It's time to say goodbye to the "New 52" run from DC Comics, the result of the 2011 events of Flashpoint that propelled readers into new storylines from all their favorite characters. In the past five years, the DC Universe has remarkably increased its social diversity, with female characters becoming more varied and complex than any other previous run. Looking forward to the next phase of DC, which will continue the narratives of the "New 52," I have a lot of hope that the social consciousness of the company will only grow.
Before you pick up the hot-off-the-press DC comics coming out in July, let's take a thorough look at some of the especially voracious women from the "New 52." Rather than give small blurbs to 20+ heroes and villains, I wanted to give in-depth attention to a few characters that deserve some special recognition. Now, let's check out this handful of women, some well-known and some under-the-radar, who helped make the post-Flashpoint universe what it is.
Pandora is a pretty powerful force, to say the least, considering she caused the Flash, the key event of Flashpoint that merged the whole DC Universe with the Wildstorm Universe. She is literally, in the comic world, the reason why the setting for the "New 52” timelines exists. Unlike many female superheroes who entered the DC Universe as sidekicks or tokenized characters, Pandora busts onto the scene right at the conclusion of Flashpoint, making her entrance by creating a whole new arena for the DC pantheon.
As a part of the Trinity of Sin, Pandora has been given the sentence of eternal loneliness and pain, in addition to being labeled evil. Something about this has a familiar ring to it; perhaps it’s the idea that a woman who transgresses is seen as wicked and outcast? Pandora certainly embodies the label "outcast" as well, slinking in the backgrounds of the "New 52,” all the while conducting surveillance on the many heroes and villains at work in her new universe. Basically, this woman is a badass, and doesn’t just give up when a higher entity tells her she has strayed outside her bounds; not to mention, she merged comic universes, which is where the whole “New 52” run came from!
2. Harley Quinn
Now, hear me out: in no way do I think that Harley Quinn is an ideal feminist icon for DC villainy. DC’s description of her main goals — her driving need to always “put a smile on her puddin’s face” (AKA the Joker) — is enough to make a femme comic nerd cringe. In her original narrative, Harley, as her pre-villain identity Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel, is emotionally manipulated and seduced by the Joker while he is her patient. This leads to her helping him escape Arkham Asylum...several times, which makes the Joker’s “love” seem mostly for his personal gain. When he is returned to the ward roughed up by an encounter with Batman, Harleen is supposedly driven to insanity from worry, leading to her rebirth as Harley Quinn, a woman who will do just about anything to protect her abusive lover.
So, what changed about her in the “New 52?” Her agency. On this new timeline, Harleen Quinzel is not fooled by the Joker’s emotional appeals into seduction; rather, she is seduced by the freedom and power in the lawlessness that he espouses. Another important thing to note: she leaves the Joker for other people and better things. While there are still major character flaws for Harley and her relationship with the Joker, notably the persistent controlling nature of “her puddin,” I see her “New 52” incarnation as hope for a more autonomous, ass-kicking, gag-loving villain. Not to mention that in Volume 1 of Harley Quinn she hits the roller derby rink — which I think is pretty badass in itself.
Horsewoman, or Clytemnestra, is a fiercely independent woman warrior, new to the DC Universe post-Flashpoint. She is known to prefer being alone in the wild, wandering with the horses she rides, rather than be a part of society. This is already something to be celebrated, as Horsewoman’s most important ties are to the natural world around her and she refuses to restrict her life to please others. However, she is certainly not ambivalent to her surroundings; Clytemnestra is also known for her incredible archery skills when asked to fight. While she generally attempts to stray from violence and battle as much as she can, she often tries to warn those in nearby towns and villages of impending danger, which can get her wrapped up in the danger herself, notably in Demon Knights.
It’s important to note that Clytemnestra is paraplegic and uses horses not out of convenience, but out of necessity. Gaining her powers from The Red, the badass energy that connects all animal life, Horsewoman has the power to communicate with animals, as well as command her saddle with just a thought, which has allowed her to maintain her mobility and strength. The presence of disability in comics is another way Horsewoman stands out as a character worth reading. She is drawn and written as someone who, rather than being tied down by her disability, is uniquely powerful because of it.
4. Big Barda
Big Barda is wicked cool and wicked strong. She grew up in an orphanage on Apokolips, run by Granny, who espoused the motto “Die for Darkseid” (the planet’s villainous ruler). Granny works hard to groom Barda into a warrior for the Female Furies, a battalion of women out to protect Darkseid and Apokolips. However, Barda’s fate changes when she meets Darkseid’s adopted son, Scott Free, who later becomes Mister Miracle on Earth.
Barda and Scott are married and escape Apokolips together, due primarily to the former’s physical and mental might. This is what I love most about Barda: she totally flips the script on traditional marriage roles. Highly protective of her husband, Barda is much stronger than him in appearance and in actuality. A member of the Justice League and Birds of Prey, this woman is the heavy-hitter for multiple famous DC squads. She avoids the stereotype of female superhuman strength through mental fitness and agility with pure feminine force. Also, Big Barda is called so for a reason — she is ripped — and not in the classic style of broad shoulders with a teensy waist and whopping tits (well she definitely still has those) — she’s got bulk, which I appreciate!
In “New 52” Katana takes her place in the Birds of Prey per Batgirl’s advice, who leaves the group after being seriously injured prior to the conclusion of Flashpoint. Katana’s background, as a Japanese woman, transgresses the standard narrative for women. Her parents supported her in martial arts training, which she studied and used to wage an outright war on the Yakuza clan in Japan, the group that killed her husband. Katana is lethal and she knows it, wielding the Soultaker sword which houses the souls of those she has killed within it, making her able to communicate with those beyond life.
Another awesome thing about Katana is her upcoming appearance in the film Suicide Squad, set to be released later this year, with Karen Fukuhara cast to play her. I highly recommend reading the "New 52" run of Katana as well as looking into her role in this film, as it is still less common than it should be to see a focus on a female comic-to-film superhero, let alone one of color and Asian descent.
The daughter of Commissioner James Gordon, Barbara Gordon is a relentless seeker of vengeance and justice. Prior to Flashpoint, this vigilante was shot by the Joker and left paraplegic in a wheelchair. During this time, Barbara did not take a break from her work as justice-seeker, but instead donned the name Oracle, working from her chair on a worldwide connections network to assist other superheroes out in the field. Oracle is certainly another rejection of ableism on the part of DC, demonstrating that when shown an obstacle, Batgirl can find other skillsets to use in order to do her work.
She returns from her time as the Oracle after Flashpoint, with Volume 1 of Batgirl revealing that she has recovered from her injury and is out of her wheelchair. After just a couple weeks of being on her feet, Batgirl is off to hunt down a band of serial killers called the Brisby Killers, with great success. Her past disability is still constantly on her mind, however, and on top of being a resilient badass in the line of duty, she brings a refreshing dialogue about ableism and PTSD to the superhero world.
After being saved from a mugging by Batman himself, Katherine Kane decided to train to become an ass-kicking vigilante herself. I have to say it: this woman is fabulous. Though the number is growing, she is one of the few mainstream LGBT superhero characters who have their own run of comics, shown through her relationship with Renee Montoya (see below). Though at the beginning of “New 52” they have broken up, the two support each other throughout Batwoman’s newest story, and a romantic entanglement does occur.
That’s not the only femme-friendly thing about Batwoman! She is also an inspiration and mentor to none other than Barbara Gordon, or, Batgirl, which is cited in the “New 52” run of the character. I can’t get enough of Kane, honestly. She is a masterful hero of the DC Universe representing a very under-represented demographic in comics, and supporting fellow female vigilantes like herself!
8. Renee Montoya
To me, Renee Montoya, especially in the “New 52," is a tangible view at progress away from the classically male-dominated cast of comic heroes. Originally a Gotham City Police detective, she now has been passed the legacy of becoming The Question, moving the character from male to female. Prior to her transformation into this hero, she still kicks major butt, teaming up with Kate Kane, her ex-girlfriend.
As mentioned, Montoya is an LGBT character as well. The beginning of her presence in “The New 52” shows her as a very flawed woman, developing alcoholism after her last relationship ended. This characteristic for female comic characters goes under-appreciated, I believe, as at no point in time do we as an audience see Montoya as a so-called “plastic goddess” — a superhero that entirely transcends reality, detaching her from foundational character empathy. Representation of this woman and her relationships make Montoya stand out in the DC Universe.
9. Black Canary
Finally, I gotta give a shoutout to one of the earliest DC heroines, Black Canary, or Dinah Laurel Lance. I love her, especially in the "New 52," because she is a loud woman. I know, shocking. She has an ultrasonic scream that can make buildings crumble and she is a celebrated heroine for it; she isn't labelled a shrill or noisy woman, she's a badass. That's not the only thing that makes her strong either! Inheriting her mother's identity as the original Black Canary, Dinah is trained especially in martial arts and hand-to-hand combat, making her a versatile fighter that can do damage long-range and short.
Did I mention that Dinah is the lead singer of a band? With the day job of a rockstar and a nighttime duty to lead the Birds of Prey, Black Canary breaks a lot of boundaries for female heroes. First of all, she rejects rock as male-dominated and starts an all-female crew of talented musicians, and in addition, she takes a leadership position in a band of other women, who work together to fight crime vigilantly. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for more tunes from Dinah as the the "New 52" DC Universe progresses onward.
Images via DC, Wikia, IGN, Kabooooom, Threat Quality Press
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Let's talk about queerness, comics, and shutting down systems of oppression. Carbs enthusiast with a lot to say about living femme in this world and staying positive. Contributor to the zine Clitorally and founder of Static zine. Catch me looking for dogs to pet around town.