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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.