The Girls Got It Going On…


I had a whole idea for today's article, where I was going to discuss the thrill of encountering new heroes (or, at least, protagonists), like, totally new characters in totally new books, often from creators that are totally new to you, all while that song that says "We don't need another hero…" rattled in my brain.

It was going to work, I think, and I might still write it again, but I realized that all of the characters that I was going to talk about, all the characters that have been really engaging me as of late, all have been…well, like…women. And, like…that's okay, right?  I mean, I still dig BatMAN and Spider-MAN and SuperMAN and FLA, er, Flash, but recently, it's been stories featuring female leads that have been the ones that I have been enjoying the most.

We'll get to the specific characters below, but I wonder… why is that? To my female readers–do you find some kind of "insight" when you read a book with a male protagonist?  Because even if I am not really getting a female perspective (most, if not all, of the writers behind the books I will be discussing are male), I still feel something refreshing about the main characters go about the situations, you know?  I wonder if male writers relish the challenge of writing a female lead, and, honestly, how many of them completely blow it and end up writing some story based on some guy's fantasy about how life is for women.  I dunno. It's a meaty topic, probably better suited for a graduate paper than my lowly Tuesday column, but it's something we can at least enjoy talking about.

The first book that I followed with any kind of regularity that had a female protagonist was Alias, by Brian Michael Bendis. If you have read it, you know it to be awesome. If you have not, it is, go read it–it be awesome.  I really enjoyed the story, and I loved the character of Jessica Jones, so much so that I am pretty much always stoked to see her pop up in an Avengers book.  Her perspective on solving crimes and dealing with her personal life was just…well, it was a bit like seeing "the other side," in a way, which is probably drastically over simplifying everything, but at that point, I had no other reference, you know? Later, with Brian Wood's Local, I really got much closer to the character of Megan (even though she drove me nuts a bit–I think she drove herself nuts a bit, actually), and it was just really interesting to think about how I would deal with the situations she was in…in the end, I found myself, not for the first time, getting some sense of how women do deal with emotions and relationships differently than men…it's just that different perspective that was so compelling, you know?

Which makes a few of the characters I have been enjoying recently even cooler, because some of them are actually superheroes, you know? Take my first example, Power Girl.  Not only does she have to deal with running a big business, in many cases, proving to others (and herself, of course) that she can do it, but she also has to jump into the fray of being a superhero, with legitimately amazing super powers, another world usually dominated by men.  Like, yes, we have seen similar stories with guys, but how many of those stories have scenes where the characters then discuss how best to deal with their cat?  Or go shopping to help their friend get their mind off the fact that she has cancer?  I know,  I know: on the face of it, just reading that sentence, it sounds like these are just stereotypes, but look, I have been with Whitney for a very long time (something like 14 years or something) and from what I have seen, a great many moods have been improved by going shopping and get a pedicure with her friends. Indeed, the very concept of friendship is something that writers tend to enjoy with female characters, if only to really flex their dialogue muscles (yes, that may be a stereotype, but the fact of the matter is that when women are with other women they talk way more than when guys are with other guys, so it's one that works, I think)!

I guess I like those touches.  Again, it's kind of nice to see a different side of things. Like, yes, we see Peter Parker at school and doing his job and stressing about relationships, but, honestly, I already went through all that, you know? I much prefer watching Mary Jane go through those same scenes–I do! I just do. It's just more fun and…I don't know–I just like it.

We have been very lucky to have quite a few compelling female characters come our way in the past few months.  The most recent one, of course, is Scarlet, in Bendis and Maleev's new book of the same name. This is a compelling character. Yes, we have only seen the "cold open," and yes, we have a bit of a gimmick with the breaking of the fourth wall, but I defy anyone to pick up the first issue and not want to read the second one. Yes, it's the same old superhero story–hero suffers a loss, vows to make things right, but just given the character's attitude and the book's tone, this feels like a real different take on it. Scarlet reminds me a bit of Local's Megan, but that's great, that's totally fine with me.  And yes– I admit it, maybe I am buying into the fantasy of the starkly independent, attractive alt-hipster who kicks ass and looks good doing it–but aren't I doing the same thing when reading Batman? These are all fantasies, right?  

A main character is someone that solves problems in a way that keeps the audience coming back for more. The problems that guys deal with have been told for thousands of years.  I, for one, am very happy to see what the concept of responsibility through the lens of a female character. I want to see what power means, what strength means, what defeat means, what joy means to a female protagonist–what loss means. When I saw (500) Days of Summer, it was really interesting to see what it's like when a girl realizes that the guy isn't "the one" and decides to end the relationship, and I have to think it was illuminating for Whitney to see how the guy deals with being dumped after being so convinced that things were perfectHigh Fidelity, same thing–I wonder if the girls in the audience knew that guys absolutely throw themselves through the freakin' ringer when a relationship falls apart (just like girls, who go through the same kind ringer but deal with it very different ways).

Other female leads I am enjoying include American Vampire's Pearl, who finds her calling in life as she deals with the reality that trying to be an actor in LA really isn't an option for her anymore.  I like Gwen in iZombie and her particular challenges of trying to keep up a steady diet of flesh and brains while she deals with relationships and gathering clues about a possible murder.  And I love this Carin Taylor, aka, Velocity, who, in between adventures, escapes to watch a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston to relax. (And, of course, who can forget the Barbara in I Kill Giants?)

Yes, I am aware that not all girls are like this, just like not all guys are like Matt Murdock. I am also desperately aware, as I said above, that the guys who are writing these characters may very well be living out their own fantasies of what an ideal "comic book chick" would be like, but I tend to doubt that, at least in the books I am talking about.  There are tons of cheesecake-y books that objectify women; these books feature lots of showers and trying-on of underwear–these books..well, I don't know what to say about those books other than to ask you to imagine me doing a slightly embarrassed shrug.

I guess the natural question is whether or not these female characters do anything to bring in female readers, but I will resist because, honestly, I don't think the creators are bringing these characters to life to try to bring in a specific segment of the market.  It wouldn't work. Women, like men, are drawn great stories with memorable characters and compelling stakes.  Does it help if the lead is a woman like them?  I don't know–gentle ladies in the audience..does it?

Finally, it may be that as a kid, I am more drawn to male superheroes because they represent an ideal that, as a young boy, I am genetically designed to pursue.  As a powerless kid, I am drawn to the strong man who can fly away and who doesn't have parents telling him what do. As a high school student, I identify with the shy nerd by day who is secretly a wiseacre superhero by night. As I get older…well, I am what I am, and my life is…my life. I am not going to be a reporter. Or a lawyer. Or a cop. Maybe now I am less interested in the ideals of being a super man as I struggle to be just a good one.  Maybe now, I am a lot more interested in how a girl deals with these issues, just because it would be nice to get that different perspective, to see a different kind of humor, a different sense of adventure.  Life changes, and the stories you are drawn to change as well.

So, that's my big admission–I dig girls in comics.  How about you? Does this resonate with you at all or am I just going through some kind of Femme Crisis?


Mike Romo is an actor in LA who is suddenly thinking a lot about the film Tootsie.  He can be emailed or you can follow his antics on twitter.


P.S. On the way back from Wondercon, I flew back with a gentleman named Doug Kline, who is a writer, a comic book fan and the man behind the website  Well, he's written a book called The Unauthorized San Diego Comic-Con Survival Guide, and the pocket-sizde book looks to be pretty handy, with tips on how to meet folks, where to get cheap eats, how to get cool swag, etc–check it out here.  SDCC gets crazier and crazier every year, so you're gonna need all the help you can get!


  1. It’s really interesting to see your perspective on this, Mike.  The characters you’re talking about are all awesome to me, not just as a woman reader, but as a reader who likes good stories.

    I don’t think you can exactly talk about men and women’s experiences reading as mirror images though.  Can you imagine a woman writing an article saying, "I’ve gone through most of my life never reading a story with a man as the main character, so this is an interesting change"?  Or "I’m not sure if this is really an authentic reflection of mens’ experience, because all of the books I’m reading about men were actually written by women"?  Probably not because — well, if we’re in mainstream popular culture, we’re getting men’s stories all the time.  And if we’re in comic books we’re DEFINITELY getting mens’ stories all the time.  

    There are certainly areas in which the reverse is true (romance novels are an obvious example, and there’s been an increasing discussion about this regarding the most popular childrens’ and young adult novels in recent years, too, when more and more of those have female protagonists and are written by female authors, though not in the proportions that ‘mainstream’ comics are).

    Anyway, I’m really glad you’re enjoying these books and I definitely agree that there are some cool female protagonists out there right now.  (Also some cool female writers, as I take a chance to plug things like "Girl Comics #3," out this week; Kelly Sue Deconnick’s "Sif" and "Rescue" one-shots, "Her-Oes," Kathryn Immonen’s work, Gail Simone’s "Birds of Prey", etc).  

  2. lol, femme crisis. Good one dude!

  3. One of your best articles yet Mike! A really interesting read.

  4. hi guys!

    thanks for reading the article–I must admit, I was on shaky ground with this one, trying to explain what I was trying to explain! @ohcaroline–you bring up the point I was struggling with, and I obviously didn’t succeed–I really should have worked on the article for a bit longer to be more coherent.


    I guess what I was realizing that I was finding myself more intrigued with the challenges that the female characters were having, especially in terms of dealing with being a hero and being strong and being powerful and all that, while paying attention to being feminine and, for lack of a better term, remembering to enjoy the "girly" side of life.  Even when I type that out now, I realize that I sound like I am stereotyping, but I hope you understand what I mean.  Like, the characters that I discussed got it–they embraced the responsibility of being a hero and all that, but we also got scenes where they were just able to relax and HAVE FUN and live their LIFE, including spending times with friends, dealing with jobs, dealing with relationships…which, I gotta say, I RARELY see in other books. I think your point about discussing whether or not the character was written by a guy/girl makes sense, and, to be honest, I really didn’t even want to bring it up; it was just too tricky to discuss effectively at 10:45 on a Monday night.

     The point of this article was really to proclaim how much fun I was having looking at life through a female character’s eyes, and I should have come back to that a bit more.  I was surprised–like, no one was commenting on this article at all until very late in the day, so maybe this is just me blabbing on about something that others don’t care about or find interesting.  Still–I don’t remember a time when there have been so many great female characters running some really great books and I love it.


    Thanks for the comments, guys. I went out on a limb on this one and I appreciate you taking the time read it.


  5. Agreed about this being a great time for female characters, and I’d venture to say that I’d like to see more comics dealing with male heroes in their downtime, too (or men and women together, whatever).  It’s why I did Bendis’s "kitchen table" scenes, for instance, and it’s my favorite part of Geoff Johns’ comics (Hal Jordan coming to a baseball game with his buds even when he was ‘dead’, for instance.) 

    I’m not sure how gender-related that preference is, but I will say I once made a blog post about how much I like the kitchen table scenes in ‘New Avengers,’ and somebody emailed me to say that they wanted to quote that post in an article about ‘what women look for in superhero comics’ or something like that.  Which, I thought it was great that they wanted to quote me, but I wondered if I would have written the post differently if I was a guy — or if the readers would just have perceived it differently, because there was nothing in the post saying, "As a female reader, this is what I like."  And it’s not like all women who like comics are Brian Bendis fans.  So it’s complicated!

  6. I think it has nothing to do with the gender of the character, but with the depth of the personality the creator gives them. If the personality is there and you get a real feeling for them, almost as if you actually knew them as a real person, any character will draw me in. 

    I feel that through the years this depth has been sorely lacking for female characters, be they leads in their own books or as back up characters in a male lead title. Gail Simone’s birds of prey is a great example of this. Black canary when written by others always came off, to me, as being there solely as "cheesecake". she was never full developed and give a true and deep identity. Until Gail fleshed her out. She became a force unto herself, a fully realized entity. the same with Zinda. There interactions with each other were as true to life as one can ever possibly expect from fiction. 

     As a female reader, I actually shy away from books with a female lead. It is so often that the character is strictly cheesecake and one demential that I don’t waste my time. Also, I feel like many times the writers just don’t get how women really interact with each other. I think I picked up and issue of marvel Divas, read a few pages and put it right back on the shelf. god awful. we aren’t a different species. we are not consumed with shopping and pedicures. Some times I feel as though the writers have never even met a woman, and are using sex and the city and america”s next top model as reference material. 

    However, as an aside, I really enjoy "Danger Girl". It’s all cheesecake you say? well, yes, but it is also self aware and the women are super competent and kick ass. see? it’s all about the characters.


  7. @Anna — Curious: what are some examples of the books with female leads you shy away from because they are one-dimensional cheesecake-y characters?  I am sure these exist but I haven’t been around comics that long so I mostly haven’t run across them.  (Marvel Divas wasn’t my cuppa, but beyond the covers, I wouldn’t call it cheesecake.)