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A Marvel Women's History Lesson, Part 1

Look back at the women of Marvel through the decades

By Marc Strom

Admittedly, attempting to sum up the entire seven decade-long history of the women of Marvel in a single article seems impossible, or at the very least very difficult. Almost from the very beginning of Marvel, we’ve seen significant and strong female characters who have gained more prominence with each passing year.

Before Marvel became “Marvel Comics”—when it was known as Timely and then Atlas Comics—a number of super heroines carried their own magazines, including the likes of Venus (now a member of the Agents of Atlas) and Lorna, the Jungle Queen. In the meantime, other female protagonists such as the original Black Widow had their own features in anthology comics.

During the Golden Age of comics, Timely and Atlas also published a number of series that didn’t feature either super heroes or crime-fighting vigilantes. In 1945, MILLIE THE MODEL debuted, with artist Ruth Atkinson chronicling the humorous adventures of Millie and her friends in New York City. Atkinson also helped bring Patsy Walker to life in MISS AMERICA #2, before she went on to star in her own series.

Millie the Model

Beginning in the 1950's, romance comics became all the rage. Titles such as LOVE ROMANCES, MY OWN ROMANCE and LOVERS featured new stories of young girls falling in love with every issue. While these stories didn’t always star the most independent women, they nonetheless marked an important period in comics history, and one in which publishers actively targeted young girls.

As FANTASTIC FOUR #1 ushered in the Marvel Age of Comics in 1961, female characters began to take on different roles than before. By 1967, MILLIE THE MODEL was the last series with a solo female protagonist left standing. However, Susan Storm—then The Invisible Girl—The Wasp, The Scarlet Witch, Jean Grey and more all appeared as members of the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and the X-Men respectively, while non-powered characters such as Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, Pepper Potts, Karen Page and Sharon Carter all shared panel-time with their super heroic love interests.

Ms. Marvel

The women of Marvel gained further prominence throughout the 70's, however, with more and more super heroines gaining their own solo adventures. Beginning in 1970, The Black Widow first donned her now iconic ebony costume in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #86 before jumping into her very own feature in AMAZING ADVENTURES, a title she shared with the Inhumans for eight issues.

Though short-lived, two new series written by and starring women appeared in short order from 1972-1973: THE CAT, written by Linda Fite, and SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL, co-written by Carole Seuling and Steve Gerber. Additionally, industry legend and one of Marvel’s lead colorists in its first decades, Marie Severin, lent her hand to help illustrate THE CAT, meaning that for the first time in the Marvel Age we saw a female protagonist written and drawn by women.

She-Hulk joins the Fantastic Four

Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Spider-Woman and Dazzler all earned their first solo ongoing series in the 70's. Though all three series only ran for between two and four years, the characters would become mainstays of the Marvel Universe, spawning additional projects in the coming decades and joining several different teams including the Avengers. During the 80's alone, She-Hulk went on to join both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, taking The Thing’s place in the latter.

Also in the 80's, writer Chris Claremont and editors Louise Simonson (nee Jones) and Ann Nocenti continued to make UNCANNY X-MEN just as much about the X-Women. Claremont brought Psylocke, Rogue, Jubilee, Dazzler, Kitty Pryde and more onto the team, as well as giving the group its first female leader in issue #201, as Storm bests Cyclops even without the use of her powers.

As for everything that lay beyond, check back in tomorrow as Valerie D'Orazio checks in with the second part of our histoyr lesson, leading us right up to the present day!

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