Comics were late to take up the case of the heroine. For decades the girls were sketched in skimpy outfits, swooning at danger. They were there to give the hero someone to rescue and the mostly male teenaged readers someone to leer at. But once the writers realised women could be strong and - more importantly - that readers were in favour of the idea, the super-sisterhood took off. Now it is almost a given that a tough chick or two has to be added to any hero squad before they set out to save the world.
Amanda Waller, aka The White Queen, aka The Wall, is a former US Congressional aide now in charge of The Suicide Squad, a team of superheroes brought together to keep the world safe. How tough is she? When the squad was being hunted by Batman, it was Waller who told him to back off or she'd make it her personal mission to find out exactly who he was behind the mask and let the world know. He backed down.
THE SILK SPECTRE
The only alpha female in the Watchmen universe, Laurie Juspeczyk is actually the second Silk Spectre, following in the costumed footsteps of her mother, Sally Jupiter. She's also the last human link to Doctor Manhattan, the one true superhero on earth. Without Laurie, the super-powerful Manhattan would just pack up and head off into space.
A Russian spy out to defeat Iron Man, Natalia Alianovna ''Natasha'' Romanova, aka The Black Widow, is a lethal martial artist, a crack shot and genius who defected to the US and joined the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. How she survives the repeated battles had been a mystery until it was revealed she was once injected with Russia's version of the ''super soldier serum'' that produced Captain America. That and vodka, presumably.
Remember Doc Bruce Banner ''belted by gamma rays, turned into The Hulk, ain't he unglamorous''? Well he had a cousin named Jennifer who managed to get herself injured and, after a blood transfusion from the only compatible person (guess who?), found herself with a mild case of Hulkitis. This means she can, when motivated, turn into She Hulk, with green skin and super strength. Somehow she manages to retain a bikini-fit body and most of her faculties.
One of the original Uncanny X-Men, Grey has used her telepathic and telekinetic powers to battle evil as Marvel Girl, Phoenix and Dark Phoenix. She also dated Wolverine for a while and married Cyclops, but that's a whole other story. Grey showed comic readers that being a heroine and even dying to do so, doesn't mean you have to sacrifice everything.
Lisa Simpson's super-powered alter-ego, Clobber Girl, and her partner Stretch Dude (that would be Bart in Lycra) gained their powers after being zapped by an X-ray machine that was being used to check Halloween lollies for any nasty additives. Appearing in the Tree House of Horror X, she fought Nazis, Saddam Hussein and The Collector, an evil villain who captured pop-culture icons and sealed them in plastic bags to keep them in pristine condition.
Yes, Death, as in the Grim Reaper, although in the case of Neil Gaiman's creation, the not-overly-grim goth girl who doesn't do much reaping. She does, however, pop up to guide mere mortals off this mortal coil when their time is done. She's almost omniscient and omnipotent and has managed to scare off the worst of Gaiman's baddies by merely raising her voice.
The eponymous star of Bum Rush Comics' flagship online strip, Vicky Redd is an average(ish) girl whose idea of a perfect day is to sit around in her underwear playing video games and eating jelly babies. Born without arms, she was working as a tester of prosthetic limbs at Ibisec Corp the day a Type 89 Sea Monster attacked … and a reluctant hero was born.
The daughter of Gotham City's police commissioner, Barbara Gordon took up a mask to fight crime alongside her hero as the original Batgirl. She was paralysed after a bullet hit her in the spine, but continued to help the extended Bat Clan as Oracle, an anonymous online presence who could provide information, open doors and organise anything. Sort of like his PA, but only in the way an atom bomb is sort of like a firecracker. Through the miracle of comics, she's walking - and fighting - again.
Created in 1941, Wonder Woman has survived primarily because she changes to reflect the times in which she's living while remaining a feminist icon. Created by William Moulton Marston to have ''all the strength of Superman plus the allure of a good and beautiful woman'', the Amazon Queen has walked that line perfectly. In her current incarnation she is a demigoddess, the daughter of Zeus and Queen Hippolyta and (with Superman) one half of the comic world's Brad and Angelina-style power couple. But that's tipped to end badly.
Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines will screen at the State Library of NSW on Saturday, March 8, at 2pm as part of International Women's Day.