Tag Archives: Women in Comics

Bros Before Rogues: Is the X-Men Franchise Getting Worse at Representing X-Women?

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by Nicholas DiSabatino (guest contributor)

When Bryan Singer announced back in December that Anna Paquin’s scenes as Rogue in the forthcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past were cut, I was devastated. It’s hard when your favorite character is taken out of a movie (even if it was probably only one scene).  When the new issue of Empire Magazine came out last month featuring Rogue on one of the limited edition covers, Singer had to clarify that “it does not mean that we won’t see her in the film.”  A part of me gets it. This story is more focused on the First Class actors and not necessarily the original franchise actors. But then, I wonder, why even announce to the public they’re appearing in the film and include them in the promotional materials (including the first trailer), if they’re to be cut out during the editing process?

Over the weekend, rumors about Halle Berry’s Storm being reduced to just one scene flooded the internet. It was reported by the NY Daily News, so take that with a grain of salt. I’m not necessarily convinced, but if it does turn out to be true that will mean that X-Men: Days of Future Past will have cut two of the only five women characters out of a film with sixteen male characters in it.

That’s insane…

We already know that Kitty Pryde (the focal point of the Days of Future Past storyline in the comics) is being replaced by Wolverine. And while the writers have already explained that it wouldn’t make sense for Kitty to time travel to the 1970’s because she wouldn’t have been born yet, it still reeks of yet another X-Men movie where Wolverine has to take the reins from the other characters. Blink, while a nice addition to the series, probably won’t have much screen time or lines for that matter, leaving only Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique as the only female lead in a movie truly filled with X-Men.

This entire situation has led me to reexamine the representation of the X-Women in the X-Men movies, and it turns out, it isn’t pretty. Let’s break it down film by film.

X-Men (2000)

The first baby in the franchise that started it all. Anna Paquin’s Rogue definitely has the most screen time and is a crucial part of the story. And while fans have complained that her Rogue is really just a hodgepodge of Jubilee and Kitty Pryde, I do believe that Paquin brought a great sense of vulnerability to the role. Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey probably has the next amount of screen time, followed by Halle Berry’s Storm. Rebecca Romijn has one line in the film, yet gets a variety of eye-candy fight scenes (why is she naked exactly?).

We also see a very small cameo by Kitty Pryde. This film shows a lot of promise and room for growth in the ladies and their characterizations.

X2: X-Men United (2003)

 We see shades of that growth in Mystique and Jean Grey in this next movie. Mystique tells Nightcrawler that mutants shouldn’t have to hide when he asks her why she just wouldn’t always stay in disguise. The writers still don’t know what to do with Storm and she spends the majority of the film piloting the Blackbird with her large white eyes commanding the weather as opposed to actually getting out in the sky and flying. Rogue’s still the damsel in distress and only gets to use her powers twice throughout the whole film (one time is only kissing Ice Man for god’s sake). Jean sacrifices herself to save the team at Alkali Lake giving us the promise of the Phoenix in the third film. This time we have more cameos from Kitty Pryde, Jubilee, and Siryn. Lady Deathstrike fills the role Mystique had in the first movie, with an epic fight scene with Wolverine, and again, only one line.

X-Men : The Last Stand (2006)

This movie had maybe the most female characters, yet didn’t seem to know what the hell to do with them.  Kitty Pryde was finally given the chance to become a part of the team with the excellent casting of Ellen Page, yet her storyline revolved around a love triangle between her, Ice Man, and Rogue. Paquin’s Rogue was relegated to the background and given the ridiculous storyline of taking the mutant cure because boo woo she can’t kiss her boyfriend? She displays her powers only once (Colossus saves her in the Danger Room from getting crushed by some falling debris)—making Rogue the perennial victim of the X-Men franchise, despite Paquin’s best efforts to give the character some depth, the writers clearly didn’t know what to do with her. Storm becomes the reluctant leader of the X-Men after the deaths of Xavier and Cyclops and finally gets to fly, yet somehow, it still feels like Wolverine’s in charge. (The wigs for Berry just keep getting worse.)

Jean Grey’s Dark Phoenix storyline had so much potential and then was wasted away with a pointless death of not only her, but of Xavier and Cyclops as well.  While in the comics, Jean Grey is the central player in the Dark Phoenix storyline, in the third film, she just stands in the background and scowls a lot. We have throwaway cameos from the likes of Psylocke, Arclight, and poorly-designed bit representation of Calisto.

Meanwhile, Brian Wood's X-Men has Storm and Rogue as its leading X-ladies
Meanwhile, Brian Wood’s X-Men has Storm and Rogue as its leading X-ladies

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Do I really have to comment on this? We have Silver Fox (the love interest) and a throwaway Emma Frost (her sister?). The continuity of the movies and its characters begins to unravel dramatically. This film represents the worst in female representation in the X-films in my mind.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

We have more eye candy in the forms of January Jones’s Emma Frost and Zoe Kravitz’s Angel. Rose Byrne’s Moira MacTaggert gives a wonderfully-constructed performance, but only has a chance to shine briefly in the beginning. Jennifer Lawrence adds the necessary depth so lacking in Rebecca Romijn’s previous incarnations.

The Wolverine (2013)

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Rila Fukushima’s Yukio kicks butt. Tao Okamoto’s Mariko isn’t a simple damsel in distress. Svetlana Khodchenkova’s Viper (while she gets a ridiculous ending), does have a decent amount of screen time. Famke Janssen serves as Wolverine’s eye candy in a dream fantasy. Of all the X-films, The Wolverine ironically has the best representation of female characters, while giving them strong characterizations and enough screen time to match Hugh Jackman.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

We have young Mystique. Blink. Kitty Pryde. Perhaps Storm. And maybe the tiniest chances of Rogue making an appearance.  That’s it kids!

X-Men: Apocalypse  (2016)

Singer says this film will be set in the 1980’s and we might see some familiar faces as their younger selves. Could we dare hope for Lupita Nyong’o as a young Storm with a mohawk?  Or how about a perky Emma Stone as a young Jean Grey? Or maybe add in some new characters like Polaris, Dazzler, Psylocke?  Or will they add ten more new male character instead?

X-Force (?)

Hopefully we’ll see either Domino or Psylocke in this one. Or preferably both.

There’s a part of me that thinks the easiest thing to do would be to start from scratch and reboot the franchise, yet I still hold out hope that future X-films will give the women a chance to shine. I understand that not every character is going to get the same amount of screen time, yet it’s ridiculous that the X-Men films (with source material featuring some of the most fully developed and powerful female characters in probably comics’ history) has relegated them to either damsels in distress, eye candy, or background noise. There have been some signs of progress (James Marigold’s The Wolverine), but these recent developments with Bryan Singer’s movies still prove to me that we live in a Hollywood where comic book movies are still for “the boys” and are written and directed by men. Lauren Shuler Donner, get it together, girl! I think you need to hire the talents of Marjorie M. Liu, Gail Simone, and Louise Simonson to take a shot at the next script. There’s excellent source material available. All it needs is a woman’s touch.

But the men can do it too. Screenwriters, take a gander at Brian Wood’s first storyline in X-Men, or maybe even some of the classic Chris Claremont stories for inspiration. I think you need it.

Meanwhile, Brian Wood's X-Men knows what's up, featuring Storm & Rogue as leads in his comic series

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Death’s Daughter & Deadly Secretaries: The Leading Ladies of October’s Comics

Just in time for the spookiest month of the year, and just as all the pretty flowery things of the Spring start to shrivel up and die, Kelly Sue Deconnick and Ed Brubaker are bringing us a little death and darkness to kick off the season.

Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue Deconnick, Emma Rios, & Jordie Bellaire 

Captain Marvel writer, Kelly Sue Deconnick teams with artist Emma Rios to bring us Death, bunnies, and a lot of skeletons in the dark spaghetti western fairy tale Pretty Deadly.

Not only are we completely won over by the all-female team creating an awesomely dark story with a hardcore “unpretty” female lead, but the previews look twisted and delightful. Deconnick’s work on Captain Marvel should be enough to recommend you this title, but if you need a little push, just check out all the preview art and influences they’re throwing out there on the Pretty Deadly tumblr before the comic lands on October 23rd.

Velvet by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting

Hitting the shelves next week, Brubaker and Epting’s Cold-War-era espionage story in Velvet has been hotly anticipated for months. Subverting the Bond woman stereotype, the lead character the comic takes its name from is the “personal assistant” at a top intelligence agency, but we quickly find out that she does more than data entry, she’s got the deepest well of information at her fingertips, and before she got stuck at a desk she was sipping shaken martinis and dancing dangerously with the best of the James Bonds.

Best known for his noir comics, Brubaker has always given us incredible female characters, usually slightly off-center to the down-on-his-luck noir hero, but with Fatale he broke out and gave a story to the most famous female trope in noir stories, the femme fatale. With Velvet he’s grabbing the spy genre by the cufflinks and giving us the cool, daredevil leading lady we’ve always wanted.

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A Name That Really Gets Around: The Many Captain Marvels

The Promiscuous “Captain Marvel” Title & It’s Legacy of “Cosmic Awareness”

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Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel (2011)
Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel (2011)

Though her ties to the original Captain Marvel go back several decades, Carol Danvers only recently became the latest in a long legacy of superheros to take on the “Captain Marvel” moniker. She dumped her long out-dated name “Ms. Marvel” in order to fly under the banner of the respected “Captain Marvel” title in her own comic, which debuted  just last year. Now in issue #11, Captain Marvel, under the creative direction of the much-admired comics writer Kelly Sue Deconnick, has taken this 70’s women’s liberation icon and given her pants, some kick-ass lady friends, and some menacing super headaches

And these headaches literally grounded her when her doctor forbade the high-flying superheroine (and former pilot) to use her flight abilities. But this isn’t the first time that headaches have been the crime-fighter’s biggest foe.

Back in 1977, shortly after the super-strong flying wonder Ms. Marvel made her debut on the

Ms. Marvel beating up manly superheroes
Ms. Marvel beating up manly superheroes

superhero scene, the young Carol Danvers, unaware of her Ms. Marvel alter-ego, is a newbie editor at Woman magazine. She only recently acquired the gig after losing her security position when she got caught in the crossfire of a fight between superhero Mar-Vell (aka Captain Marvel) and his foe Yon-Rogg. Since then, she’s had recurrent headaches that cause her to blackout.

We come to find out that Carol was saved by Captain Marvel when a Kree technology device blew up. He protected her from the explosion, but could not protect her from the energy radiation spewing from the device. The radiation put Carol in the hospital and transformed her into Ms. Marvel. Like Captain Marvel’s “cosmic awareness” trait (more on that below), Carol inherited a “seventh sense” that triggers the transformation into her Ms. Marvel superhero form whenever there is danger nearby. It’s this seventh sense that’s the cause of Ms. Danvers’ headaches.

This “seventh sense” sounds a lot like Spidey-sense, right?  However, though Spider-man predated Ms. Marvel by a little more than a decade, this “seventh sense” is actually a inferior version of the “cosmic awareness” power that Mar-Vell himself was gifted with in his role as “protector of the universe”. He gained this ability and the role by defending the earth against a racist tyrannical empire.  His “cosmic awareness” allowed him to detect any events in the universe that would affect him in any way.It’s this “cosmic awareness”  that I’d argue connects the various superheroes who’ve carried the Captain Marvel banner (and the socially aware creative minds behind them) throughout Marvel history.

While Mar-Vell was able to act upon this “cosmic awareness” by will, this 1970’s version of Ms. Marvel is physically compelled to act. For her, it acts as a sort of call to duty that literally forcibly transforms Carol Danvers into Ms. Marvel and drives the superheroine to fight in the name of justice.

DanversNewCostumeAnd that’s just what she does… er, did, before the comic was cancelled in 1979 after 23 issues.  Between 1977 and 1979, Ms. Marvel fought aliens and super-powered criminals on the pages of her self-titled comic. And as one of few female-led self-titled comics, Ms. Marvel struggled and grew with the strengthening women’s equality movement. Over the course of 23 issues, she got costume a makeover that covered up her conspicuously revealed mid-section, and then changed again, with a brand new color scheme, to liberate her from the association with Captain Marvel.

It was a fair enough association after all, since she became Ms. Marvel when her genetic makeup fused with that of Captain Marvel’s when, while he protected her from the explosion, both were exposed to Kree technology radiation, endowing her with Captain Marvel’s Kree powers. So, you know, he didn’t exactly give her a rib, but a DNA fuse is kinda a couple steps up from that. Kinda funny a feminist superhero was all but birthed by a man, a super man.

Nonetheless, it was obvious what the creators and Marvel were trying to do with this character. Hell, her first transformation occurred while she was cooking dinner, quite literally taking her out of the kitchen and into the fight… again, literally.

Carol Danvers, as editor of Woman magazine, deals with misogynist J. Jonah Jameson
Carol Danvers, as editor of Woman magazine, deals with misogynist J. Jonah Jameson

Discussions about the character’s role in the feminist movement peppered the letters section of the comic, Carol Danvers as editor of Woman magazine stood up to a misogynist J. Jonah Jameson (of The Daily Bugle), and she pounded on a number of bad guys who scoffed at her being woman.

In issue #3, Ms. Marvel visits the scene of her origin and is flooded with memories that help her realize that she is also Carol Danvers. The two personalities unify, realizing they have always been one and the same. This easily represents the 1970’s woman’s realization of her personal empowerment.

After her comic was cancelled in 1979, Ms. Marvel continued to play an important role in other Marvel comics, mixin’ it up with the Avengers and the X-men, including a stint as S.H.I.E.L.D Director in the Ultimate universe, before she got a self-titled relaunch from 2006-2010.

And now, detecting the cosmic shifts in the universe that have led to the empowerment of a new generation of women and comics fans, Ms. Marvel has traded in her swimsuit costume for pants (and even a turtleneck at that!), ditched the “Ms.”, and has taken up the mantel as Captain Marvel, her third chance at a self-titled comic.

Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel (1989)
Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel (1989)

However… This isn’t the first time a woman has flown under the banner of Captain Marvel, nor the first time a female Captain Marvel has gotten her own comic. In fact, after the original Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell himself) passed away from cancer in 1982, and while Ms. Marvel was still sporting her black bathing suit, Monica Rambeau,  formerly a lieutenant in the New Orleans harbor patrol, emerged on the scene kicking ass and taking names so hard that the media started calling her Captain Marvel, before she even had time to come up with a name for herself.  She reluctantly accepted the name with encouragement from fellow superheroes who felt that she was worthy of Mar-Vell’s legacy.

As Captain Marvel (only the second superhero at this point to take the name), Monica fought alongside the Avengers, and eventually she was elected the Chairwoman and leader of the Avengers. With the ability to transform herself into any form of energy and project that energy to inflict physical damage, Monica Rambeau is extremely powerful, but her powers are also physically taxing. Eventually she loses her powers and returns to New Orleans with her family.

And this is where we meet her when she debuts as the first Black superheroine to lead her own self-titled comic in Captain Marvel Vol. 2 #1, written by Dwayne McDuffie of

Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel, flying home after a victory with an inspiring Zora Neale Hurston quote in mind
Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel, flying home after a victory with an inspiring Zora Neale Hurston quote in mind

Milestone comics fame. Monica may not have had Captain Marvel’s cosmic awareness or even Ms. Marvel’s seventh sense, but Dwayne McDuffie saw an opportunity in writing her. This new Captain Marvel was only supposed to be a one-shot issue, but actually got 2 issues, and McDuffie took full advantage of every single page, putting race and gender issues center-stage throughout  the character’s stories, even including quotes by famous Black women, like Zora Neale Hurston and Audre Lorde. You’d have to be cosmically blind to miss it.

In the treatment of the character in the Avengers, gender was sometimes brought up, but rarely race. In the issue where Rambeau accepts leadership of the Avengers, we get a dose of gender discrimination is a flashback with her former boss. We get a dose of racial issues too, but not via. Rambeau, rather She-Hulk is turned down from leasing an apartment because she is green!

She-Hulk is denied an apartment for being green
She-Hulk is denied an apartment for being green

However, with McDuffie at the helm, race became front-and-center. The first issue was much much subtler than the second, which was published 5 years later, but issue #1 still had more Black and brown characters sharing the page than we ever saw in an Avengers comic in the 80’s & 90’s.

A group of students confront an armed white supremacist group
A group of students confront an armed white supremacist group
Captain Marvel Vol.2 #2 (1994)
Captain Marvel Vol.2 #2 (1994)

In issue #2, however… McDuffie really went to town. The cover itself is more radical, featuring in big bold type the title of the issue “Free Your Mind” and a No-Hate symbol is stashed under the Marvel icon. The story features Monica intervening when a white supremacist hate-group on a college campus starts violently assaulting students of color.

She is initially recruited to protect a young Black man who is organizing a multiracial group of students to set up a patrol and fight back to keep minority students safe. Things of course just aren’t that simple, since the hate group’s managed to nab some alien tech that puts the hurt on pretty hard. So Rambeau has to go all energy storm on them.  She even gets the chance to make an inspired self-love speech and quote Audre Lorde.

After her two-issue spotlight, and now that she’s got her powers back, Rambeau continues fighting crime and super badguys as a reservist for the Avengers. She doesn’t get to keep the name, however.

Monica quotes Audre Lorde
Monica quotes Audre Lorde

It turns out Mar-Vell had a son, Genis-Vell, and now that he’s come of age and folk started calling him Captain Marvel in honor of his father, Monica concedes the name to him and goes by Photon instead.

Sadly that doesn’t last too long either, when Genis-Vell forgets that Monica is calling herself Photon and adopts the name himself. She confronts him, but concedes again and decides to go by Pulsar. How terribly ironic.  Monica is intimately familiar with Audre Lorde’s work enough to quote her. I wonder if she’s ever read Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name… Just sayin’. These days the superheroine is mostly known as just Monica…

Genis-Vell, Mar-Vell's son, as Captain Marvel (1993)
Genis-Vell, Mar-Vell’s son, as Captain Marvel (1993)

Genis-Vell‘s stint as Captain Marvel is marked by the intergalactic superheroics of his father’ s legacy. Until his cosmic awareness kicks in, drives him insane because it’s too much to handle, and he destroys the universe. Apparently awareness is just too much for some folk. He’s able to restore the universe, but there are some slight differences, including that he now has a sister that didn’t exist before, Phyla-Vell.

Phyla-Vell (aka Quasar) and Moondragon in battle
Phyla-Vell (aka Quasar) and Moondragon in battle

Phyla-Vell makes her claim on the Captain Marvel title and wears it well for awhile, really rather aggressively protecting the universe. Where Monica Rambeau’s stint as Captain Marvel granted some commentary on race issues, Phyla-Vell becomes the token lesbian to take the title. Her sexual orientation is hinted at for a while until she finally asks Moondragon out on date. Eventually she ditches the name and goes on to become first Qausar and eventually Martyr, fighting alongside the Gaurdians of the Galaxy.

Khn'nr as Captain Marvel
Khn’nr as Captain Marvel

After Phyla-Vell gives up the name, a Skrull create a sleeper agent Khn’nr is created using Mar-Vell’s DNA, in order to spy on the Kree. However, the Skrull kinda botch the job and Khn’nr’s personality is wiped out leaving only the valiant Mar-Vell’s personality. So Khn’nr actually genuinely believes he is Captain Marvel, and he’s already been genetically altered to look the part so… Confusion ensues; he has some serious identity crises. He does all the good guy save-the-world stuff that Captain Marvel would’ve done, and before he bites it, he passes the title on to Noh-Varr.

Aside from Monica Rambeau, Noh-Varr is the only one who isn’t in some way genetically connected to the original Captain Marvel, Mar-Vell, so he lacks the “cosmic awareness” that the others had (or struggled with).

Noh-Varr raging in the name of Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel
Noh-Varr raging in the name of Mar-Vell, the original Captain Marvel

This is why he’s unable to sense that Norman Osborn isn’t the good guy, so he naively joins Osborn’s Dark Avengers team as the new Captain Marvel. Eventually he figures it all out and turns to the goodguys with a brand new name and costume, becoming Protector, and freeing up the Captain Marvel moniker for Ms. Marvel to finally, after all these years, take her turn at the name.

So far she’s done justice to the legacy. Her “seventh sense” doesn’t play a huge role in this new Captain Marvel series, but as one of the still few leading ladies with self-titled comic (where she gets to wear clothes!), Captain Marvel continues to keep an ear to the pulse of the world, and representing today’s more diverse comics readers, a good chunk of whom are women, of which at least most are badass, snarky, and, if they could, would totally punch a dinosaur in the face in typical superhero fashion…

Funny enough, real reason there have been so many Captain Marvels is so that Marvel can hold on to the trademark. Fair enough, but seriously could poor Monica could get a name for keepsies…?

Pick up Captain Marvel #12 this Wednesday at your local comics shop.

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Meet Milestone : A Palestinian Superheroine, A Lesbian SuperCouple, & A Kleptomaniac Supergenius

A couple of Thursdays ago, I picked up about Shadow Cabinet #0, which is basically a massive Milestone Universe cast party, with all of the major characters warring against each other to save Dakota. I already reviewed the comic here and introduced a couple of our heroes – Static, Icon, Rocket, and Hardware. Let’s meet some more of them… how about some of the ladies?!

Iron Butterfly (aka Kahina Eskandari)

Iron Butterfly

A corporate translator by day, by night Kahina Eskandari becomes Iron Butterfly, the field commander of Dakota’s illustrious crime fighting crew the Shadow Cabinet. She can manipulate and control metal, down to its molecular structure, moving or reshaping it and even able to sense its particular properties. Donning iron armor in battle, complete with two massive iron wings, Iron Butterfly can fly by levitating herself in her metal armor. She’s also a mean swordsman and tactical genius. We first meet her in Hardware #11 (1993) when she appears and offers Hardware membership in the Shadow Cabinet. Her origins are slightly murky, but we do know that she’s Palestinian (one of few Palestinian superheroes in comics!) and possibly grew up in Iran. Her entire family was murdered when she was a child. Vowing revenge, she took up with the Shadow Cabinet and came around to the vision of global justice preached by Dharma, the Cabinet’s omniscient leader. She later fell in love with Dharma.

Iota (aka Isadora Wellington-Smythe)

a very tiny Iota

Iota is awesome. She’s a supergenius Australian physicist and inventor, who, after an accident in her lab, gained the ability to alter her own physical size and the size of any nearby object at will. She can shrink herself and nearby objects down to microscopic size. Her husband was supposedly killed in this accident, but it was later discovered that he was sent to an alternate dimension where he became corrupted and installed himself as a despot. However, Iota isn’t all goody-goody herself, she has something of a kleptomania problem, stealing and collection various items like helicopters, jets, and military vehicles, which she shrinks down to size. She definitely doesn’t need  to steal, because she’s super loaded, but she prides herself on her thieving. She carries many of these shrunken stolen items in battle, so that she can restore them to full-size and wield them as weapons or use them to rescue herself or others. Not all of her weapons are stolen, many of them are her own invention. She usually rocks a jetpack too (unclear whether she stole it or not). She first appeared in Blood Syndicate #10 (1994).

Donner (aka Gerri Brauer)

Donner being a good gf

Donner has superhuman strength and is invulnerable to most physical attacks. Born Gerri Brauer, the German granddaughter of a Nazi geneticist, her superpowers may be due to some early tampering by her grandfather. When she was young, she was involved in Neo-Nazi gangs, but later saw the error of this and dedicated her life to justice, joining the Shadow Cabinet, where she fought alongside her now girlfriend Blitzen (aka Valerie Kameya). When the Shadow Cabinet’s leader Dharma tried to imprison the Cabinet’s members, she broke them out and formed a new group called Heroes. She first appeared in Icon #9 (1994) when she fights alongside Blitzen and Icon to defeat the villain Holocaust who had tried to recruit Icon’s sidekick Rocket to join the villainous Star Chamber group.

Blitzen (aka Valerie Kameya)

We don’t know much about Blitzen, but we do know that she was once a scientist named Valerie BlitzenKameya, and she developed a serum that endowed her with superhuman speed. The serum allows her to not only move but also to think supremely fast, making her a force to reckon with in battle. After joining the Shadow Cabinet she fell in love with Donner and the two became one of the first open lesbian couples in comics. She’s known for being brutally honest and like her girlfriend, she has a past of not-so-heroic deeds. She first appeared in Icon #9 (1994) alongside Donner. She also joined Donner in forming the new group Heroes.