I’m an unabashed lover of all things superhero. I grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League, and like tons of girls, I loved imagining a world with superpowered vigilantes, costumed weirdos and caped crusaders. I loved the freedom in picturing a world where anyone might get struck by lightning or be taken in by an amazing mentor and end up with magical powers and unbelievable fighting skills. I loved all of it, even the colorful tights, the dumb superhero names and the occasional wacky or psychopathic villain. My favorite superheroine was Wonder Woman, but in all fairness, there weren’t really many other superheroines to consider.
In the last ten years, women have made more of splash in superhero films, even if they’re usually only part of an ensemble or relegated as side characters. We have Storm and Black Widow in ensembles, and Supergirl’s finally got her own TV show. Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel are getting their own solo releases. Progress has been made, though it’s been slow and tenuous. Even then we can never be sure when it’ll be pulled out from under our feet. If Wonder Woman flops at the box office or if Supergirl gets canceled, we don’t know when the next superheroine film or TV show will come along. These heroines might get shelved for a very long time, even as Spiderman gets his third reboot in the 2000s.
And if you’re a woman of color, or a disabled woman, or a lesbian or bisexual woman, you’re a minority within a minority, and your chances of seeing yourself on screen are already low. The chances of seeing yourself in a superhero film as a superheroine seem really slim. Which is kind of baffling, because there are so many inspiring and amazing superheroines in comic books.
One of my favorite superheroines is Batwoman. Unsung and underrated, Batwoman is basically an unknown compared to mainstream heroes. Batwoman, a.k.a Kate Kane, is a total badass.
Kate is Jewish, has a military background, and was discharged from West Point under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Yes, she’s a lesbian, termed by Out as “the highest profile gay superhero to ever grace the pages of DC Comics.” She has a really cute relationship with Detective Maggie Sawyer to boot.
And like most other members of the Batman family, Kate comes with her own tragic backstory and her own motivations for why she wants to be a superhero. She doesn’t have superpowers, but like Batman, she has amazing combat skills that send lots of nameless characters flying through windows and walls. She is joined by her cousin and sidekick, Bette Kane, also known as Flamebird.
Batwoman received her own self-titled series, with gorgeous art; the series is dark, lush and imaginative, and ran from 2011-2015. Kate also had a featuring in the animated movie Batman: Bad Blood. There are also rumors that Kate might be heading to a TV screen near you. Supergirl, which runs on the CW, has just cast Floriana Lima as Maggie Sawyer, and there are rumors that Batwoman might join her love interest onscreen.
Another superhero that inspires me is Kamala Khan—better known as the new Ms. Marvel. Kamala is the most prominent South Asian-American hero and the first Muslim superhero to headline a comic book. Born the daughter of Pakistani immigrants in New Jersey, Kamala gets her super powers after a mysterious green mist permeates through the city and leaves her a polymorph—basically, a shape-shifter with some stretchy powers thrown in as a bonus.
But she’s still a teenager, aggravating her immigrant parents at every turn with her stubbornness, sneaking out to have some fun, and wishing she were someone else. For South Asian-Americans like myself, having a hero like Kamala is huge. She has problems so many of us have—she crosses the bridge between two different cultures and two different worlds on a daily basis. She agonizes over disappointing her conservative parents, and worries that they will never understand who she is. There are so many things about Kamala that ring true for me. It feels like looking back at who I was in high school.
But Kamala’s adventures still have a wackily universal appeal about them. She sasses her villains while simultaneously wondering why she can’t correct a substitute teacher butchering her name in class. She writes Storm and Wolverine fanfic. Oh, and it’s pretty popular too. Her arch nemesis is a cockatiel/human hybrid who is also a clone of Thomas Edison. Ms. Marvel is a bubbly, fantastic new heroine that would be awesome fighting beside Captain Marvel in the latter’s upcoming movie. Plus, I think a lot of us would pay good money to see a villainous cockatiel being sassed by a teenager onscreen. It’s hard not to love Kamala as Ms. Marvel.
I’ve also recently fallen in love with Korean-American spider-girl Cindy Moon (superheroine moniker: Silk). Bitten by the same radioactive spider that bit Spiderman, Cindy gets fabulous spidey powers as a young girl that soon grow out of her control. To help protect herself and her family, she agrees to live in a bunker at the behest of the mysterious Ezekiel; ten years later, she’s busted out by Peter Parker, and returns to the modern world to find that all signs of her family have disappeared. She sets out to get them—and her life—back.
Beyond being beautiful, hilarious and resourceful, Cindy is relatable. Well–as relatable as a spider-powered super girl can be. She fights bad guys while stuttering over half-formed quips, is equal parts moody and cheerful, and still doesn’t really know how to handle the whole hero thing. One of the interesting things about Silk is that she has anxiety and anger issues and she talks to a therapist about them. I love seeing mental health issues being discussed openly, and it makes so much sense to have a superhero suffer from both, considering the weight of what they deal with on a daily basis.
There are more diverse superheroines like Silk out there. Mari Jiwe McCabe, or Vixen, is an African-American superhero who uses a magical totem, which allows her to replicate the abilities of animals, to kick ass and save the world. She has her own CW cartoon mini-series and has made guest appearances on Arrow. Cassandra Cain a.k.a Batgirl, is a mute, highly skilled assassin taken in by Batman and given a chance to find peace and redemption; she’s also the first East Asian member of the Batfamily. Karma, or Xi’an Coy Manh, a founding member of the New Mutants, is Vietnamese and is one of the first major comic book characters to be written as a lesbian. Miss America is Latina and an Avenger. Scandal Savage—a villainess—is polyamorous. There are more ladies like them than I can count.
Having superheroines like Kate, Kamala and Cindy shown as complex and badass is hugely important. Girls and women need to know that regardless of skin color or sexuality, race or nationality, they are seen. They can do anything, including save the world.