Presenting my top ten list of DC Comics graphic novels that star or distinctly feature women as the leads.
I recognize completely that the gender of a book's main character ought not entirely be its selling point as opposed to quality of writing or the book's importance, but that at the same time it doesn't hurt to recognize where women shine or are otherwise treated with equanimity in (DC) comics. This is simply a list topic suggested to me by a Collected Editions reader that I thought might be of some interest; your results may vary, and I'm eager to hear what you might put on this list instead.
[Might be some spoilers here and there]
Sterling Gates has of late ushered in a new era for Kara Zor-El in the Supergirl following a bunch of false starts for the character since her resurrection in Superman/Batman. If I had to pick a favorite Supergirl trade paperback, however, it remains hands down the collection of Peter David's initial run on the previous Supergirl series. Everyone knows PAD is a fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and this collection has a definite Buffy vibe -- teenager Linda Danvers recovers from near-death with help of the protoplasmic Supergirl matrix and discovers weird doings in her town, including some related to her demon boyfriend. With art by Gary Frank, I consider this a must read.
* Wonder Woman: Land of the Dead
Likely you've already heard me rave about Greg Rucka's run on Wonder Woman. Picking just one of these books that I like the best is near impossible, but among numerous notable events in this series is when Wonder Woman lost her sight, which is addressed to a great extent in Land of the Dead. I enjoyed Diana's give and take with Athena at the end of this collection, and also how the collection brings to focus what I think was one of the subtle, driving forces of Rucka's run, how this was a Diana in depression over the death of her mother and sister, though the clues to this are much more in Diana's actions than in what she says.
Picking Land of the Dead, however, is in no way to take away from a number of other great Wonder Woman collections out there, including Phil Jimenez's Paradise Found and Gail Simone's Rise of the Olympian.
* The Question: Five Books of Blood
I'm going to stay with the works of Greg Rucka for a moment and include his first Question miniseries. I was soft on Rucka's work with Renee Montoya in Gotham Central -- Half a Life is good and ground-breaking, to be sure, but I much prefer Gotham Central when the cops have to navigate Batman to catch the bad guys than I do a character piece where Two-Face targets one specific officer -- but I think he achieved the right balance with Question. Renee hunts the Religion of Crime, and in doing so becomes caught up in it herself; Rucka displays great subtlety also in Renee's increasing corruption in each chapter, and this is a book I've read over and over without tiring of it.
* Birds of Prey
This might be sacrilege to some, but I will always have a warm spot in my heart for Chuck Dixon's original Birds of Prey specials. Way back, the formula was that Black Canary received missions, usually in exotic locations, from the mysterious Oracle she'd never met, and this caused trouble and friction between the two. Now, I like Black Canary and Oracle's current friendship, and if Dixon set the tone then I think Simone's is the more definitive run, but there's something about a down-on-her-luck Black Canary struggling to prevent a flood from washing away innocent villagers that's stuck with me as Birds of Prey's golden era.
* Manhunter: Street Justice
Marc Andreyko's creation Manhunter is immediately gripping in its violence and twisted morality -- an incredibly dark story perhaps most notable for for the underlying heart and love between the characters that grows throughout the series. The first volume, Street Justice, best typifies all the great things about Manhunter Kate Spencer -- her humor, her thirst for vengeance against the DC Universe's villains, and both her love for her son and her truly terrible parenting; one of the most dramatic moments of the entire series is here, when her son is caught in an accidential explosion caused by Kate's weapons.
* Batwoman: Elegy
I finished reading the deluxe edition of Elegy not too long ago, and aside from J. H. Williams's art, which is amazing, and Greg Rucka's story, which is equally twisty and turny, Rucka's origin of Batwoman is nothing short of spectacular. Rucka offers perhaps the first convincing superhero origin of the twenty-first century -- Batwoman Kate Kane neither decides arbitrarily to put on a costume, nor is she trying to keep her family safe or hide spider-powers from a prying public; rather she first tries to make a difference through the army, and only joins the Bat-family when she's denied the ability to serve. Rucka deconstructs secret identities and crimefighting so well in this -- Batwoman's origin should be a model for any new DC Comics characters still to come.
* Checkmate: Fall of the Wall
I have a lot of trouble picking my favorite volume of Greg Rucka's Checkmate, too, but Fall of the Wall inches just slightly to the top. There's no lack of powerful women in Checkmate, and this volume especially not only spotlights fan-favorites Fire and Ice, has a great closing tale by Eric Trautmann about DC war hero Mademoiselle Marie, and includes of course the irrepressible Black Queen Sasha Bordeaux in a face-off with Oracle. (As an aside, my favorite Sasha Bordeaux story isn't in Checkmate, but rather Rucka's story collected in Bruce Wayne: Fugitive Vol. 3 where Bruce has to deal with letting Sasha rot in jail while he solved the murder of Vesper Fairchild, a story which has all the romance and suspicion of a classic Alfred Hitchcock movie.) Rich characters, dangerous foreign politics, and cameos by an amazing assortment of DC Comics characters, Checkmate is one of my favorite recent series, and I'm just disappointed it didn't continue longer than it did.
More's the pity that Sasha Bordeaux is in a coma now folliowing Final Crisis, but wouldn't she be a great fit for Gail Simone's new Birds of Prey run?
* Catwoman: Relentless
Relentless is one of my favorite and least favorite Catwoman collections. Writer Ed Brubaker single-handedly redeemed Catwoman from an era of somewhat silly, often gratuitously-drawn stories, instead placing the character firmly in the crime fiction genre where it seems she always belonged. Dark End of the Street and Crooked Little Town are great adventures of anti-hero Selina Kyle, but Brubaker ramps up the violence and person consequences for Selina in Relentless. Even thinking about some scenes in Relentless turns my stomach, but I also know it's where Brubaker wrote with the most power. I'd still like to see many uncollected issues of this series collected, including Selina's important encounters with Black Mask and Zatanna.
* Batgirl: Silent Running
The collections of Kelley Puckett first few Batgirl storylines, following the adventures of Cassandra Cain after No Man's Land, are I think an example of master comics storytelling. Silent stories are rare, and Puckett takes a near-mute protagonist and tells done-in-one story after story with barely any dialogue. It wouldn't last, and in later trades Batgirl gains much of her voice back, but the silence of these early stories is what made the character stand out and what I think endeared her to most readers -- through numerous changes, there's still readers who consider Cain "their" Batgirl.
* Huntress: Darknight Daughter
There's some debate as to whether this collection is called "Darknight Daughter" or "Dark Knight Daughter." Either way, pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths collections aren't usually my cup of tea, but after appearances by the Earth-2 Huntress in Superman/Batman and other stories, I had enough of an interest in the character to follow up with her 1970s appearances by Paul Levitz -- glad I did. Though there's a treacly romance element to these stories that dates the stories as more "then" than "now," male lead Harry Sims's concern about whether he can still "be a man" and date a super-heroine interestingly demonstrate some of the uncertainties of the time. The story of Huntress Helena Wayne making her way as a hero in the shadow of two famous parents is captivating enough, but Levitz gives Huntress a well-realized supporting cast, too, especially for what are mostly back-up stories.
Also good is Greg Rucka's (noticing a trend?) Huntress: Cry for Blood, including an early look at Rucka writing Question Vic Sage; and -- if it were collected -- the Robin III miniseries where Huntress demonstrates to Tim Drake that she's cooler to hang out with than Batman.
And two more for the road ...
* Power Girl
If I recall correctly, the last time we saw Power Girl before Geoff Johns wisely reintroduced her in JSA was in a lamented Justice League of America storyline that revealed Power Girl's secret origin to be, totally and completely, existence only to give virgin birth to a child of the Lords of Order. She has no head, indeed. If your only exposure to Power Girl was this or the constantly-angry iteration in Justice League Europe, Geoff Johns's Power Girl miniseries ought be something of an eye-opener. I liked that Johns, with artist Amanda Connor, played with the various potential Power Girl origins we've seen over the years before Infinite Crisis returned the character to her original Earth-2 glory. Even more revealing are the 1970s Power Girl stories by Paul Kupperberg, in the same era as the Huntress stories above, which firmly place the character into Justice Society continuity.
* JSA Presents: Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. Vol. 2
I'll finish off the list with Geoff Johns's other JSA character find, Stargirl (formerly the Star-Spangled Kid). The two JSA Presents volumes collect Star's short-lived series when both the character and Johns were new names at DC Comics. Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. skews a little younger in terms of tone, but I like the second volume because it includes a heavy does of Seven Soldiers of Victory history; also, even as Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. is synonymous with the artwork of Lee Moder, we also see some Scott Kolins here ahead of his work on Flash. Add to all this some JSA cameos, and you've got a book worth a second look.
That's my list -- what would you put on yours? Who's your favorite femme fatale (or the heroic equivalent) in the DC Universe?