SPOILER WARNING: A few of these entries contain spoilers to recent comic book storylines.
According to Rule 63, there will be a female version of every male character that exists (and vice versa) knocking around somewhere in the darkest corners of the Internet, whether as part of official canon or depicted in a piece fan art or fiction. Although we can’t say for certain that it’s proven correct in every case, it certainly appears to be true in the comic book world!
CBR has gathered together a list of 15 of our favourite gender swaps from comics great and small. Some are good, some are bad, and some… well, some are downright laughable! Check out the list below to see if your favourite made the grade:
When it was announced back in 2014 that Thor would be deemed unworthy of wielding Mjolnir (the mythical hammer that grants him all the powers of the God of Thunder) and would be replaced by a mysterious female character who would take up his super-powered duties in his stead, large portions of the comic book community erupted in outrage.
Writer Jason Aaron has justified the change on a number of occasions and explained that the decision is not just a gimmick, but the proof, as they say, is in the pudding… and the new “Thor” comics showed us all that Goddess of Thunder (later revealed to be none other than Jane Foster, Thor’s long-term love interest) kicks just as much ass as her male counterpart.
But wait: this isn’t the first time Thor has become one of the so-called gentler sex! In the Earth-9997 timeline, Loki talks his adopted father Odin into teaching Thor a lesson in humility, which results in Thor being transformed into a woman. Safe to say, it doesn’t slow her up at all: she continues kicking ass as part of the Avengers, showing that you can’t keep a good woman down (especially when she’s got a magic hammer).
It’s worth pointing out that Thor’s not the only Asgardian to have changed genders. After Ragnarok (the equivalent of the apocalypse in this Norse-inspired mythology) leaves his sky-city in ruins, the all-powerful Thor is left the incomparable challenge of rounding up his fellow gods – who are currently residing in the subconscious minds of worthy humans – and restoring them to their former bodies. That’s when he comes across Loki, in the body of his former lover Lady Sif.
Although Loki keeps his real identity a secret and manages to fool everyone into trusting him (her?), the extent of his trickery is soon revealed. While in his female form, Loki has travelled back in time, killed Odin’s father, arranged for Odin to adopt him, convinced the Asgardians that Beta Ray Bill is a shapeshifting Skrull, and basically gotten a lot of enjoyment out of inhabiting the body of his brother’s ex-bo. Oh, and he also imprisoned the real Sif in the body of an elderly woman so that he could carry out his plan. Pretty devious stuff, but what else would you expect from the God of Mischief?
13 Iron Man
In one of the most interesting successions in recent history, Marvel announced a few months back that Tony Stark has hung up his rocket-powered boots for good, to be replaced by a teenage whizz-kid, RiRi Williams, under the new name of “Ironheart.” Like Tony, RiRi is super-smart (apparently even smarter than Tony is), as well as being a talented engineer and inventor. She’s also black and female, which is obviously a huge win for those who want greater diversity in the comic book world. Although some fans feared she might be a gimmick, the new Iron Man seems as if she’ll be at least as interesting as the old one.
Now I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t RiRi look sort-of familiar? Well, yes, she probably does. That’s because she’s already made her debut in “Invincible Iron Man” #12 as an MIT prodigy who reverse-engineered one of Tony’s Iron Man suits and used it to prevent a prison break. If that’s not enough to convince you that she’s a worthy candidate to carry on the Iron Man legacy, then I’m not sure what is!
12 Captain America
The alternate reality known both as MC2 and Earth-982 is very similar to the main Marvel comics universe, but with one important difference: it’s about 15 years ahead of its counterpart, meaning that many of the heroes we all know and love have gotten old and/or died, being replaced by younger models who are most often the children of the originals. That’s not always the case though, as Shannon Carter proves.
Carter is the niece of Peggy Carter (yes, that Peggy Carter) who comes to live with her aunt after a horrific car crash kills her parents and leaves her in a wheelchair. Rather than become a victim, Carter takes her aunt’s stories of Captain America's heroism to heart and decides that she wants to become just like him. Although she starts out as nothing more than a fan-girl, assuming the name “American Dream” and a suit just like her idol’s, she ends up being so much more than that: she becomes the leader of A-Next (her universe’s Avengers), fights alongside the real thing and is even given Cap’s infamous round shield as a gift for being so awesome. She might not have superpowers per se, but she’s still pretty darn super in CBR’s eyes!
Although most of the gender swaps on this list are pretty innocent, the replacement of the villain Electro (aka Max Dillon) with Francine Frye is a whole lot more sinister. And why? Because Francine gains her new powers by murdering her predecessor. With a kiss.
Anyone familiar with Francine’s history in “Amazing Spider-Man” will know that she started out as a mega-fan with a bad-boy fetish, befriending Electro and then trying to become his girlfriend (y’know, like you do when you know someone could kill you without breaking a sweat). However, due to the fact Electro was losing control of his powers, he accidentally fried her when she tried to kiss him… something which has tortured the character ever since.
Francine was later resurrected by Jackal in the hopes that she might be able to restore Electro’s powers… and she does, but not in the way Jackal or the original Electro expect! Instead of powering Dillon up, she takes his powers for herself and kills him in the exact same way he once killed her. Well, that’s karma for you!
10 Dr. Octopus
You may or may not have heard of Carolyn Trainer, but if not, you might want to familiarize yourself. Sometimes known as Lady Octopus, Carolyn is the daughter of Seward Trainer (the employee of the original Doc Oc, Otto Octavius), who decided to take up her mentor’s mantle after he was slain by Kain during the Clone Saga. Although she started out as a direct succession story, using the original name and wearing a four-pronged tentacle suit just like the one the Doc wore, she later helped to resurrect her teacher and faded back into semi-obscurity for a while as he assumed his original role.
However, it seems Marvel wasn’t quite finished with her, as she has since developed some pretty significant daddy issues and has gone on to take on several notable heroes in her new guise as Lady Octopus including Captain America, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Mockingbird, Ronin and the Fantastic Four. She also got an awesome new suit upgrade, courtesy of Lucia Von Bardas and the Tinkerer. Not bad for a one-time evil apprentice!
When DC’s Hawk & Dove first debuted during the Silver Age of Comics, they were a pair of teenage brothers whose opposing characteristics were a crude allegory for the political divides of the ‘60s, but it’s fair to say they’ve come a long way since then. Multiple characters have worn the respective titles of Hawk and Dove at one time or another, and the legacy has been wrought with tragedies (including deaths, resurrections, and the odd descent into madness and villainy), but arguably the best combination of characters to make up the duo thus far has been Hank Hall as Hawk and Dawn Granger as Dove.
Dawn first joined the team as Dove back in the ‘80s after Don Hall was killed in “Crisis on Infinite Earths” #12, thanks to the inspiration of Karl and Barbara Kesel, who decided that introducing a female Dove would help to counterbalance the aggressive masculinity of Hawk. The Kesels gave the pair a cool origin story for their powers (in short, they were granted by the Lord of Order and Chaos) and managed to appeal to the masses in ways the comic never had before. Although Dawn’s run ended in 1991, she did return in cameo format during major events as well as appearing in a short-lived comeback title during the New 52 era. She also remains as the longest-serving Dove and, let’s face it, by far the coolest to date.
8 The Shield
Archie Comics’ version of the Shield is your typical hero – white, male, buff and all too willing to protect the ol’ red, white and blue from the bad guys – which is partly why the character’s reimagining under the Dark Circle Comics banner in 2015 has been so satisfying. Thanks to Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig, the Shield has been given a whole new lease of life as Victoria Adams, who is a character unlike any of her predecessors.
Christopher describes the newest character to take on the Shield mantle as “a very powerful, very modern superhero,” which, as he rightly notes, is something to celebrate. However, the gender swap isn’t the only interesting thing about the Shield: although she has a clear affinity for helping others in need, she doesn't know who she is, how she was made or what she is supposed to do now. In fact, apart from a few allusions to her mysterious past through memories and such, the audience is left as clueless about her origins as she is herself, which makes for a pretty fascinating read.
7 Captain Marvel
A number of different people have held the title of Captain Marvel over the years, including Monica Rambeau (who has also used the names Photon, Pulsar and Spectrum), Carol Danvers (the long-time super-heroine once known as Ms. Marvel), and Janet van Dyne (aka the Wasp) as part of an alternative timeline, meaning Captain Marvel is probably one of the most heavily gender-swapped characters of all time. She's even been species-swapped, as the original male Captain Marvel was Mar-Vell, a Kree.
It’s fair to say that each of the female characters to take on the Captain Marvel mantle has brought something new to the table, but Rambeau and Danvers are arguably the most significant: Rambeau, for instance, was the first black African American woman to lead the Avengers back in 1982, while Danvers renewed the character’s popularity by bringing over the Ms. Marvel audience and turning her into one of Marvel’s biggest female superheroes. Now that’s what I call girl power!
6 Guy Gardner
Aside from Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner is probably the best-known of the characters who have stepped into the role of Green Lantern over the years: he’s been featured alongside various heroes throughout the DC universe and was even given his own series. However, since the intervention of Steve Englehart and Joe Staton back in the ‘80s, there are many fans who would argue that Guy’s character has turned into an ultra-macho, egotistical jerk in desperate need of an attitude adjustment.
Dementor clearly thought so. In “Warrior” #42, the villain decides to attack Gardner in the weirdest way possible: by turning him from a guy into a gal. Although this gender reversal was soon corrected with the help of Martika, it’s fair to say that the female Gardner looked disturbingly good in that dressing gown, which may explain the character’s re-emergence in “Justice League 3001” #1.
Guy’s insistence that he is a man in a woman’s body makes an interesting change from straight-up gender swaps and leads to some pretty hilarious dialogue (including a clearly uncomfortable alternate version of Superman dropping the sexist nugget that “once a man starts using feminine hygiene products, he’s not a man anymore.”). If you’ve not come across this yet, it’s well worth a read!
5 Matter-Eater Lad and Color Kid
Portraying gender as a disease is a bit of a strange way to go about a sex-change episode, but that’s exactly what DC Comics did with the Legion of Superheroes during the Silver Age of Comics. Both Matter-Eater Lad and Color Kid underwent short-term gender reversals at different times that resulted from being quite literally “infected” with femininity, setting gender equality back a few decades in a few short issues.
In “Legionnaires” #13-#14, Matter-Eater Lad is infected with “Grandin Gender Reversal Disease” and becomes Matter-Eater Lass and the result is as cringeworthy as you would expect. Matter-Eater Lass uses her new-found powers to try and infiltrate a gang of female pirates, resulting in all the usual predictable shenanigans. Then, in “Legion of Substitute Heroes Special” #1, Color Kid is accidentally infected with the same disease by the unfortunately-named Infectious Lass (whose only superpower is the ability to produce germs, making her character lame and gross in equal measure) and awakes the next day as Color Queen. Funnily enough, it turns out a change in gender doesn’t really impact on your ability to change the color of stuff. Who knew? Thankfully, none of these changes stuck for long.
Since debuting with Image Comics in 1992, Youngblood has divided its readers, with some calling it out for its poor writing and inconsistent art and others celebrating the strangeness and diversity of its characters. Regardless of which side of the divide you fall on, you can probably agree that the weirdest and most wonderful of these characters is Photon, the silver-skinned, blue-haired pyrokinetic humanoid alien whose gender was changed as part of Rob Liefeld’s 2012 reboot of the series.
Unlike most of the other entries on this list, Photon does not change sex as a result of magical intervention or get replaced by another person of a different gender as part of a now-standard superhero succession – it’s a whole lot stranger than that. As a member of an alien race known as the Acurans, Photon is not only able to change his/her sex naturally, but routinely does so every seven years. Although the female Photon is just as cold and obtuse as ever, this change has opened up new possibilities for storylines (as well as some pretty raunchy cosplay!)… only time will tell how good those storylines turn out to be, though.
Ever wanted to see Deadpool with a ponytail? Then pop on over to Marvel’s alternate reality, Earth-3010, and meet Wanda Wilson, the female equivalent of everyone’s favourite Merc with a Mouth. Like the original, she’s sassy, quippy and more than okay with getting her hands dirty on the promise of some good food. However, unlike him, she doesn’t have to worry about being taken down by a shot to the crotch.
She first came face to face with her male counterpart in 2010’s “Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth” #7, when the Earth-616 Wade Wilson crossed dimensions – along with his trusty zombified and decapitated head, Headpool – and helped her take on the evil General America, the patriot-turned-loyalist intent on turning the USA into a fascist state with the help of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the robot Sentinels. Although she later joined the Deadpool Corps. and got to go on a lot of bad-ass adventures, her run was rather short-lived as she got killed off in “Deadpool Kills Deadpool” #3 three years later. Still, it was pretty cool seeing Deadpool get a gender makeover while it lasted!
2 Archie and the Gang
Despite its lack of super-powered characters, dastardly villains and cartoon violence, Archie is one of America’s longest-running and best-loved comics, having celebrated its 75th anniversary earlier this year. It’s true that Archie and the gang’s “adventures” are usually limited to romantic blunders and social mishaps, but that doesn’t mean the writers can’t mix it up a little every once in a while… and what better way to mix it up than making Archie a girl?
That’s exactly what happens in “The Great Switcheroo” (“Archie” #636): Archie and the rest of Riverdale get gender-swapped by Salem, the talking cat owned by Sabrina the teenage witch (remember them?), in order to teach them all a lesson about gender roles and assumptions. Not that a lot changes: Jughead becomes J.J., but is still obsessed with food. Josie and the Pussycats become Joey and the Junkyard Dogs, but still know how to rock out, Reggie becomes Regina, the hottest (and meanest) girl in school… you get the idea.
Although the examination of gender is rather superficial – men can be creeps, it’s hard to walk in high heels, etc. – writers Tania Del Rio and Gisele Lagace still managed to use the storyline to send a positive message: your gender can only dictate your personality if you let it. For that, CBR gives it a thumbs-up.
Ever since Laura Kinney (aka X-23) first appeared in the "X-Men: Evolution" animated series in the early ‘00s as a bad-ass genetic twin of Logan, comic book fans who saw her character’s potential wanted to see what she was capable of. She may have started out as a straight-up villain created by the Weapon X project, but in the years since, we’ve seen her cast aside her old role of lapdog-assassin for the villainous Facility and become closer to Wolverine and the X-Men team, forming the sort of dysfunctional family we’d all secretly like to be part of (I mean, y’know, if we had superpowers).
So after Logan’s death by adamantium coating in the 2014 “Death of Wolverine” story arc, it seemed only fitting that X-23 took up her mentor’s mantle, costume and codename to continue the Wolverine legacy in “All-New Wolverine.” The resulting comics have been gritty, fast-paced and full to bursting with the all-out action and angst we associate with everyone’s favourite clawed Canadian. Although it’s not infeasible that Marvel will find a way to resurrect Logan, which may see X-23 stepping aside, Tom Taylor and David Lopez deserve a lot of credit for making this gender transition so successful.
Can you think of any other comic gender swaps that should have made the list? Let us know in the comments below!