With the cultural juggernaut that is superhero movies releasing its third titular female film (yay, "Captain Marvel!") this month, a bunch of my friends have been asking me for Carol Danvers' backstory. However, there are only so many times I can explain what the Kree and Skrulls are before I want to bang my own skull against a wall. Repeatedly.
Don't get me wrong, I love talking about comics and comic book movies, comic books controversies, and why Monstress deserves all the awards. But having to repeat the spiel again and again gets boring.
I noticed that when I mention the comics, most of my girlfriends look intrigued and/or sheepish and admit that they have never read a comic in their life. Usually it's because they feel overwhelmed and slightly intimidated by the sheer volume of reboots, retcons and multiverses. Or because the ones available in the library are decade-old "Spider-Man" and "Batman" volumes.
Let's be honest. Not many girls are going to opt for old hardbacks with pictures of roided-up white men punching people while staring broodily into the distance when there is an entire world of glorious female-centric YA science fiction out there. So I have taken it upon myself to produce this female-centric list of some of the best comics to come out in the last decade. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but it does have some of my favorites. No gratuitous chain-mail bikini shots or unnecessary boob windows in these pages! But just to be on the safe side, I'm going to include ratings.
The best part? These have all finished some runs and are (mostly) available in their glorious entirety. No waiting for weeks on end for the conclusion this time!
Each volume is a stand-alone storyline, so you don't have to read all of them to get the story. Happy reading!
Okay, I love all of these too much to pick favorites, so don't take the order too seriously. That said, "Ms. Marvel" is my number one because you have NO IDEA how long I wanted this. It was the first comic book I bought for myself and I when I initially learned about it, I screamed so loud the neighbors called my mom thinking that we were being burgled or something. True story.
Very strong personal feelings aside, this comic tells the story of a geeky Pakistani-American teenage girl in Jersey City named Kamala Khan who, surprise surprise, gets polymorphic superpowers (think somewhere between "Mystique" and "Mr. Fantastic"). Being the Avengers stan that she is, Kamala jumps at the chance to become a people's hero. Of course, being a headstrong and slightly awkward teenager with traditional parents, this is easier said than done. Besides the typical battling evil bird-men and giant clones, the story is also a beautiful exploration of immigrant identity and what it means to be a hero. It's also really bittersweet at times and hits you in the feels.
The whole first run is found in "Volume 1: No Normal" to "Volume 4: Last Days." The current run starts at "Volume 5: Super Famous." Volume 10 is coming out this summer!
Okay, I am a bit of a Marvel obsessive. But I promise we'll see some other heroes, too! But until then...
Where to even start? These comics are about a chipper Canadian comp-sci major with a squirrel tail and other sciuridine (sciuridean?) powers. Doreen Green is also the most OP character in the entire Marvel Universe, so that's girl power for you! Seriously, though. She's beaten up the entire Marvel Universe, X-Men included, and all her stats are off the charts.
She's also tons of fun. Her latest run by Ryan North and Erica Henderson is all the best kinds of outlandish and zany, featuring a talking brain who is learning moral philosophy and Loki with a cat head, among other things. The comics are also a great starting point because they don't adhere too religiously to the greater comic book universe and usually feature introductions to other heroes and villains interwoven into the story. Doreen literally has a deck of collectible cards that list all the other character's stats and powers.
Volumes one to four are currently available, so get cracking! (That was a nut pun, by the way. Because squirrels.)
Is this one of the most heartfelt and body-positive superhero comics out there? Yes. Does it feature somewhat disturbing images of human prisoners being mind-controlled in the service of creepy humanoid aliens? Also yes.
Faith Herbert is a geeky, mild-mannered journalist by day and super strong, super fast flying superhero Zephyr by night (and sometimes day). This comic is a rarity, in that it deals with life after the heyday. Once a member of the famous Renegades, Faith is now working in internet journalism and trying to find her place in the world. The comic has some funny call-outs to current media culture and the superhero movie industry. At its heart, though, it is about the power of stories to inspire us and pull us through dark times.
It also deals with the trappings of celebrity and Hollywood culture. If the alien cult isn't a Scientology metaphor, I don't know what is.
Volumes one to four are currently available, and this comic is ongoing!
Listen, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda are freaking geniuses and I will hype this comic to my dying day. It has literally everything. Epic world-building, breathtakingly intricate artwork, vivid colors, terrifying eldritch monstrosities, complex female characters with multilayered motivations and an ambitious narrative focused on racism, trauma, and the casualties of war in an epically rendered fantasy universe... the list goes on. It might be a bit dark and gory for some readers, but it is SO GOOD.
The story follows Maika, one of the few free members of a persecuted race of magical human-animal beings called Arcanics. She is on the run from the Cumaea while trying to piece together the history of her people and the events behind her mother's death.
Who are the Cumaea? They are just an order of sorcerers who kill Arcanics and use the remains to maintain their powers. They are also the reason this comic is rated adult. Well, them and the eldritch multi-eyed monstrosity that lives in Maika's mutilated arm.
Have I mentioned it won five Eisners and three Hugos?
Volumes one, two, and three are currently available.
If you have not heard of this comic, at least in passing, then you have been living under a rock. Hailed as one of the greatest works ever produced by the American comic industry, this is space opera taken to the next level. It's like if "Firefly," "Star Wars," and "Star Trek" hit maximum feminism and cultural awareness. It is about family, growing up, the effects of war, love, ethnic violence, and the human condition. As told to you by Hazel, a Landfall-Wreath hybrid with wings and horns.
This series is a rarity, in that the narrator is a female character retelling the story of her conception, birth, and life in a galaxy devastated and defined by a senseless ongoing war. Its status as space fiction allows the creative team to use different planets and societies to craft allegories for different aspects of the human experience. Despite the heavy themes, it is also very playful and tongue-in-cheek, with a fascinating cast of characters. It is beautiful.
Well, mostly beautiful. There is a lot of graphic sexual content in it, too. This is definitely the most adult work on this listicle, alongside "Monstress."
Also, it's won, like, 12 Eisner awards.
Also, it is currently on hiatus (insert sobbing emoji), but there are eight volumes to keep you occupied until it resumes.
This is like "Gravity Falls," if "Gravity Falls" was about a bunch of kick-ass girls at summer camp. It has all the arcane oddities and creepy-cute floating kitten gods you could want. Mermaids, were-bears, and gorgons, oh my! And In between the monster-hunting and badge-earning is a surprisingly profound narrative about growing up, identity, and friendship. Also, it is chock-full of laughs. Even my jaded college soul can't help but crack a smile at their antics. It is such a sweet pick-me-up. The girls also have wildly different personalities and interests, but that's what makes them such an excellent team. After all, there's no one way to be a woman. A good portion of the cast is also some kind of LGBTQIA+, which is always a plus.
Side note: All the "expletives" in the book are also the names of accomplished female scientists, writers, politicians, etc., making this the perfect comic for Women's History month.
Volumes one to 12 are currently available.
If you want more of Noelle Stevenson's awesomeness, the series is still ongoing. You should also check out her graphic novel Nimona.
So, Wanda Maximoff has a long and sordid history in Marvel Comics. But if someone asked me who she was, really, I would immediately point them to the 2016 series by James Robinson. It does a wonderful job taking all those disparate threads and unifying them into what is essentially Scarlet Witch as Carmen San Diego, but with a lot more baggage and magical powers. In the series, Wanda goes on a globe-trotting journey of self-discovery, trying to heal the world's magic and also examine her own inner demons. It is a poignant and profound take on a character we rarely see the human side of. In most of her appearances, she is a reality bending lamp of a plot device. In Robinson's arc, she is so much more.
It also features appearances from various mythical entities, so that's cool.
This series is completed, and volumes one to three are currently available.
I make no secret about being a fan of the SYFY Channel's adaptation. In my opinion, this is one of the rare cases when the live-action version is so much better than the source material. So, so much better. It has a greatly diverse, majority female main cast and doesn't shy away from topics like pregnancy and generational angst. Also, gun fights with ghoulish undead demons and giant living dolls are always a perk.Both the TV series and comics follow the adventures of one Wynnona Earp, monster-hunter and secret agent of the US Marshals Black Badge Division. While the earlier comics are full of gratuitously exaggerated female bodies and semi-nudity, the 2016 Limited Series and 2017 tie-in series "Wynnona Earp: Legends" are rollicking good reads. They are also completed. But you should probably watch the show for a bit of added context.
Literally all the Marvel ladies on an island together, beating baddies and being bosses. Enough said.
There are currently two arcs spread across three volumes and it is completed, so no horrible cliffhangers!
It is collected in "Volume 0: Warzones!", "Volume 1: Hypertime," and "Volume 2: Civil War II."
10. "Anya's Ghost" (YA)
This is more of a graphic novel than a comic, per say, but it is still one of the most heartfelt narratives on this list. It follows second-generation immigrant Anya as she struggles with first crushes, the desire to be popular, and the ghost that she met in a well. Yes, you read that right. There is a well-ghost. It turns out pretty much as well as you would expect.
This is nowhere near as elaborate or fanciful as most of the other offerings I have described. The illustrations are in a simple dark-purple color, lavender, and white. But that doesn't take away from the impact in the least. It is one of those aching stories, the ones that make you feel something bittersweet that you can't quite place your finger on. It is soft, sincere, and quietly emotional. Sometimes, that is exactly what you need.
This is the graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman's bestselling book, and it is every bit as creepily satisfying as the original novel and Laika Studios film adaptation. It chronicles the story of Coraline, a teenager who feels abandoned by her parents after moving to a new home. She sets about exploring the strange environment and comes across a portal into an alternate reality where things seem sinisterly perfect.
I like this story, because it shows that you don't always have to have powers to be a hero.
Even though I rated this YA, be forewarned. It is intense. Especially once the Other Mother shows up. Eek.
The movie that inspired this article was itself inspired by a comic. And that comic is the amazing "Captain Marvel."
I'm just going to leave you with the advice to read "Volume 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More" by Kelly Sue Deconnick and illustrated by David Lopez. I've explained her backstory one too many times to do it again here.
Summary? Intergalactic ex-soldier punching hijinks with some attempts at alien diplomacy. Think Star-Lord and Captain America combined into a cat lady who can shoot energy blasts. Yes, it is that epic.