Riot GRRRLS: 15 Times Super Women Fought Back

Gail Simone has achieved a lot in the comic book industry, and that success has afforded her the opportunity to speak out about something that many creators and fans find troubling in the industry. We are of course talking about “Women in Refrigerators." This problem involves women in comic books as victims – whether that is a means to a man saving them or gaining revenge for them, or as a plot device to make them more “sympathetic.” The theme earned its name thanks to Green Lantern (Vo. 3) #54 where Major Force kills Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend Alex DeWitt and stuffs her in the refrigerator. With that in mind, creators began to find ways to strengthen female characters in reaction to this disturbing trend.

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There have been moments, even before the infamous Alex DeWitt murder, when women rebounded from their own “fridging” moments and become stronger than ever, with Barbara Gordon as a perfect example. Simone has pointed out Barbara as a significant moment where comics destroyed a strong female character just to give the men a reason to fight. However, over the years, there have been many women who faced this issue and rebounded to prove that a good woman won’t stay down.


Barbara Gordon remains the most prominent example of the Women in Refrigerators phenomenon. Batgirl was one of the most influential female superheroes in comics, and The Killing Joke used her as a plot device for the war between Batman and The Joker. In the book, Joker shot her, resulting in her paralysis. The book then went one step too far when Joker sent photos of Barbara to her father, hinting that a sexual assault also took place.

It was horrific and destroyed the strong Batgirl character. However, Barbara Gordon not only fought back, she became Oracle, the head of a superhero communications network who, given her connections, had more power than almost anyone on Earth. Oracle also conducted her work from a wheelchair, showing that not only could a female "run the show," but a disabled woman could do it as well.


The Netflix series Jessica Jones took the most influential story from the character’s comic book story and brought it to the small screen. In the pages of Marvel Comics, Jones started out as a second-rate superhero named Jewel, but then one event in her life caused changes that made her a strong, determined hero. Her moment came when she faced Killgrave, who had the power to control others' minds.

Killgrave (portrayed in the Netflix series by David Tennant) uses his powers to enslave Jessica Jones, forcing her to help him commit crimes and then forcing her to watch as he abused other women against their will. Told in the pages of Alias (Vol. 1) #24-28, Jones finally stood up to the man who ruined her life for eight months and gave him a beating he would never forget.


The Black Cat has always been a bit of a cliched female antihero. Most artists portray her in revealing costumes, and many writers point out her sexuality, especially her lustful attraction towards Spider-Man. However, Kevin Smith tried to dig a little deeper into the character of Felicia Hardy with his miniseries Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil that Men Do.

It was the second half of the series that delved into what made Black Cat so ferocious. When talking to the villain of the series, a teleporter named Francis, Felicia learns that the evil Mr. Brownstone was sexually abusing Francis for years, and caused Francis to seek vengeance. That is when Felicia admits that, while in college, she herself was assaulted, and she set out to make sure that no one would ever hurt her again. It was heavy-handed and it remains a contentious character moment for fans, but many fans also thought it added a new depth to Felicia, as someone who survived the experience and persisted.


One of the most shocking moments in Marvel Comics history came when Hank Pym continued to lose his grip on sanity and lashed out at his wife, The Wasp. The moment, as captured in The Avengers #213. Sadly, the artist of the issue, Bob Hall, misinterpreted the moment from this issue that was meant to be an accidental hit and drew Hank Pym slapping his wife, who was wearing a nightie. The incident labeled Pym as a “wife beater” for many years.

However, Marvel Comics then took Wasp and turned her into one of the most influential members of The Avengers. By The Avengers #217, she was separated from Pym and became the leader of the Avengers team. Wasp even adds more women to the group and becomes one of their most accomplished leaders during her tenure with the group.


Jumping into the realm of movies, Tim Burton brought Catwoman into the modern Batman movie world in Batman Returns. In this story, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) was not a cat burglar by trade to start the movie, but a  secretary to the corrupt Max Shreck (Christopher Walken). However, when she learns of his evil plans, he pushes her out of his high-rise office window – a fall that should have killed her.

However, somehow, a group of cats surrounds her, and she ends up alive, but with a warped personality. She dons the vinyl catsuit and seeks vengeance against Max Shreck, as well as anyone else she believed hurt her. While she is perceived as a villain for a time while she works with (read: uses) Penguin, she finally gains revenge against Shreck and ends up the only major supervillain in Burton’s movies to survive through to the end.


Elektra has different origin stories, depending on the media, be it in comic books, in movies, or checking out her appearance on the Daredevil Netflix series. However, in most cases, Elektra is a woman with a troubled childhood that finds people using her to achieve their plans. In terms of her origin as a fighter, Elektra was trained by the enigmatic Stick, but the Hand used her until she stood up to them and pushed back.

In both the movie and the second season of Daredevil on Netflix, Elektra finally turns on her handlers and helps Daredevil fight the good fight until – in both cases – she dies in front of Daredevil. Interestingly, in both the movies and Netflix series, Elektra is resurrected and continues to fight. Elektra is a perfect example of a woman who will never stop fighting, even after death.


The case of The Invisible Woman is a slightly controversial one. Yes, Susan Storm stood up and fought back against stereotypes, but she did it in a very stereotypical way; then, Marvel retconned the reason for her change. The good news is that most of the changes stuck – with a few essential tweaks – and the Invisible Girl became a woman.

Initially, a villain known as Psycho-Man gained control of Susan’s mind and turned her into the evil Malice. Sue fought back and won, changing her name to The Invisible Woman in Fantastic Four #284. Interestingly, years later a costume change accompanied a new shift in attitude in Fantastic Four #371, where Sue claimed she was tired of her conservative look. It took 16 issues for Storm to ditch the swimsuit costume that she switched to, and it turned out it was Psycho-Man’s mind control once again that caused her new attitude.


From 2006-2007, DC Comics started an interesting experiment when they eliminated Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman from the action and launched their weekly series titled 52. These comics gave DC a chance to work with some minor heroes and villains and created some great stories, with work on Black Adam and the Elongated Man being just two of the highlights (and arguably part of the reason both are now appearing on-screen in some fashion). However, another storyline centered on former Gotham City police officer Renee Montoya.

Montoya had quit the police force and withdrew into alcoholism. In 52, she was at a low point, but that is when The Question stepped in to try to help her. Montoya finds herself once again as they try to stop an intergang invasion of Gotham City and when The Question dies, Montoya takes on his costume and persona and discovers her new purpose in life.


Patsy Walker was a young girl who convinced The X-Men's Beast to train her as a superhero, after which she began working with The Avengers. Over the years, she gained prominence as a member of the group, as well as its sister team (of sorts), The  Defenders. It was here that Marvel Comics chose to place her in a romantic relationship with Daimon Hellstrom – the Son of Satan. This moment marked the downfall of Patsy Walker. After they married in Defenders #125, the couple left the team and started working as investigators.

At this point, Daimon started to succumb to his demonic side, and it drove Hellcat insane. Finally, in Hellstorm: Prince of Lies #14, Patsy Walker took her own life. It was a terrible moment, with Patsy withering away while Daimon neglected her. That made his attempt to resurrect her even worse. Patsy came back against her will and remained despondent. After helping save Earth from a Dormammu invasion (Hellcat #3), Patsy found her purpose in life and returned to her role as a superhero.


One of the more intriguing stories in Guardians of the Galaxy is the relationship between “sisters” Nebula and Gamora. Two girls captured and raised as the children of Thanos, each underwent different experiences while under the reign of the alien. Gamora was the prized pupil, a warrior above all others. Nebula was often punished and had body parts replaced by robotic limbs every time she lost.

However, by the time Guardians of the Galaxy took place, both women chose to turn on Thanos, seeking revenge against the monster who molded them into weapons. Gamora, after a tumultuous time as a bounty hunter, became a founding member of the Guardians. Meanwhile, Nebula pledged to bring down Thanos her way, more as an anti-hero than an actual hero. Both women will prepare to battle Thanos when the Infinity War begins.


Hit-Girl never needed a reason to kill. From the start -- thanks to the training by her father, Big Daddy -- the two became costumed vigilantes who had no problem using lethal force to stop any villains that crossed their paths. Of course, it was very uncomfortable for many fans, of the Mark Millar comics and in the Kick-Ass movies, to see a young child swearing and killing, but it was that same ferocity that endeared her to such a wide audience.

However, it looked like Hit-Girl took a blow that she might not recover from when an attack against a notorious crime boss went wrong, and Big Daddy ended up dead. However, despite her young age and now lack of a parental figure, Hit-Girl rose up, killing the man who murdered her father as well as everyone else in his mafia organization. She then went on to become arguably the franchise's most impactful hero... even if she is a little terrifying.


When Buffy Summers moved to Sunnydale, she wanted nothing more than to be a regular teenage high school student, shopping and hanging out with her friends. However, that was not her calling and fate determined that Buffy Summers would become Buffy the Vampire Slayer – The Chosen One. While she was resistant at first to the training by her Watcher, Giles, soon things started to happen to her friends and family that forced her to stand up and fight.

On the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, she lost her great love in Angel, her mother Joyce, and almost lost her closest friends in Willow and Xander. It wasn’t until Buffy started to take her destiny seriously that she was able to finally turn back the evil from the Hellmouth and save the world.


Logan brought X-23 to life and did it in a very believable way. Much like the Marvel Comics version, X-23 was genetically modified with the powers of Wolverine, although when it came time to fight, she proved to be a strong match for the X-Man. In Logan, it wasn’t just X-23 that Essex (instead of Weapon X) created, the entire installation actually included a large number of children, all given powers of various mutants from the X-Men universe.

When given a chance, X-23 escaped from custody and helped free as many of the other kids as she could. While she hid out for a time, when Logan found her and needed help, X-23 refused to stand down and rose to fight alongside her “father.” Even when Wolverine dies, X-23 has developed into such a great hero that she helped lead the other kids to safety and a possible future.


There is this ridiculous the idea that women are the “weaker” sex. That was something that Marvel’s Agent Carter explored in its criminally short-lived ABC series. Taking place after World War II, the series follows a time where the discrimination of women was much more blatant, though no less pervasive, than it is now. When it comes to standing up and fighting, it is not always a supervillain that knocks super women down; sometimes it is the very society they are trying to protect.

Looking at the workplace of the SSR -- the precursor to S.H.I.E.L.D. -- it was clear that the men there considered themselves above Agent Carter, despite her military accolades and her clearly superior competency. Her bosses held her back with her successes often credited to male officers, but over the series, Carter proved to everyone that she was the brains and muscle behind the very formation of S.H.I.E.L.D.


It wasn’t men that held down Princess Diana of Paradise Island. It was her mother, Queen Hippolyta. She knew that Diana was more than human, with the bloodline from the greatest of the Greek Gods. She also knew that if Diana was to exhibit her powers to the world, it would lead the last remaining God, the evil Ares, to Diana, and that could mark the end of the world. However, Diana knew that people needed help and became a hero.

The change happened when Steve Trevor ended up on the island. After explaining to Diana that there was a World War and a weapon capable of destroying the world, Diana knew that she needed to step up and fight Ares to save the world. Wonder Woman remains the highlight of the DCEU so far, thanks to scenes like “No Man’s Land,” where Wonder Woman became the most celebrated hero on the planet. And rightfully so.

Which was your favorite moment from these fierce female furies? Let us know in the comments!

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