January is a time of fresh starts and new beginnings. The way we kick off a new year informs the months that follow, and that's why we're living our best Capricorn-season lives and declaring it the Month of the GOAT, celebrating the Greatests of All Time in genre. From the best Star Trek captains to our favorite strong female characters, we're honoring the greats all month long.
The superheroines of comic book history have helped to define 20th- and 21st-century pop culture in ways that are easy to downplay. Without them, our artistic landscape would look very different, and, let's be honest, it would just suck. They've stood as symbols of strength, resilience, and optimism during good times and bad, and often they've been our icons for paradigm shifts in our political landscape. Wonder Woman was our truth-telling justice seeker, Carol Danvers our enthusiastic leader, Kamala Khan our bright young hope in the face of real-life Islamophobia. The old adage tells us that you cannot be what you cannot see, and for any girl or woman looking for a hero, the world of comics guided the way.
Now we're in an amazing era of creative flux, and those heroines we obsessively followed on the page for years are finally getting their due on the big screen. So, to honor them and celebrate a month of GOATs, we celebrate the greatest superheroines of all time.
She may not wear a cape and she may not go by a code name, but Sense8’s Nomi Marks definitely has superpowers. Not only is she psychically connected to a cluster of “Homo Sensoriums,” a side-species of humans who evolved secretly alongside the rest of humanity, Nomi has the skills to pay the bills when it comes to facing off against a massive global conspiracy. The character relationships and corruption storylines of Sense8 are comic book-style writing at their heart, and wrapped up in all of it is Nomi, outlaw super hacker on the run from a relentless government agent. Nomi is in what is sadly a very small pool when it comes to trans characters onscreen these days. She’s a character whose transness is a flavor rather than the entire whole of her being. Her history has an impact on her life, it shapes the relationships she has with her family, and it gives her reason at times to celebrate. But it does not define her. As we continue to get more and more representation for trans folk with characters like Nia Nal on Supergirl, let’s hope that Nomi Marks is remembered for being one of those who helped light the way for all that follow. - Riley Silverman
Tessa Thompson brought Valkyrie to life in Thor: Ragnarok, but the character has been around since the '70s. A badass warrior, impressive enough in battle to earn her command of Odin’s personal shield maiden detail, Valkyrie co-lead the Fearless Defenders with Misty Knight — a superhero team made up of tough chicks throughout the Marvel Universe. But even if you only recognize Valkyrie from her time on-screen as a drunken war vet scrapping for parts and putting up with Chris Hemsworth’s bad jokes, she’s still one of the greatest female characters in the MCU. She’s strong, of course, and physically capable of taking down any baddie that comes her way, but in Ragnarok, she’s also broken, building herself back up after a terrible loss. She’s unapologetically authentic and a bit revolutionary — how many bisexual female superheroes are shown working through lingering PTSD while saving the universe? Hopefully, we get more of Thompson, and more of Valkyrie’s backstory as time goes on. - Jessica Toomer
While comics have a long history of amazing female superheroes, as evidenced by this whole list, what sets the Gwen Stacy of Earth-65 apart is that she represents a chance to make right a less pleasant part of that history. As one of the prominent examples of a fridged woman in comics, Gwen could have remained a discarded memory of Spider-Man’s early era. Instead, she’s a phoenix who has risen up from the ashes to become one of the most popular characters in years. She’s chosen to reach out to other surviving Gwens across the multiverse in order to prevent herself from being the only one who survived, she’s served time in jail to atone for the unintended destructive consequences of trying to be a hero, and even managed to live in a true state of harmony with her version of the Venom symbiote. She’s an amazing example for young women of someone who refuses to exist as the victim in someone else’s story and becomes the hero of her own instead. - Riley Silverman
Ororo Munroe has been with the X-Men with few breaks since the late ‘70s, and she’s remained one of the most central characters of the franchise as far as the comics are concerned. This is someone who has really done it all. From her life as a pickpocket on the streets of Cairo to joining the X-Men and even marrying Black Panther and serving as the Queen of Wakanda, Storm has lived life to its fullest. Starting out as a pacifist with a strong aversion to violence and slowly learning the necessity of taking action as time went on, Storm has been the focus of some of the greatest character arcs and fight scenes in comics. Her friendships are just as intriguing as anything else in her storyline, and relationships with characters like Jean Grey, Kitty Pryde, Yukio, Wolverine, and Shuri have been highlights in Storm’s story. One central theme for Ororo has been the complexity of vengeance, and what it means to be a warrior who loves and cherishes peace above all else. Storm is an iconic, historically important character, but even better, she's always been a heck of a lot of fun to read. - Sara Century
Everyone loves the Hulk, but when he becomes the big guy, he loses a lot of his intelligence. Not so with Bruce Banner’s cousin Jennifer Walters. This high-powered lawyer becomes She-Hulk and her witty and brilliant mind stays intact. She’s an Avenger, she’s been part of the Fantastic Four, she’s in A-Force, the all-female Avengers team, and she’s often aware that she’s a comic book character, breaking the fourth wall. Even better? She prefers being She-Hulk. You know that side of ourselves where we do the right thing, and we’re braver and stronger than we usually are? That side that never gets to come out? Well, after an accident, Jennifer gets to remain as that side of herself permanently, and she’s happy about it. Can we please get a She-Hulk TV series? - Jenna Busch
Sometimes when you’re an angsty teenager who hates your parents, you find out they’re super villains and now you like, really have to hate them. Good thing Nico Minoru, aka Sister Grimm, just so happens to be one incredible witch. With her Goth attire, her no-f*cks-given attitude, and her magical Staff of One, Nico and her friends take down their evil parents and set off on their own. She can make literally anything happen, but she can only use each spell once, so yeah, I guess she does have some limitations. Lyrica Okano, who plays this incredible teenage superhero on Marvel’s Runaways, brings the rage, the joy, and the cutting sarcasm of Nico to life. Luckily, the TV show went in a better direction than the graphic novels with Nico’s relationship with fellow Runaway Karolina Dean, so not only do we have a badass Japanese-American superhero onscreen, but she also gets to be queer from the start. Nico’s perseverance paired with her representational importance makes her a natural contender for the greatest female superhero. - S.E. Fleenor
Patty Jenkins had to fight to keep the moment Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) runs across No Man’s Land. This filmmaking anecdote seemed ridiculous at the time, it feels even more so nearly two years after the movie came out. The first time I saw Diana climbing the ladder as many men had done before her, tears began to form. And it turned out I was not the only one having this reaction to this sequence, as she runs across the field of death bouncing bullets of her cuffs and shield. What this scene does is encapsulate everything that makes Diana Prince so daring and admirable. But she has existed long before this recent slew of superhero movies and has always stood as an icon on the page and screen. Before Gadot there was Lynda Carter; in between, there have been many of all ages who have dressed in the red, blue and gold. Wonder Woman stands for everyone and is for everyone. - Emma Fraser
Batgirl (all of them)
I want to talk to you about Batgirl. Not Barbara Gordon. Not Cassandra Cain. Not Stephanie Brown. All of them and none of them all at once. Just Batgirl. One of the biggest differences between BatGIRL and BatMAN is that the girl is… anyone. Or, I suppose, she can be anyone. And she should be, because Batgirl is more than just a costume, more than one person, she is a symbol to girls and women who believe they can pull themselves up and be more than anyone else believed they could be. Over the more than 50 years since the original character’s creation, three different women — Babs, Cass, and Stephanie — have each donned their respective cape and cowl and patrolled the streets of Gotham. They each came to the costume in their own way, each looking to prove themselves to different people and for different purposes, but while the journey was different for each, the destination was the same. They were all incredibly capable in their own ways, but there was something missing, some element of their lives that needed to change, some trauma they needed to overcome, and inevitably, some guy who told them they couldn’t or shouldn’t or wouldn’t. They could. They should. They did. - Tricia Ennis
Carol Danvers has an uneven history in comics, but two things have always been true: her powers are awesome, and she is the best kind of hero, a force for good who tries to do the right thing regardless of circumstance. She has all the cool powers — flight, super-strength, laser hands — and she LOVES them. Carol is one of the few superheroes who is unburdened by her power, great as it is. She revels in her abilities, but never abuses them, which makes her incredibly fun. But she's also a true-north hero a la Captain America, someone you can count on to do the right thing, even when it's hard. What makes Carol unique, though, is how often she messes up. She has incredible power and the best of intentions, but she still makes mistakes. She isn't perfect. No amount of strength or laser hands makes knowing the right thing to do any easier, but even when she messes up, Carol doesn't quit. She picks herself up and keeps trying, and that persistence is what inspired a devoted fandom even before she hits the big screen. - Sarah Marrs