A Brief History of Comic Book Bad Girls & Their Place in Comics

The bad girls. Easy targets for criticism and many times by people who do not know too much about the characters they trash. They see the costume, or even creator, then disregard what it means. I have no problem with people seeing art they dislike and moving on, but the trivialization bothers me because it shows a willingness to turn a blind eye to a part of comic book history. Bad Girl comic ladies are a part of history, more so than some think.

Two Important Ladies

To understand their importance you have to trace bad girls all the way back to the spiritual godmother-Dejah Thoris.

Dejah Thoris is one of the oldest science fiction characters, making her debut in the novel A Princess of Mars which was released in 1917 but was first in serialization starting in 1912 which makes the character over a century old. When people talk about Martian princess’ or princess’ from alien worlds its a direct reference to Dejah. Created by the famed creator of Tarzan Edgar Rice Burroughs. The Barsoom series was a huge influence on future sci-fi writers as well as the comic creators who helped birth this medium we so love. These were books a lot of creators grew up and Dejah was an important part of that.

I personally have not read any of these stories and the little I know is from research and the John carter movie but one important point is to be made is Dejah Thoris lack of clothing was established in her debut. The martian men and women wore very little in regards to clothes. So when you see those covers from Dynamite with her barely wearing anything, know she’s actually wearing more than she would in the books. Thoris has been bouncing around comics since at least the 1950s and has been a part of the comic sphere for quite a while. Her popularity has obviously waned but she is still a popular pin up and sketch character.

Moving from influence to the actual medium comics have long been filled with “good girl” type superheroes and femme fatales but one of the most iconic is one some do not associate with the bad girl scene but is very much an important influence on bad girls.

A typical female character is the Catwoman, who is vicious and uses a whip. Then atmosphere is homosexual and anti-feminine. If the girl is good looking she is undoubtedly the villainess.-Seduction of the Innocent

In 1955 everyone’s favorite feline crook disappeared from comics, deemed too racy for the time. Don’t worry, she’d show back up in time for the silver age. Catwoman may not be considered a bad girl but her history is tied in with it and her raciness made her a target of controversy. You can not talk about the scene without looking at Selina Kyle. Created by “Bob Kane” (possibly but much of his creative input on Batman and his universe is disputed despite contracts) and Bill Finger was introduced for the sex appeal. Selina had a lot of that and showed up in cartoons and the famed TV series. In the 1987 class Batman Year One her origin (which had been done and redone and altered previously) switched to the dominatrix/prostitute back story that DC held true to up until the New 52 reboot. Between those two points during the “era of bad girls” includes the controversial Jim Balent run. Balent drew Catwoman for almost 7 years in her purple outfit which gets associated with his art. You see cosplayers refer to their purple outfit Catwoman cosplay as Jim Balent’s Catwoman. Balent is known for his sexualized style which has made him a criticized figure in comics but there is no doubt there are many people who love his Catwoman.

Catwoman has had many artists-some acclaimed and others controversial but Catwoman is one of those characters who navigates easily through all styles.

The Two Mothers of Bad Girl Movement
Next up we focus on two ladies, one whose spoken down about many times by people unfamiliar with her exploits and creative lineage. The other one, her debut would be marked as the true birth of bad girls.

The first is Vampirella who I wrote on in my most successful blog entry to date HERE. The short of it is that Vampirella was created in 1969 in one of Warren Publishing horror magazines-Vampirella Magazine. Created by science fiction legend Forrest J. Ackerman and pioneering cartoonist Trina Robbins. She has been written by comic legends from Archie Goodwin to Grant Morrison to Kurt Busiek to others. Vampirella gets a bad rap by a lot of people I see online but she is a diamond in the rough. Vampirella Magazine and other of Warren Publishings horror magazines featured stories by famous talents. On top of which it was at a time when horror comics were not on the stands so Vampi gets associated with keeping horror comics alive. Some of the talent whose worked on her did so early in their careers and others flocked to her to want to contribute to the characters illustrious history. A history people don’t know about because they think she was just created in the 90s to cash in on the scene that was stylized by creators who were probably hiding Vampirella Magazines under their beds. Truth is Vampirella had more in common with the good girl superheroes of days past just with a far skimpier attire. That attire mad her a femme fatale and was one of the few you could truly fine around the early 70s. Vampirella is the link. Who else has hung out with Catwoman, fought with Lady Death, fought alongside Witchblade or Lara Croft.

But I’ve spoken about Vampirella quite a bit before this post so lets talk about a certain lady who is definitely bad girl to the bone.

Created by Frank Miller in the pages of Daredevil Elektra is considered the true kick off the bad girl movement. It would still be years before it took effect but you started seeing more and more ladies similar to Elektra in one way or another. The way they dressed, the way they acted, the way their stories were told. Elektra was a huge deal at the time. her death in the pages of Daredevil and her return are celebrated points in Millers bibliography and some of Marvels most reprinted stories.

 

Unlike earlier heroines who strove to find love, Elektra eliminated emotions from her life to shield herself from the tragedies she had endured. What was left was a grim, emotionally crippled, but increasingly sexy murderer-the ultimate belle dame sans merci. Brandishing her deadly daggers, Elektra cut an impressive figure with her long black hair, asymmetrically cut costume, and strap festooned limbs, ushering Ninja Chic into the world of comic books.-Mike Madrid, the Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines.

Elektra is a fixture of Marvel having not just headlined her own book but also her own movie. Which I hear was pretty bad, I don’t know I never saw it.

Elektra and Vampirella in their red outfits and long black hair are creations of important individuals and have had some of the most talented people tell their adventures. They were not design to be bad girls but they were a helping hand in the formation of the scene which got its real juice with two companies Chaos! comics and Image!

Here Come the Bad Girls

Say what you want about artist like Rob Liefeld or Jim Lee and their class of artists but their styles took over Marvel and this crop of new artists were a huge draw. Lee made the X-Men his and his designs became integral of the team in the 90s, rolling over into the 90s X-Men cartoon. Liefeld and his collaborators reboot of New Mutants as X-Force was a big deal. Both creators gave us important x-ladies (Domino is one of Liefelds contributions and a 90s bad girl). When the pair, as well as Todd McFarlene and Marc Silvestri among others, left Marvel their new company gave the top 2 a run. Image’s first release was Youngblood #1 and was the best selling independent comic at that time, only to be beaten by Spawn a month later.

Liefeld created numerous bad girls but one I want to mention is Glory. Glory was recently rebooted in an acclaimed series by Joe Keating and Ross Campbell. Comic book journalists, and I use that term loosely, would write about how important this series was compared to Liefelds version. The problem is they skip over the fact Liefeld wrote very little of Glory’s exploits compared to other creators. Obviously Alan Moore did a little with her but the real architect of the first 22 issues of her series is Mary Jo Duffy. Mary Jo Duffy has worked for Marvel on the original Star Wars series as well as Power man and Iron Fist. She’s worked on Catwoman. She’s an extremely important female writer in American comics. When I discovered this I was quite annoyed by all the critics and journalists who did not shed any light on this. Liefeld’s company was putting out a female lead title written by an important female writer and drawn by artists who would go on to be fixtures at the Big 2 (Ed Benes and Mike Deodato Jr., two artist who also broke into DC working on stories with the Amazon named Artemis).

Over on Jim Lee’s side of the thing he launched WildCATs and Gen 13 to various levels of success. Lee is the most successful comic artist in American comics. His titles sell. WildCATs, which included Zealot and a fave of mine Voodoo (who I still can’t understand her powers but I lover her) got adapted into a cartoon that ran for a season. Voodoo went on to be one of the first dark skinned ladies to not only headline her own mainstream series but also had a mini-series by “the great” Alan Moore. Gen 13, whose animated movie never got a wide release, was a huge deal in comics at a time. I remember being a kid and it being all the rave of comics. While the girls may not really fall into the bad girl mold from the personality standpoint the art style definitely portrayed it as such and the writing reenforced it. Plus Rainmaker was at the time one of the few bisexual women and Wildstorm played up to that in certain scenes.

Image provided titles with women. Were they all good? No. Still creators were doing their thing and in the chaos of Image you got Witchblade. A character whose been ongoing since 1995 and is the longest running female title without relaunch/reboot. the character has spun a TV series and an anime. Pretty good for another Bad Girl? For all of the faults of the various studios under the Image umbrella there was a time when it showed that creators can sell books and independent titles can rival franchise titles. Sure people point to the terrible schedules and speculator market as reasons comics had a 90s bust but that was a small part compared to Marvel’s issues which really caused the collapse.

Of course the most notorious ladies of the scene were the Chaos Comics ladies like Lady Death, Purgatori and Chastity. Say what you want about those books but there were artists who toiled on the scene with those ladies (as well as Image books) that have become popular creators in the big two. Ivan Reis, Francis Manapul, David Finch to name a few. The stylized nature of the books have always been enticing to some but each of these characters have something that has kept their appeal over the decades. Sure Lady Death is not the big deal she was in August 1995 (close to one million in merchandise sales) but her book is still coming out and ladies still cosplay happily as her. I don’t really follow the old Chaos! ladies but I’ve met and talked to fans of theirs who enjoy their exploits.

Bad girls have died down. The style is still out there but most bad girl books they are very niche. It surprises me, and makes me laugh, people talking down about the indy books using this style. A few thousand issues on order aimed at the fans who want it and its gets compared on the same level as whats happening in the Big Two. Like Jim Balents Tarot. Written, drawn and self published for years-I think that deserves serious respect. There are still artists in the Big Two who do the style of course but the attitude is not really the same.

There is a wealth of more bad girls to talk about but I decided that’s too many characters to speak on and as much as I know I still am missing valuable details. All I ask is you give a bad girl a try. Ask someone you know who has read these types of books. If you don’t want to give it a try, fine, but consider that the work might hold some importance.

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About CM Towns

I like comics, wrestling, and other junk.
This entry was posted in comic books, dc comics, female superheroes, marvel comics, superhero and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Brief History of Comic Book Bad Girls & Their Place in Comics

  1. Pingback: A Brief History of Comic Book Bad Girls & Their Place in Comics | Todd DeanTodd Dean

  2. phoenolf says:

    I am most certainly a bad girl comics fan (like purgatory, lady death, chastity and the likes OWO) and most definitely vampirella OWO

  3. Pingback: Sunday Round Up #2 | Laidig's Broadway

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