Female Knockoffs of Male Superheroes
Despite their reputation for fanciful frivolity, superhero comics have been known to spark serious, soul-searching questions like:
“Do entities of benevolent intervention such as government or superheroes ultimately help or hinder the progress and self-reliance of the society they protect?
“How does one square self-appointed vigilante-style justice with the laws of an ordered society?”
“What would that superhero dude look like as a chick?”
Okay, maybe that last one wasn’t so serious, but nonetheless…it’s a question curious comic book creators and fans alike have pondered since the dawn of the superhero age. Maybe there are deep psychological factors underpinning that curiosity, but since I’m neither qualified nor the least bit inclined to go there, let’s leave that stuff to the experts and find us some female knockoffs of popular male superheroes.
In most cases, a female knockoff was either a family member or a girlfriend of the super-guy. One of the most obvious (and early) examples of the former was Billy Batson’s twin sister Mary, who made her debut as Mary Marvel in Captain Marvel Adventures #18 (1942).
A decade later on the cover of Action Comics #252, Kryptonian cousin Kara Zor-El popped out of a rocket and into Superman’s life as Supergirl.
Of course, by the time Kara came along, there had already been several female versions of Superman. In fact, DC Comics floated the concept of a Supergirl a year earlier in Superman #123, this time as a being “wished” into existence by a magical Indian totem.
Appearing to be Superman’s girlfriend Lois Lane on the cover of Superman #57 (1949), this Super-Woman is actually Lois 4XR, a super-powered “exact double” of Lois Lane from 1000 years in the future (whom Superman suspected was a descendant of his).
Jumping to the Marvel side of the aisle, an emergency blood transfusion from gamma-irradiated cousin Bruce Banner turned Jennifer Walters into the She-Hulk, who we see clashing with a female version of The Thing (Sharon Ventura) in Fantastic Four #321 (1988).
Now to the latter category: the girlfriends and/or significant others. Who better to kick off the designation than the then-girlfriend, now sorta-ex wife of Spider-Man Mary Jane Watson. Although the cover of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #19 (1985) implies that Mary Jane is somehow spider-powered, it turns out that the story’s supervillain mistakenly believed she was actually Spider-Man.
Unlike that deceptive Spidey Annual cover, the girlfriends of the Justice Society of America really did pinch-hit for their boyfriends in Starman #69 (2000). Adding a modern spin to a tale that originally appeared in All-Star Comics #15 (1943), Ted (Starman I) Knight recalled how Wonder Woman and the "All-Girlfriend JSA" rescued the male JSA’ers from the evil Brainwave.
When Carol Danvers, girlfriend of Captain Marvel, was exposed to the “Psyche-Magnitron” device from his native world, she gained powers (and a costume) similar to his in Ms. Marvel #1 (1977).
Moving on to an even more famous “captain”, Captain America #289 (1984) marked yet another zany “Assistant Editors Month”, during which oddball stories were published while the real editors were ostensibly “out of town”. In the smaller backup story, Captain America’s girlfriend Bernie Rosenthal dreams that she is “Bernie America”, complete with a knockoff of Cap’s famous fighting togs.
Another female version of Cap appeared in Marvel’s A-Next title, which was set in the alternate “MC2” reality where the familiar Marvel pantheon had given way to a new generation of young heroes. Going by the name American Dream, Shannon Carter (daughter of ex-Cap girlfriend Sharon Carter) finally earned her own shield from that world’s Captain America in A-Next #11 (1999).
Of course, the MC2 universe was originally kicked-off by Spider-Girl, the daughter of that world’s Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.
Alternate realities and timelines like MC2 are actually a rich source for gender-bended superheroes. One of the most famous examples was Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns #3 (1986) which featured the young Carrie Kelly as a female Robin recruited by a cranky old Batman.
Marvel’s popular What-If? title specialized in alternate versions of beloved characters and storylines. In What-If? #10 (1978), it wasn’t Dr. Don Blake who gained the power of Thor, but his nurse Jane Foster! Note the male Thor’s understandably gobsmacked reaction to “Thordis”…
Another “Thunder Goddess” appeared in the alternate future of Earth-X (1999). However, unlike Jane Foster in What If?, this version actually was Thor, whose evil half-brother Loki had taken his magical pranks and sibling rivalry to an entirely new level.
Superman/Batman #24 (2006) introduced the Superwoman and Batwoman of Earth-11. In this alternate reality, not only are the heroes we know to be men females, but the heroes we know to be women are males…such as “Super-Lad” instead of Supergirl.
This skewed version of the DC heroes was actually inspired by a story that appeared in Superman #349 (1980). In “The Turnabout Trap”, a very confused Man of Steel returned to Earth from a space mission to find everyone he knows gender-swapped, courtesy of the magical imp Mr. Mxyzptlk. Pictured here on the cover (from left to right) are Superwoman, Superlad (who retained Supergirl’s billowy sleeves and short-shorts), and Wonder Warrior…complete with tiara (“he-ara”?) and white body stocking. Other members of the “Turnabout League” included Batwoman, a female Flash, and (gulp) a Black Condor instead of a Black Canary (nice boots!).
Sometimes the mantle of the male superhero passes to women who are neither family members nor romantic interests. For example, Flash #51 (1991) featured the debut of Lady Flash. Formerly a member of a Soviet band of speedsters named Blue Trinity, Christina Alexandrova got hold of a spare Flash costume and hoped to become his assistant. Ultimately rejected by Wally West, the spurned Lady Flash later joined the cult of an evil speedster named Savitar.
In Punisher War Journal #78 (1995), ex-NYPD cop Lynn Michaels carried on the mission of the original Punisher, Frank Castle (then believed to be dead).
When the original Doctor Fate kicked the bucket, Nabu (the supernatural being inhabiting Fate’s golden helmet) chose a married couple named Eric and Linda Strauss to share the role of a new Doctor Fate. Eric was eventually killed, leaving Linda to carry on as a distinctly female Fate, which is obvious from the cover of Doctor Fate #26 (1991).
Finally, female variants have also popped up in, shall we say, “unusual” circumstances. In Iron-Man: Hypervelocity #5 (2007), an all-girl version of the Avengers appeared in a computer-generated fever dream of Tony Stark…or, more accurately, a rogue suit of Iron-Man armor that believed itself to be Tony Stark. Hey, I said it was “unusual”, didn’t I?
One of the most unusual (and humorous) switcheroos appeared in WHAT THE--? #11 (1991), as Wolverina, a slicing-n-dicing parody of Wolverine, did her male counterpart proud.
Why would the absence of that tiny little Y chromosome be responsible for so much gender-bending comic book entertainment? Again, I’m not qualified to delve into the psychological nuts and bolts (er…no pun intended), but maybe…at its core…it’s no more profound as “Hey…I wonder what that superhero dude would look like as a chick?”.