So Jessica Jones floated your boat, now what? Here's the perfect comic book starters guide.
One of the undisputed gifts of 2015 was Netflix and Marvel’s beautiful team-up. It gave us Daredevil and Jessica Jones: two of the greatest television shows of the past decade. They just so happen to be based on comic book characters, but that’s neither here nor there as their technical brilliance leaps boundaries. People who had never touched a comic book let alone read one now have opinions on Luke Cage and whether we’ll see Trish Walker become Hellcat. Yet now that Jessica Jones has converted the minds and hearts of the masses, perhaps you maybe, kinda, sorta want to try that comic book thing all the kids have been invested in since, oh, the early ninetieth century? Gone are the days of Gary Sue male characters rescuing the love-struck and helpless heroines: say hello to the world of proto-feminist heroines dominating the pages of comic books you need to read.
It goes without saying but we’re going to say it anyway: you can’t beat the source material for Jessica Jones itself. Nearly 15 years old, Brian Michael Bendis’ dark graphic novel about a failed superheroine struggling with PTSD has all the hallmarks of a classic. Beginning its run in 2001 it’s ageless in its themes, story and characters which provided something entirely new to the comic book pantheon. They way men deem Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns the greatest work of art within the comic book medium is exactly how women feel about Alias.
All New Wolverine
There has never been a better time to be a female comic book fan or a woman getting into comics for the first time. Not only is the audience populated with ladies (some 55.4% apparently), publishers have started catering to it. We had a woman take on Thor’s mantel in Jason Aaron’s great series and – also from Marvel – Wolverine has gotten a bad-ass revamp with Laura Kinney (aka X-23) picking up the crown (or claws, as it were). Aussie writer Tom Taylor is at the helm and with the assistance of artists David Lopez the pair have managed to reinvigorate the character with fresh storylines and some of the sickest art currently being pumped out on an issue-by-issue basis.
Buffy (Season 9)
The story didn’t end with the season seven finale, shocker! The Buffyverse continues in comics overseen by their Lord and creator Joss Whedon with the adventure now up to season 10. Although season eight was a great reunion of your favourites Scoobies as the adventure picked up again, it lost its way in the later half. Season nine, however, is old school Buffy season two greatness: the story is tighter, the struggle is real and the characters are back at their best. Buffy inspired a legion of female protagonists so it’s worth revisiting the originator rather than the imitator to see what she has been up to.
Black Magick is brought to you by the dream team of Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott who deliver a one-two punch with his pensmanship and her beautiful artwork. Tonally similar to Alias, the creator-owned comic is set in its own universe which mixes magic and police procedurals with our leading lady Rowan who is both a) a witch b) a detective and c) a bad-ass on a motorcycle. Get it. Heavily researched, there’s so many Easter eggs for lovers of wicca and magick lore that this is a witch’s equivalent of a Marvel movie. Only a few issues deeps, this dark tale is one of our favourite new titles of 2015.
Dubbed ‘Batgirl of Burnside’, the recent run of the cooler caped crusader written by Brenden Fletcher and infused with attitude by illustrator Babs Tarr has become a bit of a phenomenon: people were already cosplaying the new character design before issue one even dropped. Featuring a racial and sexually diverse cast of characters, it takes everyone’s favourite Batgril Barbara Gordon back to her kick-ass best where she mixes physical prowess with intellectual genius. Batgirl of Burnside is a great entry point for first-time comic book readers.
Spinning off from the success of Batgirl of Burnside, come join one of DC’s most important heroines Black Canary as she takes on nefarious baddies while simultaneously fronting a so-hot-right-now indie rock band. Think the adventures of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but if Karen O fought crime and loved to brawl.
What do a rockabilly elf, a hipster dwarf who shaved her beard before it was cool, a hippie Halfling and a Lovecraftian cult escapee have in common? Besides a strong need for booze, mayhem, drugs and sexual gratification, not a whole lot – but these are the Rat Queens, a ragtag group of female misfits who are heroes-for-hire types living in a high-fantasy universe. With an absolutely bonkers mix of action, humour and progressive politics, this is one of the most critically acclaimed and incredible books out right now. Two pages in and you’ll be hooked.
Best known for being a certifiable bad-bitch in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, if you ever wanted to see Black Widow get more screen time then Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto’s latest run is a must read. Flawlessly bringing the character to life with Noto’s unique art style, the series follows Black Widow when she’s not Avenging: her struggles with her past, her present and battling the occasional ghost from the Red Room. A female Bond film could never be this good.
Birds Of Prey
The Tina Fey and Amy Poehler of the comic book world – Gail Simone and Nicola Scott – are at their best when they get to work together, relishing in female-centric stories and exploiting hyper feminist themes. The comic universe tends to be drawn to all-male team-up stories, yet Simone and Scott’s Birds Of Prey added something truly original with their all-girl crew of superheroines. It has more than sisterhood and villain slayage – although those things are great – it has complexity as a handful of very different women with very different methods butt heads and try to reconcile their differences for the greater good. Plus, it has some super fun explorations of sex and relationships too.
There are few feminist allies in comic books radder than Greg Rucka and his three-year run on Wonder Woman is testament to that. Featuring Dianna at her Amazonian princess best, we’d argue no one has written (or represented) the femmo icon better than Rucka did in his sweeping story arc.
"Male is not the default gender for hero,” She-Hulk once said in Marta Acosta’s totally underrated She-Hulk novella. And if the latest comic series from Charles Soule proves anything it’s that she was right. Lawyer by day, She-Hulk by night, the adventures of Jennifer Walters manage to be simultaneously fun and high-stakes. Featuring a rotating cast of Marvel drop-in characters (Daredevil! Hellcat!), it’s great to see a superheroine grounded in the struggle to have a satisfying and successful professional career (you know, something outside of smashing baddies).
Y: The Last Man
A comic book with ‘man’ in the title? On this list? Stay with us: every man except one is killed in the opening pages. A virus wipes out the entire male population in one swoop and the post-Apocalyptic world is now run by women. A globe-trotting adventure with female villains, female heroes, female everything, Y is special in all the ways and roles it depicts women. There is literally no limit to the female potential in this series, which is widely considered one of the greatest graphic novels ever written.
Gail Simone, again, our patron saint of rad, does something no one thought possible: she reboots and revamps the overly-sexualised character of Red Sonja into something that stands up in 2015. Yeah, the sword-wielding redhead stuck in nothing but back-bending poses and a chainmail bikini for the male gaze? She becomes something special and empowering under Simone’s skillful handling, making her a character as fun as Gimli but as ferocious as Aragorn.
Also check out: Vampirella (Kate Leth), Saga (Brian K Vaughan), DrownTown (Jim Murray), Huntress: Year One (Ivory Madison) Sisters (Raina Telgemeier), Squirrel Girl, She-Hulk (Dan Slott), Revival (Tom Seeley), Hellcat (Kate Leth), Gotham Academy (Brendan Fletcher), Lumberjanes (Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson), Hark! A Vagrant and Step Aside Pops (Kate Beaton), Jem and the Holograms (Kelly Thompson, Sophie Campbell), Sex Criminals (Matt Fraction), Saga (Brian K Vaughan), Thor (Jason Aaron), The Deep (Tom Taylor).