Features | Written by STARBURST 29/06/2021

REIGN OF THE SUPERWOMAN: The Top 20 Comic Book Superheroines

Back in 2019, the STARBURST team got their heads together to pay tribute to the very best female superheroes comic books have to offer in preparation for our CAPTAIN MARVEL cover feature. The result? A definitive countdown of the TOP 20 SUPERHEROINES ever created! Debate no more, for these are the best of the best...

20. BLACK CANARY

In recent years, the landscape of comics has changed as more and more female heroes are finally being positioned as power players alongside their male counterparts. But while that is a relatively recent trend, one lady who’s been kicking ass for the longest time is Black Canary. Whether the Golden Age Dinah Drake incarnation or the Dinah Drake-Lance and Dinah Laurel Lance versions, Canary and her famed Canary Cry have wowed readers as far back as 1947. Elsewhere, Black Canary has appeared in plentiful animated and live-action projects, and will be played by True Blood’s Jurnee Smollet-Bell in next year’s big-screen DC movie, Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). | AP

19. GAMORA

The Most Dangerous Woman in the Galaxy, Gamora has been knocking around the Marvel universe since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until Zoe Saldana played her in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy that she really made her mark. The daughter of Thanos is a fascinating character - despite being brought up by the most evil man in the cosmos, she’s maintained her courageous, selfless nature. In many ways, Gamora was the heart of Avengers: Infinity War, with her death marking the point where things really hit the fan. (For more on the character, turn to page 22.) | CB

18. X-23

Known to most as Laura Kinney, X-23 made her first appearance on X-Men: Evolution, an animated show in 2003, before making her comic book debut in 2004’s NYX. Much like Wolverine, Laura has retractable Adamantium claws on her hands and feet, rapid regeneration and decreased aging. Once a violent and feared assassin, part of the Weapon X programme, Laura turned her life around after coming to the X-Men mansion. She has since led the X-Force, as well as taking over from her adoptive father as Wolverine in 2015’s All-New Wolverine, before reverting back to X-23 in 2018. Her popularity has made her a continued iconic staple in other media, forming part of the roster in video game crossover Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, as well as an incredible starring role by Dafne Keen in 2017’s Logan. | PB

17. SPIDER-WOMAN Like many a superhero, there have been several different people to take on the moniker of Spider-Woman over the decades, but the person most synonymous with this mantle is Jessica Drew. Whether you prefer the ‘injected by an experimental serum’ or the ‘got her powers in her mother’s womb’ origin story, Jessica is always positioned as quite the badass. With abilities similar to those of Spider-Man, Spider-Woman has the added bonus of being able to manipulate pheromones and project bio-electric energy, plus she’s known as a truly masterful spy who’s been a part of the Avengers, S.H.I.E.L.D. and a whole bunch of other organisations. | AP

16. STORM

She might often be underused in the X-Men movies - and given the occasional awful toad-based line - but Storm is pretty much the First Lady of the X-Men in the comic books and deserves our respect. Her iconic weather-controlling powers have seen her worshipped as a goddess in her native Africa, and her regal, fierce spirit has won the heart of Black Panther, leaving her as Queen of Wakanda for a time. Maybe we’ll see her character finally done justice on screen in the near future, what with the Disney-Fox deal potentially allowing her to show up in the MCU one day, but for now she’ll next appear - as played by Alexandra Shipp - in June’s Dark Phoenix. | CB

15. CAPTAIN MARVEL

Captain Marvel has had a complicated comic book history, with several characters having taken on the mantle since Marvel Comics acquired the rights in the late ‘60s. Now popularised as Carol Danvers thanks to a phenomenally successful relaunch in 2014 (check out the collection Further, Faster, More by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick), and subsequent introduction to the MCU five years later, Captain Marvel is widely considered to be one of the most powerful characters in all of the Marvel Universe, with wit and swagger to match. | KH

14. JEAN GREY

We can safely say that no character in the Marvel Comics Universe has had quite the impact or the storied career that Jean Grey has. As a teenager, she enrolled in Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters and was recruited into its namesake’s crime-fighting team the X-Men as their only female member. She possessed an amazing talent for both telepathy and telekinesis, quickly becoming one of their most valuable and powerful members, working under the name of Marvel Girl and graduating the school with full honours. When a new class of X-Men was recruited, Grey left the team, but not for long. She and the X-Men were abducted and held captive on an orbiting space station. On the return trip, she contracted radiation poisoning and began to die. A cosmic sentient entity called the Phoenix Force replicated her body, placing within it some of Grey’s consciousness, while her real body recovered slowly in suspended animation. The new version was called Phoenix, later to become Dark Phoenix, one of the X-Men’s deadliest foes. Dark Phoenix would also adopt the identity of the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club before sanity returned. Ultimately, Grey took her own life to prevent Dark Phoenix from ever rising again. However, by this time, Grey’s original body had recovered and she re-joined her original teammates to form X-Factor, who later reverted back to being X-Men. Marrying Scott Summers (Cyclops) after a long romance, she assumed the name Phoenix once more and re-linked with the Phoenix Force. Slain in battle, she was resurrected yet again and became White Phoenix. Busy lady! | RP

13. SPIDER-GWEN

Less than five years since her creation, Spider-Gwen has risen through the ranks of comic-book fandom to become a bona fide A-lister. On Earth-65 (an alternate version of the mainstream Earth-616), Gwen Stacey was bitten by a radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker. This origin was revealed in Edge of Spider-Verse #2, which went on to sell a whopping 250,000 copies. Unsurprisingly, an ongoing series quickly followed from creators Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez, where readers were captivated by Gwen’s endearing personality. The character made her big-screen debut in last year’s delightful Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, with more cinematic outings in the works. | DC

12. BLACK WIDOW

Natasha Alianovna Romanova, code-named Black Widow, was one of Cold War Russia’s top spies, assigned to capture Tony Stark for her Communist masters. When her mission failed, she recruited Hawkeye to help her face-saving plan to defeat Iron Man. When that failed too, she defected to the West and has since been romantically involved with Hawkeye and, later, Daredevil. A master of covert operations and hand to hand combat, the Widow has been variously recruited to the Avengers, the Defenders and S.H.I.E.L.D. Romanova is as tough and uncompromising as they come. Beware the sting of this Black Widow! | RP

11. MS MARVEL (KAMALA KHAN)

Replacing a classic character with a Muslim was risky, but the team of Sana Amanat, Stephen Wacker, G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona created an authentic young woman who oozed charm and likeability. The Muslim aspect of her life was thankfully no mere gimmick and was fully fleshed out, as was her peer group. The superhero antics take second place to her fanfiction writings, family relations, and personal angst as we watch her grow into womanhood. Kamala Khan was an instant hit with fans who adored her struggles to balance helping out The Avengers, while still getting her homework in on time. Kamala Khan is an absolute sweetheart that you would want fighting in your corner when Doctor Doom comes calling. | JR

10. JESSICA JONES

Who would have thought that Jessica Jones would be the first female superhero to get her own vehicle in the MCU, with the super-powered private eye’s Netflix series predating Captain Marvel by four years? Not long ago, no one outside of hardcore Marvel Comics readers had heard of Ms Jones (despite her having been introduced eighteen years ago in Alias #1), but now she’s a mainstream fan favourite thanks in large to Krysten Ritter’s brilliant performance, which nails both the character’s acerbic wit and her internal trauma and vulnerability. So why has Jessica become so popular? A lot of it is probably to do with how unapologetically flawed Jessica is. Characters like Wonder Woman and Supergirl are great, but JJ is so refreshing because she’s a rare heroine who’s allowed to be more messed up than the men, what with her serious anger management issues, alcoholism and PTSD. Though the upcoming third season of her TV series will surely be the show’s last (what with Netflix seemingly intent on cancelling all its Marvel properties), at least its popularity has given Jessica’s profile a huge boost, ensuring she’ll live on in the comics universe for a long time to come. | CB

9. HIT-GIRL

What were you doing at 11 years of age? Chances are you weren’t swearing like a sailor while fighting nefarious criminals, right? Well maybe the swearing like a sailor part, but you get our drift. For Mindy McCready, bloodshed and F-bombs were just as regular an occurrence as recess - the youngster being trained to be a brutal vigilante by her father, Big Daddy. Created by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. for their soon-to-be hugely popular Kick-Ass comic book back in 2008, Mindy and her Hit-Girl alter-ego made Damian Wayne look like a pussycat. Having appeared in Millar and JRJ’s Kick-Ass series, Hit-Girl was given her own comic book outing in 2013, coming hot on the heels of Chloe Grace Moretz stealing the show as the character in Matthew Vaughn’s 2010 Kick-Ass movie adaptation. Since 2013’s Kick-Ass 2, there have been plenty of rumblings – with or without Moretz being involved – of Hit-Girl bring given her own feature film, possibly even to be done as a prequel to showcase her and Big Daddy’s relationship. Back in the comics, and Kevin Smith is now writing Hit-Girl: The Golden Rage of Hollywood which will see Mindy slicing her way through tinsel town’s predatory sorts. | AP

8. KITTY PRYDE

Variously known as Sprite, Ariel and, most frequently, Shadowcat, Kitty Pride came of age in the X-Men and we followed her on that journey. By the ‘80s, the teen-ness had very much gone out of Marvel’s uncanniest team of teens and Kitty re-injected some wide-eyed every-girl enthusiasm, youthful romance (with Colossus), as well as the odd bit of sullen resentment into the Westchester academy, acting as our window into that world. Her mutant ability, to phase through objects, should have seemed kind of lame in comparison to super strength, laser eyes, metal claws or the ability to summon lightning, but was in fact absurdly cool. She also had a tiny pet dragon, effectively putting a shiny gold star on her having the teenage years we all would have wanted. | SD

7. SQUIRREL GIRL

The final Marvel creation of comics legend Steve Ditko, Doreen Green is Canadian, a mutant, and utterly adorable. Squirrel Girl may only (?) have the proportionate abilities of a squirrel, but she has used those powers to fight crime, band together with the Avengers (Great Lakes and otherwise), and defeat the likes of Kraven the Hunter, Fin Fang Foom, and even Doctor Doom! Aided by her loyal squirrel pal Tippy Toe (her first sidekick Monkey Joe - also a Squirrel, despite the name - sadly fell in the heat of battle at the hands of Leather Boy), and alongside Chipmunk Hunk, Koi Boi, and Nihilist robot Brain Drain, she keeps her small corner of New York - Peter Parker’s alma mater at ESU - safe from all manner of threats, all the while managing to be incredibly hilarious. Just remember, Squirrel rhymes with Girl! | AB

6. ROGUE

Rogue isn’t just a superhero; in many ways, she’s the superhero. First appearing in 1981’s Avengers Annual #10 with the power to absorb the memories and abilities of others, Rogue has been the most powerful person in the room, and the most vulnerable. She’s struggled with powers that she can’t turn off, and embraced them when she needed to. She’s flirted with the dark side as a member of the Brotherhood of Mutants, and become a force for good as one of the X-Men. She’s caused incredible harm, and shown amazing compassion. She’s been a lover, and she’s been a runaway, and she’s been a sister. She’s gone down every road a superhero can go down, and she’s done it with great Southern charm. | KF

5. SUPERGIRL

Having long assumed he was the last son of Krypton (apart from the inhabitants of the Bottle City of Kandor), imagine Superman’s surprise when he found that he had a young cousin, Kara Zor-El. Kara hailed from Krypton’s Argo City, which had survived the planet-wide destruction by means of a protective shield. But shield or not, Argo would never survive the oncoming meteor shower headed their way. So, like her cousin before her, she was blasted to Earth via rocket by her parents. Under our yellow sun, she had exactly the same powers and vulnerabilities as Superman, but needed practice in fully controlling her abilities. Originally, she operated in secret - with her blonde hair hidden under a brown wig, her civilian identity was Linda Lee, an orphaned teen at Midvale Orphanage, eventually becoming a hero in her own right. Supergirl made the ultimate sacrifice during the DC Crisis on Infinite Earths to save her cousin and the Multiverse itself. Post-Crisis, things were a little different in the DC Universe, and Superman was re-established as the ONLY survivor of Krypton, but you can’t keep a true hero down - Supergirl has returned under the various guises of Matrix, Linda Danvers, and lately, a restored Kara Zor-El. Move over Man of Steel, the Maid of Might is here to stay. | RP

4. SHE-HULK

Lawyer, crimefighter, sometime Avenger, temporary replacement for Thing in the Fantastic Four (unusually creating a gender balance on the team!), the achievements of Bruce Banner’s cousin make the ability of the Hulk to do big jumps and smash things pale in comparison. Because, as much as Banner was a respected, if troubled, genius scientist, as soon as he went big and green he was an idiot. She-Hulk, however, was simultaneously Jennifer Walters, criminal defence lawyer, and a big green fighting machine, with occasional mild anger issues. She-Hulk was the last of Stan Lee’s classic era superhero creations (designed primarily to stop a TV company getting the copyright on the idea of a female Hulk), a cousin of Bruce Banner turned green by thoughtless blood transfusion, and a quick fan favourite. Initially treated as an almost comedic counterpoint to the Hulk (particularly by writer John Byrne who had her regularly breaking the fourth wall), this smart-talking but still angry lawyer, who retained the ability to speak in sentences substantially longer than ‘Hulk smash’ in spite of being big and green, was, for many of us, far superior to the character she span-off from. | SP

3. BATWOMAN

As The CW’s shared Arrowverse realm continues to expand, one new addition that fans are hugely excited about is Ruby Rose as Kate Kane, aka Batwoman. Since debuting in last year’s stunning Elseworlds crossover event, Rose’s Kane is getting her own TV show towards the end of this year. But while her small screen arrival is a recent happening, the Batwoman character’s roots can be traced back to 1956 in the pages of DC Comics. Then known as Kathy Kane, Batwoman became synonymous with the Silver Age expansion of Batman’s supporting cast of players. It was in 2006, however, that Batwoman was brought to the fore once more after those Silver Age memories had long faded, as the character was spruced up as part of DC’s New 52 reinvention. While The New 52 was largely flawed and found wanting for a number of reasons, the change to Batwoman was one of the more positive moves to come from the extensive reshaping of the very fundamentals of the DC Universe. Batwoman was reimagined as Kate Kane, a Jewish lesbian with bucket-loads of cash behind her. Inspired by Batman, she decided to use her hefty resources to don the cape and cowl and become one of Gotham City’s protectors. And the rest, as they say, is history; Batwoman went on to become one of the most fascinating comic book characters of the past decade. | AP

2. BATGIRL

There have been a few Batgirls over the years, starting with the brief tenure of the original Bat-Girl, Betty Kane in the early sixties. But our concern here is with the real Batgirl, daughter of Commissioner James Gordon, Barbara Gordon. Working as a librarian in Gotham City, the young Barbara fashioned a costume for herself to attend the Gotham City Policeman’s Masquerade Ball but stumbled across Killer Moth’s attempt to kill Bruce Wayne. Using her impressive judo skills to assist the Dynamic Duo, Batgirl wasn’t going to be a rookie for long. She soon became a regular ally to the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder when not fighting her solo war on crime. Eventually, the ‘dominoed dare-doll’ retired from the vigilante lifestyle, but Barbara found herself in even greater peril as, one fateful night, the Joker shot her at close range, through the spine, in an attempt to prove to Gordon that insanity is only one bad day away. Consigned to a wheelchair, Barbara became known as Oracle, expert hacker and information broker to various superheroes, operating out of the Watchtower in Gotham. During her time as Oracle, three other people wore the Batgirl cape and mask, but after her long rehabilitation and recovery, Barbara Gordon has returned to the mean streets. Criminals beware! | RP

1. WONDER WOMAN

Diana, Amazon Princess of Themyscira, daughter of Queen Hippolyta, sculpted from clay and brought to life by the Gods of Olympus, is the undisputed first lady of comic books. Her innate goodness and purity of heart led her to compete, against her mother’s wishes, in a contest to find the worthiest Amazon who would then be deemed their greatest warrior charged with the task of thwarting Ares, God of War’s diabolical schemes to destroy the planet. Armed with a golden lasso, which compels all who touch it to tell the truth, and bracelets that can deflect bullets, she can also fly at sub-light speed (though has also been known to use an invisible jet at times), and is the master of both armed and unarmed combat. Boasting the strength of Heracles and the speed of Hermes, it’s no wonder that she’s been a regular member of the Justice League of America since its founding. As well as a relentless crime fighter and protector of the weak, Wonder Woman proudly holds the title of Amazon ambassador to the United Nations and other similar organisations throughout the universe, and is a published author of a controversial book about her observations of our world. “I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves” - undoubtedly one of the most heroic and empathic mission statements in the world of comic book superheroes. Wonder Woman, we salute you. | RP

Agree? Disagree? Outraged that Barb Wire didn’t make the cut? Share your thoughts by reaching out on social media!

Words: Robin Pierce, Andrew Pollard, Christian Bone, Spleeny Dotson, Kate Fathers, Kris Heys, Jordan Royce, David Craig, Peter Beckett, Alan Boon

[This article was originally published in issue 458, March 2019.]