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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at George Mason University chapter.

It’s no secret that comic book companies haven’t always had the best track record when it comes to female representation. Representation in the medium was heavily sexualized and frankly white as hell for much of comic book history. In early “Wonder Woman” comics, you didn’t see the powerful figures like Linda Carter and Gal Gadot, you saw Wonder Woman tied up and being spanked by a man. 

From the Golden Age of comics to the Bronze Age (roughly 1938-1985), there wasn’t a lot of character-defining moments for women in comic books outside of battle because they were either being used as sexual pawns or excessively violent to try and overcompensate for the former. 

However, as the comic book industry grows and learns from their mistakes, we’re starting to see more representation of diverse women in more recent decades. We’re finally getting to see those defining, heroic moments. 

1. Carrie Kelley becomes the first female Robin – “The Dark Knight Returns,” 1986

With Robin’s first appearance in 1940, the character set the precedent for the ideal sidekick. Specifically, the male sidekick. Over the character’s 80 year history, six people have taken on the mantle of Robin, four boys and two girls. The most popular iteration of the character was the first, Dick Grayson. Fans loved Dick Grayson so much that when the mantle was passed off to Jason Todd in 1983, fans killed off the character via a DC Comics sponsored poll line in the back of a comic book. 

Safe to say, DC fans are overprotective of their Robins. 

Which is why, even though we might not view it as monumental today, the choice to make Carrie Kelley Robin was massively important. I believe this choice is what ultimately paved the way for Stephanie Brown to later take on the mantle decades later. Despite the fact that “The Dark Knight Returns” is considered a non-canonical, stand-alone piece, Carrie has only grown in popularity over the years. She’s even weaseled her way into a few recent comics and even movie cameos. 

2. Introduction of the Dora Milaje – “Black Panther,” vol. 3 #1, 1998

You might recognize this name from the 2018 “Black Panther” movie. The Dora Milaje are the female Wakandan special forces group tasked with protecting the King of Wakanda. One of its more notable members is Okoye, portrayed by Danai Gurira in the 2018 film. 

The cultural impact the Dora Milaje had on girls all over the world was extraordinary, showing them that they can fight and be the trusted protectors of the king himself. There’s no question that “Black Panther” will go down as one of the most culturally significant movies of all time for both men and women, but since it is a comic book movie, I feel like it’s important to look to the group’s twenty-year history in comics as well. There have been a number of notable Marvel characters that came from the Dora Milaje (I highly suggest looking up Aneka and Ayo), and they’ve had a profound impact on the history of comic books both as a collective group and individuals. 

3. Batwoman comes out – “Detective Comics” #859, 2009

Batwoman is considered to be one of the highest-profile gay superheroes ever published by DC Comics. However, that wasn’t a fact that came lightly in Batwoman’s life. 

Kate Kane comes from a long line of military service, one that she wanted to continue when she enrolled in West Point. Due to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy adopted by the United States military in the 1990s, Kate developed an inner battle between her dream of continuing her family’s legacy and her true identity as a lesbian. This inner turmoil is what inevitably led her to drop out of West Point. 

Don’t ask, don’t tell wasn’t repealed by until over a year after the comic’s publishing in 2010. 

Though this was a landmark moment in comic book history, it’s one that came at a price for both readers and the characters affected. Kate was luckily accepted by her father when she returned home from West Point, and her persistence to defend people in a way that could let her embrace who she truly is while doing what she loves is inspiring. 

4. Kamala Khan – “Ms. Marvel,” 2014

Welcome to my filibuster on why Kamala Khan is the most important superhero who will ever live and Peter Parker, though adorable, is just a white boy. 

Kamala Khan was Marvel’s first Muslim character to ever headline a comic book. 2013, the first Muslim ever. Think about that for a second. 

Kamala is a Pakistani American teenager and lover of all things superheroes when she discovers that she has inhuman genes that give her a wide range of superpowers. Her name, Ms. Marvel, is based on that of her superhero idol, Captain Marvel. Her introduction to the Marvel universe was met with mixed reception, but she became a quickly beloved character as she took millions of readers into the everyday life of a Muslim living in post 9/11 America. Her comic books address a wide variety of topics from Islamophobia to Kamala’s personal relationship with her religion and family. 

Due to Kamala’s skyrocketing popularity among the Marvel fanbase, she’s been included in multiple upcoming projects for the company. In the new Square Enix video game that was released last month, Avengers, Kamala is the main character as you help her save the Avengers and the tarnished reputation of superheroes worldwide. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has also added Ms. Marvel to their growing list of superheroes and she’ll be receiving a Disney+ exclusive TV show in 2022.

Comic books and the entire superhero industry still have a long way to go as far as female representation is concerned, but as the industry grows with every new movie and video game released, comic book companies are making drastic steps in the right direction! A lot has changed since the start of the Modern Age of comics in 1985, and who knows what changes we’ll see in the next ten years alone! I’m hopeful that we’ll see a lot more female headlining superheroes both in comic books and movies in the coming years, and I’m especially excited to see the official cast list for “Ms. Marvel” when it’s released!

Jane Grosskopf

George Mason University '21

Jane Grosskopf is a senior at George Mason University majoring in creative writing with a double minor in Middle East studies and journalism. Outside of writing, Jane plays clarinet in the Green Machine Pep Band, and serves as Vice President of Membership for the Mu Omicron chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi, an honorary music service fraternity.
George Mason Contributor (GMU)

George Mason University '50

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