Hulk for a date, and even create 'mutant heaven' on Krakoa.

6. Tank Girl

Tank Girl
Image credit: Jamie Hewlett

The post-apocalyptic Tank Girl, aka Fonzie Rebecca Buckler, was created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin for 1988’s Deadline, a British comics magazine. Known for Blood, Guts, and Whole Lotta Violence, Tank Girl was so popular that she inspired the 1995 feature film Tank Girl, starring Lori Petty as the eponymous character. However, when the film bombed, the boozy, mayhem-causing, sex-loving Rebecca Buck went on an extended hiatus until she gained enough of a cult following to return in 2007.

Although a commercial failure, the Tank Girl film significantly impacted geek girl culture as an example of a sex-positive film. Petty’s version of Rebecca Buck is a fan favorite superhero with her punk aesthetic, with Avril Lavigne even paying homage to the character in her song 'Rock n Roll.' As Megan Carpentier says, Tank Girl taught Hollywood why representation matters, and “the movie's feminism [is] what gave it cultural currency over the last 25 years.”

7. Harley Quinn

DC Superhero
Image credit: DC

Introduced initially as one of Joker’s villainous henchwomen in 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn's characterization today often falls into the territory between hero and villain. Much like Harley Quinn’s romantic attractions (she’s bisexual), her alignments in Gotham City probably fall closer to a four on the Kinsey Scale of Good and Evil: predominantly a superhero, but more than incidentally a villain.

Dr. Harleen Quinzel is a domestic abuse survivor with a doctorate in psychology, an important story demonstraing that while anyone can become a victim, they can also get out… And that's exactly what Harley did: she got out of her relationship with Joker and redefined herself. In 2017’s Batman and Harley Quinn, Harley said, “I’m sick of people telling me what I am”—and with her newfound attitude came newfound success. From her humble beginnings, she is now headlining her comic book series, starring in her own animated series on HBO Max, and the subject of a film franchise.

8. Kick-Ass

No, not that Kick-Ass. Patience Lee's Kick-Ass. Introduced in 2018, Kick-Ass: The New Girl by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. featured a new protagonist: an Afghanistan war veteran and single mother who first dons the green and yellow costume to support her family. Unlike her predecessor, Dave Lizewski, Lee is a very competent fighter.

Patience is a kick-ass Black single mother who will do anything for her family. But instead of taking the easy route and working for a local crime lord, she dedicates her life to taking him down and taking off with the cash. And that’s not all the new girl is up to, she is also earning a degree.

9. Squirrel Girl

Marvel superhero
Image credit: Marvel Entertainment

Doreen Green, AKA Squirrel Girl, first sprouted her bushy tail and gained the proportional powers of a squirrel as a teen, and ever since she has liked to eat nuts and kick butts. As one of the most powerful talkers in existence, Squirrel Girl is one of the few heroes able to take down Galactus and Thanos single-handed, and she used her ability to pummel supervillains with hope. She’s the (almost) unbeatable Squirrel Girl!

2015’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Ryan North, Erica Henderson, Dark Charm, Rico Renzi, Clayton Cowles, and Travis Lanham ran for 58 issues, making it one of Marvel Comics' most successful recent titles. Squirrel Girl’s inclusivity, humor, endless optimism, and ability to solve any crime by dinner time with a talk therapy session appealed to an audience outside the core comic book market—younger fans.

10. Santa, SJW Latina Superhero

Image credit: Eva Cabrera

Santa, the SJW Latina Superhero, is the second heroine introduced in Kayden Phoenix’s Latina Superhero universe. Santa is penned by Phoenix, penciled by Eisner and GLAAD-nominated Eva Cabrera, and colored by Gloria Felix, with letters by Sandra Romero. Living in a Bordertown in Texas, Santa uses her precognitive and butt-kicking abilities to fight racism and the unlawful kidnapping and forced sterilization of women.

Santa fights villains like Illena Chavez-Estevez, Miss ICE, who wants to start a race war in the town, and ICE’s Luche sidekick, the KKK. Santa is an unsubtle hero for an unsubtle time… You know, sometimes it's just fulfilling to see a hero slug a villain named Miss ICE. Besides, Phoenix is open about using the story to highlight the unjust situation facing immigrants and refugees at detention centers.

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Rebecca Oliver Kaplan: Rebecca Oliver Kaplan (she/he) is a bigender comic critic and judicial scholar and co-author of Double Challenge: Being LGBTQ and a Minority with his wife, Avery Kaplan. His work can regularly be found at Geek Girl Authority, Comics Beat, Prism Comics, PanelxPanel, and MovieWeb.
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