Marvel recently welcomed Leia Organa (better known to all of you as Princess Leia) to its growing family of leading heroines with the publication of Princess Leia #1 by Mark Waid with art by Terry Dodson. As such, we thought we’d mark this occasion by taking a look at some of the best leading ladies in comics right now. By leading ladies, we mean female characters who are the star of their own eponymous series or the clear-cut main character in a larger ensemble book. We also only looked at women starring in books that are currently being published (sorry She-Hulk fans … and a preemptive apology to Black Canary and Starfire fans whose books launch later this year). Having the character appear in other media (i.e., movies or television) was not a required part of our arbitrary criteria, but it didn’t hurt.
10. Gwen Stacy
Emma Stone's performance as Peter Parker's first love, Gwen Stacy, was one of few bright spots in last summer’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. And then Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez made us love the character in a whole new way with their alternate dimension story: “Gwen Stacy: Spider-Woman” (as featured in Edge of Spider-Verse #2). This fresh new take on Gwen took place in world where she was bitten by a radioactive spider and felt obligated to use her powers responsibility rather than Peter Parker.
The fan response was so overwhelmingly positive to this one shot story, an ongoing, Spider-Gwen, with Latour and Rodriguez on script and art again, was launched last month. Needless to say, this one character, who was probably better known for her iconic death in the early 1970s, is now firmly a mainstay as a leading lady in the comic book world.
Marvel turned some heads last year when it announced that long-time mystical hammer-wielder Thor Odison would no longer be “worthy” of holding Mjolnir, making way for a mysterious female warrior to become the new “Goddess of Thunder.”
This new Thor – who has still yet to be identified – debuted in October as part of a reboot of the Thor: God of Thunder series by Jason Aaron. Since the relaunch, Aaron has continued to build on his critically acclaimed story which began in 2012 as part of the Marvel Now initiative. Female Thor has certainly earned her stripes in some of her early adventures, and has been established as someone destined to stick around for the long haul. Meanwhile, Odinson hasn’t been completely neglected either, as the character is still very much a part of Aaron’s narrative. It’s just that he’s wielding a big huge axe rather than Mjolnir now.
8. Meru Marlow
The main character in Matt Kindt’s mercurial spy thriller, Mind MGMT, is not the kind of heroine you’re likely to find on the front of a t-shirt. But the engrossing mystery around her backstory has helped make Mind MGMT one of the most consistently worthwhile series currently found in comic book shops. While the Mind MGMT’s cast has grown into more of an ensemble over the past few years, Meru’s initial probing into a flight where everyone on board suddenly developed amnesia, set off the chain of events that has made the series such a cult favorite to anyone who doesn’t mind having their own mind and perceptions messed around with. The series is expected to come a close this year, as Kindt has repetitively said there would be only a finite number of issues encompassing his story. But a film is reportedly in the works, which would bring Meru’s story to the big screen.
7. Velvet Templeton
Ed Brubaker, who may own the title as the modern master of spy/mystery thriller comics, gave the world a most unique heroine in his creator-owned series Velvet (with former Captain America partner Steve Epting on art). Velvet Templeton is the middle-aged personal secretary to the director of a high level espionage agency. However, she is secretly the “most dangerous woman alive” and when one of the agency’s top spies is murdered, Velvet is implicated in the crime and must clear her name.
She’s hardly the first or only female super spy in the comic book world (or even on this list), but Brubaker and Epting think totally outside the box with Velvet by giving her a sense of world-weariness as someone who has seen and done a lot of things in her years. Tempelton’s unique voice allows the obligatory moments of butt-kicking to come across as all the more surprising and joyful, making Velvet one of the best Image books currently out there.
6. Carol Danvers
Kelly Sue Deconnick’s character defining take on Col. Carol Danvers went in a broad new direction last year as Captain Marvel was relaunched with more of a focus on the cosmic side of Carol’s life. Still, even as the book moved away from Earth and Carol’s random assortment of friends and family (and don’t forget her cat Chewie) in favor of intergalactic battles alongside the likes of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Deconnick’s inherent connection to the character she’s been writing these past few years is readily apparent, as Danvers maintains her toughness, sense of humor and humanity.
Deconnick’s Captain Marvel remains the gold standard for the current wave of female-led superhero comic books. And late last year, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige announced that the upcoming Captain Marvel film would be built around Danvers, making it the first female-led feature film produced by the studio.
5. Forever Carlyle
The main character of Greg Rucka’s creator-owned Image series, Lazarus, embodies all the characteristics of a hero worth reading about: physically-gifted but emotionally vulnerable with enough secrets to keep the audience guessing as to where this narrative will go next.
Rucka sets Lazarus in the not-so-distant future where the gap between rich and poor has never been wider and the power structure is being run by the wealthy. Forever is the Carlyle family’s “secret weapon” – a woman who is told she is the biological daughter of this family but is anything but. The fact that the concept behind Rucka’s dystopian universe is not all that far from reality (and purposefully so), makes this series all the more terrifying, and Forever’s story that much more of a page-turner.
4. Natasha Romanoff
The past year has been quite kind to fans of Natasha Romanoff, better known by her code name, Black Widow. In early 2014, a brand new Black Widow ongoing series was launched, written by Nathan Edmonson with art by Phil Noto. The character-centric book, which is told completely from Natasha' perspective (or as much perspective as she'll allow) has gone on to become a favorite among fans as it manages to often operate apart from the larger “big events” of the Marvel Universe.
Last Spring, Scarlett Johansson’s performance as Black Widow was cited as one of the many highlights of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, leading to a number of people to publicly call on Marvel Studios to build an entire cinematic project around the character. As a result, the Russian super spy, who was long considered to be a fine supporting cast member in a book or film, but was rarely pushed as a bonafide A-lister, has emerged as one of Marvel hottest properties and someone who his destined to be the star of many projects for years to come.
3. Barbara Gordon
A number of comic book fans were surprised in 2011 when, as part of DC’s New 52 initiative, Barbara Gordon, who had been famously paralyzed by the Joker in Batman: The Killing Joke, had suddenly moved past her experiences as the wheelchair-bound Oracle, and was back under the cape and cowl as Batgirl. Regardless, the book was well-received by critics and fans and has remained one of DC’s best performers every month.
However, Batgirl received another shot in the arm late last year when a new creative team, consisting of Cameron Stewart and Brandon Fletcher, jumped aboard and took the character and the series in a new direction. The comic shifts its focus to being a story about Barbara finding her footing as a young hero in a modern, socially-connected world. This approach has won Batgirl a host of new fans, making it one of the best critically-reviewed books of 2014.
2. Wonder Woman
The comic book world’s original leading lady, and forever associated as one of the pillars of DC’s “Holy Trinity” (alongside Superman and Batman), Wonder Woman remains as much as a phenomenon now as she was when she was introduced nearly 75 years ago in All Star Comics #8. Late last year, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang wrapped up their character redefining and critically acclaimed run on the New 52’s Wonder Woman reboot, which saw Diana get an entirely new origin story and eventually emerge as the “God of War.”
Last summer, comic book fans got their first glimpse of how the character will look on the big screen when images of actress Gal Gadot in brand new Wonder Woman garb were presented at Comic Con International as part of a teaser for next year’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Gadot is set to reprise the role in her very first solo feature film in 2017’s Wonder Woman.
1. Kamala Khan
There is arguably no better superhero comic book being published right now than Ms. Marvel. And the relatability of the title’s main character, the Muslim American teenager Kamala Khan, is the main reason this book has captured the hearts and minds of so many people. Ms. Marvel may very well be the best coming of age superhero story since the first 50 or so issues of the original teenage hero, Spider-Man/Peter Parker during the early 1960s. This series – which is written by G. Willow Wilson – not only focuses on Kamala’s battles with supervillains, but also the more personal conflicts she has relating to her conservative Muslim parents and their religious and cultural customs and traditions.
While Ms. Marvel published its first issue barely a year ago, Kamala warrants the top spot on this list for being such a groundbreaking character who has also managed to unite a broad and diverse spectrum of people behind the engaging, yet familiar qualities of her story. This is a book that’s not just being marketed to teenagers, Muslims and/or women, but rather to anyone who has ever dealt with the fact that they’re just a little bit different from everyone else.