The Shelf Is Half Full

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Archive for the category “Marvel Comics”

The 30 Sexiest Comic Heroines – #10-1

It’s been a long, fun and interesting journey to get to the end, and I feel pretty confidant about these final choices. However, the list went through a few changes and edits while I was putting it together and I figured it’s only appropriate to recognize some of the honorable mentions who almost made this list.

Some came down to personal preference, like Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat. While she’s definitely got her fans, I’ve never really enjoyed the character or understood her appeal. For similar reasons, Power Girl was not really considered either.

A couple of notable omissions are anti-heroes like Emma Frost, Harley Quinn and Catwoman. All certainly have their appeal, but I’ve chosen to save them for another take on this list where we look at the sexy side of villainy. This list is more about acknowledging heroic women with strong moral ideals, and those characters just didn’t seem to fit the overall theme.

And then there’s a few who just didn’t make the cut because I only had thirty spots. Some notable ones include the Huntress, Renee Montoya as The Question, Flash’s love interests Iris West and Patty Spivot, Rachel Summers, Dazzler and Mary Marvel.

Carol Danvers

#10. Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel)

Whether she’s going by Ms. Marvel or Captain Marvel, the alien-enhanced U.S. airforce captain is one of the most powerful and capable women in the Marvel universe. But don’t blame yourself if you haven’t heard of her; Carol’s gone through some serious down times; she’s been an alcoholic and was even put in a coma for years when the then Brotherhood member Rogue absorbed all of her powers. But she’s also been a valued member and even leader of the Avengers, and has been starring in some of the better comics Marvel has been publishing in recent years. And in a few years she’ll be coming to the big screen as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

From a personality standpoint, I tend to describe Carol as a cross between two DC heroes: Wonder Woman and Hal Jordan. She’s a warrior, a leader and a negotiator, but she’s also an adventurer and an explorer. And a bit of a dork. She’s a devoted Star Wars fan and even has a dog named “Chewie”. But perhaps the blonde bombshell’s most admirable trait is that the character has overcome so much adversity to be better than ever. Perseverance under pressure is always cool, and trust me; people want a significant other who is inspirational on some level.

Sue Storm

#9. Sue Storm (The Invisible Woman)

When compiling this list, Susan Storm was a name that came to mind a little late in the game, but once I thought about her she quickly ascended the ranks. I am a huge Fantastic Four fan and have a deep love for all of the characters, and Sue is pretty near the top of that list. More commonly known as the Invisible Woman, Sue is known both for her signature ability to vanish from sight as well as her energy shields that arguably make her the most dangerous member of the Fantastic Four. But while the FF are adventurers, scientists and superheroes, they are above all else, family. And Sue is really the glue that holds it all together.

It’s said that you can best judge the character of the person you’re dating by how they treat the people around them. If that’s the case, Sue is one of the best catches in comics. She is the older sister that both cares for Johnny and makes sure that his ego doesn’t get out of line. Even without their romantic interest, Susan is a grounding force for Reed Richards, reminding him that there are more important things than science and work. Ben Grimm can count her perhaps his best emotional support; she has helped keep from falling into despair. Sue is a woman whose presence strengthens everyone around her and makes them better than they may be. Hard not to fall for someone like that.

Jean

8. Jean Grey (Marvel Girl/Phoenix)

Jean Grey was probably modeled off of Sue Storm and serves a similar function for her team. But I think Jean stands out a little bit more and is a better, more interesting character, so she narrowly edges out Sue. Throughout her history, Jean has been many things. Marvel Girl was a quiet introvert, Phoenix was a more outgoing and passionate person, Dark Phoenix was an extremely powerful megalomaniac with a dominatrix thing going… Pardon me, I seem to have lost my train of thought there for a moment. My point is that the appeal of Jean is sort of a mix between the “girl next door” archetype and the “danger is sexy” trope I’ve brought up a couple of times. On one hand she’s this incredibly nice, loving person who will do anything to help other people. On the other hand there’s a monster inside of her that can be incredibly damaging when it gets loose.

That mix of elements is probably what most defines Jean. Whatever you’re attracted to, it’s likely you can find at least some of it in the character of Jean Grey. And while that is great, it is a bit of a double-edged sword for the purposes of this list. Her personality is harder to nail down and thus it’s harder to analyze what exactly makes her so appealing. But then, there’s a lot of appeal in that too; she’s got layers, so she’ll always be interesting. If perhaps fatally so.

Black Canary

#7. Dinah Laurel Lance (Black Canary)

Ah, Black Canary. Crime-fighting martial arts expert, flirty and witty girlfriend of Green Arrow, brilliant and capable leader of the Birds of Prey, wearer of fishnet leggings, owner of an excellent singing voice… what’s not to love? For those not familiar with the comic version of Black Canary (or any of her excellent animated counterparts), Dinah is kind of a softer version of Black Widow. And no, I don’t mean more vulnerable, I just mean that she doesn’t have the colorful past history that Romanoff has. So she’s got a lot of the appeal of a dangerous, knowledgeable woman who’s on top of things, but doesn’t come with so much baggage. That makes her a little less intimidating.

Another key aspect of Canary is that while she is completely viable as a solo character, she has some key relationships that really flesh out her character. She’s the sometimes girlfriend, sometimes wife of Green Arrow, and while they have their issues they are an excellent example of a couple that respects each other’s abilities and support one another. So she’s got a pretty good history of being a loyal, supportive and loving partner. Definitely a plus. She’s also a big sister of sorts to Barbara Gordon and Huntress, her Birds of Prey teammates. She’s helps keep Helena’s dark side in check, and helps keep Barbara optimistic during some of the toughest times of her life. So, take everything awesome about Sue Storm and everything awesome about Black Widow and you get Dinah Lance.

Lois

#6. Lois Lane

As probably the first significant female character in comic books, Lois Lane has a very long history and not all of it is good. She started as a constant damsel in distress for Superman adventures; some could argue that falling through the sky to be saved by Superman was her defining trait. Fortunately, Lois Lane has evolved into a much more fleshed out character. She’s smart and extremely quick-witted, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and perhaps most importantly, she’s just as relentless about pursuing truth and justice as Superman. Lois is the kind of reporter who doesn’t care what feathers she ruffles or what personal danger she puts herself through; where there is crime and corruption, she will be there to shine a light on it.

Lois is arguably intended to be the “feminine ideal” in the same way Superman is for men. She’s independent, intelligent, confident and passionate. She’s got respect for herself and expects everyone else to respect her in turn. Her moral center is what drives her work and she is always trying to help other people. One could argue that this is an impossible standard. But much like Superman, I think Lois Lane is a pretty good role model for anyone. She fights for what she wants and does it for the right reasons and without compromising her integrity or her self respect.

Wonder Woman

#5. Diana of Themyscira (Wonder Woman)

If you’re read more than a few of my columns, you’re probably well aware of my undying love for Wonder Woman. Diana is my favorite superhero, but I don’t think she outranks the other four women ahead of her. The iconic prototype for female superheroes, Diana combines the physical strength and martial skill of male heroes like Superman and Batman, and adds a more feminine touch to it. Wonder Woman’s primary traits are her unconditional love and her honesty. Diana cares about everyone, fights for everyone, and tries to make life better for as many people as possible. She is also extremely honest and expects the same out of others, and isn’t afraid to use force (and a magic lasso) to get it.

Women love her because she’s a symbol that women can have strength and skill, and that they deserve equal respect. Men love her because even though she is representative of female strength, she is an equalist; men and women should be respected equally. She’s physically stunning and imposing, but also emotionally vulnerable. She’s supportive and caring but also has high standards. She’s fierce and competitive and driven but also gentle and kind and wise. By whatever measure one wants to measure beauty, Wonder Woman is going to knock it out of the park.

Zatanna

4. Zatanna Zatara

Many women who have made this list are physically imposing and a lot of the appeal is that they are stronger than the man or woman who is crushing on the character. Strength is largely attractive because we equate it with security, and safety is conducive to intimacy which paves the way for sexual fireworks. But there’s the opposite end of that too, and Zatanna’s a perfect example. DC’s most famous magician is generally depicted as petite and not the best hand to hand fighter. Her sex appeal isn’t in her physical power; Zatanna’s more the kind of person one describes as “cute” or “adorable”. Which I totally go for. See Gordon, Barbara. She’s outgoing, flirtatious, unpredictable and likes to create her own fun. Without being too stereotypical, I’d have to imagine that many comic book fans like me tend to be more on the introverted side and creatures of habit. If opposites attract, it’s no surprise so many of us love Zatanna.

But the cool thing about Zatanna is that her magical powers make her both one of the best escape artists and potentially one of the most powerful heroes in the DC Universe. She has unbelievable magic power at her disposal and has used it to help save the world numerous times. But if left to her own devices she’d rather use her gifts to put on a show and entertain others. She is a performer, the center of attention who manages to do so without being arrogant or annoying.

Starfire

#3. Koriand’r (Starfire)

Starfire is sadly a name that is synonymous with controversy. Many artists have made her the poster child for stripperiffic, impractical costumes that make her a sex object. Sadly, some writers have also found it acceptable to strip away her personality as much as her clothes, making her something that is less of an actual character and more of a pin-up model. These are all valid arguments, but sadly it has taken away from a very simple fact; when written with some actual care, Koriand’r is one of the most fun, likable, and yes, genuinely sexy characters in comics. After all, she’s a Marv Wolfman creation and Marv simply doesn’t create bad characters, especially when they are one of the main characters of a long running and beloved comic book series like The New Teen Titans.

So for those who may only know Starfire for being the subject of some incredibly poor writing and shameless artwork, let me explain what it is that makes us love Kori. First, it’s important to understand that she is very much a counterpart to fellow Teen Titan member Raven. Raven is an introverted pacifist who keeps her emotions bottled up. Starfire is an extremely curious and outgoing person who loves life and tries to squeeze as much out of every day as possible. For those who read Red Hood and the Outlaws and took issue with her having sex with two guys really quickly, there’s nothing wrong with that. Women are people, not things; they deserve sexual autonomy and Kori has always had that. She’s not going to wait around for a boy she likes to make a move; she’ll take the first step because life is too short to wait. What is out of character was the lack of emotion involved; Kori is all emotion; joy and anger and sadness, all felt intensely and coming across transparently. That’s what readers love about Kori, and that’s why she’s so high on this list.

Rogue

#2. Anna Marie (Rogue)

An often repeated phrase in this series has been “danger is exciting, and thus danger is sexy”. Rogue may be that truth to the absolute extreme; her mutation causes her to drain the life force, powers and memories of anyone who comes in contact with her skin. Super deadly. Even worse? Rogue couldn’t control it for the longest time; so she literally could not have sex ever without killing someone. That’s way beyond forbidden fruit there. On its own, it may have kept Rogue from ever being considered attractive by some. But when you take that power and mix it with a feisty, flirty powerhouse with a Southern accent, you have perhaps the most sexually frustrating character in comics. And one of the most common fan crushes in the industry.

Heck, for many of us, seeing and hearing Rogue on the 1990’s X-Men cartoon was the spark that made us realize that we actually did want to have a girlfriend. It also made us feel incredibly bad for Rogue and her main love interest, Gambit. These two always seemed to be made for each other, enjoying each other’s company and obviously caring for each other even they were butting heads. But Rogue’s mutation made it impossible to even kiss for more than a moment. Rogue raises a lot of questions for readers; would we be able to be a committed lover to someone if sexual contact was out of the question. For many, Rogue was worth it. So she went from being this incredibly source of sexual frustration to helping us realize there are more important things.

Storm

#1. Ororo Munroe (Storm)

Trying to pick the top woman for this list was very difficult, but ultimate I feel confident in putting Storm at the top of this list. Ororo has consistently been a major part of the X-Men for a long time and has maintained a high level of popularity from her initial appearances and all the way to today. Other than Wonder Woman, she’s probably the most well known female superhero to the general public. And she has many of the same traits that Diana has. She’s got power, both physically (she’s usually depicted as six feet tall and very well muscled) and because of her ability to control the weather. But she’s also a gentle, loving soul who is very much a pacifist and a nurturer. Somehow she manages to come across as both wise beyond her years and able to enjoy life with reckless abandon.

Ororo’s definitely got some of the exotic appeal to her, and not just because she’s one of the few truly iconic black female characters in comics. The white hair and blue eyes would stand out even if she were a real person. Many of her earlier appearances put her in the position of a stranger in a strange land, someone who isn’t used to Western customs or ideals. Though it isn’t as drastic as say, Kitty Pryde, Storm has still shown considerable growth. She started as a young, almost naive woman who felt out of place to a woman who felt at home with the X-Men and was soon capable of leading them. Ororo has many aspects that could appeal to someone, whether they want someone who is strong and steady, emotionally vulnerable, wise or curious, mature or young at heart. And unlike some characters, Ororo’s personality seems to blend perfectly into one definite character, as opposed to various interpretations that don’t always match up.

The 30 Sexiest Comic Heroines – #20-11

It’s time for the second part of this list, and just in case you haven’t gotten the memo from the first part, this is more of a critical look at why readers fall in love with certain comic book women. This is not an excuse to post pictures of comic book characters in revealing clothing. I actually nearly gave myself a headache trying to find pictures of some of these women that were in relatively normal clothes and were still quality art.

At the end of the day, personality is a lot sexier than a pretty girl in a bikini. These are the DC and Marvel heroines that fit all that criteria.

Psylocke

#20. Betsy Braddock (Psylocke)

One of the archetypal character types for making a woman who is, shall we say, designed to have sex appeal is to make them an exotic beauty, a woman who doesn’t look like everyone around here. Exotic is different, different is exciting, it makes us want to know more about that person because we feel like they’ve lived a life we don’t know about. Elizabeth Braddock is a British model whose signature is her purple hair. Well that should already make her stand out from the pack. But nope, Marvel did us one better; through a crazy psychic body swap, Betsy’s mind is now in the body of Kwannan. So now she’s a British model living in the body of a Japanese ninja with purple hair. And those don’t come around too often. So Psylocke is already super attractive just because she stands out from virtually everybody.

Psylocke is also the first psychic to be on the list (she won’t be the only one), and that is an interesting trait. The idea of a woman being able to read a man’s mind can be utterly terrifying, especially given Betsy is best known for her stripperiffic outfit shown above in the most tasteful pose I could find. But on the other end, the idea that Betsy could fall in love with us even though she knows what we are thinking is really attractive. People want to be accepted for who they are and at the end of the day you can’t lie to a psychic. So if Betsy’s in love with you, you must be pretty special. The idea of being that in tune with someone is a pretty awesome thing to think about.

Supergirl

#19. Kara Zor-El (Supergirl)

And from the extremely exotic to the epitome of the “girl next door” trope, we know have Supergirl. Like her cousin, Kara is kind of meant to embody the “feminine ideal” for readers. This of course means that she’s gone through some phases in different points in history that don’t exactly hold up to feminist standards. And no, Supergirl in her original incarnation is not a character I particularly enjoy; she’s pretty and compassionate and well… “nice”. But she lacks agency or layers to her personality, and Superman is in far too much control of her life. The only thing I like about this Supergirl is that I can at least look at her outfit without feeling a dirty old man.

But the more modern takes on the character are much more interesting. She’s no longer obedient, she rebels from time to time and sometimes that works out for her and sometimes it gets her in trouble. Which is a much better take on teenage characters, something that is easier to relate to. I enjoy her even more in the New 52, where she has little to do with her cousin and is instead a girl trying to find her place in the world. She’s somebody who feels like she could be your best friend, somebody who would go on an adventure with you.

She-Hulk

#18. Jennifer Walters (She-Hulk)

I am a firm believer that many men are attracted to women who can beat them up. There’s a sense of danger there and danger is exciting. But especially in a genre with as much action as comic books, it’s also nice to know that our partner can take care of themselves and can save us if we need them too. Yeah, there’s appeal in the “damsel in distress” character, but it can also get really annoying in a hurry. One look at She-Hulk, Strongest Woman There Is, and we know she can take care of herself.

Fortunately, She-Hulk’s personality is as much of a force of nature as her body. Jennifer Walters is Bruce Banner’s cousin, a lawyer who is a bit timid but very smart and very funny; the She-Hulk however, lacks her inhibitions. She’s not afraid to be funny or outspoken or confident in her abilities. This again is very appealing trait; She-Hulk just doesn’t know how to be fake. She’s always honest and always blunt, and there’s a lot of appeal in that. And of course, this can’t be overstated; She-Hulk has never hesitated about pursuing relationships; she’s not going to be chased, she’s the chaser. Again, blunt honesty and aggression is a turn-on for plenty of guys; the fact that she’s funny is even better.

Gwen Stacey

#17. Gwen Stacy (Spider-Woman)

Peter Parker first met Gwen Stacey in college, and despite a few obstacles, they quickly hit it off and were a well-functioning couple. Being the girlfriend of one of the most popular characters in comics, especially the one who was most designed to relate to teenagers, Gwen was sort of an “America’s Sweetheart” type; everyone loved Gwen. She was kind of the Betty to Mary Jane’s Veronica; not as outgoing or “exciting”, but kinder, more mature and more capable of handling a stable relationship. Honestly, were it not for her death, I imagine that Peter and Gwen would have become married. Many consider Gwen’s death to be the moment when comics lost their innocence and “grew up” to face the real world, which wasn’t always happy. Gwen is a symbol of that childlike innocence and the hope that we could have a happy ending.

Gwen was before my time, although her impact was still felt in later media. The Mary Jane Watson from Sam Raimi’s movies honestly has a lot more in common with Gwen than the comics MJ as far as personality goes. And conversely, the Gwen Stacey that Emma Stone plays (a much better love interest) has a bit of MJ’s fire, but is still definitely Gwen. Marvel has tried different ways to bring Gwen back (clones… ugh), but I think by far the most successful has been “Spider-Gwen”, an alternate reality where Gwen is bitten by the radioactive spider. And… yeah, that is pretty much a perfect idea. Gwen Stacey as Spider-Woman is awesome. Definitely a good way to update the character for more modern tastes.

Pepper Potts

#16. Pepper Potts

Pepper Potts is kind of an interesting case. Though she was introduced as Tony Stark’s personality secretary with a crush, their relationship was never one that went anywhere. No, she eventually fell in love with and married Harold “Happy” Hogan, Stark’s butler. And yep, the idea that a smart, funny, pretty girl like Pepper would eventually give up on the selfish, arrogant pretty boy for the steady, reliable guy who doesn’t look like Hercules is a huge point in her favor. I am sure most comic book fans have a lot more in common with Happy Hogan than with Iron Man. The “nice guy wins” is a story that is always going to make that guy’s partner more attractive.

However, Pepper seems to be subject of a bit of a war between some writers who want her with Tony and others who want her with Hogan. Sadly, Tony eventually won out in order to make things more in line with the Iron Man movies, where Gwyneth Paltrow stars as the character and is the primary love interest of Tony. Fortunately, I am a big fan of that couple and Paltrow definitely brings a lot of personality that has influenced the comics version in positive ways. Pepper fulfills two things that will always be attractive. She’s got that blunt honesty that I talked about with She-Hulk; she always calls out Tony on his crap; self-respect and standards are always a good thing. But she’s also the ultimate caretaker; her job is basically the same as Alfred Pennyworth. She is the ultimate support system for Tony, and that is probably what makes her stand out most.

Batwoman

#15. Kate Kane (Batwoman)

Again, being unique is always a good way to endear readers. Being easily the highest profile lesbian in comics gives Batwoman a huge edge in that department; she’s the standard that future gay characters are probably going to be held to. Kate Kane is actually the second version of Batwoman; the Silver Age version of the character was, ironically enough, created to make a love interest for Batman to show that he was not gay after concerns raised by the book “The Seduction of the Innocent”. Fortunately, we have evolved a bit as a society and there is a growing desire to see LGBT characters be represented in comics. Kate is an excellent example of this. While being gay is not her only defining trait thanks to her superhero career, close relationship with her father and her military background, it is not a simple personality quirk either. A major part of Batwoman comics is about Kate’s relationships with other women.

And not just the sex stuff either. The dates, the personality clashes, the ups and downs of a relationship. Kate’s relationship with Maggie Sawyer is one of my favorite in comics, and one of the more unique. In addition to being an example of a lesbian relationship that is given a lot of time and development and is usually pretty healthy, it’s also a generational gap. Maggie is much older than Kate and that is a key dynamic of their relationship. While there is plenty to love about Batwoman comics, from the supernatural element to J.H. Williams III’s gorgeous art style, what always stands out to me is that it is a romance comic done right. And well written relationships with two likable yet distinct characters will always be sexy.

Kitty

#14. Kitty Pryde (Shadowcat)

From one Jewish Katherine to another, it’s time to take a look at the X-Men who can walk through walls, Kitty Pryde. When it comes to examining why Kitty is on this list, it comes down to a pretty simple reason. X-Men fans have grown up with her, and she has grown up with them. Kitty was introduced as a fourteen year old girl who wasn’t quite ready to be on the team; in many ways, a link between the typical reader and the fantastic world of X-Men comics. And she’s likable from the start; full of spunk, creativity and courage but also emotionally vulnerable and often out of her depth. Easy to relate to, Kitty is a character that many people saw themselves in, and many fell in love with.

Fortunately, Kitty has been anything but stagnant. We’ve seen her take on rigorous warrior training from Wolverine, so we know that she’s tough and has self-discipline. We’ve seen her leave the team to join Excalibur, so we know she’s independent and willing to take risks. We’ve seen her become a teacher and a leader, so we know she’s intelligent and capable and confident. And yet through all of that, Kitty has never stopped being the optimistic, compassionate person that we first knew. And she recently became one of the spokesman for why the anti-bigotry message of the X-Men will always be important; she’s proud of who she is, unafraid to claim it, and inspires us to be the same.

Black Widow

#13. Natasha Romanov (Black Widow)

The fact that Black Widow has become a breakout character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is played by one of the most attractive women on the planet has certainly raised awareness of the character and helped make her a more major player. But this isn’t about Scarlett Johanssen and how awesome she is. Black Widow from the comics still has plenty to like about her. She’s still the best spy in the Marvel Universe and is an incredibly dangerous fighter, and a member of the Avengers. There’s that danger thing I keep bringing up. She’s also a bad girl turned good; she debuted as a villain but eventually had a change of heart and joined The Avengers. Yep, there’s another mark in her favor.

But perhaps the most important difference between the comic version and the movie version is that Black Widow is a much older woman. So instead of being the incredibly hot twenty something who we probably shouldn’t mess with, she’s the incredibly hot older woman who is so dangerous that she could eat us alive.Yeah, that about seals the deal. Natasha’s mix of intelligence, skill as a warrior, willingness to use her sexuality to her advantage, ability to bend the rules, and a long life of experience make her an extremely intimidating woman. And that is always going to appeal to certain people, including me.

Donna Troy

#12. Donna Troy (Wonder Girl)

To understand the appeal of Donna Troy, Wonder Woman’s sidekick/protegy, one first needs to understand what makes Wonder Woman appealing. Wonder Woman is a warrior, but one who fights for peace and equality. She holds up very lofty ideals and is very capable of standing up for them. She is simultaneously fierce and gentle, compassionate and ruthless. That is all very awesome. Now take these traits, and add them to a younger girl who is closer in age to the target audience. Where can you go wrong? Donna Troy has Diana’s lofty ideals, but has a younger perspective on things. When Wonder Woman gives a speech about equality it can almost come across as a scolding mother. When it’s Donna, it feels like a friend giving helpful advice to help you grow as a person.

But beyond that, Donna is mostly just a girl who feels like she just knows how to handle the world and whatever it throws at her. If you read George Perez and Marv Wolfman’s run on Teen Titans, you’ll notice that Donna is the only Titan holding down a job. She’s got her own boyfriend and it isn’t another superhero, but a teacher without superpowers. And she has enough experience as a fighter not to be afraid of the danger that goes on around her. And like Kitty Pryde, she’s a character that grew along with the audience, going from a young teenager to a young woman; that feeling that you’ve grown up with someone and seen them reach their potential provides an intimate relationship that lends itself to fan crushes.

Mary Jane

#11. Mary Jane Watson

Can I just take a moment to please ask any fans of Mary Jane Watson who have pictures of her where she isn’t undressing, wearing Spider-Man clothes, or showing off impossible flexibility, please put them up on the internet? I love Mary Jane, but man it was hard to find a picture of her that was more current and didn’t make me feel like I was one step away from looking at pornography. And that’s really why I’m doing this list; there is so much more that goes into sexual attraction than just physical attractiveness and these should be realized. A good writer and a good artist should be able to make their characters appealing and yes, even sexy, without showing them undressing. That way, when the character does show off a bit we have an established emotional connection to the character. This is the difference between “fan service” and “cheesecake”; one is showing off the sensuality of a beloved character and the other is just sexual objectification.

Now that I have that out of my system, let’s talk about Mary Jane Watson, the iconic girlfriend/wife of Spider-Man. There’s basically two key phases of Mary Jane’s life that are extremely sexually appealing, but in different ways. She first shows up as a confident, self-assured party-goer who is way out of Peter Parker’s league but doesn’t see herself that way. The character has flaws, being a bit stuck up and shallow, but that just makes her a bit more human. And it means all the more when she grows out of that after Gwen Stacy’s death; she was just as close to Gwen as Peter was and that death causes her to grow up a bit. This brings me to other important aspect; MJ and Peter married and spent a very long time as a couple. And as the ultra-supportive, loving wife of Spider-Man she fulfills a fantasy that a lot of people don’t get; a loving, committed partner who is in for the long haul.

The 30 Sexiest Comic Heroines – #30-21

If this is your first time reading an article from “The Shelf is Half Full” and you are expecting a post full of cheesecake drawings that amounts to click bait, this isn’t what you’ll find here. I sincerely hope that isn’t disappointing. This list is more of a psychological look at why comic book readers develop a sexual attraction to fictional characters. And while some of you may be thinking that the answer is obvious, it really isn’t. Because thinking that it’s just a sexy drawing that attracts us to a character ignores an obvious fact of comic books.

Any artist of decent skill can draw any character as being physically attractive.

And many of them do, sadly in a way that can come across as being exploitative. There are artists like Gillen Land who is known for tracing pornography to draw his characters, particularly women. But I’d like to think that most artists, writers and comic book fans would rather have their women stand out as being fully realized characters with attractive personalities that transcend artwork. Because ultimately, a sexy drawing is just that; a drawing. And no self-respecting comic reader develops a fan crush just because of a sexy drawing.

Well… okay. Sometimes it helps. But this is about the reasons we invest emotionally in female characters and find ourselves falling in love with them. So, with that clarification out of the way, let’s get this completely subjective and in no way definitive list of the Sexiest Comic Heroines (from Marvel and DC anyway) started.

And yeah, for those wondering if there’s going to be a list of Sexiest Guys in comics? Wait until August.

Wasp

#30. Janet Van Dyne (The Wasp)

Janet Van Dyne was introduced to comics as the girlfriend of Hank Pym, a.k.a. Ant-Man, and possesses similar powers. Namely she shrinks to a small size. But since she’s named “Wasp” she also flies using specialized wings and fires bio-electric energy bolts (“stingers”). Outgoing, energetic and with a love of adventure and “super heroing”, Janet’s personality could best be described as “pixie like”. This plays off of Hank’s introverted, quieter personality quite well, and when they are actually functioning Ant-Man and Wasp are one of my favorite couples in comic books. Sadly, Janet has also been the victim of Hank’s anger problems and his physical abuse. Which, believe it or not, does actually make her more appealing to readers; people feel compelled to save victims of abuse, and if you don’t believe me, look at Harley Quinn.

Fortunately, Wasp doesn’t need to be rescued. Somewhat surprisingly for a character intended only to be a sidekick/love interest, Janet Van Dyne has arguably become a more important player in the Marvel Universe than her ex-husband. She’s consistently been a member of the Avengers and has served as their leader on more than one occasion. These days, she is semi-retired and mostly works as a promoter for the team. Plucky, outgoing and tougher than she looks, Janet is the dream girl for quite a few comic readers.

Polaris

#29. Lorna Dane (Polaris)

I’ve got to be honest here; the green hair does it for me. I mean, there are other things to like about Lorna Dane, but the green hair is one of the smartest character design decisions ever in my opinion. She has a truly distinct physical trait that identifies her character. And no, Abigail Brand doesn’t pull it off as well. Anyway, Polaris is the daughter of X-Men villain Magneto (sometimes anyway, depending on the writer) and possesses similar magnetic abilities. She was actually the second woman to join the X-Men and has a long history as the lover of Alex Summers, alias Havok. For a long time they were one of the few couples that managed to retire happily from the superhero business.

I think the simple dynamic of being the daughter of a mutant terrorist is something that makes Lorna an interesting character. She is, generally speaking, a sweet and gentle person and initially hates that Magneto is her father. However, as she gets older and experiences more trauma, like the mutant massacre, she begins to appreciate his view of things a bit more and often serves as a devil’s advocate to the X-Men. Though she’s occasionally been the same kind of bitter supervillain that her father is, I think she’s most recognizable as a selfless hero. And let’s face it; there’s something incredibly tantalizing about the idea of dating the daughter of one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel universe.

Silver

#28. Silver St. Cloud

This list isn’t entirely made of superheroes; many of the most famous women in comics have never put on a costume and battled villains. But that doesn’t make them less interesting, and it certainly doesn’t disqualify them from this list. After all, serving as the emotional support for other characters is just as noble, and arguably more thankless. So the first of those characters to make this list is more of a sentimental favorite of mine; Silver St. Cloud. Silver was one of Bruce Wayne’s more serious girlfriends, appearing in several issues during the Bronze Age of comics and actually cracking through Bruce’s armor a bit to form a serious relationship. One of the more interesting things about her is that she is the first woman that Bruce is explicitly shown to have been in a physical relationship with. While some of that is indicative of the time as the comics code was loosening, I like to think that from a canon perspective Bruce was genuinely in love with Silver.

But I think what I admire most about Silver is that she’s not a clueless idiot. She immediately suspects that her boyfriend is hiding something. She’s even essential to solving a case where Hugo Strange tries to impersonate Bruce; she’s so in tune with who Bruce is as a person that she knows it isn’t him and calls Dick Grayson to inform him. And the first time she sees Batman up close, she immediately recognizes him. Despite being in love with him, she knows she can’t deal with the stress of worrying about his life every night and calls off the relationship. This has always stood out to me as a rare case where Batman was in a serious emotional relationship and may have lost his best shot at happiness because of his career as a vigilante. That hits hard and has always made Silver St. Cloud a personal favorite.

Carol Ferris

#27. Carol Ferris (Star Sapphire)

Carol Ferris is the owner of Ferris Aircraft, where future Green Lantern Hal Jordan works as a pilot. And despite the fact that she’s Hal’s boss, she’s also his primary love interest. And yes, that dynamic is one of the reasons Carol is on this list. The idea of seducing your powerful, gorgeous boss is a fantasy for a lot of people; it’s scandalous and therefore incredibly hot. It also puts a lot of natural tension between the two; they are clearly attracted to each other and even get along well. Hal brings a sense of fun and adventure to Carol’s life while she grounds him and holds him accountable for his reckless and insensitive behavior. They are a couple that’s easy to root for and the drama of if they will ever actually commit to each other instead of letting their jobs get in the way provides a lot of drama.

However, one of the biggest marks in Carol’s favor is that she isn’t just another pedestrian girlfriend for the male character to save. Carol has a dual identity as Star Sapphire, a character that was initially an enemy of Green Lantern’s who possessed Carol, using Carol’s love for Hal to power her own ring. Again, more tension, and that’s always a good thing. Later on, Carol has more control of her Star Sapphire persona and becomes a hero in her own right, helping to save the universe on a handful of occasions and even saving Hal’s life a couple of times. Whatever her role, Carol is always a woman in power, and that is exactly what Hal needs in his life. And since Hal is a character that many, many comic book readers relate to, it’s not surprising that Carol has landed a spot on this list.

Amanda Waller

#26. Amanda Waller

Yes, there are some shallow people who will claim that Amanda Waller doesn’t belong anywhere near this list because she is a middle-aged woman of size. Fortunately for those people, DC decided to remake Waller as a younger, thinner character who at least as Waller’s personality. So consider that version for this list if you prefer. As for me, and I imagine most fans of Waller, we prefer her the way she was originally portrayed; large and in charge. Waller is a government agent who primarily works on defending the United States from metahumans, both the villains and the heroes alike. Though she is often written as the antagonist of her books, Waller always has the best interests of people at heart. This makes her one of the most realistic, least idealized, most human characters in comics. And that is why she is so freaking awesome.

Amanda Waller is a woman in power and she has no problem exerting her authority. She is smart and capable and will not let anybody push her around, and guess what; that’s super attractive. Even though she has her fair share of enemies and can be a downright scumbag of a human being at times, she’s always doing it with the best of intentions. She’s a character that readers love to hate, and in some cases, just love. Let me put it this way; there’s a reason DC redesigned her to fit more… um… accepted standards of beauty. It’s because plenty of people were already in love with her to begin with.

Raven

#25. Raven

Marv Wolfman is one of the best character writers in comic books; he works extremely well with large casts, excelling at making several different and distinct characters as possible. So it really shouldn’t be surprising that several members of the Teen Titans make their way on this list. Wolfman was never shy about embracing the sexuality of his characters; after all, his characters were teenagers and marketed towards teenagers and there were a lot of hormones going around. But he was always tasteful, and the male characters were given just as much sex appeal as the gals. But this list is about women, and Raven is the first to show up on this list. And she may be the best example of the psychology of sexual attraction in comics.

See, Raven is an introverted, quiet, damaged character who doesn’t open up about her self or her past very much. This makes her mysterious and makes the reader compelled to find out more about her. Thanks to the strong friendships she forges with her teammates, Raven eventually starts to open up a bit. She never becomes an extrovert; that’s not her nature. But she becomes receptive to friendship and emotion and gives it back in kind, even eventually finding romance with her teammate Garfield Logan, a similarly damaged young man who hides his pain by playing the fool. Raven is a character that lures the reader in, rarely showing vulnerability and forcing us to get to know her to see how beautiful she is. And Raven is one of the best examples of the quiet type who feels emotions strongly but doesn’t show them; and yes, there are plenty of people who find women like this incredibly attractive.

Abigail Arcane

#24. Abigail Arcane

Alan Moore’s The Saga of Swamp Thing is one of the first comic books I’ve ever loved, and Abigail Arcane has always been a favorite of mine. What is it with white hair? Anyway, in those comics she’s young and quick to show compassion and love, and has a very “girl next door” kind of feel to her. Granted, it comes with a sick twist because her closest living relative is one of the most horrible monsters in comics, Anton Arcane. Who once took over Abbey’s husband’s body… and I’ll live the rest up to your imagination. Again, Abigail is a victim, and an innocent one; she inspires our protective instincts. We want to comfort her and tell her that everything is going to be okay, even though we know it never really will be. While I’m not advocating an increase in sexually abused characters in media, I won’t deny that it does create immediate sympathy. As long as the character remains compelling beyond that initial sympathy, it is likely to form a strong emotional bond for the reader.

And Abigail is pretty awesome. I’ve always had tremendous respect for her because she falls in love with Swamp Thing and doesn’t care that he is well… Swamp Thing. He’s a plant. She doesn’t care that he looks like a monster or that she’ll never have a true sexual relationship with him (psychedelic plant sex aside), or that some people will judge her. She’s truly in love with the kind, gentle soul that Swamp Thing is. And it’s hard not to love a character that doesn’t hesitate to fall in love with a man who isn’t even a man. Then she comes back in Scott Snyder’s run on Swampy as an older, more grizzled woman and becomes even hotter. I especially loved how Scott made her hesitant to fall for Alec since the Swamp Thing she fell in love with was a plant with Alec’s memories. There’s loyalty there that is admirable and when she finally realizes that Alec is the the Swamp Thing she knows and loves, it makes her decision to fall in love again all the more powerful.

Mera

#23. Queen Mera

Continuing the trend of extremely loyal people who have gone through a lot of crap by sticking with their loved one, we now have Aquaman’s wife Mera. The redhead queen of Atlantis is a superhero in her own right, possessing the same strength and durability that Arthur has in addition to specialized combat training and hydrokinesis; the ability to control water. This makes Mera one of the few examples of a superhero’s significant other who is able to fight alongside that superhero. Mera is awesome and I love having her as Aquaman’s partner. And there’s plenty of appeal in a fierce fighter who commands respect and doesn’t put up with anyone’s crap. Not even Arthur’s.

Arthur and Mera have been through a lot together; they have lost children, Arthur has died and come back from the dead, Mera has succumbed to madness and served as an enemy to Arthur from time to time. It’s an exaggerated scale, but they are an example of a couple who have gone through real problems and yet still care for each other. They always come back to each other because they love each other and want to be together. It’s love through adversity, and without getting too sentimental, it’s hard not to admire them for that. For everything she adds to Aquaman comics and for how awesome she is in her own right, Mera was an easy choice to make this list.

Scarlet Witch

#22. Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch)

Well, the joke’s got to be made; Magneto must have some good genes, because all of his children are ridiculously attractive. Similar to her sister Lorna, Wanda has the immediate benefit of being the daughter of a ridiculously powerful super villain who you do not want to cross. And like Lorna, Wanda’s chaos magic makes her plenty dangerous on her own; I’d honestly rather cross an angry Magneto. Who doesn’t love a good challenge though? Danger is exciting; danger is sexy. However, Wanda has a considerable edge on her sister because she’s been developed a great deal more, and thus feels like more of a complete character than just a sexy archetype.

Wanda actually started as a somewhat reluctant villain, working as part of the Brotherhood of Mutants under her father’s leadership. Along with her twin brother Pietro, she quickly left that life behind and joined The Avengers, beginning a much more distinguished career as a hero than a villain. She does sometimes wonder if she should side with her father, but usually sticks to her principles… when she’s not going crazy anyway. And like Abigail Arcane, she gets major points for being unafraid to fall in love with Vision, an android that most people wouldn’t consider truly human. Including her brother. Wanda has gone through a lot of problems but still maintains a level of popularity; I think most of us see the good in her and hope it wins out. Combining many of the attributes that got Raven, Abigail, and Polaris on this list, she manages to edge them all out.

Oracle

#21. Barbara Gordon (Batgirl/Oracle)

Barbara Gordon may be my single biggest fan crush. She’s got all the traits I find most appealing in women. For one, she’s super intelligent and always relies on her brain to solve her problems. She’s kind of a nerd, always stuck in a computer and alternating between extremely shy and awkwardly funny. And she’s tough and resilient; even a bullet that rendered her paralyzed couldn’t keep the former Batgirl down. She recreated herself as Oracle, communications expert and information broker for the Bat-family, the Birds of Prey and even the Justice League of America. And she’s someone who is very ruled by her emotions. When she’s happy, she’s joyful, when she’s angry she’s furious, and when she’s sad she isn’t afraid to cry. She is both strong and vulnerable and I like that a great deal.

Babs, for me, is a perfect example of why this subject is worth writing about. While fictional characters are obviously not real, a good writer can make a character feel real. A good character has a distinct personality, strengths and weaknesses, goals and fears, and meaningful relationships. Fan crushes on comic book characters can actually be a good thing; they help us to identify the important traits that we value in a partner. I fell in love with Barbara because of her intelligence, her ability to overcome obstacles, her loyalty to her friends and family, and her emotional vulnerability. She isn’t a stereotypical bombshell, but she’s pretty and she has a ton of character. And that’s what I want out of any real life partner.

Superhero Spotlight – Wolverine

Since the X-Men debuted in September of 1963, literally dozens of mutants have joined the team for at least some length of time. Naturally, some are going to be more popular than others; everyone knows who Storm and Cyclops, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any casual fan who knows who Maggot is. Don’t look him up, his mutation really isn’t pretty. However, there is one member of the X-Men who has definitely broken out from the pack, it’s the man with adamantium claws. He’s the best there is at what he does, and what he does isn’t very nice.

Wolverine

Wolverine

Wolverine was created by writer Len Wein and artist John Romita, Sr. at the suggestion of then editor-in-chief for Marvel Roy Thomas. It may be a surprise that one of the most popular superheroes of all time actually debuted as an antagonist for another hero: Hulk. Debuting in the final panel of The Incredible Hulk #180 and making his full debut an issue later, the man we would come to call Logan was a mutant with enhanced senses and metal claws. Working for the Canadian government, he fights the Hulk to a stalemate and somehow survives his ridiculous original mask to become part of the “all new, all different” X-Men team that debuts in Giant-Size X-Men #1. Wolverine was now a part of the X-Men, and rest is history.

#181

Logan stood out from his fellow X-Men in several ways. First and foremost was his age; physically in his forties, Wolverine is in actuality much older that that, born in the nineteenth century. While most of the X-Men were young adults with little formal training, Logan was a grown man with a ton of combat training and a willingness to kill those who deserved to be stabbed with his claws. Wolverine was also a victim of experimentation; his ability to heal at an extremely accelerated rate allowed him to survive the process where the virtually indestructible metal known as adamantium was bonded to his skeleton. This process made Wolverine an even more deadly killing machine, and also cost him most of his long-term memory.

The Wolverine

The Beast and The Samurai

The character of Wolverine is a man at odds with dual natures. On one hand, he is essentially a good man, a noble warrior who wishes to protect the innocent. Logan has trained as both a ninja and a samurai, and his body is a lethal weapon even without the metal bones (or the claws). He wants to be a good man, a protector, but this puts him at odds with another aspect of his mutation. In addition to his animal like senses, Wolverine occasionally falls victim to a berserker rage in the heat of battle, This anger has caused Logan to take several lives that he wishes that he hadn’t, and is something he always struggles to control.

Logan is a loner both by the nature of his personality and the fact that his anger makes him a danger to those closest to him at times. Not to mention people like Sabretooth and Silver Samurai who are always trying to kill him. Logan tends to discourage people from making friends with him, but once he considers someone a friend he is an incredibly loyal one. When he first joined the X-Men his gruff, cynical and sometimes violent nature put him at odds with many of the team, but he gradually comes to accept them as his family and has formed several close relationships. He has served as a father figure to Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, and his clone (and eventual successor) X-23. This trait even made it into the movie adaptations where he serves as a protective father figure to Rogue.

Best There Is

The Best There Is

Chances are that is somebody only knows one member of the X-Men, it’s Wolverine. He was the ensemble dark horse of the Claremont era and starred in both a mini-series and a separate ongoing series before the 1990’s. By the time I was first getting into superheroes as a kid Wolverine was literally everywhere; along with Spider-Man and Batman he was definitely the superhero that everyone thought was cool. Logan’s status as something of anti-hero who wasn’t afraid to kill made him stand out and it inspired a new kind of comic book hero. Though one can argue the merits of having so many anti-heroes, it’s impossible to argue the impact Logan has had on the comic book business.

Despite being a relative newcomer to comics with just forty years of publication, Wolverine has already cemented himself as one of the most popular and enduring icons of the industry. In fact, one could make the argument that Wolverine is responsible for bringing superheroes to the point of mainstream acceptance they enjoy today. Hugh Jackman’s take on the character was the centerpiece of the X-Men movies and were it not for their success I would argue that we would not be enjoying Avengers movies today. He’s the favorite of many and certainly a favorite of mine.

Superhero Spotlight – Jean Grey

With the commercial and critical success of such superheroes as The Fantastic Four, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers, Stan Lee found himself in need of still more superheroes to meet the increased demand of the buyers. Once he developed the concept of mutants, people who were simply born different who developed extraordinary powers in their teenage years, Lee developed five young heroes who would become the first X-Men, debuting in the pages of The X-Men #1 in September of 1963. They were all taught by Professor Charles Xavier to control their powers and to defend humanity from mutant terrorists such as Magneto. Those five were Scott Summers (Cyclops), Bobby Drake (Iceman), Henry McCoy (Beast), Warren Worthington III (Angel) and today’s spotlight character..

Jean Grey

Jean Grey

From Marvel Girl to Phoenix

Jean Grey was one of Professor Xavier’s first students, even before the X-Men were formed. Jean’s telepathic powers (the ability to read minds, in layman’s terms) first emerged when her childhood friend Annie was killed in a car accident. Her mind connected with her friend and she felt the fear and pain Annie suffered in her death, leaving Jean traumatized. Being the most powerful telepath in the world, Xavier created psychic barriers in Jean’s mind to keep her telepathy under control. Jean and Xavier developed a close bond when she became a charter X-Men member (now using her telekinetic powers), and was trusted even more so that Scott. In her initial experiences Jean was introverted and shy, but grew to care deeply for her teammates, especially Scott, who would be the love of her life.

Being created in the 1960’s, Jean suffered from what many fans call “Smurfette Syndrome”: being the only female character in a sea of male characters. Like Sue Storm before her, Jean was treated more like a princess than a warrior in her early stories. Thankfully, Chris Claremont saw the potential in Jean Grey’s telekinetic and telepathic abilities; when the X-Men were relaunched in the 1970’s, Jean had gone from being the “weakest” of the X-Men to being their most powerful weapon. Using all of her telekinetic powers, she saved her teammates from death by creating shields around a spacecraft as it entered the atmosphere; the strain should have killed her, but instead unlocked her true power as she arose as The Phoenix.

Phoenix

The Dark Phoenix Saga

With her increased powers, Jean also began to break out of her shell. She became more forward in her relationship with Scott, and was much more aggressive against threats than she had been before. This would take a dark turn as her mind was manipulated by the mutant illusionist known as Jason Wyngarde, a.k.a. Mastermind. Phoenix became Dark Phoenix, the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, a secret society of mutants that Mastermind was working with. The X-Men’s most beloved ally had become their greatest enemy; the Phoenix Force was a cosmic entity whose rage destroyed an entire planet of sentient beings, and was only stopped when it’s vessel, Jean was killed. The Dark Phoenix Saga is arguably the X-Men’s most legendary story and Jean was the centerpiece, forever establishing her place in comic book history as a tragic hero and victim of a godlike entity’s power.

Okay, so technically this all got retconned to the Phoenix Force sensing that Jean was dying and taking her form while Jean recovered from her injuries. This starts an entirely too convoluted series of events where Jean finally heals from her injuries and comes back to the land of the living, the idea being to distance Jean from the Phoenix so as not to confuse readers… by confusing them more. But that wasn’t Claremont’s original intention; Phoenix was written to be Jean with the Phoenix’s influence, not the other way around, and I prefer that as my personal “head canon”.

Jim Lee

Rebirth, Death, and Time Travel

Anyway, the important thing in all of this is that Jean Grey came back to life and was a superhero again. She initially teamed up with her original X-Men teammates in X-Factor before eventually returning to the X-Men. This is how Jean Grey was when I first started paying attention to the X-Men in the 1990’s. That costume just has not aged well… but in abstract terms, this is how I remember the X-Men and thus how I tend to think of Jean Grey. Married to Scott Summers, capable X-Men veteran with awesome psychic powers, kind and gentle soul who serves as the team mom for the X-Men. I loved this Jean and still do. And I’ll never forgive Grant Morrison for killing her off.

But thankfully, good characters have a way of coming back. But rather than do another cheap resurrection, Brian Michael Bendis had a rather clever idea of how to reintroduce her to the Marvel Universe. After the events of Avengers vs. X-Men positioned Scott Summers as at best an anti-hero and at worse a justified villain, Henry McCoy decided to travel in time to when Scott and the other X-Men were still innocent; that is to say, when they were teenagers who hadn’t even encountered Sentinels yet. They traveled through time, Jean Grey’s telepathy kicked in, and now there’s a sixteen year old Jean Grey roaming around the Marvel Universe knowing the entire messy history of the woman she would have grown up to be. Heavy stuff… and the basis for my favorite interpretation of the character yet.

Marvel Girl

Endless Possibilities

I’m ashamed to say it took me a while to start reading All-New X-Men because I just assumed that the time displaced original X-Men was going to be a short-lived gimmick, not a viable new creative direction that would last for several years. Once I decided to give it a chance after several recommendations, I promptly tried to kick myself. Unsuccessfully so, but I tried. These comics are awesome, and after living in a world where Scott is a villain, Jean is dead and Warren’s lost his mind and is basically an entirely different character, it was incredibly satisfying to see these characters be good guys again. Not to mention young teenagers that make mistakes, sometimes huge mistakes.

Jean is clearly positioned as the star of this comic, carrying a lot of anger and resentment over the negative things that have happened to the older Jean and looking to change it. She quickly establishes herself as the leader of the original X-Men and this is a pretty refreshing take to be honest. I adore this Jean, I love how she takes the best qualities of the original character (and some alternate versions) but also has her own identity, and I look forward to seeing more of how her character develops. Everything seems unpredictable, in a good way; and maybe, just maybe this Jean will be able to have a happy life that doesn’t get ruined by the Phoenix. She deserves it.

Some Thoughts On The “New” Wolverine

One of the many ways Marvel Comics grabbed readers attention in 2014 was killing off one of their two most popular superheroes: the X-Man known as Wolverine. The man most readers know as Logan (no matter what name they tried to give him retroactively) was a breakout character from the Uncanny X-Men book series and soon became the face of Marvel’s most popular franchise. Only Spider-Man has been able to maintain a similar level of popularity for longer, so this was definitely a risky move for Marvel.

Well, maybe not in Marvel’s book, since they seem to view anything outside of their cinematic universe as disposable, but that is a rant for another time. Regarding Logan’s death, the event sold a ton of comics for Marvel in 2014, but most comic book fans were expecting Logan to make a return to our comic stands in a matter of months. For those who don’t read comics, death and rebirth are so common that is generally regarded as both a joke and a cheap cash grab when it is as promoted as heavily as Marvel promoted the death of Wolverine.

Wolverine

While I do consider The Death of Wolverine to be a cheap cash grab from Marvel, I will at least give them credit; so far, Logan’s death is not a joke. They seem committed to keeping him dead for a good long while, which I don’t think is supremely intelligent, but I at least Marvel’s dedication to trying to make death mean something. For those of us who were expecting Logan to be back on our shelves, Marvel finally did something to silence us today by announcing a new Wolverine: X-23.

X-23, or Laura Kinney, is a female clone of Wolverine created to be a living weapon; her last name comes from her mother Sarah Kinney, a scientist who raised her. She is initially planned as a way for the Weapon X scientists to either kill Logan or capture him for further study, but X-23 ends up liking Logan and the X-Men a lot more than the people who created her. Laura actually debuted outside of comics in the X-Men: Evolution cartoon series, but the idea proved popular enough to bring her to comics. Now she has taken a huge step into cementing her own legacy by embracing the legacy of her father and becoming the new Wolverine.

Laura

And perhaps surprisingly, I find this to be a pretty easy pill to swallow. Laura’s been around long enough that she’s an established part of the X-Men’s history. She’s an interesting character in her own right, battling low self esteem and difficulty understanding social behavior because she was basically raised in a lab. She’s a clone, so she’s not exactly human (or mutant as the case may be), which makes her even more of an outsider in a group of outsiders. So, I already like Laura. And if somebody is going to take up Logan’s mantle, I find her to be the most appropriate choice.

She’s got his powers and she’s got his DNA. Now she has his codename and his costume. It’s relatively new territory for Marvel, but it’s not unprecedented in comic books. Barry Allen and Hal Jordan were not the first Flash and Green Lantern in comics, but they are far better known than Jay Garrick and Alan Scott. Now, I’m not saying that Laura is going to become more popular than Logan; considering Wolverine’s popularity that seems virtually impossible. But perhaps she can live up to it. Looking at more recent examples from DC, Wally West and Tim Drake were both more than capable of filling the shoes of Barry Allen and Dick Grayson. They took up iconic mantles, but became popular in their own right and put their own stamps of the legacies of Flash and Robin. Laura now has a chance to do the same for Wolverine.

Weapons X

Another thing I have to comment on is that I feel this is probably the best example of Marvel’s recent experimentation with their most famous characters. Marvel has recently done some pretty heavy tinkering. Jane Foster took possession of Mjolnir and became the new “Thor”, while Steve Rogers’ longtime friend and crimefighting partner Sam Wilson went from being The Falcon to being the new Captain America. I wasn’t a huge fan of Jane Foster as Thor but felt Sam’s transition into the role was fairly logical and provided an opportunity for Marvel to spotlight one of their more underrated characters. Laura’s transition from X-23 to Wolverine works better than either of those two though; I daresay that this is best major shift of a character since Bucky Barnes became Captain America after Steve Rogers’ apparent death after Civil War.

Obviously we will have to see how things play out, but at this point, I’m excited. And considering the major changes to the world of X-Men that are coming when Marvel reboots their comic book universe in two months, it’s nice to have something to be excited about. For those who have enjoyed Laura up to this point, I think it’s nice for us to see her get a larger role and we will look forward to seeing how she handles embracing her father’s mantle. For those who may not know X-23, don’t worry; I have a feeling you’ll enjoy the new Wolverine soon enough. Short of bringing Logan back, this is the best creative direction Marvel could do for Wolverine’s legacy.

X-23

Superhero Spotlight – Captain America

It is still Memorial Day in my timezone as I write this article, and I’d like to start by respectfully extending my thanks to every American soldier who has laid down his or her life in the service of my country. They paid the ultimate price so that I can enjoy the security and freedom to enjoy my life as an American citizen, and I will always be grateful for their sacrifice and for those who have served and continue to serve.

It only seems fitting that today I shine the spotlight on probably the most popular American soldier in comic books, the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan. Known to his friends as Steve Rogers, the super soldier is known around the world as…

Captain America

Steve Rogers

The Comic Book Origin

Steve Rogers was a scrawny, sickly kid from Brooklyn, New York, the son of Irish immigrants who wished to serve his country in World War II. After volunteering as a test subject for an experimental super soldier serum, Steve’s body was transformed to the absolute pinnacle of human ability. With his enhanced physical strength, agility and stamina, Steve was a weapon that the Nazis were ill-prepared to deal with. While these physical traits made Captain America a superhuman, it was the intangible traits of leadership, kindness and unflinching moral character that helped transform Steve Rogers into an inspirational figure. Fighting alongside the Howling Commandos and his sidekick and friend Bucky Barnes, Steve served his country until a fateful final battle that left him frozen in ice.

But Captain America’s story wasn’t done yet. When the Avengers discovered him frozen but still alive, they thawed him from the ice and Steve naturally found his place as the leader of the Avengers team. While he is a man from another era and often finds himself at odds with the America of today, Steve’s courage, charisma and compassion have made him one of the greatest superheroes of another era. He’s stood up in the face of certain death, as indomitable as his vibranium shield. He’s helped to save the world numerous times and become perhaps the most respected leader in the Marvel Universe.

Simon

The Real Life Origin

Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two American Jews who were angry and afraid of Hitler’s Nazi regime. Consciously choosing to make a politically minded hero, they created Steve Rogers as very deliberate war propaganda; the first issue debuted a full year before the United States entered World War II after the Pearl Harbor Bombings. While not without their (sometimes violent) detractors, Captain America proved to be an extremely popular character. The iconic first issue where Steve threw a right cross at the Fuhrer sold close to a million copies and Steve’s popularity remained close to this level throughout World War II. Though his stories originally had him going against Nazi spies infiltrating America, Steve would soon become a soldier battling in Europe when America entered the fray. And many of the most loyal buyers were American soldiers.

It is interesting to note that Captain America’s celebrated return (and intro into the Marvel universe proper) in the 1960’s occurred only a few months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The beloved president’s death weighed heavily upon the country, and it seems only fitting that a symbol of what is right and strong about the country was brought back to comics in response. Steve has been a steady presence ever since then, usually as a leading member of the Avengers cast but also in several of his own series. Though his popularity has waned at times as Americans have grown disenchanted with the nation, Steve is now enjoying a surge of public awareness thanks to his presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Captain

The Symbol of (Changing) American Ideals

One of the more interesting aspects of Captain America is that he is, by his very nature, a symbol of the United States and he thus has to be presented in a way that almost any American can relate to him and aspire to be more like him. To this end, Steve is almost apolitical in a sense, neither too conservative nor too liberal. If anything, one of his defining traits is his willingness to listen to all sides and to try to make a decision that will best serve everybody. And while the original Captain America was a gung-ho super patriotic soldier because of the time he was featured in, Steve has proven to have a more worldly view and to not possess any of America’s prejudices against various “enemy” nations or cultures. He is just here to defend the country and the world from evil, whatever form that may take.

Indeed, during periods where America was not at war and public conscience was more introspective, looking at the controversies and corruption in our government, Steve has proven to be a discerning citizen and not somebody who blindly supports the nation when it is in the wrong. He is a true patriot in that he loves America, but wants the best for it. If the country is doing something right, it should be kept that way, and if the country is doing something wrong, that should be changed. When Steve returned to comics in the 1960’s he had the first African American superhero, The Falcon, as his crimefighting partner during a time when the civil rights of black Americans was at a boiling point. This is an example of how Steve manages to be progressive simply by being a good man who treats people with decency and respect.

Chris Evans

What Steve Rogers Means To Me

Captain America has, over the course of the last year, become my second favorite superhero, behind only Wonder Woman. I initially had trouble connecting with the character because I’ve never considered myself to be especially pro-American, but came to enjoy Steve Rogers as a person. He is everything I want to be as a person; courageous, compassionate, discerning, and respectful of everyone regardless of their background. I think above all, it is his humility that really speaks to me; in a world where gods boast and inventors loudly proclaim their greatness, Steve is the quiet soldier who does what is right because it is the right thing to do. Whether he’s a super soldier or a ninety-pound frail kid, Steve’s inherent character makes him a hero.

But perhaps what Steve had done for me that is most meaningful is that through his adventures, I have found a way to be patriotic. Seeing a man who loves his country and is unafraid to loudly proclaim that he is American, but still possesses the moral fiber to question where America goes wrong and to hold it accountable is truly inspiring. Steve is what America’s values are; he stands for liberty and justice, not just for some, but for all. He is the ideals that we may never quite reach, but that we should always be striving for.

What We Can Learn From – Jane Foster As Thor

Last year Marvel made some headlines with the announcements that two of their franchise characters were going to undergo some big changes. Steve Rogers would no longer be Captain America, with Sam Wilson stepping into the role. The new Thor’s identity was kept a mystery, but was decidedly different; it was a woman. Though this is not the first time we have had a female Thor, it did cause quite a lot of debate with fans. Some saw it in a positive way with Marvel trying to diversify and appeal to more readers, while others thought it was a bad thing for a multitude of reasons.

My solution was to take the “wait and see” approach. The comic never seemed to get particularly good reviews and it seemed to me that they were dragging out the mystery Thor’s identity for a bit too long, but now the cat is out of the bag.

Thor

The latest and final issue of the series has revealed that Jane Foster is the new Thor. The long time love interest of Thor has been in and out of Thor comics, although she was important enough that they brought her along for the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. With a pretty big name actress in the role, no less. But the fact that they changed Jane Foster from a nurse to an astrophysicist and only a few people complained reveals a pretty big truth; Jane Foster is not an engaging love interest and she isn’t all that important to Thor’s story.

Now she is an important part of the story, and while I haven’t read the comics to comment on how she is written as a character, I have to say the reveal feels… underwhelming. Not horrible, just… safe. A little too predictable.

Frost Giant

When Marvel made the announcement that Thor was going to be a woman, I knew that it would only be a temporary thing. Something new to shake up the book and generate interest. And as a fan of strong heroines and a proponent of them getting a chance to headline comics, I was perfectly okay with the idea. My hope was that Marvel would be able to craft a new character that would be able to gain her own cult following, and that she could continue to be a big part of the Marvel universe going forward. And that does seem to be Marvel’s plan going forward, as Thor is about to be replaced with “Thors“, a book featuring both the original character and Jane Foster’s version.

I just don’t think it’s going to work. I think Marvel dragged the mystery on for too long and that Jane’s reveal is too much of an anti-climax. I think readers are just going to view this as a disappointment. Ten years from now it will just be viewed as another silly experiment that didn’t pan out, and discuss how Thor is best when they keep the comics in relative status quo. Which is a shame for something that should have been a really big deal and a chance for Marvel to make another star.

Steer

I think the key thing to learn here for writers is that if you are intent on giving the readers a mystery, it is important to have a satisfying conclusion at the end of it. Readers should be going “wow”, not “Well, called that a few months ago” when you do the big reveal. I would also argue that the monthly comic book release schedule isn’t exactly the best format for this, since fans have weeks to pour over each chapter and figure out the answer instead of being dragged along on a roller coaster ride.

But I also hope that we don’t look back on this and say “Well a female Thor was never going to work”, because that’s a shame. The idea is okay, I just think the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I think Marvel saw this only as a gimmick and not as an opportunity, and that’s why it falls flat. There’s not enough creativity behind the idea to make it work. But poor planning and underwhelming writing should not be used as an excuse to keep women out of important roles in the future.

Jane

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m assuming too much, and in a decade Jane Foster will have a massive cult following. Maybe she’ll even replace the original Thor. Perhaps the fourth MCU Thor film will feature Natalie Portman smashing fire giants with Mjolnir.

But I doubt it.

Superhero Spotlight – The Hulk

Most superheroes are not monsters, but there are a select few who qualify as both. Perhaps the most famous is the alter ego of Robert Bruce Banner, a brilliant physicist who is infamous for the beast he transforms into. He was one of the first Marvel characters to break through into the mainstream with a popular TV series in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, and he remains a popular character to this day.

The Incredible Hulk

Hulk

The Comic Book Origin

Bruce Banner was a scientific genius with some deep-seated psychological problems that came from an abusive childhood. While he was not known as a particularly social person, few would have suspected that he was capable of becoming a raging monster. But when he was caught in the radiation of a gamma bomb while saving an innocent bystander, that is exactly what Bruce became. When Bruce loses control of his emotions and anger, fear or other strong emotions take over, he transforms into the enormous green man known as The Hulk. Possessing impossible strength and seemingly impossible to kill, The Hulk may be the strongest living being in the Marvel Universe.

Hulk comics often tackle Bruce’s struggle to cope with his dual identity; sometimes he tries to cure it and other times he does his best to cope with it. The Hulk is often hunted down by the military, especially General “Thunderbolt” Ross, who wishes to use him as a weapon. These battles with the army often send Hulk into fits of uncontrollable rage, and as a result he has been pitted against almost every major and minor Marvel hero, almost always winning. Despite this, the creature has shown that he mostly just wishes to be left alone, and has even shown a heroic side, having helped to form both The Avengers and The Defenders to fight the forces of evil.

Grey Hulk

The Real Life Origin

Like most of Marvel’s most popular heroes, Bruce Banner and his alter ego were created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, two absolute legends of comic book history. He debuted in May of 1962 in the first issue of his self-titled series, though more casual fans might be surprised by some of the ways in which he was different. The Hulk’s skin is gray in this comic; it only became green because the colorist had trouble with keeping the gray color consistent. The transformation is also not triggered by emotions, but simply by the sun setting and rising, making him seem more like a werewolf than anything.

Stan Lee’s main inspiration for the character of The Hulk was Frankenstein’s monster, from the classic Mary Shelly novel and the various adaptations of it. Lee was fond of the misunderstood monster, feared and hunted by people while simply wishing to be left in peace. Stan also drew influence from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story, with Bruce transforming from one form to the other and never staying the monster.

The original series lasted only six issues, something that was indicative of a recurring problem throughout Hulk’s long life. While a great character, the very nature of the character somewhat limits the types of stories that can be told with Bruce and Hulk as the main character. Hulk has always worked better in comics when working with or against another popular character, with only a handful of runs truly standing out as truly special. But that doesn’t mean that The Hulk can’t bring a lot of value to something.

Movies and TV

The Hulk in Other Media

As strange as it may seem, I think The Hulk is a concept that may actually be better suited to film than comics. There is evidence in this from the successful TV show starring Bill Bixby as “David Banner” and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno as The Hulk, an extremely popular show that elevated Hulk from an iconic but underperforming comic book star to a pop culture phenomenon. It says something when Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk film, which honestly is closer to the comics than some would like to admit, drew criticism for being so different in tone from the TV show that people knew and loved. When Marvel rebooted the character for their Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, they paid tribute to many aspects of the show, from its actors to its music. And Lou Ferrigno is still providing the voice for Hulk in The Avengers films.

One of the reasons Hulk has fared so well in live-action media is that the monster is a force of destruction that is just fun to watch. When viewers watch a movie with Hulk there is a certain combination of anticipation and dread that comes from the concept that is just inherently engaging; we want to see the transformation and we want to see the Hulk in action. These are visuals that film can do extremely well. And when one thinks about the Hulk’s primary influences (Hollywood monster movies), it does begin to make sense.

While there has been plenty of demand for Marvel to release a third Hulk movie with Mark Ruffalo starring, I think that for now Marvel is utilizing the character in the most sensible way. Ruffalo brings a lot to the character of Bruce Banner that makes him enjoyable even when he isn’t going green, but The Hulk works best playing off of other characters. The strongest Hulk scenes on film have been his fights with and against his teammates in the two Avengers films. And Hulk is more popular than ever because of what he brings to those movies.

Banner

Everybody Gets Angry

Besides the idea of a super strong green machine of destruction being awesome, there is a reason that the idea of the Hulk connects with pretty much any audience on some level. The Hulk is a monster inside of a man, and Banner is constantly struggling to find a way to deal with the emotions that make the beast come out. While Hulk is usually associated with anger, he appears just as often because of fear; he is an exaggerated version of our biological “flight or fight” response, protecting Bruce when his life is threatened. When we are afraid or angry, we often lose our ability to think rationally and behave in a way that is destructive to ourselves and to the people around us.

The Hulk is simply an analogy for a universal problem. That’s why I connect with Bruce as a character, and if you are fan of Hulk I can almost guarantee it’s because you relate to that issue on some level. There’s a reason we cheer for Banner in the climactic scene of The Avengers; the monster isn’t controlling him, he is controlling the monster and channeling it in a direction where it could do some good. Anger isn’t evil; it’s what we do with it that makes us a hero or villain.

Supervillain Spotlight – Red Skull

Captain America is one of the most popular superheroes in modern times, one of Marvel’s cash cows as part of The Avengers as well as headlining his own series of movies. And while the character’s popularity has somewhat fluctuated with the times, he has been an icon for almost seventy-five years, far longer than any other Marvel character. And he was popular right from the beginning; the first issue of Captain America sold millions of copies when it hit the stands in 1941. It depicted Steve Rogers punching Adolf Hitler a few years before the United States even got involved with World War II, and the comic would be an important propaganda tool to encourage buyers to purchase war bonds. The comic books were also cheap to reproduce and ship overseas to the American troops, where Steve became quite popular as the embodiment of American military might and the ideals of the country at the time.

Punching Hitler

While the image of Captain America dropping Adolf Hitler is iconic, there are numerous reasons that it doesn’t make sense to use Hitler as the actual arch-villain of Captain America comics. For one, Adolf Hitler was a real person, the tyrannical leader of Nazi Germany and generally considered to be one of the most horrible people in human history. While there is a time and place for historical fiction, I do not think the continuing saga of comic books or the world of Marvel superheroes is the place to do it. And since Adolf Hitler committed suicide and the Allied Forces won World War II, it would be in very poor taste to continue to use Hitler in modern comics. There is a reason that Adolf Hitler is never actually depicted in Captain America: The First Avenger, after all, and I think it simply boils down to good taste.

So it’s no surprise that Jim Simon and Jack Kirby created a separate, more fantastic character to serve as Captain America’s greatest enemy. While his birth name is Johann Schmidt, the world knows him by a much more terrifying alias.

The Red Skull

Cosmic Cube

The Comic Book Origin

Johann Schmidt was a German orphan who orchestrated his way into becoming Adolf Hitler’s right hand man. Possessing a ruthless killer instinct and a keen intellect, Schmidt was made the leader of Nazi terrorist activities, specializing in espionage and sabotage. Wishing to inspire fear in his enemies, Hitler had a special mask designed for Schmidt that would be the face of fear to all who opposed the Nazis, and Schmidt became The Red Skull. Though he initially had plans to overthrow Hitler and rule the world himself, the Skull’s plans never came to fruition as the United States countered with their own iconic champion; Captain America. Steve Rogers and Red Skull battled many times but were both presumed to be causalities in the war.

When Marvel Comics brought Captain America back to life to lead The Avengers, it was only fitting that Red Skull would return. Resurrected by A.I.M. scientists, Schmidt’s ambition and charisma made him a powerful leader once again; in his most famous story he used the cosmic cube to try to warp reality to his will, but was eventually defeated by Captain America once again. His body soon aged to it’s true age, leaving him a frail old man who died in one last duel with Rogers. But as it turns out, Red Skull’s mind would later be implanted in a clone of Steve Rogers, making him the Captain’s equal in combat. He has returned several times, always with the goal of world domination in mind.

Simon and Kirby

The Real Life Origin

It is somewhat ironic that one of the most iconic and fearsome images in comics was in fact inspired by melting fudge on a bowl of ice cream. Joe Simon was attempting to create a villain for Captain America in order, and saw fudge melting over half-eaten sundae that vaguely resembled a human figure. Inspired, he created the character’s basic look. Since “Hot Fudge” was hardly a suitable name for a Nazi terrorist, the name “Red Skull” was created, inspired by the cherry on top of the sundae.

While Johann Schimdt is the character most associated with the name “Red Skull”, he was actually the second one introduced to readers. The original version was named George Maxon and was easily defeated by Captain America in the first handful of issues. Schmidt was introduced as being the true Red Skull and was a much more formidable enemy.

Weaving

The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Red Skull

While Red Skull in the comics certainly has an important place in history and is one of the greatest designs ever for a supervillain, I think the character’s history is a bit too complicated to put him in the elite class of comic book villains. In fact, I will argue that the version of the character that appears in Captain America: The First Avenger is the best interpretation the character has ever had. The character is still the arch-enemy of Steve Rogers in World War II and works as Hitler’s right hand man, but there are several important tweaks. First off, he is not an ordinary man; he is the benefactor (and victim) of an earlier version of the serum that eventually makes Steve Rogers into the titular hero. This instantly makes him a much more credible threat and is a simpler way to go about this than “his conscience is moved into a clone of Steve Rogers”.

The film also integrates the cosmic cube into his story in the form of The Tesseract, an Infinity Stone that he discovers and uses to fuel his weapons. While the cube is one of the defining aspects of the Red Skull’s character, it was not used in the comics until the 1960’s; using it as part of Red Skull’s story in World War II significantly alters the course of the MCU’s history. Another aspect that wasn’t originally part of Red Skull’s World War II era stories is that he is the creator and leader of the terrorist group Hydra; again, a much more terrifying threat in the MCU than in the comics.

Suspense

From Hitler and Nazis to Red Skull and Hydra

Using the power of the Tesseract, Johann Schmidt and Hydra effectively supplant Hitler and the Nazis as the primary threat of World War II. One could argue that in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Red Skull’s plans for global genocide have probably made him a more reviled historical figure that the fuhrer. And for the record, I think that’s a good thing; comic book movies are fantasy, after all, and using something as serious as Adolf Hitler as part of the often silly world of Marvel doesn’t really work.

Red Skull is a fascinating look at how comic books can take real life threats and turn them into something more colorful, more entertaining and infinitely less threatening. Johann Schmidt is essentially a caricature of Adolf Hitler, a Saturday Morning Cartoon version of one of the most evil men in world history. While more mature stories sometimes use Nazi imagery as part of Red Skull’s character in an attempt to unsettle us, I think it is safe to say that at this point, the Red Skull stands on his own. In the confines of his fictional universe, he’s far worse than the Nazis ever were. Fortunately, that fictional universe has plenty of heroes that will never allow a monster like Schmidt to win.

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