Bronze Age Beginnings

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Jungle Queens to Spider-Women: Five Bronze Age Marvel Heroines Who Could...

Marvel has never had much luck with headlining female characters, perhaps because during the Silver Age there wasn’t a single Marvel heroine created as anything other than a supporting character. They were girlfriends or team members first, but never really heroines in their own right.

So the five heroines (I’m not including Night Nurse!) awarded their own titles during the Bronze Age was a comparative explosion, though maybe they were a little misguided. The early Seventies heroines were informed by feminist ideology, and the heroines created during the later half of the decade, well, Marvel needed to protect their copyrights. Neither approach was entirely satisfactory, but all five are still around today in one form or another.

The Cat

The Claws of the Cat lasted only four issues, from November 1972 to June 1973. She made one other appearance, in Marvel Team-Up, before getting a make-over as Tigra. Her costume was found by Patsy Walker (in The Avengers), who went onto a troubled career as Hellcat (she married the Son of Satan, and committed suicide before getting better). Tigra joined The Avengers, and the last I heard she’d been beaten and humiliated on TV, and impregnated by a Skrull masquerading as Hank Pym.

Shanna the She-Devil

Shanna lasted just a little longer than The Cat, with five issues from December 1972 to August 1973. She made numerous guest appearances subsequently, before ending up with Ka-Zar. She later married him in the excellent series (written by Bruce Jones and initially drawn by Brent Anderson) during the early Eighties, and as far as I know she’s still happily married, living in a three-up, two-down tree-house in the Savage Land.

Ms. Marvel

Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel - the first of Marvel’s derivative heroines to be) first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968), and debuted as the Kree/Human hybrid heroine in January 1977. Her series lasted 23 issues, ending in April 1979, but she went onto a long and eventful career in the Marvel Universe. For a heroine supposedly born from the women’s rights movement, she was treated very shabbily during her initial membership of The Avengers. Her rape in The Avengers #200 was the comic I chose as my own personal end to Marvel’s Bronze Age. She was later re-made as Binary by Chris Claremont in the pages of Uncanny X-Men, before reverting to her old self (albeit now called Warbird) in the re-launched The Avengers in the mid-Nineties. Writer Kurt Busiek gave her a drink problem and a subsequent court martial from The Avengers, and couldn’t resist picking at the scab of the whole sordid Immortus business during his overblown, and overlong, Kang saga. Ms. Marvel has latterly been ‘elevated’ to the position of Marvel’s premiere heroine, gaining another series in the last decade that lasted 50 issues, and has been included in The Avengers fairly regularly since.


The second imitative heroine in Marvel’ s catalogue, Spider-Woman, was created specifically to protect the Spider- derivative copyright in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977), but went onto a 50 issue run in her own series from April 1978 to June 1983, after which she died, got better, and was de-powered. Her alter-ego, Jessica Drew, hung around the fringes of the Marvel Universe until Brian Bendis re-introduced Spider-Woman in his New Avengers. It turns out she was the Skrull Queen, and the real Spider-Woman was being held captive by the Skrulls. After Secret Invasion, the real Spider-Woman joined The Avengers, but I don’t know if it has ever been explained how she regained her powers.


Stan Lee created She-Hulk to retain the rights to any possible female spin-off as a result of the Incredible Hulk TV series, and wrote the first issue of The Savage She-Hulk at the tail-end of the Bronze Age in February 1980. Her initial series lasted 25 issues, ending in March 1982. Jennifer (She-Hulk) Walters has been a member of the Fantastic Four, The Avengers, The Defenders and The Lady Liberators amongst others (she gets around a lot), and has had a further two series (The Sensational She-Hulk, by John Byrne, repositioning her as a character that regularly breaks the fourth wall). When Brian Bendis Disassembled The Avengers, he used She-Hulk to ‘kill’ The Vision, ending the career of a much-loved Avengers mainstay.


  1. I do have a lot of affection for Marvel's early 1970s heroines, though not as much for the later 1970s ones, which always did have the feel of being there just to please the lawyers. It is depressing though to be reminded what happened to all of them in more recent years.

  2. I think it's a toss-up between Greer Nelson and Carol Danvers - the two characters most linked to Women's Lib (what a pity they weren't around for The Avengers #83)- that have the most depressing back-stories.

    I gave Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman a pass for their derivative origins, as they quickly moved on and became their own heroines. Spider-Woman, in particular, was taken in a very different direction by Marv Wolfman with some very creepy villains. Who can forget The Needle?

  3. You're right about Marv Wolfman's Spider-Woman, and things got even creepier when Mark Gruenwald took over as writer. The intense Nekron storyline remains one of my favourites to this day.

  4. Wow, I love those early 70's heroines! I have the whole run of the Cat! It started off really strong with Linda Fite writing and the amazing Mary Severin and Wally Wood on the art, but for some reason they couldn't keep a consistent creative team on the book. I think this speaks more of a poorly run Marvel than a poor comic.
    Other attempts at strong female heroes in this age of women's lib are Valkyrie and Thundra both created by Roy Thomas. Valkyrie was another case of creators not knowing what to do with her. She was put on the Defenders and had her co-dependent husband running after every other issue! Is this what it means to be an emancipated woman?!
    A young Claremont worked on some great women heroes of the time, Black women no less! Though he didn't created either of them, it was him (and Byrne) who brought them into their own. They are Misty Knight and Storm, Ororo Munroe!

  5. The first two issues of Claws of the Cat were certainly as good as, or better than, some of the other comics Marvel were releasing at the time, but the series(and the character) was never really given a chance to catch on.

  6. My favorite of these characters is She-Hulk. I hated Ms Marvel, but she finally started to grow on me - right before the debacle of Avengers #200. I like Patsy Walker as the Cat, but don't much care for Greer Nelson, though I must confess I really only know Greer as Tigra, an abominable character, IMHO. I could never get into Spider-Woman for some reason. Maybe I found her too derivative (though that hasn't bothered me in the case of She-Hulk) or maybe I found her lacking in personality. Finally, I like Shanna well enough, but could never really get into her, or Ka-Zar, or that genre of comic in general. Unfortunately, I don't have any of the above issues, though, so I can only comment on the characters, not these series.

  7. As to how Jessica Drew regained her Spider-Woman powers, it was hinted at in New Avengers #14 (Feb 2006) and shone in Giant-Size Spider-Woman #1 (July 2005). What they DIDN'T show was that Veranke replaced Jessica. That appeared in New Avengers #42 (Aug 2008).
    Hope this helps!


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