Publishing and Marketing 04: Women in SFF Part 2
About a week or so ago, I posted a list of some of my favourite female authors in SFF, past and present (that is, some of the women on the list are now sadly deceased). For the follow-up, I wanted to focus on some of my favorite female characters in SFF, irrespective of genre. Until March last year, I didn’t really have such a list in my mind. Even though I had read a few books by then that had female protagonists or supporting characters, I’d never really considered if any of them were my “favourites”. But that changed around quickly when I read Nathan Long’s Jane Carver of Waar, and all of a sudden, I realised that there were so many female characters I’d read of over the years that I would put on a list of favourites.
It was a really interesting revelation, and it led to me paying much more attention to such characters in the books I was reading, or had read, or would read. One thing that I noticed while compiling this list was that for the most part my favourite female characters fall into the role of the “warrior”, which is another subconscious thing I never really paid attention to.
Really weird how these things work out.
Once again, as caveat for this list, this is by no means comprehensive, just a small selection of a much wider range. And in this list, I’m not limiting myself to just novels and the like, I’m extending it to comics and movies as well, given that I am much more familiar with these media in terms of the content, rather than with the creators. Feel free to check out my reviews (books and comics) of the various novels I’ve read in the last two years for a bigger interest list.
Nathan Long’s first original novel, Jane Carver of Waar (review) is a homage to the adventure of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp action-adventure/sword-and-planet tales of John Carter. The starring protagonist, Jane Carver, is a character who can match anything John Carter does and she is, at least for me, a much more engaging character since she starts off as an everyday biker chick, and then goes on to become the greatest hero on another world, unlike John Carter who starts off as a former military officer, and becomes almost a god on Mars.
Until I read Jane Carver of Waar, I hadn’t given any book a full, perfect score of 10/10 in my reviews, so that speaks to the esteem I hold the novel, and the character in. I hope. Like many of the other female characters I list here, she is also someone who fully embraces her sexuality. Indeed, some of the best scenes in either Jane Carver of Waar or its sequel Swords of Waar (review) are those of a sexual nature.
Mara of the Acoma
The star of a trilogy of fantasy novels penned by Janny Wurts and Raymond E. Feist, Mara remains one of my absolute favourite female characters in SFF, more than a decade after I first read the Empire novels. As I mentioned in the previous Publishing and Marketing editorial, watching her grow from a young woman, recently orphaned after the death of both her father and brother in the Riftwar and the sole remaining member of House Acoma, to one of the most powerful of figures in Tsuranuanni, or even Kelewan for that matter, was an endlessly fascinating experience.
The trilogy portrays her really well, whether it be her unconventional strategies in the Great Game, or her various tricks and stratagems that ultimately win her the day over and over, or even just to her using her own feminine wiles. Like Jane Carver above, Mara of the Acoma is one of the few female characters I’ve read over the years on whom I can admit that I have a crush on.
Until I read Amanda Carlson’s debut novel Full Blooded (review), I was not interested in shifter urban fantasy outside of television or movies. However, the debut and its sequel Hot Blooded (review) have fully changed that around, thanks largely to the star of the series, Jessica McClain, the daughter of the alpha of the biggest wolf-pack in the World and a werewolf herself, which is a big mystery since there have never been female werewolves before. As far as the world that Amanda Carlson has created that is.
Jessica McClain fits into the mold of the “warrior” really well and her action scenes in both novels are some of the best scenes in the novels, or in SFF on a general level. Female characters with agency, who do not suffer some objectification are few and far in between within SFF and thankfully Jessica is a character who is exactly that, and more.
A character who exemplifies the “warrior”, Ia is definitely someone that you do not want to mess with, at all. In Jean Johnson’s military SF novels A Soldier’s Duty (review) and An Officer’s Duty (review), Ia is someone who is trying to prevent the greatest catastrophe to fall upon the galaxy in the future by the only means she can think of, joining the Terran United Planet Special Forces and going down in history as the greatest soldier of the Terran forces ever to have lived, thanks largely in part to her multiple psychic abilities.
Both books are among my favourite SF novels to date, especially within the military SF genre, and I hope the fact that I scored both novels a 10/10 in my reviews is indicative of that. The novels are extremely well-written, highly detailed, and deeply engaging stories about a character who sacrifices everything to save countless trillions, and who asks for nothing in return.
Warhammer Fantasy is a setting that is generally devoid of strong female characters, especially in leading roles. There are a few that crop up now and then, but for the most part they are massively overshadowed by their male counterparts. However, that is not the case with Ulrika Magdova, formerly a noblewoman of Kislev, now a Vampire in the service of the Queen of the Silver Pinnacle. First appearing in the pages of William King’s excellent Gotrek & Felix novels, she eventually got her own trilogy under scribe Nathan Long who took over the series after King’s departure.
As someone who has massively enjoyed the character of Selene in the Underworld films, wherein she is portrayed by the even more awesome Kate Beckinsale, I have definitely enjoyed reading all the three Ulrika the Vampire novels: Bloodborn (review), Bloodforged (review), and Blodosworn (review). The books stand well on their own, when set against the Gotrek & Felix series, and Ulrika herself stands proud in a sea of (prominently) iconic male characters within Warhammer Fantasy.
The Dead of Winter (review) was Lee Collins’ stellar debut novel from Angry Robot Books last year and along with its recently released sequel, She Returns From War (review), it is one of my favourite urban fantasy novels, especially ones involving vampires and other supernatural creatures. And the books are headlined by one of the most kickass female characters in fiction ever, Cora Oglesby, spook hunter, who takes no crap from anybody and dishes out more than she gets.
She also has one of the most heartbreaking character arcs, as told over the course of both novels, and that’s another reason why I love both of them. Lee Collins has created a character that you really care about, that you can really connect with. Unmatched.
The reason that Rachel from K. A. Applegate’s Animorphs novels is one of my favourite female characters in SFF is because she was the only one in the books who actually cared about my favourite Animorph, Tobias. That’s other than the fact that she was the kick-ass action hero of the books, and was the team’s muscle so to speak. And she reminds me very much of Kimberly Hart from Power Rangers (she was the Pink Power Ranger),another character I liked, although I can’t say that she’s necessarily my favourite since I saw very little of the show, and don’t remember the movies all that well.
I’ve always wanted to get around to reading all the Animorphs books, as I alluded in the previous Publishing and Marketing editorial. Rachel’s arc in the books, from the first book on to the last, is as enjoyable as that of Tobias, and truth be told, I could never get enough of her in the books. Even though all the Animorphs were locked into certain character archetypes, and Rachel was no exception to that, I still really love her character. She had a fine balance between “RAWR LET’S KICK SOME YEERK ASS BUTT” and “we need to think about this, guys, seriously” and so on.
Red Sonja, the She-Devil With A Sword. One of the most enduring and iconic female character in SFF, thanks in part to her chainmail bikini outfit, which has been the cause of much debate over the years, and also led to a recent controversy, which is what resulted in this post and its predecessor. Until last year, I’d never heard of Red Sonja, but a chance encounter with Dynamite Entertainment opened up a whole new line of comic books for me, and Red Sonja has been an integral part of the Dynamite experience ever since.
I’ll be honest. The chainmail bikini is well and truly one of the main reasons that I’m attracted to the character. But I find the character herself to be quite attractive, beyond just her physical looks. She exemplifies the “warrior woman” archetype and can bloody well hold her own against any swordsman or demon or sorcerer who goes up against her. She is also the inspiration behind a minor character in one of my recent fantasy projects, who is based quite a bit on her, and I have a whole slew of Red Sonja comics lined up for reading as part of my “research”.
Dinah Lance/Black Canary
Until I began to read Duane Swierczynski’s Birds of Prey comics (review of Birds of Prey #0), I had no idea that I loved Black Canary aka Dinah Lance as a character. I’ve seen the character on the Justice League Unlimited TV series, seen her in a couple of other animated projects and seen a brief glimpse on the live-action Birds of Prey series. That’s about it. Until I read the comics though, I didn’t particularly care about her as a character. She was someone I passingly enjoyed watching and that was about it.
But Duane’s comics changed that around quite spectacularly, and Gail Simone’s first two volumes of Birds of Prey (review) have taken my love of the character to new levels. I find her struggles as a character, as a superhero, to be quite fascinating, whether its all the psychological stuff that Gail Simone wrote about, or the leadership issues and self-belief issues that Duane has portrayed her with. And throughout all of that, she remains a character who has survived all attempts at oversexualisation to still be a character with agency, who is more than a hot blonde chick wearing a leather jacket and fishnets. In short, she is a wonderfully complex character.
Barbara Gordon/Batgirl/The Oracle
Alicia Silverstone first attracted me to the character. Dina Meyer got me really interested in the character. And then Gail Simone made me love the character. I’ve read through all of Gail’s Batgirl (review of Volume 1 and Volume 2) books for the New 52 timeline and I love every single issue. Gail’s books are full of really deep emotional moments, quite fitting since she was handed the challenge of making comic book readers care about Barbara Gordon as a mostly-healed character who is back to being Batgirl and is no longer the wheelchair-bound Oracle.
I don’t have quite the experience with the character that most others do, and Gail’s books are/were my first taste of the character in written fiction, so I’m not too attached to the idea of Barbara as Oracle, so the “transition” was quite an easy one for me. Still, I’ve read Gail’s work on Birds of Prey, in which she is Oracle and in both iterations of her superhero character, Barbara Gordon is an awesome character.
Zack Snyder’s Watchmen movie was my first intro to the character of Laurie, and to the rest of the characters that make up what is often referred to as one of the most ground-breaking superhero stories ever, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. While the movie didn’t really work for me, mostly because I was unable to follow what was going on at all, being completely unfamiliar with the characters, and thus the movie, for me, was not a good adaptation in that sense, it wasn’t until DC announced plans for their Before Watchmen comics last year that I really came to appreciate Laurie.
Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner have written a really great 4-part origin story (review of Silk Spectre #1 and Silk Spectre #2), one that I loved from beginning to end. This mini-series was also my first introduction to Amanda Conner’s art, and I have to say that I love it. DC has just released the collected Before Watchmen tales as well, with Minutemen/Silk Spectre Deluxe Edition being the first, and I would definitely recommend picking it up. Laurie is one of those down-to-earth characters, very much like, say, Black Canary or the Huntress, who are straight-up kick-ass and yet, they also have their emotional moments that make the reader care.
No list like this can be complete without Lois Lane in it. She is, perhaps even more than Wonder Woman, the most iconic female character in comics, period. She was right there in the pages of Action Comics #1, which unleashed Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s brainchild Superman on the world, and she’s been a staple of Superman stories ever since. 2013 also marks her 75th anniversary, and so, happy birthday, Lois!
Lois has been portrayed by several good-awesome characters actresses over the years, but none can match Margot Kidder, who captured the dreamy-romantic vibe of the best reporter on Earth perfectly. While Teri Hatcher and Erica Durance brought two kinds of sexy to the character, Kate Bosworth attempted to rework that same dreamy-romantic vibe, and most recently Amy Adams has brought the no-nonsense, don’t-mess-with-me attitude to the character, Margot Kidder remains my favourite Lois.
Given a particular scene at the end of the also-fantastic Man of Steel, I’m hoping that DC realises their mistreatment of the character in recent years is unjustified and that they should amend it. Still, I’m not too hopeful, given that they just announced a new series, Superman/Wonder Woman which explores their relationship as a couple. Sigh.
Another character spun off from the pages of various Superman comics, Supergirl is another firm favourite of mine. The Helen Slater-starrer Supergirl, despite being negatively received in almost every aspect everywhere, is when I first saw her and I thought “cool, someone to match Superman, finally!”. I’m entirely serious! I was like ten or something when I first watched it on television. I have fond memories of the character, and when I saw Laura Vandervoort portray her on Smallville, I was super-excited.
Supergirl (or her equally famous alternate version Power Girl) are often defined, in the minds of readers, by her relationship with Superman, but for me, she is far more than that. She remembers Krypton as it was and she feels the pain of that loss more keenly than her cousin precisely for that reason. I love Superman to death, but if it comes to choosing between the two, I would always go with Supergirl first. She is a much more interesting, engaging, and realistic character to me.
Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer is widely regarded as a ground-breaking television series, and that kind of a compliment isn’t too far off. But instead of the titular character Buffy, I remember supporting character Faith Lehane much more fondly. Played by the amazing Eliza Dushku, Faith made her entrance on the series just when Buffy was beginning to feel boring and repetitive. She reinvigorated the series with Awesome and the series was better off with her in it.
I’ve been reading Christos Gage’s Angel & Faith comics (review of Volume 1 and Volume 2) of late, and these have helped me rediscover my love of the character. She is very much the same character that I remember from the TV series and they make me wish once more that Faith had gotten her own spinoff series. Sure, it would have been very much like Buffy in that respect, but honestly, it would have been far better. At least it would have been a straight-up supernatural action series, rather than something that often devolves into self-loathing and self-misery and whatever.
A Princess who does not act like a Princess should. Strange concept, I know! In Leia Organa, George Lucas created an enduring character that still inspires many people, more than forty years since she first appeared on the big screen. She has starred in numerous novels and comics since then, and recently she finally became a Disney Princess as well, when Disney bought up Lucasfilm and thus came to own everything that is Star Wars.
I chose this particular picture for a reason, since it defines the core of her character and lets the viewer (or reader, take your pick) know just who she is and what she is about. She will fight to the death for her principles, and for the cause she believes in. Part of a trinity with Luke and Han, Leia is one of my favourite characters because of all the changes that she goes through and how strongly she is portrayed in most of the tie-in fiction released over the years, not to mention her great action scenes from the original movie trilogy. Only Jasmine or Merida come close, as far as I’m concerned.
Princess Diana/Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman, DC’s premier superheroine and an icon the world over, much like Lois Lane, although she is somewhat younger. Her various animated avatars, whether in the cartoons or the direct-to-DVD films, made me fall for her, and the comics by Allan Heinberg (review) and J. Michael Straczynski (review of Odyssey Volume 1) have continued to remind me how great a character she is. My only “regret” is that Brian Azzarello’s ongoing Wonder Woman (reviews of #1-10, #11-12, and #13-15) and Tom Taylor’s ongoing Injustice: Gods Among Us are treating her so harshly, reducing her agency and even betraying the core of who she is as a character.
My one hope at the moment is that WB finally gets its act straight and makes both a Wonder Woman live-action series, and a movie, which should eventually tie-in to their proposed Justice League venture. I talked about my casting choices for the movie here, so give it a read and let me know what you think! WB/DC have a fantastic opportunity here, and if they can get it done in the next two years, they can get a serious leg-up on Marvel, who have yet to do a female-centric movie.
Did you ever watch the old Filmation He-man and the Masters of the Universe cartoons? Remember how awesome Teela was in those cartoons? That’s when I first fell in love with her. I used to watch the cartoons like crazy, and even used to get the various collected movies, when my parents were generous. That show had such a great cast of characters, and Teela was right up there with Cringer and Orko as top-favourites for me.
Her portrayal in the recent comics by DC has been somewhat worrisome (review), but I find myself willing to excuse that for the fact that she has had a top-billing role so far. I do hope that things look better for her though! As both a stand-alone character and a counter-point to He-man, Teela is just unbeatable, and another female character in SFF who exemplifies the “warrior woman” trope, in a good way of course.
Reading Ron Marz’s great work on the first four Artifacts books (review of Volume 1 and Volume 2), I became a big fan of Sara Pezzini, the current bearer of the mystic artifact known as the Witchblade, one of thirteen such artifacts. I’ve read some of the Dynamite comics (review of Demon Reborn, and Witchblade/Red Sonja #1-2, and #3-5) based on her, but none of them can match the level of writing and character exploration that Top Cow/Image have done with her over the years, quite apt considering that she is one of the premier properties of Top Cow/Image.
I have a number of Witchblade graphic novels backed up for reading, like Ron Marz’s Witchblade Volume 1 and Tim Seeley’s Witchblade: Rebirth Volume 1, not to mention all the others that I plan to buy soon, so 2013 promises to be a great year in that respect. Witchblade is one of those comics characters that I would love to see star in a movie. I gather that there have been numerous television adaptations, although none of have succeeded in making it “big” which is really heartbreaking. There’s been a proposed feature film in the works for a number of years as well but nothing that has seen the light of day. I remain hopeful that a Witchblade movie with Sara Pezzini will become a reality some day.
With the exception of the next two ladies on this list, none of the female Joes has captured my interest as much as Scarlett has. One of the most prominent of the G.I.Joe team members, Scarlett is an accomplished martial artist and an intelligence operative, all of which adds to her charm as a character. Larry Hama took her to new heights when he began to weave in a romantic plot between her and Snake Eyes (my top favourite Joe ever!), and it cemented her in my esteem. Most people would cringe at that statement, on the assumption that I’m typifying her by her relationship to a male character, but that could not be further from the truth.
Yes, her relationship with Snake Eyes is one of the draws of her character, but it is all much more than that. She is an extremely capable character and various comics over the years have shown that, whether it has been Larry Hama writing them, or Chuck Dixon or anyone else. She is a strong and capable character in her own right, and you’ll never hear me say otherwise.
As a kid who was madly in love with everything G.I.Joe toys, an action figure of Lady Jaye was one of the many that I owned, but one of the few that I adored. In fact, I still have it somewhere I think, which makes it all the more special. Her green uniform, her trademark black cap, and her weapons were what attracted me as a kid. I would have probably been able to say more, but I don’t remember all that much from the cartoons, so forgive that shortcoming of mine! Tracking down copies of the cartoon has proven to be next to impossible but I’m going to luck out soon since a friend in India has managed to get the discs. Fun times abound!
At the moment, I’m not sure if she has shown up in the IDW-published G.I.Joe comics although I do remember some mentions of her, vaguely. She had one of the best character arcs on Larry Hama’s original Marvel run though, and her relationship with fellow Joe teamer Flint marked her as one of the top-level characters, given how her character worked out (same caveats as Scarlett apply however).
The Baroness toy from Funskool was one of the very first G.I.Joe toys that I owned back in the day. The long black hair, the glasses, the all-black uniform and the badass guns were the attraction, as was the case with pretty much all of the other G.I.Joe toys I used to own. Her character on the cartoon was also one of the best on it, primarily because of that funky (and I suppose exotic!) accent, which helped her stand out from the rest of the COBRA characters.
She has gotten a really good run on Chuck Dixon’s first few G.I.Joe comics from IDW (review of Volume 1 and Volume 2) from what I’ve read so far, not to mention that she was just plain amazing all around on Larry Hama’s original run for Marvel. Far as I know, she is the only prominent COBRA character of note, having seen more screentime and pagetime than Zarana and Zanya (sister and daughter respectively of Drednoks leader Zartan), who are the only other female COBRA characters I can name.
While Kitty Pryde didn’t get to do much in the X-Men film trilogy, she was a much more important character in various animated adaptations of X-Men comics, such as X-Men: Evolution and Wolverine and the X-Men. And she is currently one of the members of Brian Wood’s all-female team of X-Men, or X-Women rather, in his new ongoing X-Men series from Marvel (review of #1).
So that’s the second mega-post in this two-parter series done. Once again, its not comprehensive, and I really wish that I could add like 30 more names here, but that’s just not feasible unfortunately. I wanted to add in some anime characters here as well, but I think I’ll do that some time later in a separate editorial, so keep an eye out for that in either July or August.
Feel free to share your favourite female characters in SFF, whatever genre, whatever medium, in the comments below.
Since I’ve gotten these two posts in such close proximity to each other, the next Publishing and Marketing post won’t be along in a while. Particularly since I’m traveling to India next weekend for about 3 weeks so I won’t be around to blog as much as I have been recently. The guest posts will be coming as scheduled hopefully, so stay tuned for that!
Posted on June 24, 2013, in 2012 Reading Challenge, 2013 Reading Challenge, Book Lists, Challenges, Editorial, Publishing & Marketing and tagged 2012 Reading Challenge, 2013 Reading Challenge, A Soldier's Duty, Aliens, Allan Heinberg, Amanda Carlson, Amanda Conner, An Officer's Duty, Angry Robot, Animorphs, Barbara Gordon, Baroness, Batgirl, Before Watchmen, Birds of Prey, Black Canary, Black Library, Bloodborn, Bloodforged, Bloodsworn, Book Lists, Brian Wood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Challenges, Comics, Cora Oglesby, Darwyn Cooke, Daughter of the Empire, DC Comics, Dinah Lance, Duane Swierzynski, Dynamite Entertainment, Editorial, Eliza Dushku, Elizabeth Weir, Empire Strikes Back, Empire Trilogy, Erica Durance, Faith, Fantasy, Full Blooded, G.I.Joe, G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero, Gail Simone, George Lucas, Hot Blooded, Ia, IDW Publishing, Image Comics, J. Michael Straczynski, Jane Carver, Jane Carver of Waar, Janny Wurts, Jean Johnson, Jessica McClain, Joss Whedon, K. A. Applegate, Kara Zor-El, Kitty Pryde, Lady Jaye, Larry Hama, Lee Collins, Lois and Clark, Lois Lane, Man of Steel, Mara of the Acoma, Margot Kidder, Marvel, Masters of the Universe, Military SF, Mistress of the Empire, Mythology, Nathan Long, Near Future, Novels, Orbit, Princess Diana, Princess Leia, Publishing & Marketing, Rachel, Raymond E Feist, Red Sonja, Return of the Jedi, Sara Pezzini, Scarlett, Scholastic, Science Fiction, Servant of the Empire, Shadowcat, She Returns From War, Silk Spectre, Smallville, Space Opera, Star Wars, Stargate, Stargate Atlantis, Stargate SG-1, Supergirl, Superheroes, Supernatural, Sword and Planet, Sword and Sorcery, Swords of Waar, Teela, Television, Teri Hatcher, The Dead of Winter, The Oracle, The Visitor, Theirs Not To Reason Why, Tim Seeley, Top Cow, Ulrika Magdova, Urban Fantasy, Vampires, Warhammer Fantasy, Watchmen, Witchblade, Wonder Woman, X-Men. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.