Despite what social media may have you believe, there were a ton of great things that happened in 2016 and many of those came from the world of comic books. Both independent and the big two publishing houses have taken note of social shifts and trends toward representation and the result has been an uptick in quality titles featuring previously underrepresented groups and that includes some pretty amazing titles with stand out female characters.
Everyone loves a list, so here we present you with The Top 10 Female Led Comics of 2016.
10. PAPER GIRLS
Brian K. Vaughan is, undeniably, a king of independent comics. His partnership with Cliff Chiang (hot off his awesome run on Wonder Woman) has produced Paper Girls – a comic which taps into so much of what audiences loved about the 80s nostalgia of Strange Things. The titular Paper Girls must deal with 80s sensibilities, time travel, monsters from space and the crumbling of the world as they know it.
Paper Girls stars a number of girls (even future versions of some of the main characters), each of whom offers a unique perspective and set of skills that keep them together and – relatively – safe despite finding themselves going into to battle against a giant tardigrade.
Valiant has been doing a ton of exciting things in the past few years and Faith has taken the comic book world by storm. She is the icon so many people (not only women) around the world have been looking up to. Faith is stunning, kind and a very capable superhero who brings light and levity against her enemies both on and off the page.
Faith is the woman everyone wants to be friends with, plus she can defend any one of us from Doctor Eclipse or whatever else the Valiant universe might have to throw at us! Plus, if you are from the Los Angeles area, there are a ton of amazing jokes and references that write Jody Hauser has included throughout.
8. KIM & KIM
On a completely surface level: Kim & Kim is just a good time. Black Mask’s original interplanetary bounty-hunters will fulfill every single one of your teenage rebellion fantasies (you remember, when you decided you didn’t like dolls anymore?) with stunning technicoloured art – shout out to colourist Claudia Aguirre! Lying beneath the surface is a wonderful piece on inclusionary feminism.
Both of the Kims are hilarious in their own special ways, highlighting the narrative differences between a wry wit and bombastic laugh-out-loud moments. In between these moments of levity are sprinklings of topics that deserve serious thought and respect (i.e. mental health, transgender issues). Kim & Kim strikes a lovely balance between the socially relevant and the entertaining.
7. PATSY WALKER A.K.A. HELLCAT!
Hellcat is the series I didn’t know I wanted from Marvel Comics until not that long after the Jessica Jones Netflix series began streaming. It is a series that really highlights that most wonderful aspects of female friendships and team ups (Patsy Walker is a superhero after all!), often bringing other Marvel characters who may not be starring in their own series into the narrative. For example: Jennifer Walter, She-Hulk, features prominently in Hellcat.
This series is a beacon for the confident modern woman in both aspects of her today-to-today identities. Patsy faces the strange struggles that seem to pile up around her life with a positive attitude we could all try to incorporate into our lives a little more. With so many series that are so dark come out of from every publisher, Hellcat is a breath of fresh air. Kate Leth effortlessly includes the original “Patsy Walker” romance comments into the mythology of the series as well!
6. NAMELESS CITY
First off, it is worth being impressed with Nameless City because it is written and drawn by the same woman – Faith Erin Hicks. This is the first book launching a trilogy set in a magical Tibet-inspired city. While the point-of-view character in Nameless City is a young man, the female character, Rat, is the most capable and knowledgeable person on the page. She is vital. Rat is needed.
Rat represents the poorest class of people in the titular Nameless City, but she also brings the most adventure and magic (figuratively), to the narrative. An entire fantasy narrative springs up around the message of understanding those different than you and those who come from a different place in life with a different perspective, which a lesson that bears remembering.
5. SHERIFF OF BABYLON
I know what you’re thinking, “This book stars a man!” and that is, absolutely, 100% true. However, if you are reading Sheriff of Babylon then you already know Saffia al Aqani is not only the most powerful character in the entire series, but she is also the best character of the entire series.
Sheriff of Babylon deals with immensely complex subject matter, as the title suggests, and is set in a part of the world where women are arguably the most oppressed. This makes it an even more powerful storytelling device to have Saffia be smarter than everyone else on panel. Also, Mitch Gerads always draws her as the most stunning thing in the entire book.
The title says it all, really. The Superman family of book have dominated DC Rebirth and Superwoman is something very, very special. It secretly stars Lana Lang as an updated version of the Electric Superman design from the 1990s (yay!!), along with Lois Lane and members of the Steel family.
Superwoman extends the ideas of “Super characters being Super” beyond the Man of Steel with one of the most iconic women of the franchise leading the charge to the World of Tomorrow. Like Nameless City, Superwoman is both written and drawn by one person, Phil Jimenez, who flawlessly executes some much beloved designs.
3. MIGHTY THOR
When “Lady Thor” was initially announced there was dissension in the geeky ranks about whether or not we thought it was a good idea. Turns out, it was a great idea. Mighty Thor expands Jane Foster’s Asgardian-infused alter ego’s adventures even as her human sides faces a difficult struggle of her very own.
Where Mighty Thor truly shines is in the comparison to the “original Thor” – or “Odinson,” as he is known in continuity – and the revelation that this woman may be more worthy to bear the name of Thor than the man who was born with the title. Smashing glass ceilings? The Mighty Thor shatters rainbow bridges just by looking at them!
2. MS. MARVEL
Ever since her debut, Kamala Khan’s influence has rippled through pop culture. She has even become a graffitied symbol against Islamophobia in San Francisco! In a post-Secret Wars world Ms. Marvel is one of the only titles to suffer no major changes, rather continuing to build on the superhero origin story that G. Willow Wilson set up in her first issue.
This year, Ms Marvel has explored Kamala’s journey to find balance between all aspects of her life. This extends beyond secret identity/alter ego to examining the duality of being a first generation immigrant. In the pages of this comic the American experience is perfectly summed up.
1. CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA
Archie Comics has been producing truly stunning content in the past five years. Ironically, a more adult shift in some of the stories they are printing has given us amazing series – like Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Our heroine, Sabrina Spellman, is both victim of circumstance and powerful protagonist.
Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has set Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in a small town in the 1960s. He presents tropes on the societal expectations of women during this time period, mixes them in with archetypical witchy stories and still manages to flip the readers’ expectation as to how each and every scene is going to play out. Harvey Kinkle, eat your heart out! … oh, wait.