The explosion of comic book properties on TV has been amazing, but it’s been lacking in one crucial regard: female heroes. Of the six comic book shows currently on the air, only one has a female lead. Of course, comics themselves have long leaned toward male protagonists. But that’s due, in large part, to their primary audience being young men and boys.
That’s changing, though; recent social media numbers suggest that comic book fandom is nearly 47 percent female nowadays. Not only are comic companies responding, but studios are picking up the call; CBS has put a Supergirl show into development, Jessica Jones is one of Netflix’s four series centered around Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, and The CW’s iZombie premieres March 17.
Here, then, is a list — in honor of the departing Agent Carter and the returning Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (who both dominate the list) of the best female comic heroes on TV currently — with hopes that the roster will grow quickly in the very near future. Gotham is absent from this list, although, since Jim Gordon himself wouldn’t necessarily be considered a superhero, maybe it gets a pass. The Flash, however, has some work to do. It had Plastique (now dead) and, in the future, may have Caitlin Snow (who will eventually become Killer Frost), though whether she becomes a hero or villain is still unknown. It’s a great show, but a stronger womanly presence would be appreciated.
6. Zed Martin, Constantine
The character of Liv Aberdine was replaced after the pilot because the producers felt like she spent too much time reacting to things and simply waiting to be rescued. At first, it seemed like Zed was the answer; certainly, her fiery attitude suggested she was capable of much more. But as the series wore on, she fell further and further into “sit back and wait for Constantine to save the day” mode.
Perhaps, given more time, the show can delve further into the Resurrection Crusade storyline, which might give Zed a little more agency. In the comics, Zed dies, but with some slight changes, that arc could be the crucible that makes the character worth watching. The writers may not get that chance, though; while Constantine hasn’t yet been canceled officially, the ratings didn’t necessarily merit a pickup.
5. Black Canary, Arrow
So far, Black Canary has spent way more time receiving beatings than dishing them out. But give her time. It’s taken two-and-a-half seasons to evolve Laurel Lance to the point where she takes up the mantle of Black Canary — something comic fans have known would happen since the show’s inception.
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Another way to look at it is, she’s 61 episodes into her origin story. That time has allowed the character to become as nuanced as any on the show. Oliver had five years to go from billionaire playboy to urban vigilante; it looks like Starling City is Laurel’s Lian Yu.
4. Melinda May, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agent May, “The Cavalry” as she’s sometimes known, is the right hand of Director Coulson and — between actors Ming-Na Wen and Clark Gregg — the two carried S.H.I.E.L.D. through its early growing pains with sheer force of personality. May’s cold and unyielding strength and Coulson’s warm and… well, also unyielding strength, they’re like Mike and Carol Brady for the comic book generation.
In person, Wen is as bubbly and cheerful as her character is dour, and if the show could do anything to improve her character, it would be to give her more opportunities to demonstrate other facets of her demeanor. Or, at the very least, bring back Agent 33 for more May on May action.
3. Felicity Smoak, Arrow
Felicity plays essentially the same role as Caitlin Snow does on The Flash, but she’s so much more integral to Arrow that it’s hard to argue that she doesn’t deserve the spot. She’s the eyes and ears and brain and, often, the heart of Team Arrow (a job that gets split between two people on Flash). Give her a mask, and you might as well call the show Smoak.
Much of the credit goes to Emily Bett Rickards, whose role was originally intended as a one-off, but her chemistry with Stephen Amell was so great, she was a series regular by Season 2. She’s the x factor that makes a good show great, and she ends midway up this list only on a technicality.
2. Skye, aka Daisy Johnson, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
If nothing else, Skye earns the slot by being the only woman on TV with honest-to-goodness superpowers. Though we’ve seen merely a taste, her code name in the comics is Quake, as the trembling and shattered lights of the last episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. can attest to.
She could also have earned the slot by being the most improved character on the list. In the first season of S.H.I.E.L.D., it was widely believed that she was there simply to be pretty and ask questions to reveal basic plot points for the viewer. But the betrayal of Agent Ward galvanized Skye, and when she returned in Season 2, she made wading through the earlier iteration of her character eminently worthwhile.
1. Peggy Carter, Agent Carter
If Black Widow were 60 years older, she’d be Agent Peggy Carter. Tough, beautiful, and — to borrow a phrase — able to do anything the men do only backwards and in heels.
The thing that sets her apart from everyone else on this list is that her character and the show work both on the level of action and social commentary. Like the X-Men booksat their best, in which the plight of mutants stands as a metaphor for the civil rights struggle, or Spider-Man, which explores the passage from childhood to adulthood, Carter is as much about post-World War II America and the social upheaval that accompanied women’s entry into, then expulsion from, the workplace as it is about Nitramene imploding oil refineries.
And, lest we forget, she can also handle a machine gun like a boss. What more could you ask for?
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.