by Sean McQuaid

Spurred by recent talk of strong Marvel women, I decided to
quickly survey the female talent pool in the Avengers-Bolts canon...

Started out as an apparently airheaded sidekick who was a bad caricature of
what male comic book writers thought women were like, but gradually found
her brain and her backbone as Avengers membership matured her, a maturation
process accelerated by the traumatic events of her divorce and her
subsequent stints as Avengers leader. By the time Stern was through with
her, Jan was one of Marvel's strongest, most well-rounded female characters:
an accomplished adventurer, leader and businesswoman, intelligent and
assertive without being obnoxious or losing her capacity for whimsy and
tenderness. Then Byrne got ahold of her and turned her into Hank's vacantly
cheerful adoring companion again, after which the character floundered
without direction or distinction under various other writers. Kurt's
handling of Wasp has been disturbingly reminiscent of the retro Byrne Jan
in v3 so far, but the Wasp we see in Avengers Forever 2 looks and sounds
more like the Jan who lived through all the Shooter-and-beyond stuff and
emerged stronger for it.

Scarlet Witch:
Like Wasp, Wanda started out as one of the caricaturish 1960s token women
(though usually not quite as lame as Wasp herself was in the old days):
dreamy-eyed, fragile, emotional, leaning heavily on the males in her life.
Also like Wasp, Wanda's reliance on male validation became an ingrained
character trait beyond the early stock characterization that produced it.
And again, like the Wasp, Wanda seemingly grew out of that reliance only to
potentially fall back into it. We haven't seen enough of the post-Byrne
Jan/Hank relationship to see how much Jan's regressed in this regard (Jan's
portrayal in AF 2 suggests a relationship of equals at the very least, and
if anything Jan seems dominant), but Wanda seems to have fallen firmly
back into her old trap of living for the men in her life. Just when Wanda
fears her life with the Avengers is devoid of purpose, Wonder Man falls into
her arms and she's content once more.
Wanda usually doesn't seem to feel whole or complete if she doesn't
have someone to whom she can devote herself: Pietro, Vision, the twins,
Simon. Familial and romantic relationships define her sense of purpose and
self-worth. A family is what she aspired to for a good deal of her
Avengers career, a family life is what she established for herself when
she did leave the Avengers, and she found her recent return to the Avengers
empty and meaningless without the friendships and relationships she
previously enjoyed in the group. She needs to love and be loved to feel
content. Like Jan, she tried to immerse herself in her work after her
marriage failed, even assuming leadership roles in the AWC and Force Works.
Unlike Jan, she neither excelled at these new roles nor found contentment
in them. For Wanda, superheroics isn't so much her career or calling as it
is a simple job, incidental to what she wants out of life.
For all her insecurities, Wanda is essentially a strong female
character. Unlike Wasp, she has a tendency to express her strength in
strident, unpleasant ways if she's so inclined. She falls somewhere between
totally benign strong females like Monica and downright obnoxious strong
females like Warbird.

Black Widow:
Tasha started out as a 1960s caricature of a different sort, the beautiful
and mysterious but dangerous femme fatale. She never really made much of a
mark in this role, and was retired into a more traditional stock female
role as Hawkeye's girlfriend after abandoning her BW identity in Avengers
44. Hawkeye's girlfriend is all she ever was in the team's early years, but
she later dumped him for reasons unspecified and emerged in her own series
as a sexy, strong-willed adventuress who was neither sinister (her original
role) nor sweet (her later role as Hawkeye's girlfriend). Unfortunately,
the new BW was one of the most seldom-seen Avengers for many years to
come, though she did do a memorable turn as the leader of the Champions
(making her the first Marvel supergal to lead a superteam, for that matter).
Tasha found her independence sooner than either Jan or Wanda: she did trade
Hawkeye in for another love interest, DD, but that was more a relationship
of equals and it ended eventually anyway; and her never-quite-realized
relationship with Hercules was also a mutually respectful relationship of
equals. Tasha was really the first strong woman and female leader among the
Avengers, though this came about during the years in which she was largely
absent from the Avengers. When she finally did become an Avengers mainstay
and even a longtime Avengers leader, she was usually portrayed as a bland,
irrelevant non-entity since Harras and company seldom showed much interest
in her. Kurt's taken her back to her strong-willed femme fatale roots again,
though he's also put her back into a loner loop in the process.

Jan, Wanda & Tasha may have grown into unique characters, but the first
female Avenger who started out as a truly unique character was Mantis--
partly because she incorporated every aspect of womanhood in preparation
for her ascension to the role of Celestial Madonna: saint, sinner, warrior,
pacifist, whore, mother. She could be selfish and capricious and shallow,
but she also showed a great capacity for personal growth that helped her to
rise above her failings.

Another character who didn't really fit into the old comic book heroine
archetypes, Moondragon had traces of the Dragon Lady archetype (sinister
sex appeal and an air of domineering menace) but can't quite be reduced
to that. She was unique as a self-styled goddess, and as an arrogantly
altrusitic adventuress whose ends sometimes prompted villainous means,
like an egotistical female Magneto.

Like Mantis & Moondragon, Hellcat wasn't a comic book heroine archetype.
She did fill the role of the ingenue, the first Avengers gal in that role,
but she was unique as a sort of soft feminist with a whimsical side--in a
lot of ways, she started her superheroic career with the sort of personal
growth that the veteran Wasp wouldn't go through until years later,
abandoning her unhealthy reliance on a male relationship and redefining
herself as a strong single woman without losing her heart or her humour.
Hellcat was one of the most appealing and intriguing heroines the Avengers
ever fielded, and it remains a shame that the series never really tapped
her full potential.

While Jan and Wanda were 1960s stereotypes, Carol was a 1970s stereotype:
the "new woman" as strong, aggressive and downright obnoxious uberfeminist.
And in some ways, she hasn't really outgrown the role so much as she's
complicated it, taking on baggage like the Marcus trauma, the cosmic
experiences, the waning powers and the drinking problem. It remains to be
seen how her character will evolve and change since she's getting steady
usage for the first time in a long time.

Tigra was more of a plot device in the Shooter run and a plotline in
subsequent runs than an actual character. Stern's WCA LS and Englehart's
early WCA stuff showed promise in terms of developing the character, but in
the long run she was defined by her storylines (like her mental instability)
and wasn't all that interesting outside of them. After Steve stabilized
the character in WCA 15, she tended to be pretty forgettable, her most
consistent character notes being ferocity (a comic book cliche that spans
both genders) and hedonism, Tigra being the most obvious of several sex
kittens in the Avengers club. She was one of the weaker, more shallow and
less original heroines in the Avengers for my money.

Shulkie was a return to the "powerful, obnoxious uberfeminist" archetype
first supplied by Ms. Marvel, the important difference being that she
added humour to the mix; this made her a bit less stereotypical and a bit
less grating than Carol, and she made a nice foil to her male personality
counterpart Hawkeye. There didn't seem to be all that much to do with her
after she and Hawkeye parted company, though, and the character ultimately
drifted out of Avengers without having much impact on the title.

A very understated character, but very original in a quiet sort of way and
one of the strongest all-around female characters in the Avengers canon:
practical, optimistic, assertive and adventurous without being aggressive
or reckless, Monica was a mature, intelligent, and relatively ordinary woman
who found herself joining the Avengers and grew into her new role over time,
even becoming a credible leadership figure in the group (though Macchio and
Simonson later undermined her big-time under the auspices of Monica's
arch-foe Gruenwald, turning her into a neurotic mess whose leadership proved
brief and problematic). One of the neat things about Monica was that she
was a black woman whose stories very seldom hinged on her race or her
gender--she was just a character who happened to be a black female, as
opposed to a character defined by being a black female. A refreshing change
for fiction in general, and especially for comics. Monica was also the first
total igenue the Avengers had apart from Hellcat, and unlike Hellcat she
stuck around long enough to grow into a major player in the team. The
disrespect and neglect Monica has endured since the Stern run is criminal,
though Kurt gave her some fleeting credit in v3 1-3. One hopes the Ordway
run will give this major Avengers heroine her due, for the first time in way
too long.

Jocasta's one of the saddest heroine archetypes, the doormat: the largely
silent, long-suffering love interest who's perpetually abused or neglected
by the people she loves (first Ultron and later the Avengers, especially
her unrequited crush Vision). She even takes this doormat attitude to
unusual extremes by sacrificing herself for her comrades--twice! As Jocasta
says herself before Demise # 2, "It seems to be my destiny to die a violent
death." Poor Jokkie. She wanted so much more than she got out of life,
but she was too passive to actually get it. Ironically, her former
love interest Vision now finds himself in much the same situation: a
fixture of Avengers Mansion ignored by the residents, lurking in the
background and watching in frustration as his love interest romances
someone else.

While Captain Monica made her mark on the east coast, Bobbi Barton became
the female lead on the west coast squad. Like Monica, Bobbi was an original
character in a non-flashy sorta way; and like Monica, she was a very strong
woman. The similarities end there, though, since Mocky was no idealistic
ingenue: she was smart, accomplished, experienced--she'd been places and
seen things, and she had a pretty clear idea of who she was and what she
could do, even if that sometimes conflicted with the superheroic role she'd
married into. She was intelligent and professional in her work, but sexy
and playful in her private life--she and Clint were a *very* happy couple
when they weren't estranged. She made a fine foil to Hawkeye, a sternly
sardonic voice of dissent and/or reason to moderate his moods and his
sometimes freeweeling command style. And as Lonni pointed out, Hawk & Mock
had a marriage that was very much a respectful and affectionate alliance of
equals (part of what drove them apart for an extended period was Hawk's
misguided determination to impose his values on her, upsetting the balance
they'd achieved). She stubbornly proud (no Jocasta-like doormat she) and
would stand up for herself to anyone, even her husband; and the Phantom
Rider plotline forced her to endure trials of a sort unknown to most
Avengers, trials that she survived unbowed if not unscathed, the sadder
but wiser Avenger. Confident, resourceful, outspoken and adventurous, Mocky
was one of the strongest, most memorable heroines in the Avengers canon.
Her untimely demise remains one of the darker days in the team's history.

Invisible Woman:
Sue is a big subject all on her own, but I'll be brief since she's really
an FF character and not an Avengers character: Sue was one of the 1960s
token female stereotypes like Jan and Wanda: passive, non-physical, and
heavily reliant on the men in her life. Like Jan, Sue eventually grew out
of this for the most part. Like Wanda, the more grown-up Sue has gone
through a leadership period as what Bobby Politte once called a
"cookie-cutter tough-babe superheroine." Also like Wanda, Sue has since
moved past that phase and become a somewhat more mature, somewhat
smarter version of her old self as opposed to either a shrinking violet or
a female Sgt. Fury.

Like fellow Englehart heroines Mantis and Hellcat, Firebird is one of the
most memorable Avengers simply for being so different: quietly strong,
humbly resolute, a fiery but gentle soul who defined her life through an
established religion (a rarity in comics) and a very personal sense of
morality and spirituality. Like Hellcat & Captain Monica she brought a
fresh presence to the team as an idealistic ingenue (unfortunately, she
followed more in Hellcat's footsteps than Monica's by not sticking around
for long). Easily one of the most facinating characters in the Avengers
cast, Bonita is also, alas, one of the most underused. She's only had two
short informal stints with the group, plus a few reservist outings.

Like Tigra and She-Hulk, Sersi falls into the aggressive hedonist category,
women who unnerve male characters with their imposing power, unstable
personality and/or aggressive sexuality. Also like Tigra, Sersi was a
plot-driven character defined by ongoing mental problems. When her plotline
and her problems ended, so did her usefulness (though being a superfluous
addition didn't stop her from hanging around without incident for a couple
of years before Harras started doing noteworthy things with her). Too
powerful for credible incoporation into a super-team, questionably motivated
and often sort of silly, Sersi doesn't add much to the Avengers without a
strong storyline to shore her up. She had one such storyline (the Proctor
business), and that was pretty much it.

Like Mockingbird, Spi was a strong, sensible and intelligent female
lead on the western roster. Like Monica, Spi had elements of "everygal"
in her that made her sympathetic as she tried to integrate Avenging into
her life. Like Monica and Mocky, Spi was a strong lady who could stand
up for herself and speak her mind despite being the new gal. And as a
single mother, Spi had a personal hook unlike any other female Avenger:
single motherhood. It gave her insights, obstacles, opportunities and
concerns unique to the character within the team, and it's a humanizing
element in the character's background. 

To some extent, Crystal stems from the same 1960s female stereotype pool
as most of her contemporaries (Jan, Wanda, Sue, etcetera), the main
difference being that she didn't mature as much as the others--she can be
capricious, self-indulgent and downright selfish, and she's probably the
biggest tramp in the Avengers ranks. She's one of the most tender,
compassionate and passionate Avengers, and as such she makes a good mother
and a good lover (not to mention a good fighter), but she's often not
responsible enough or stable enough to be a good wife or a good friend.
Overall, Crystal amounts to one of the more flawed and negative female
figures in Avengers lore, the good-but-weak woman who keeps falling into
the arms of assorted men.

Angelica's turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises of v3 as a
sensibly reluctant heroine who doesn't see the appeal of fighting
supervillains, endangering her life & health or wearing skimpy outfits.
As a girl-next-door gal who pursues superheroism grudgingly out of a sense
of responsibility and loyalty to her telekinetic main squeeze, Firestar
makes a good ingenue but stands out from the other ingenues (Patsy, Monica,
etc.) by not being nearly so starry-eyed about the whole thing. Angel's
only 18, but she's seen and done a lot already, and she's more mature than
many older Avengers. She knows who she is and what she wants, but she's
also open to new ideas since the Avengers (like the Warriors before them)
seem to be gradually winning over the reluctant mutant.

Starhawk's better half tended to be portrayed as a mysterioso cosmic
icemaiden in the old days. After Valentino got ahold of her, she ended up
sorta like the post-EngleStern Wanda--greatly transformed, more powerful,
bitterly estranged from her longtime spouse, mourning lost children (a loss
that didn't seem to make her bitter until Valentino got ahold of her) and
braznely taking up with one of her hubbie's teammates. Curious footnote:
Valentino briefly revealed that Aleta's radical attitude shift and
estrangement from Starhawk stemmed partially from behind the scenes
mental/emotional manipulation courtesy of Malevolence, but neither he nor
subsequent GOTG writers ever followed up on that.

Originally the GOTG's ingenue and token female, Nikki was the cute, spunky
little young gal that most superteams adopt sooner or later, complete with
crush on Vance Astro, but she did grow up a bit, became a bit more assertive
and formidable and a lot more sensual--she became one of those aggressively
sexual females like Shulkie and Tigra, though she mostly confined her
attentions to on-and-off love interest Charlie-27.

A bit of a bore, really. She tended to be one of those whiny doormat
characters like Jocasta, though she at least got her man (and leaned on
him in a rather sadly clingy fashion). Also like Jocasta, she was largely
ignored by Avengers characters and creative teams alike and eventually
got killed off (like Hellcat and Mockingbird, another victim of Gwen Stacy
syndrome--kill off the female love interest for the sake of doing something
new with the male lead, in this case sending Namor packing the same way
Mocky's death would send Hawkeye packing years later).

She seemed a bit conceptually superfluous in an Avengers universe that
already included Wasp, Hank Pym and sometimes Ant-Man, but Rita DeMara
was an interesting character whom Avengers readers never really got a
chance to know all that well: the bad girl with the good heart, the
small-time crook who becomes a reluctant heroine. It would have been
interesting to see what she evolved into over time (and we saw a bit of
that in her GOTG stint), but she was stupidly killed off as a token
crossover sacrifice before she ever got a chance to see much
post-reformation action in the Avengers.

The strident warrior woman stereotype, leavened somewhat by the surprising
tenderness and vulnerability she showed regarding her relationship with her
Swordsman. Still, she was never interesting enough to make me sorry that
Kurt wrote her into limbo.

Deathcry started out as the strident warrior woman stereotype and was
annoying enough in that capacity, but then she inexplicably morphed into
the chipper kewl ingenue stereotype with dialogue only slightly hipper
than 1960s Teen Titans comics (though those, at least, were fun to read).
In short, she went from one annoying stock characterization to an even
more annoying stock characterization, and we never got real clear on her
motivations despite some belated attempts by Harras to explain how Mortal
Combat Deathcry morphed into Clueless Mallrat Deathcry. I am oh *SO* glad
she's gone...

The mysterious femme fatale type. That's all she ever was, and she
disappeared before she got a chance to be anything else. Can't say I miss

One of the most unique, fascinating and often disturbing characters of any
gender in mainstream superhero comics. Certainly not a hero and not always
a true villain, Karla gives us a look at what a totally selfish person
and compulsive manipulator is like, and how she affects the people around
her. As Lonni said, Moonstone's one of those characters (like Monica) who
could be cast as a man without changing anything--she wasn't written to
fill any sort of token female role, though Busiek has referred to her as a
"classic soap opera witch."

A character who's hard to peg, which is a good thing: a little-girl-lost,
an oft-abused woman who becomes abusive to cope but softens when she finds
herself in a less harsh environment. A reactive character rather than a
proactive character, someone who leans heavily on family, lovers or
teammates to define her, even if she's basically good at heart. Melissa
needs people and things she can believe in, and when she has them she's
better prepared to believe in herself, to be something more than she once
was. And if Avengers Forever is any indication, there's no limit to her
potential growth when she's in a healthy environment.

The idealistic ingenue strikes again, but this ingenue's tempered by a
tragic background and the influence of a bad crowd. It'll be interesting
to see how she evolves over time.