The best superhero graphic novels starring heroines who have yet to hit the big screen

Tim Hanley Author Of Not All Supermen: Sexism, Toxic Masculinity, and the Complex History of Superheroes
By Tim Hanley

Who am I?

I’ve been a comic book nerd forever and a comic book historian for the past fifteen years, specializing in the history of female superheroes and writing books about Wonder Woman, Lois Lane, Catwoman, and more. A lot of amazing heroines have been featured in adaptations that have introduced them to a larger audience, but there are so many other great characters still waiting to get their chance to shine. I’m excited to share a few of them that I really love with you here, as well as spotlight a diverse collection of creators and characters that deserve a closer look.

I wrote...

Not All Supermen: Sexism, Toxic Masculinity, and the Complex History of Superheroes

By Tim Hanley,

Book cover of Not All Supermen: Sexism, Toxic Masculinity, and the Complex History of Superheroes

What is my book about?

The book is a broad overview of trends in the superhero industry that explores how sexism has been wired into the genre from its earliest days and how that sexism has lingered and led to the rise of toxic masculinity in comics, adaptations, and fandom. It examines how the nostalgia-heavy genre enshrines outdated values of the past, with sexist tropes and attitudes woven into the fabric of its stories, and how catering to a male audience combined with the persistent devaluing of women through omission and objectification to create toxic forms of masculinity.

The books I picked & why

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By Amy Reeder,

Book cover of Amethyst

Why this book?

We’re finally starting to see superhero movies and TV shows featuring the amazing heroines of the comic book world, but some have yet to make the jump. One of these heroines is Amethyst, and Amy Reeder’s recent reinvention of the classic 1980s series is a great distillation of the character. The book is colorful and action-packed, an amazing introduction to a unique setting and heroine that melds the real world with a fantastical realm unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Reeder’s writing is engaging, and her art as she explores and populates Gemworld is gorgeous and immersive. I automatically pick up anything Reeder draws, and this book is her at her best.

Batgirls Vol. 1

By Becky Cloonan, Michael Conrad, Jorge Corona (illustrator)

Book cover of Batgirls Vol. 1

Why this book?

I love all of the different Batgirls DC has introduced over the years, and this book brings them together in one delightful adventure. Barbara Gordon is the original Batgirl mentoring her two protégés, the snarky Stephanie Brown and the martial arts master Cassandra Cain. The trio is a mix of different personalities and strengths, but teamwork and sisterhood come first. Cloonan and Conrad craft a rollicking story in this first volume, and Corona’s bombastic artwork is a perfect vehicle for all three of these enjoyable characters.

Faith, Volume 1: Hollywood and Vine

By Jody Houser, Francis Portela (illustrator), Marguerite Sauvage (illustrator)

Book cover of Faith, Volume 1: Hollywood and Vine

Why this book?

Superhero comics are known for hyper-sexualizing female characters and limiting them to one uniform, impossibly curvaceous figure. Valiant’s Faith Herbert is a direct reaction to this, the first plus-sized heroine to star in her own comic as she patrols Los Angeles as the high-flying Zephyr. Beyond this meaningful step for the genre, Houser has written a compelling story and Portela and Sauvage deliver great artwork that brings Faith to life. The character is a game changer for superhero comics, and this first collection of her adventures is such a fun read.

Nubia: Real One

By L.L. McKinney, Robyn Smith (illustrator),

Book cover of Nubia: Real One

Why this book?

In recent years, DC has branched out into standalone YA graphic novels that reimagine their characters, and Nubia: Real One is my favorite one yet. In the mainline comics, Nubia was Wonder Woman’s long-lost twin sister, but here McKinney and Smith reimagine her as a teenager in the southern United States, dealing with her Amazon powers as she reckons with injustice and police brutality. The book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and McKinney and Smith’s desire to create a heroine that resonates with the issues faced by young, Black readers, and they deliver a fantastic story.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 1: Squirrel Power

By Ryan North, Erica Henderson (illustrator),

Book cover of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 1: Squirrel Power

Why this book?

Marvel’s wide array of movies and TV shows have brought many of their heroes to life, but unfortunately, Squirrel Girl has yet to make the jump. This is a shame, since she’s defeated some of Marvel’s most dastardly foes in incredibly creative ways. She eats nuts, she kicks butts, and she uses her squirrel-based abilities to tackle villains with her own optimistic, STEM-infused perspective. North’s writing is charming and hilarious, and Henderson’s art is a perfect pairing that sets the book’s fun, energetic tone. It’s such a good time, basically joy distilled into comic book form.

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