FAVORITE FEMALE-LEAD COMICS

AMBER LOVE 2014 I was going to save all lists for the end of the year to do my usual “Favorite Things” recap. However, things have been so argumentative in the entertainment world that gender bias is a topic seen daily in emotionally charged status updates. It’s important that we not only discuss the failures of the industries (comics, gaming, movies, toys) but to also laud the times when things are done well. I didn’t have the energy to get into thorough reviews about all these titles. I tweet about them a lot. If you’re looking for details, there are hundred other websites that give reviews like play-by-play analysis which normally isn’t my thing.

I covered this list in Episode 1440 of VODKA O’CLOCK if you are interested in the audio version; there are other things covered in there as well.

“When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.”
Bette Davis

HOW DO YOU GET FEMALE CHARACTERS RIGHT?

Your characters should have agency. I’m going to utilize this handy blog post by renowned author and tweeter of many creative new profanities, Chuck Wendig. Here, Wendig defines “character agency” in a way that even I could understand. You see, I had been having a difficult time grasping what it was all my feminist friends were talking about when they would say things like, “The producers/artist/writer completely removed IMPORTANT FEMALE CHARACTER’s agency!” I asked a friend more than once to explain it and I still felt like Drax the Destroyer missing the meaning of a word. I looked up “agency” in the dictionary and still only saw references to things like “department” or “bureau.” There wasn’t any place that explained what agency was and why it mattered, until I found Wendig’s post.

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TERRIBLEMINDS.COM

The following list is not in any particular order and I’m sure there are plenty of others out there that deserve praise and recognition, but here are the titles at that have stood out the most recently. Some of them aren’t even new but have new volumes or collections.

PRINCESS UGG

Creators: Ted Naifeh, Warren Wucinich
Publisher: Oni Press

Princess Ugg stole my heart with her barbaric style, warrior work ethic and her vulnerability that she hates to show. She goes off to Princess School where the rest of the world’s ideas for a princess are much different than where Ulga comes from. Her mother was the fiercest warrior and she wanted to be just like her. At school, however, she can’t fit in anywhere, not even in the stables with the animals which is usually a safe place for her. She is challenged to befriend the other princesses and by doing so, she caters to the meanest of the mean girls, Princess Julifer. Odin has taken the form of a bird and keeps careful watch on Ulga’s progress.

Naifeh* (Correction: Wucinich is the color artist) draws Ulga with a shorter stature than the tall willowy princesses. She is ripped with muscles and wears warrior clothing that actually cover her pretty well and she swings a mighty battle axe. There’s even a scene where Ulga is showering and her defined figure is impressive producing the appropriate response that this is a warrior despite her young age. The only caution I have is that Ugg’s dialog is written phonetically in what comes across to me as an Irish dialect so the words might take some getting used to.

I said that this list appears in no particular order but I had to put PRINCESS UGG up top because it is my favorite book of the year. I’m happy that I had the opportunity to meet the editor, Robin Herrera at NY Comic Con and tell her so.

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AMY DEVLIN MYSTERIES

Creators: Christina Weir, Nunzio DeFilippis, TJ Kirsch
Publisher: Oni Press

AMY DEVLIN volume three was another great find from Oni Press. Oni continuously gets my praise because they only publish books that are high quality, well-crafted stories. It’s publishers like this that I promote above the big boys that churn out hundreds of books a month just get them out there whether they are good or not. You can feed your brain with corn dogs or you choose pad thai.

I love mysteries and the Amy Devlin story, LOST AND FOUND was a delightful read. I only felt that I was missing a little by jumping in at volume two since there were several references to her previous case. Still, I found the character worthy of a lot of praise. It’s a contemporary piece so the characters wear “real” clothes and have “real” jobs. This is a woman that is older than the Nancy Drew types but younger than Kate Beckett. She’s kind of a screw up in her father’s eyes. He was financially supporting her and her detective agency but he pulls the rug out and leaves her hanging. Since I’m also a college graduate relying on my parents, I find Devlin one of my favorite characters of all time. She was bold enough to try and follow her heart on a career path that she enjoyed but even solving the cases doesn’t make her a success. Characters that are allowed to both succeed and fail are important in fiction.

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I WAS THE CAT

Creators: Paul Tobin, Benjamin Dewey
Publisher: Oni Press

I WAS THE CAT may seem like a stretch since Burma the Cat is actually male but the leading human characters of the story are two women, an African-American protagonist, Allison, with her Londoner friend, Reggie. I saw the cat on the cover image and wondered how similar could this be to my favorite cozy mysteries that feature cats. It’s quite different actually. The cat, Burma, is humanlike with his speaking ability, incredible intelligence, and ambitions. Burma is not decoration for the protagonist to solve a case. The content fits well into the widest audience with a PG-13/teen+ kind of rating; there is some minor implied nudity (Allison in the shower and getting dressed) and a couple brief bedroom sex scenes where bodies aren’t exposed much but you certainly know what’s going on. Burma isn’t quite immortal. He appears to be the only living cat that truly has nine lives which he’d like to have preserved in a memoir. This is why he hires Allison Breaking, famed news blogger, to be his ghost writer.

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LAZARUS

Creators: Greg Rucka, Michael Lark & a big team of production staff
Publisher: Image Comics

LAZARUS is set in an oligarchy nihilistic universe that honestly, feels like it’s our not so distant future if humans don’t start working on improving the world situation instead of destroying everything. Forever “Eve” Carlyle is the Lazarus for her family; that’s a job title she was born into as a superior human with bionic enhancements. She’s been training as a warrior and protector since her birth. She is raised to be loyal only to one man, the man she believes is her father but therein lies a deeper mystery that comes into the story in the second arc. The first arc was not afraid to address romantic feelings either which is something not often done well in fiction focused on this type of female soldier. Rucka and Lark worked hard creating a character design that is muscular without looking steroid-doping and still keep her feminine. The collected volume one of LAZARUS should be on shelves soon and I believe you can already put your pre-order in with your local comic shop. There’s a ton of backmatter if you are the type of comic reader that wants to know all the extra details of what the “world” is that you are reading. Each issue had something extra and also a really good letters column answered by Rucka.

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VELVET

Creators: Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting
Publisher: Image Comics

VELVET comes right out of the fantasies of James Bond fans. Basically if you make Mrs. Moneypenny the one who is really the badass spy that faces every challenge, questions every loyalty and has the tough decisions about who deserves saving, you have Velvet. It’s a fun spy thriller and gorgeously illustrated.

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M3

Creators: Erica Schultz, Vicente Alcazar
Publisher: Vices Press

It’s been a while since I visited volume one of M3 but I recall how I felt reading it. “M3” refers to the lead character’s initials, M.M.M. and if you’re more familiar with mainstream comics, imagine a version of DC’s Huntress where the creators have freedom to do what they want. The creative team is a success in their own right for accomplishing the publication with the Atlantic Ocean between them. The great news is that Schultz and Alcazar are still working together making new material even though Schultz is very busy writing Marvel Comics’ REVENGE series.

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MODESTY BLAISE

Creators: Peter O’Donnell & Jim Holdaway (originally)
Publisher: Titan Comics

Titan Comics has been reprinting volumes of MODESTY BLAISE. Modesty is a globetrotting character that is influenced by many regions of the world. She’s sexier than Mrs. Peel and has no hesitation about baring her all. She the clear dominant personality with her trusty male sidekick Willie Garvin. They rely on each other heavily but I think of him having equal “damsel” burdens to any female character. While MODESTY BLAISE is far from new, the collections by Titan are released on a fairly regular schedule.

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GENIUS

Creators: Marc Bernadin, Adam Freeman, Afua Richardson
Publisher: Image/Top Cow

GENIUS is a five issue volume that’s filled with street violence on a terribly relatable level. US cities have seen some urban uprisings before but in my own lifetime, I can’t remember anything else like Ferguson, MO. GENIUS is set in Los Angeles but it rings true to Ferguson and this story was conceived long before those real life events. Destiny “Dee” is a super genius specifically regarding tactics, weaponry, and all things you’d need to run an army. From the time she’s a little girl, she studies everything there is to know about leadership and war. She has friends who make up a solid team like a hacker, soldiers and a right-hand woman. Richardson brings creative layouts to the pages. She handles action then meditative moments well from scene to scene. She’s tasked here with drawing real looking people in genuine street clothing. Bodies are diverse in shape and color. And although she was heavily criticized for having Dee naked on one of the covers with only crime scene tape hiding naughty bits, the difference between this and a mainstream superhero comic is that crime fiction genre has always lent itself to acknowledging that women are sexy in body and in intelligence. They are cunning and not afraid of femininity. That’s why naked superheroes often feels wrong and out of place.

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ATHENA VOLTAIRE

Creator: Steve Bryant
Publisher: Kickstarter/Dark Horse

Also not a new comic series but available for the first time to entirely new audiences is Steve Bryant’s ATHENA VOLTAIRE. The collection of comics was remastered and backed by Kickstarter patrons. In a simple form, Athena can be described as a female Indiana Jones. She has similarities to Lara Croft in that she’s physically capable of leading an adventure and often comes into contact with very bad men and their treasures, sometimes which are supernatural in origin. If you love pulp action adventure stories, you can look this one up. As of this writing, you can read one of the stories for free at Dark Horse Digital.

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AMELIA COLE

Creators: D.J. Kirkbride, Adam P. Knave, Nick Brokenshire, Rachel Deering, Ruiz Moreno
Publisher: Monkeybrain Comics

I have a caveat with Amelia Cole. I would read more of the series if there was one change. I cannot read the lettering. I like the character and I like the mystical stories but if I can’t figure out the order of the word balloons and captions, you  have lost me. I’m really sorry to say that about a book that I know I would normally enjoy and talk about a lot. I have to file this in a strange category of “It’s for me, but I can’t read it.”

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LUMBERJANES

Creators: Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen
Publisher: BOOM!

Unfortunately for me, BOOM! is one of the publishers that does not have some small potatoes like myself on their press list for previewing and reviewing titles. It’s why it takes me longer to discover their work because I have to get around to specifically looking for them instead of having them waiting in my inbox every week.

LUMBERJANES has a clever throwback to what made some of the best cartoons – a cast of characters that all have unique identities and are allowed opportunities to show off the strengths and weaknesses (it’s that agency thing I mentioned at the top). They happen to be all female too because it’s primarily based on these girls at a scouts style camp but they do have a story that gets them entangled with the boys’ camp. This series is filled with all kinds of zany paranormal fun.

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STRANGE NATION

Creators: Paul Allor, Juan Romera
Publisher: Monkeybrain Comics

STRANGE NATION came onto my radar because I’m friends with the writer, Paul Allor. I know Paul understands how to craft a story with characters that are relatable whether or not they are human. He and Romero have a great rapport that comes through in how the story is told. The pacing works well as the main character, a journalist for a tabloid, goes through scenes of investigating, dealing with her parents, and plenty of chase scenes. They have an Asian female character leading this series where you can get into all the best of conspiracies from government labs, sasquatches, and secret societies.

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FIGHT LIKE A GIRL

Creators: David Pinckney, Soo Lee
Publisher: Action Lab

The staff over at Whatcha Readin’ gave a reasonable synopsis without spoilers of FIGHT LIKE A GIRL. Having a capable main character who happens to be a young woman of color is a rarity in comics and I’m happy to see that more creators are not seeing this as “risk taking” but simply make more good stuff for readers. Amarosa is traveling through a difficult heroe’s journey of obstacles in order to save her brother’s life. There’s a lot of heart behind this book.

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MOLLY DANGER

Creators: Jamal Igle, Juan Castro, Romulo Farjardo Jr. 
Publisher: Action Lab Entertainment

The hardcover of book one for MOLLY DANGER is out now so if you’re looking for a good kid’s book, here you go. It’s an oversize hardcover with gorgeous vibrant colors. Molly is a superhero stuck at her pre-adoloscent age so while she keeps gaining life experience, she’s not necessarily outgrowing the mind of a 10 year old girl.

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VAMPLETS: THE NIGHTMARE NURSERY

Creators: Gayle Middleton, Dave Dwonch, Amanda Coronado
Publisher: Action Lab Entertainment

Based on the popular goth-friendly toy monsters, VAMPLETS created by Gayle Middleton, Action Lab pulled together a team and nailed the partnership for the comics. Like MOLLY DANGER, the hardcover of VAMPLETS book one is out now and a great gift to introduce kids to comics. This is a fun, quirky story about a girl who becomes a nanny to all these troublesome little baby monsters.

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FLUTTER: VOLUME ONE “HELL CAN WAIT”

Creators: Jennie Wood, Jeff McComsey
Publisher: 215ink

I added FLUTTER even though it’s not exactly about a female character. The character is a shape-shifter and spends half the time female and half the time male. It has the purity of what X-Men characters had discovering their abilities and feeling like they don’t fit in. There’s not only the issue of a special power, but there’s real teen angst and of course parents who seem to not understand anything at all.

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COPPERHEAD

Creators: Jay Faerber, Scott Godlewski, Ron Riley, Thomas Mauer
Publisher: Image

COPPERHEAD is a sci-fi space western with a mix of organized crime mysteries. It’s another book starring a female lead character, a single mother who is a new sheriff on a strange planet. She gets a deputy who is smart and helpful but resents her. Her son ends up in danger. Sheriff Bronson has all that stress to deal with while solving some murders.

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DEATH-DEFYING DOCTOR MIRAGE

Creators: Jan Van Meter, Roberto de la Torre
Publisher: Valiant

I’ll be perfectly honest, Valiant Comics never seemed to have anything I wanted to read. They have a catalog that screams “masculine.” I’m pretty balanced in my reading background. My pull list used to include Detective Comics, Green Lantern Corps, and Batman, but at this time in my reading, I have a need from something else. I love Batman, don’t get me wrong, I’m watching GOTHAM and CONSTANTINE. But this is about recommending specific reads that have leading female characters that I think are worth your time.

When the first preview image of DEATH-DEFYING DOCTOR MIRAGE came through, the art work caught my attention. It’s a muted and limited palette with that chiaroscuro I love so much. The inking is brilliant. It’s able to be dark and mysterious without muddying up the imagery. The Doctor is Dr. Shan Fong who appears in a special suit given to her by her husband, Hwen. By issue 3, readers have seen a backstory for this tragic romance. If you like stories that travel to the underworld or mystical realms (Constantine, Doctor Strange, The Sandman) then this book should be on your list. The feeling I get when I read Mirage is very similar to how I felt reading Gaiman’s Sandman.

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For gender-balance ensemble casts or duos check out the following:

PLANET GIGANTIC, HERO CATS (they’re not human, but they have anthropomorphized gender characteristics), TREES, THE PEOPLE INSIDE, BLACK SCIENCE

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RAT QUEENS

Creators: Kurtis J. Wiebe, Roc Upchurch
Publisher: Image Comics/Shadowline

I had to move this title to bottom of the page on November 18, 2014, when news broke through the gossip sites that the artist on this book, John “Roc” Upchurch had admitted to having a serious domestic violence incident back on Halloween. The story said that he had wanted a divorce for a long time and things in his marriage were bad. He and his wife went out together anyway to take the kids around for Halloween. Somewhere in that, they ended up in a serious physical altercation, which he said she started. Then he had an apology which sounded genuine but the images she posted and her own statement, which have since been deleted, are truly damning. Upchurch didn’t deny what he did but he did blame her for his reaction and that’s not something that should be overlooked.

I’m not ready to let go of what he did to her in front of their children. Upchurch was one of the people that I had a stuttering fangirl moment over in NYCC because I was so anxious to meet him. I feel like something has tainted this comic series which has been all about female characters having their own strengths, weaknesses and personalities. It’s been one of “THE” comics of the year along with Lumberjanes to have a cast filled with female characters that are all awesome in their own ways. I am not ready to return to celebrating RAT QUEENS. I don’t know if I want someone else to replace Upchurch as the artist. I’m very confused as a fan and a blogger right now. The only pumpkin I carved this year was the RQ logo!

The book is co-created by Wiebe, who has done nothing wrong at this point. I don’t want to see him punished for his partner’s actions either. But for now, my love of the book and my desire to make the costumes are things that I’m not dealing with at the moment. I do respect the decision for RQ to continue with different artists. I love and appreciate everything Kurtis Wiebe said in his statement, November 21. I messaged Wiebe asking if income loss is a concern for the Upchurch family, because no one wants to see Roc’s wife and children suffer any longer. He said he’d let me know if anything like that comes up. I think most people that make comics can agree, we don’t get into it for the money. I know if my friends stopped making their comics, it would save them money not hurt their income but RQ is a very popular book at Image. I don’t know what the potential is there for financial loss.

Here’s what I originally drafted to praise the book:

I was almost a hipster when it came to RAT QUEENS. Everyone on Twitter was buzzing about this book. I figured I’ve seen most of my feed praise DOCTOR WHO and I hate that so why would I try RAT QUEENS? Well, I’m glad I took a look for myself. It’s a group of friends in a gang that competes against other fantasy style gangs. There are story threads to follow for each of the girls: Hannah, Violet, Betty, and Dee. Their costume designs a combination of practical and sexy without being gratuitous.

When I read through an issue I dream of making every single costume. It’s not only because they are aesthetically pleasing but also because each character is endearing and relatable. All of them are physically strong (they fight, after all); there’s a magic system in their world; a few of them love to party while another loves to be alone reading; and Betty is a pansexual thief so basically, I just want to be her all the time. The creators imbue plenty of humor into these ladies too.

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Books I haven’t read yet or read much of that I’m looking forward to exploring further:

CAPTAIN MARVEL, MS. MARVEL, REVENGE,  ROCHE LIMIT, new volumes of RED SONJA

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