I’ll be honest, 2011 wasn’t the easiest year for a gal who digs comics. At the Big Two, large controversies broke out over the number of female creators, the portrayal of women in comics and on covers, and the dwindling number of titles with female characters in the lead. Gender was a hot-button issue in discussions about comics and broader geek culture, both online and at conventions. But as frustrating as this year was, there was a lot worth celebrating. So I’m counting down my favorite female characters and comics from 2011.
10. The New York Five
The sequel to Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s The New York Four, this miniseries follows four students in their second semester at NYU. Like he did in Local, Wood has an amazing grasp on what it feels like to be young and unsure of yourself. Each of the girls in The New York Five feels very real and raw. They struggle with new, hard decisions and the consequences of their choices. Not only does Kelly’s artwork wonderfully capture the look and feel of New York City, but he draws each one of the characters with the perfect mix of angst and vulnerability that often defines your late teens and early twenties. What’s also important about this book is New York Four/Five was the only property to “survive” the cancellation of DC’s Minx line of graphic novels, aimed at teenage girls, and find temporary shelter at Vertigo.
9. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
On January 19, 2011, Buffy Summers turned 30 and the Season 8 volume of her comic came to an end. But in the flurry of #1 issues over at DC Comics, Dark Horse published the first issue of Season 9. Buffy doesn’t actually “turn 30″ in any of the issues, but 2011 was still a banner year for the Slayer. In the aftermath of saving the world from the latest most evil/worst ever threat, we see Buffy picking up the pieces and taking stock of her life. All this on top of fighting demons that are after her powers and payments on her student loans. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is back to its roots of balancing normal life with paranormal strife. It’s back to being a comic that I look forward to reading.
I never would have thought a comic about a teenage Wolverine-clone would amount to very much. But Marjorie Liu has taken a character that could very easily be a one-note joke and turned her into a fleshed-out character with emotions much deeper than superficial teenage angst. One of the only series at Marvel with a headlining female character, there was a huge outcry when fan-favorite X-23 fell victim to the Cancelpocalypse. But that shouldn’t tarnish the wonderful work that was being done on this book all year. Luckily it looks like Laura has found a home with the Avengers Academy, and Liu will be writing Astonishing X-Men. Here’s hoping 2012 will be a bit nicer to these ladies.
7. Stephanie Brown and Team Batgirl
Similar to X-23, Batgirl was one of the most mourned victims of DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch. Over the course of 24 issues, the unsinkable Stephanie Brown had grown a fiercely loyal following. To many new readers, myself included, she is THE Batgirl. Scrappy and far from perfect, Steph wanted to be Batgirl more than anything in the world. Her infectious enthusiasm, stubborn determination and quick wit made her so very lovable. But the brilliance of Bryan Q. Miller’s story was that Batgirl was as much about Steph fighting crime as it was about her relationships. Be it with Supergirl, Squire, or bratty Damien Wayne, Steph’s interactions with her peers was the heart of Batgirl. To me, Batgirl will always be Steph Brown fighting her way through Gotham with Barbara Gordan and Wendy Harris in her ear.
If it wasn’t already clear, we’re big fans of Uncanny X-Force around these parts. As a recent X-Force convert, Betsy Braddock is a big reason why I love the book as much as I do. There are so many wonderful things Rick Remender is doing that make this comic more than just a twisted, violent romp, but Psylocke is still the sole female on an all-dude team in a testosterone-charged book. Not only does she keep up with her male counterparts in bad-assery, but she’s the strongest character in the story. Remender puts these mutants through a lot of shit, physically and emotionally. *I’m going to get spoiler-y here* After exhausting all her efforts to save Warren, she’s left with no choice but to kill the man she loves. And she still has the fortitude to psychically make the whole process comfortable for him. The whole thing is heartbreaking, but Betsy does it because it has to be done, because it’s the right thing to do.
5. Rachel Rising
Terry Moore has done it again. As we’ve seen in Strangers in Paradise and Echo, the way Moore writes and draws women is unparalleled. And Rachel Rising is no exception. The cast of this comic is almost exclusively female – from the title character to the demonic villain and the supporting cast. There’s even a super creepy little girl. Gender aside, the book is fantastic. Like all really good horror, the suspense and tone of the book give you chills. Every time I finish an issue, I can’t wait to get the next one. It’s damn good comic booking full of damn good female characters.
4. Birds of Prey
Duane Swierczynski’s and Jesus Saiz’s relaunch of the all-women superhero team is one of my favorite books to come out of DC’s New 52. The Birds are fantastic, fleshed-out, and kick-ass characters and the story is action-packed and tons of fun. Feminist comics don’t need to be ground breaking, they don’t need to beat you over the head with gender equality, they just need to be respectful of their female characters and tell a good story. And that’s exactly what Birds of Prey is.
Also, Starling is AMAZING!
3. Hope Summers
Hope is one of my favorite characters in the current Marvel universe. The would-be Messiah of the Mutants, she carries the weight of her responsibility with a strength and grace well beyond her years. While Hope has been hardened by everything that’s happened around her, she’s not cynical. Instead she’s driven to make the world a better place. Generation Hope, often forgot about when listing female-lead comics, was consistently my favorite X-book this year. And it was all because of Hope Summers. I can’t wait to see what 2012 has in store for her.
2. Wonder Woman
One of the oldest and most well-known female characters in comics, Wonder Woman is the First Lady of Superheroes. Sadly, for majority of 2011 Diana had a pretty rough time. Not only did the comic limp through JMS’s abandoned Odyssey, but the storyline was extended two more issues to kill time before the company-wide relaunch. This, on top of a failed pilot for a primetime Wonder Woman TV show. And I’m not even going to mention the costume(s).
Then Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang did the impossible. They made Wonder Woman relevant again. With a clean slate courtesy of the New 52, Azzarello is telling a story so very different from any superhero comic on the racks. And Chiang’s artwork (along with some brilliant colors from Matt Wilson) is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It’s the Wonder Woman book I never knew I wanted, but desperately needed. Arguably the best thing to come out of the New 52, I think we’ll finally have a definitely Wonder Woman story when the arc is complete.
Spearheaded by comics artist Renae De Liz, the goal of the Womanthology project is to showcase the works of female creators of every age and experience level. Often pairing new creators with seasoned industry vets, the book will be an enormous anthology of stories centered on the theme “Heroic” and created entirely by women. The Kickstarter campaign for the book raised its goal of $20,000 in less that 19 hours and passed $100,000 before the campaign ended two weeks later. It’s the most successful comics project in Kickstarter history.
Production delays have caused the release of Womanthology to be pushed back to January 2012. There was part of me that was hesitant about putting it on a list for 2011, let alone in the number one spot. But the truth is Womanthology is so much more than the final product. It’s about celebrating, supporting, and inspiring women in comics. And that’s exactly what this list is all about.