Superhero comics are infamous for their exploitative depictions of women. To this day, we’re not sure if Spider-Woman even wears a costume; her outfit may actually be literally painted on, at least based on some of her appearances. On the other hand, characters like Superman and Nightwing are also commonly depicted with skintight outfits which leave little to the imagination, but the dissonance is still unsettling in 2016, especially with regards to the amount of bare skin the male characters show in comparison to their female counterparts.
However, comic books, being set in the realm of fantasy where literally anything can happen, have an interesting recurring tendency to have their characters change genders, either by passing the torch to a new person, or literally by being transformed from a man into a woman. Some of these switches were only temporary and the original character would go on to reclaim their title, but some of these transitions wound up being way more permanent. Here are some interesting stories behind 15 Gender-Flipped Comic Book Characters.
Laura Kinney, better known as X-23, made her debut in an episode of the animated series, X-Men: Evolution, but quickly made her way into the comics, where she became an instant hit. The clone daughter of Wolverine, Kinney possesses his healing factor, allowing her to survive wounds that would kill any normal person. She lacks her counterpart’s adamantium skeleton, and only possesses two retractable claws on each hand, but is otherwise a match for her “father,” in terms of abilities, though her personality is filled with a more youthful angst.
In the recent All-New Wolverine series, X-23 has formally adopted her father’s codename and costume after his untimely death during the aptly-named Death of Wolverine storyline. While there is an alternate reality version of Wolverine (Old Man Logan) filling his slot on the X-Men, it remains to be seen what will happen to Old Man Logan and X-23 when the original Wolverine eventually, inevitably, returns to the realm of the living.
14. Lady Punisher
In the mid-1990s, NYPD officer Lynn Michaels made her debut in an issue of Punisher War Zone. Her dogged pursuit of a serial rapist in Central Park aligned her with Frank Castle, The Punisher, and they battled together as allies. Later, after The Punisher appears to have been killed (don’t worry; he gets better), Michaels takes up the mantle. Adopting an over-sexualized version of Castle’s classic costume, complete with a stylish, if overdone, blown-out hairdo. Despite the inherent skepticism over the character, she quickly became a fan favorite and was generally accepted by the fandom for her feelings on the conflicting ideas of vigilantism and due process.
After Frank Castle returned, Michaels decided that she didn’t want to continue living the demonic life of a murderous vigilante, although she would find it difficult to leave behind the righteous bloodlust that came with it. Eventually, she took a dangerous undercover job at S.H.I.E.L.D., working to take down Jigsaw’s organization from within. In a 2011 storyline, another female Punisher, Rachel Cole, worked alongside Frank before ultimately setting up shop in Los Angeles to bring his cold-blooded tactics to the West Coast.
13. Ultimate Vision
We all know Vision from the mainstream Marvel comics, not to mention Paul Bettany’s excellent portrayal of the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, in the Ultimate Marvel imprint, Vision has a somewhat different appearance. Debuting in the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy, this version of Vision, while still a robot, has the visage of a woman, rather than a man.
Instead of being built by Ultron, Ultimate Vision’s origins are much more mysterious, and the character is discovered by The X-Men. This Vision came from space, and her ship crashing is Ultimate Marvel’s explanation for the infamous real-life Tunguska Incident. The new Vision warns humanity of the imminent danger presented by Galactus, and then aids Marvel’s heroes in warding off the intergalactic villain.
12. Miss Sinister
Classic X-Men villain Mister Sinister was always one step ahead, even with regards to his own death. As part of his numerous experiments on humans and mutants, Sinister implanted his genetic makeup into one of his subjects, Claudine Renko. Upon his well-deserved death in the Messiah Complex story arc, his genetic doppelganger awakens within Renko, and she becomes Miss Sinister. Also, she dresses like a leather-clad porn star, because comic books can only be so progressive when it comes to their female characters.
Miss Sinister, despite her outrageous costume, proves to be worthy of her genetic father’s legacy, proving to be just as cruel and callous when it comes to hurting innocent people and doing battle against the X-Men. Eventually, Claudine resolves to expel the Sinister persona from her body, or else his essence will overtake her own and wipe her out of existence. She tries to pass the buck, so to speak, onto X-23, and is mostly successful, though X-23 ultimately rejects Sinister, Renko is critically injured in the subsequent battle, and Sinister finds a new host anyway, escaping to one day terrorize again.
The first, and most famous, Robin was Dick Grayson, immortalized by Burt Ward in the 1960s Batman TV show and Chris O’Donnell in the Schumacher films. No on-screen version of Batman has ever lasted long enough to introduce any of Grayson’s successors, though that may all change if Ben Affleck’s take on the Dark Knight manages to stick around long enough. Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad both establish that he had a Robin who was killed by The Joker, but it’s unclear if this Robin is supposed to be Grayson, Jason Todd or another character entirely (or is it?).
Several of the Boy Wonders weren’t actually boys at all; in the mainstream continuity, Tim Drake’s girlfriend, Stephanie Brown, had a brief tenure as Robin before being dismissed by Batman. However, the most famous female Robin has to be Carrie Kelley, who aided a middle-aged Batman in Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns. In the sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, she is Catgirl, remaining a fierce ally of Batman, and she even returns in the recent Dark Knight III: The Master Race.
10. Shuri (Black Panther)
Black Panther has always been an iconic Marvel character, having made his comics debut way back in 1966, but he got a big boost in popularity due to his scene-stealing appearance in this year’s Captain America: Civil War. T’Challa is a pillar of the Marvel stable, but his younger sister, Shuri, is quickly gaining ground and becoming a respected fan-favorite character in her own right.
Though Black Panther himself has been around for 50 years, Shuri didn’t make her debut appearance until 2005. As the youngest sibling and only daughter of King T’Chaka, she is initially jealous of her brother for being chosen to become Black Panther, which prevented the Panther God from bestowing its power upon her after T’Challa was incapacitated. But that certainly didn’t stop her, as she decided to put on the costume and fight anyway. Seeing her selfless act of righteousness, The Panther God gave her the gift, and a new Black Panther was born. T’Challa went to New York City to replace Daredevil in Hell’s Kitchen (in the series, Black Panther: The Man Without Fear), and when he returned, he happily served as second-in-command to his younger sister… Well, at least until she died in the Time Runs Out story arc.
9. The Joker (Flashpoint)
When The Flash traveled back in time to save his mother’s life, little did he know of the massive ramifications it would have on the rest of the timeline. The world was totally changed; Bruce Wayne was dead, Superman was missing, and Atlantis was at war with the Amazons, leaving the world of Flashpoint all but unrecognizable to DC’s normal universe.
One of the most provocative changes was the fates of Batman and The Joker. Instead of his parents being killed, Bruce Wayne was the one murdered by Joe Chill, with this father, Thomas, becoming a more hard-edged and ruthless vigilante, willing to torture and kill criminals in his pursuit of a unique brand of justice. Meanwhile, Martha Wayne, driven to madness by the death of her son, becomes The Joker. Her running mascara and intimate relationship with Thomas added a unique aura of inconsolable grief to her senseless acts of violence, while offering a different-yet-familiar take on the classic dynamic between The Caped Crusader and his greatest nemesis.
8. The Question
After Vic Sage, aka The Question, began to fall ill, he groomed Gotham City detective Renee Montoya to succeed him. Montoya was originally created for an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, although she managed to appear in comics which wound up coming out before her episode aired.
Sage’s version of The Question was a staunch supporter of Objectivism, a political ideology based on concepts like “rational self-interest” that’s often seen as extreme libertarianism with a healthy helping of anti-government sentiment. When Sage was dying of cancer, however, he told Montoya that she needed to decide for herself how she was going to function as The Question, and to choose her own philosophy to bring into battle.
Montoya proved to be a popular and effective replacement for Vic Sage, but her tenure was cut short by the New 52 relaunch, which retconned her back into her career as a GCPD detective, and turned Vic Sage into a corrupt agent of corporate espionage. It doesn’t end well for him. Fans of The Question were decidedly displeased with this version of the character, and we can only hope the Rebirth initiative handles him, or her, better.
7. The Ancient One
In Doctor Strange comics, The Ancient One was the first Sorcerer Supreme, who wandered the Earth for centuries fighting supernatural battles against demonic foes before passing on his skills to Stephen Strange. The Ancient One was an exceptionally old Tibetan man, whose apparent physical frailty hid his true spiritual and magical powers. Basically, he was Marvel Comics’ version of Yoda, only The Ancient One was introduced in 1963, seventeen years before the release of The Empire Strikes Back.
In the upcoming Doctor Strange film, The Ancient One will be played by Tilda Swinton. The film’s producers have stated that in the MCU, The Ancient One is not a single person, but a title that is passed down, and Swinton’s female and decidedly non-Tibetan version of the character is simply the latest in a long line of Ancient Ones. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t account for changing the character’s base of operations from Tibet to Nepal…
6. Super Sister (Superboy)
Remember that one time when Superboy (Superman, when he was just a teen in Kansas) dreamed that he was a girl? Comics in 1960 were weird, but at least this one tried to have a positive message. In Claire Kent, Alias Super Sister, Superboy earns the ire of a female alien who punishes his sexist wisecracks and mental musings by hypnotizing him into believing that he is a girl. Superboy then decides to masquerade as Claire, Clark’s sister, and save people as Super Sister, who gains the hilarious power of “super intuition.” After learning first-hand how tough it is to be a woman in 1960, he appears to learn his lesson and gains a newfound appreciation for the struggles of the fairer sex.
Fun Fact: Superboy isn’t the only Kryptonian to adopt the first name “Claire” as an alias. In 2006’s Supergirl Vol 5 #10, Kara Zor-El uses the catchy and classy alliterative alias, Claire Connors. The surname is original, but we wonder if the Claire part is just a coincidence, or perhaps a reference to the bizarre Superboy story.
During a battle against Malakith (who is much more threatening in the comics than he was in Thor: The Dark World), Thor is defeated, and even loses an arm, Star Wars-style. However, it’s not long before a mysterious woman begins wielding the legendary hammer, Mjolnir. Thor, in awe of her skill and righteousness, gives her his blessing to use his name and weapon. Meanwhile, the former Thunder God continues to fight, using his surname, Odinson.
Eventually, the new female Thor is revealed to be none other than Jane Foster, who, despite her advanced stage of breast cancer, is given power by the hammer itself. Dubbing herself “Thor, Goddess of Thunder,” Foster goes on to join The Avengers and fight, not as a replacement for Thor, but simply as Thor. Jane has been Thor in the comics for a couple of years now, and there are no signs that she will relinquish the title any time soon.
4. Alejandra Jones (Ghost Rider)
There have been several characters to bear the moniker of Ghost Rider in the Marvel universe. The original and most famous was Johnny Blaze, who was played by Nicholas Cage in two big-budget Hollywood movies, neither of which set the box office ablaze, so to speak. The most recent incarnation of the Spirit of Vengeance, Robbie Reyes, is finding a home on the MCU’s television side, starring in the latest season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
After Blaze but before Reyes, a young woman named Alejandra Jones inherited the flaming skull. Alejandra had a tragic childhood, being the daughter of a human trafficker who was sold to a mysterious stranger named Adam (presumably of Book of Genesis fame) who trained her to one day become the next Ghost Rider. Eventually, she allied herself with Johnny Blaze, the former Ghost Rider, who served as her mentor, though they ultimately parted ways as enemies. Alejandra has yet to return to the fold since she cut ties with Johnny Blaze, leaving with only a fraction of the Ghost Rider’s power, but we can bet that when she returns, she’ll attempt to reap vengeance on the man who she believes unjustly stole her power.
3. Iron Man
The story of Riri Williams is not unlike the origin of Spider-Man, as seen in Captain America: Civil War. Like Tom Holland as Peter Parker, Riri is a teenage genius who creates her own super suit (in this case a working version of the Iron Man armor) and fights bad guys on her own time, quickly catching the attention of Tony Stark, who sponsors her as a full-fledged superhero. This got us wondering: if Marvel ultimately failed to reach a deal with Sony, the current owners of the Spider-Man movie license, would Iron Man’s young protege/child soldier have been Riri Williams instead of Peter Parker? After all, Riri made her first appearance in May 2016, the same month that Civil War hit theaters.
In the comics, Tony Stark is currently stepping down superhero business, leaving Williams in charge. While we would have preferred that she adopt the nickname Iron Maiden, the writers ultimately decided to dub her “Ironheart,” and she will formally begin her own solo adventures in Invincible Iron Man #1, set to debut this November.
2. Captain Marvel
Perhaps the most famous gender swap in Marvel Comics, a superhero expert would be relatively hard-pressed to find a casual fan who knew that Captain Marvel was originally a man, as well as an alien. The number of characters who have used the name Captain Marvel is downright ridiculous: Mar-Vell was the first, but he had numerous successors, Genis-Vell, Phyla-Vell, Khn’nr, Monica Rambeau (who shared the name, but nothing else), and, of course, the DC icon now known as Shazam, but that’s a whole other story we’re not going to get into right now.
The most famous Marvel character to don the star is easily Carol Danvers, who went by Ms. Marvel for decades before finally assuming the title of Captain in 2012, in tribute to the late Mar-Vell. The original Captain Marvel is one of the few characters who died in a comic and, though he was revived multiple times, always ultimately remained dead, never managing to return to the status quo of operating as a superhero as though nothing had happened. Though, with Carol Danvers holding the title (and bringing it into the MCU with their upcoming Captain Marvel film, starring Brie Larson), the legacy and prestige of the character is stronger than ever.
1. Earth-11 (DC Comics)
In 2005, the Superman/Batman title introduced us to the novel and charming Earth-11, an alternate universe in which the genders of all characters are the reverse of what they are in the original DC universe. Earth-11 is populated by heroes like Superwoman, Aquawoman, and Wonder Man, as well as villains like Maxine Lord, though the actual history of the gender-flipped version of Earth is virtually identical to the DC universe with which we’re all familiar.
Earth-11 has only appeared in a handful of issues across the entire DC canon in the decade since its debut, but we’d like to see more of this corner of the DC multiverse, if only for its unique visual takes on the classic characters. Unlike most (and we sadly really do mean “most”) female characters in comics, the denizens of Earth-11 wear costumes which are identical to their male counter-parts. For the most part, Earth-11’s heroines don’t wear itty-bitty miniskirts, expose their bare midriff, or flaunt their cleavage (well, save for Green Arrow, at least). A universe where women aren’t exploited for their sexuality and aren’t given pin-up outfits which are hilariously impractical for life-and-death battle? That’s definitely an alternate reality to our own, unfortunately.
What do you think? What are your favorite examples of gender-flipped characters? Sound off in the comments!