After I published an entry here a few weeks ago that urged readers to give Marvel’s female-focused comics a try, I’ve been thinking about that topic. Any time one thinks too long about Marvel’s cast of female heroes, one inevitably stumbles across the question, “who is Marvel’s Wonder Woman?”
DC has something that Marvel doesn’t have: a notable, iconic female superhero that they have regularly promoted since her debut in 1941. She’s probably been in more comics than every superhero outside of Batman, Spider-Man and Superman, and she’s likely to be the first or only female hero that everyone mentions by name. As much as I love the Marvel women, I know that none of them come close.
But how close do they come? I figured I might as well put my love of ridiculously over-the-top spreadsheets to some good use to determine the answer.
I first decided on the Marvel heroines to focus on. I selected: Black Cat, Black Widow, Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers), Dazzler, Elektra, Emma Frost, Invisible Woman, Jean Grey, Jubilee, Kitty Pryde, Mystique, Rogue, Scarlet Witch, She-Hulk (Jennifer Walters), Spider-Girl (May “Mayday” Parker), Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew), Storm and Wasp.
These characters were chosen because they are were either Marvel’s first heroines in the ’60s, have had massive media exposure in film or television, or have headlined long-running ongoing series or a ton of mini-series. X-23 was included on this list until I crunched the numbers and saw she had the lowest total. I wanted to keep it an even 18.
I then determined which areas of pop culture to examine. I chose comics, video games, television (including TV movies, motion comics and direct-to-DVD movies) and film. I gathered data from Comic Book DB, IMDB, Box Office Mojo and Wikipedia. Then I made spreadsheets. With a lot of data. A lot. Here are the results.
PART 1: COMICS
Any issue of a comic book that the character headlined or co-headlined counts. For example, Storm’s four-issue limited series from 1994 counts, as do the four issues of the 1983 limited series “Magik: Storm & Illyana.” Her appearances in team books, however, do not. Team books were excluded because I wanted to measure the character’s ability to draw readers in based on her involvement alone (or partnered with one other character). Comics are but a fraction of our popular culture, so each character’s total number of issues only counts as 15% of their final score. Here are the top five entries:
1. TIE: She-Hulk, Spider-Girl (May Parker) – 146 comics – 21.9 points
2. Elektra – 98 comics – 14.7 points
3. Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) – 83 comics – 12.45 points
4. Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) – 63 comics – 9.45 points
5. Black Widow – 55 comics – 8.25 points
And the bottom three:
16. Jean Grey – 13 comics – 1.95 points
17. Jubilee – 10 comics – 1.5 points
18. Invisible Woman – 1 comic – 0.15 points
She-Hulk and Spider-Girl have both had epic runs of their ongoing series; “Sensational She-Hulk” lasted 60 issues and “Spider-Girl” for 101. Elektra’s had two ongoings (one in 1996 and the other in 2001) and a ton of mini-series, which got her to third place. Carol Danvers is currently on her third ongoing, “Captain Marvel,” and the majority of Spider-Woman’s issues come from her long-running 1978 series.
Of the 18 characters, 10 were given an ongoing series (Spider-Woman, Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Spider-Girl, Rogue, She-Hulk, Emma Frost, Elektra, Mystique, Dazzler). On average they lasted 30 issues. As impressive as She-Hulk and Spider-Girl are, though, they are nothing compared to Wonder Woman, who has roughly 676 single issues to her name.
PART 2: VIDEO GAMES
Video games are pretty popular. Did you all know that? Judging by my young nephews’ habits, they play video games way more than they read comics. For that reason, video game appearances count 20%. Video games where the character appeared as a playable character were weighted heavier than those where they were non-playable (and were sometimes actual damsels in distress, as Kitty Pryde was in Konami’s “X-Men” arcade game). Here are the top five entries:
1. Storm – 17 playable, 6 non-playable – 8 points
2. Jean Grey – 10 playable, 5 non-playable – 5 points
3. Rogue – 7 playable, 7 non-playable – 4.2 points
4. Invisible Woman – 9 playable, 1 non-playable – 3.9 points
5. Black Widow – 7 playable, 5 non-playable – 3.8 points
And here are the bottom three:
16. Wasp – 2 playable, 1 non-playable – 1 point
17. Jubilee – 1 playable, 2 non-playable – 0.8 points
18. Spider-Girl – 1 playable – 0.4 points
If a video game is set in the Marvel Universe, Storm is there. This is actually where Black Cat made an impact, as she appeared in a total of 11 video games (4 playable, 7 non). A Marvel heroine is more likely to be included as a playable character than as a non-playable one, but not by much. These characters were playable an average of 60% of the time, and non-playable an average of 42% of the time.
Wonder Woman does okay here, with 4 playable and 4 non. Judging by this, it looks like DC hasn’t been as aggressive as Marvel in their video game pursuits.
PART 3: TELEVISION
With more comic book cartoons being rolled out every year and the profitability of live-action films making live-action TV series desirable again, appearing on television is huge. Heck, every Marvel cartoon is available on Netflix, guaranteeing a whole new generation is discovering Ms. Lion, Spider-Man’s most grating sidekick. Each episode of a TV series (both live-action and animated), direct-to-DVD feature, TV movie and motion comic was counted, and that total counts 25% towards their score. Here are the top five entries:
1. Jean Grey – 126 episodes – 31.5 points
2. Rogue – 113 episodes – 28.25 points
3. Storm – 109 episodes – 27.25 points
4. Invisible Woman – 91 episodes – 22.75
5. Jubilee – 84 episodes – 21 points
And here are the bottom three:
16. Spider-Woman – 17 episodes – 4.25 points
17. Dazzler – 3 episodes – 0.75 points
18. TIE: Elektra, Spider-Girl – 0 episodes – 0 points
It’s pretty obvious which Marvel franchise has had the most legs when it comes to animation. Jean Grey’s starring placement in “X-Men: Evolution” gives her the edge on her teammates. Wasp and Captain Marvel have respectable showings (8 and 9, respectively) thanks to recent starring roles in “The Super Hero Squad Show” and “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.”
But this is another category where Wonder Woman comes out on top. She has 196 episodes spread out over 40 years, including 59 episodes of a live-action series and 73 episodes of various iterations of “Super Friends.” All of Marvel’s animation is team-based, meaning that characters only get screen time if it’s their team’s show. With the “Super Friends” and “Justice League” franchises, DC has been able to push any character they want to the fore.
PART 4: FILM
There’s still a bit of a stigma associated with watching superhero cartoons, even if shows like “Young Justice” prove that compelling storytelling isn’t limited to live-action. But there is no stigma to seeing a comic book movie. In fact, it’s almost become a national pastime at this point. Because of all of this, the films’ domestic gross counts 40%. Since only half of these women have even had substantial film roles, here’s the entire list:
1. Black Widow – $935,791,241 – 37.43 points
2. Mystique – $753,020,178 – 30.12 points
3. TIE: Jean Grey, Rogue, Storm – $606,611,873 – 24.26 points
4. Invisible Woman – $286,617,818 – 11.46 points
5. Kitty Pryde – $234,362,462 – 9.37 points
6. Emma Frost – $146,408,305 – 5.86 points
7. Elektra – $126,953,240 – 5.08 points
Having substantial roles in “Iron Man 2” and “Marvel’s The Avengers” makes Black Widow the clear champion here. The insanely successful “X-Men” trilogy gets the franchise’s ladies placed next, with Mystique getting a boost thanks to starring in “X-Men: First Class.” Invisible Woman comes in next, with her two film appearances barely outdoing Kitty Pryde’s lone one in “X-Men: The Last Stand” (her unnamed cameos in the first two X-Men films are not counted; this is also why Jubilee is not on this list). Saddest of all is Elektra, who was the only one to get her own movie. But even when added to “Daredevil’s” haul, the combined total falls short.
This is where Wonder Woman’s absence is felt. Outside of a TV movie in 1974 and an animated one in 2009, Wonder Woman has been left out of the Hollywood spotlight.
1. Storm – 62.96 points
2. Jean Grey – 62.71 points
3. Rogue – 59.71 points
4. Black Widow – 53.98 points
5. Mystique – 47.12 points
6. Invisible Woman – 38.26 points
7. Kitty Pryde – 32.42 points
8. She-Hulk – 31.25 points
9. Captain Marvel – 25.40 points
10. Scarlet Witch – 25.35 points
11. Jubilee – 22.30 points
12. Spider-Girl – 22.30 points
13. Elektra – 22.18 points
14. Wasp – 18.85 points
15. Emma Frost – 17.31 points
16. Spider-Woman – 15.30 points
17. Black Cat – 13.75 points
18. Dazzler – 8.80 points
It comes as no surprise that Storm is on top. The real surprise is just how close Jean Grey is (that TV popularity helped). This is by no means a foolproof measurement, but I think it’s fairly correct in measuring just how recognizable all of these characters are to the general population. Black Widow’s solid standing shows that Marvel is dedicated to spreading the attention around (makes sense, since Fox owns the X-Men film rights). Wonder Woman herself earned 152.8 points, though, thanks to the mountain of comic book and television appearances she has.
So if Storm is Marvel’s Wonder Woman, what does that mean? Whereas with DC Comics, most people will likely name Wonder Woman third (after Superman and Batman), I can’t imagine the same is true of Storm and Marvel characters. Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man. All of those boys come before Storm.
Marvel should realize the unique position they’re in by having Storm as their leading lady. First, she’s a person of color, making her a phenomenal role model for kids who don’t see themselves in most heroes on TV. Second, her origin isn’t story isn’t filled with outdated gender stereotypes and she’s never been primarily known as any man’s partner. She has a healthy body image, a notoriously strong will and is a competent leader who commands respect. Finally, she has a unique and powerful set of abilities that lend themselves well to animation or live-action. There should be more Storm.
Whatever Bryan Singer does with “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” making a solo Storm film viable should be a main priority for both him and Fox. On top of that, it’s about time for her to have an ongoing series as well, or at least a high profile mini-series or prominent placement in the next crossover (her involvement in “Avengers vs. X-Men” centered around her marriage, sheesh).
Marvel has an incredible cast of female heroes, and it’s a shame that none of them are as synonymous with the company as Wonder Woman is with DC. Storm is ready to go, Marvel. Give her attention.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre show Left Handed Radio: The Sequel Machine. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).