I’ve talked before about how important female legacies are to superhero comics. The superhero world is male dominated, with an emphasis on male legacies, so when women get a chance to have a lineage, no matter how long-lived, it is meaningful. There are so many iconic male-derived female characters (Supergirl, Batgirl, Ms. Marvel), that when a woman’s name becomes the pre-name or the primary title used, it feels unusual.
Within DC, Black Canary was the primary female legacy in the DCU, pre-reboot. However, there is the Wonder family: Diana, Cassie, and (sometimes) Donna. The history of Wonder Woman, the Wonder Girls, and the occasional Wonder Tot is long, baffling, and convoluted.
Wonder Girl was technically first introduced in 1941, as the back story and, eventually, back-up story of teen Wonder Woman and her coming-of-age, in Wonder Woman #23. The story was later expanded to become “films” edited by Queen Hippolyta to show adult Wonder Woman, teen Wonder Woman (aka “Wonder Girl”), and baby Wonder Woman (“Wonder Tot”). The characters of Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl began to diverge and soon Wonder Girl was being written to take place during the same time as Wonder Woman.
It was around 1965 that Wonder Girl was given an identity that was fully separated from Wonder Woman. Wonder Girl (or “Wonder Chick,” as her teammates called her) joined the Teen Titans and eventually adopted the secret identity of “Donna Troy.” But, much like Wonder Woman proper, Donna went through a number of reboots, revamps, and recreations: sometimes she was the younger sister of Wonder Woman, sometimes she was an Amazon-adopted orphan, sometimes she was even considered Wonder Woman’s daughter. Of course, in current continuity, Donna Troy does not exist.
But that doesn’t mean the Wonder lineage is dead. There’s still Cassie Sandsmark, who either idolized the original Wonder Girl and was eventually trained by Artemis to take over the position, or is a teenage runaway thief who hates being called “Wonder Girl.” What the reboot version of Cassie has to do with Wonder Woman has yet to really be explored, but she seems almost completely divorced from the Amazons and the “Wonder” name.
Black Canary and the Wonders aren’t the only female legacies in superhero comics. Marvel has more, even if that is only more by one or two names.
Captain Marvel, although original a name associated the the Kree alien Mar-Vell, has been adopted by three women. Monica Rambeau was the second Captain Marvel, significant because she was not only a woman, but a woman of color. Monica was not only the first African American Marvel, but also the first African American woman to join the Avengers in 1983 (not a long list, but still an important moment in comics).
Still, like many female characters, Monica was depowered and retired from being a superhero. As hard as it is to believe, Monica spent a number of years on the Avengers reserves and, ultimately, inactive. Once she regained her powers, she changed her name to Photon (out of respect for Mar-Vell), but, shortly after that, Genis-Vell (the man who possessed the Captain Marvel name) gain new powers of his own and decided to use the name “Photon.” Once again, Monica was pushed to the wayside and forced to change her name again (to “Pulsar” this time). While other legacies have changed their names (Robin to Nightwing, Kid Flash to Impulse, Bucky to Captain America, and so on), I can’t think of a single legacy other than Monica who was forced to change their name, not once, but twice, for the same person (Monica’s name is now officially set to change for the upcoming Mighty Avengers, as well. She will now be going by the moniker “Spectrum”).
After Genis was Captain Marvel, his younger sister, Phyla-Vell, attempted to take up the title. She battled her brother (who sort of created her in a very confusing, time travel and reality-bending plot line), who was crazy at the time. Once she helped him work through his mental problems, she tried to claim the title of Captain Marvel, but Genis never relinquished it. Phyla is now more commonly know as Quasar, but on a very few occasions, she was called “Captain Marvel.”
Finally, of course, Carol Danvers only recently took up the title of Captain Marvel, as bequeathed to her by Captain America (saying “Captain Marvel isn’t [MarVell’s] name…it’s his legacy”). It’s interesting to see that the Captain Marvel title was never truly given to or kept by the female characters, instead they are usually forced to give the name away or disallowed to use it. I hope that Carol can keep the title or, if she does give it up, that she does so by her own choice, and not that of Genis’ or anyone else’s.
While researching Marvel’s female legacies, I found out that not only is Marvel Girl a legacy name for the Grey/Summers women (as is Phoenix), but it was also a title used by Valeria Richards in the late 90s. Like with many Fantastic Four stories, an unexplained teenage Valeria, possessing some superpowers and calling herself “Marvel Girl,” appears before the FF, claiming to be the daughter of Sue Storm and Dr. Doom. Whether this teen Marvel Girl is part of Valeria’s future, or just one of the many possible iterations has never been discussed. Considering how aging tends to work in superhero comics, we may never see if this is her future or not.
Finally, the newest addition to Marvel’s female legacies (and one that is very close to my heart) is Sprite. When Kitty Pryde was first introduced in Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men, she eventually chose the name Sprite (“as long as no one makes jokes about trying to pull my tab”) as her X-moniker. Soon, that changed to Ariel and then to Shadowcat (among others), and the Sprite name was left by the wayside.
It wasn’t until Wolverine and the X-Men #25 that the name was touched by anyone else. Jia Jing, a Chinese student at the Jean Grey Academy with glass-like skin and fairy wings, was given the name by Wolverine in a touching scene in Wolverine and the X-Men #27: “…if you want a legacy to chase after, I’m about to give you one…your job is to study the name and its history. It’s the name of a mutant who’s always know how to live life to the fullest. It’s the name of my favorite X-Men ever.” This legacy is a wonderful nod to the history of the X-Men’s longest lived “little sister” character, and it fits Jia’s powerset perfectly.
I am happy to see Marvel is working hard to create more female legacies, or at least give female characters more prominent names. I think DC could learn something about female legacies from what Marvel is trying to do right now, even if they are just small nods to small bits of continuity like Sprite.
I’m not looking for another Catgirl (yuck), but I would like to see the reintroduction of another Black Canary, or maybe the recreation of Oracle, turning it into a female legacy. At the very least, it would be nice to see the return of Donna Troy, or any other female legacies who have, sadly, been erased by DC’s reboot.