Girls Will Be Boys – A Retro Look at Gender-Flipping in Comics

At least she’s not doing a stripper squat, folks...

At least she’s not doing a stripper squat, folks…

Sexual reassignment is nothing new in the land of ink and paper. Comic artists have been turning male characters into female versions for decades. We know this isn’t an “equality” issue, but usually a matter of intellectual property rights/licensing (ie: money). When news of the latest Thor installment hit, reactions from the populace would lead you to think Marvel just announced Lindsay Lohan was cast in the role of Jesus for a new blockbuster biopic.

He’s pretty girly lookin’ already, no?

He’s pretty girly lookin’ already, no?

I’ve read many opinion pieces decrying, “They’re just doing this to get a little extra press!” Yeah, so? Surely you haven’t forgotten Marvel is a business and drumming up publicity is what they do. “But why couldn’t they just make a new woman character?!” Considering the way the internet exploded when they announced this news bit, clearly they made the right move. Whether it’s PR, PC or pandering, we’re still talking about cartoon illustrations of mythical deities. This isn’t, “I wonder if Abraham Lincoln would be more likeable as a Korean grandmother?”

After all, if you hold Mjolnir, you hold the power.

After all, if you hold Mjolnir, you hold the power.

Did you know Thor, the god, was known to cross-dress for strategic purposes? And for the record, if it were announced tomorrow that Freyja is a man now, my eyebrows would arch quizzically. Regardless, there are literally hundreds of female superheroes and villains that were derived from male characters. To be fair, there are even a few dozen “dude renderings” of women superheroes and villains (for instance, Catman is a thing). Some of the ‘lady versions’ became just as popular, if not more popular, than their predecessors. Let’s take a look at a few…

Whoa. Looks painful, Inza!

Whoa. Looks painful, Inza!

Inza Nelson (or Cramer) is no ‘wifey’. Though her husband was Doctor Fate (Kent Nelson) and her powers were bestowed when the two literally fused their bodies and souls, she would eventually go on to bear the moniker Doctor Fate herself. With a mile-long list of supernatural abilities, she began to unintentionally abuse her magical powers. Inza and Kent made an attempt for eternal youth, but ultimately failed. In her own time, she would defeat the Lord of Chaos, transform Congress into newts and wind up senile with her soul trapped in the amulet of Fate. Can’t win ‘em all.

So, I couldn’t find a picture of vintage Zatanna without this enormous ‘Hawkman’ behind her…

So, I couldn’t find a picture of vintage Zatanna without this enormous ‘Hawkman’ behind her…

Zatanna made her debut in a 1964 Hawkman comic as a daughter in search of her magician father, Zatara. Donning a women’s version of Zatara’s outfit – top hat, yellow vest, coattails…and fishnet stockings – she was brought to life when DC decided they needed a heroine who could wield magic. “Obligatory gal” provenance aside, she soon came into her own. Notable for the bevy of high-profile cameos in her storylines, including Batman and Robin, Hawkgirl, Green Lantern,  Supergirl, and Atom, she is also a direct descendent of Leonardo da Vinci.

Would it be strange if I took this picture to a hairdresser and requested her ‘do?

Would it be strange if I took this picture to a hairdresser and requested her ‘do?

Bianca Steeplechase is just such a great name. To get superficial for a moment, it’s her “look” that really pulls me in: the illustration style is so iconic and vivid. Her Joan-Crawford-meets-Sharon-Stone exterior is a perfect match for her severely villainous acts. Drawn in the 1990’s and set in the 1960’s, the only trait she shared with the ‘standard’ Joker is green hair. Lesbian gangsters aren’t exactly commonplace, but Bianca Steeplechase is still in a category of her own. She killed Robin with a poisoned kiss, framed Batman for murder and, eventually, drowns. Well played.

Hmm, she must use double-sided tape…

Hmm, she must use double-sided tape…

She-Hulk is always game for a scandal (see the David Foyer fiasco). Gaining superpowers during a blood transfusion from Bruce Banner, she’s been beating down bad guys for 35 years. Unlike her cousin Hulk, she is in control of her muscled tantrums. At the request of Wasp, she joined the Avengers and would eventually become a temporary member of the Fantastic Four. One unique trait is her inclination for breaking the fourth wall and self-awareness of being a comic book character. She knows. You can even catch She-Hulk dickering with the writers and editors. Awesome!

To be fair, I have a thing for falconers…

To be fair, I have a thing for falconers…

Hawkgirl (or Woman) has been around the block. Sure, her identity is closely entwined with Hawkman’s – they were both introduced in 1940’s Flash Comic #1 – but this reincarnated Egyptian princess made a name for herself. In addition to possessing the power of flight, her hand-to-hand combat skills are top-notch and she kicks Batman’s ass at chess on the regular. She made her foray into crime-fighting wearing Hawkman’s spare costume but soon blossomed and joined the Justice League of America, brandishing her Nth-metal mace.

Lydia Mondy has stood behind male-to-female characters swaps ever since Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck. When she not blogging about the latest ‘nerd-world controversy’, you can find her curled up with some historical non-fiction. Pretty racy, huh?

Lydia Mondy

From noir to grunge to the Gilded Age: if it's old, I dig it.

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