Advertisement
The Origin Of The Bad Girl Comic [90s Week]
Reading Recommendations

The Origin Of The Bad Girl Comic [90s Week]

By 0 Comments

This article is part of our 90s Week celebrations. Learn more about it and the other articles involved here.

The 1990s were a tumultuous time in the world of superhero comics. There was explosive growth and collapse, many new publishers appeared on the scene and many perished, and there were trends which are talked about even today. Among all the cyborgs, big guns, gimmick covers, and events, the decade also saw the rapid expansion of a particular form of comic which persists to this day. This trend, which survived when most of the other fads and gimmicks of the decade didn’t, is the bad girl comic. Today we will examine the history of that often-controversial genre.

Elektra pin-up from Bizarre Adventures #28 by Frank Miller.
Elektra pin-up from Bizarre Adventures #28 by Frank Miller.

The origin of the “bad girl”

Throughout the 70s, the traditional roles of women in superhero comics as damsels, love interests, or demure heroines with non-physical powers was rapidly changing. Groundbreaking work like Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum’s X-Men relaunch (in 1975) meant female characters were quickly assuming leadership roles and became more involved in the action. Meanwhile, the exploitation boom of that decade saw a large number of female characters involved in violent or sexually explicit adventures. This trend resulted in Frank Miller’s creation Elektra in 1981, a troubled ninja who had no issues killing people left and right, was conflicted over her love for Daredevil, and who wore a provocative outfit. Elektra quickly became an iconic character and one that would prove very influential in the 80s and 90s.

X-Men (1991 cover) #6 by Jim Lee.
X-Men (1991 cover) #6 by Jim Lee.

While there are of course many sources to the “bad girl” trend, Elektra’s success saw a slow but steady growth of similar female characters. They were usually morally ambiguous and notable by their willingness to kill, the dark or mature nature of their adventures, and their choice of outfit. Elektra directly inspired Chris Claremont and Jim Lee to redesign the character Psylocke from the ground up in 1989, turning her into a psychic ninja. Psylocke was featured prominently in the hugely popular X-Men line of the early 90s and thus became another important inspiration for a new genre.

Spawn #9 cover by Todd McFarlane.

The bad girls arrive

It is unsurprising that in a marketplace that seemed to be in a constant upswing that publishers would try anything in the early 90s. The foundation of Image Comics saw the new breed of superhero, which had largely germinated at Marvel, spring to the forefront in a series of violent, exuberant titles. Almost every Image studio had at least one scantily clad female character as an early poster child. Wildstorm had Zealot, a sword-slinger of the lineage of Elektra and Psylocke. Todd McFarlane had Angela, a divine avenger sporting a metal bikini. Extreme Studios had Vogue, Riptide, and many more. This new wave of provocative superhero women sent ripples through the industry.

Wizard Magazine, the most popular comic book news source at the time, often featured cheesecake cover with these female characters as a sales trick – devoting lots of page space within to discussing the “babes” of comics. Other magazines followed suit. It was perhaps inevitable that these violent women would claim a chunk of their market with a slew of new titles.

Vengeance of Vampirella #10 cover by Adam Hughes.
Vengeance of Vampirella #10 cover by Adam Hughes.

Explosion

It was in the pages of smaller publishers where the bad girls became a defining feature of the decade. In 1992, Harris Publications resurrected a character created in the late 60s – Vampirella. Already provocative when she was created, Harris found her a perfect fit for the sex and violence trend of comics in the 90s. She had a series of titles throughout the decade and even attracted many of the greatest talents in comics like Grant Morrison, Joe Quesada, Amanda Connor, and Kurt Busiek to provide art and stories. Brian Pulido created a supporting character called Lady Death for his comic Evil Ernie in 1991 (then published by Eternity Comics) and by 1994 he published a solo miniseries for the character at his own Chaos Comics. Lady Death would quickly become another iconic figure of the bad girl trend, often both ridiculed and praised for her over the top supernatural adventures.

Lady Death: Between Heaven and Hell #1 cover by Steven Hughes.
Lady Death: Between Heaven and Hell #1 cover by Steven Hughes.

Sensing the birth of a trend, many smaller publishers quickly began putting out comics in the same vein or retooling existing characters to fit it. There was Everette Hartsoe’s Razor whose violent adventures were published by London Night Studios and Billy Tucci’s scantily clad assassin Shi, who made Elektra seem frumpy in terms of outfit. Joseph Linsner’s character Dawn saw a resurgence in 1994 and would soon move to Image Comics for several suggestive series showcasing Linsner’s skill for painting beautiful women. Dark Horse’s Barb Wire also fit the bill as it starred a morally dubious and violent female bounty hunter which was deemed successful enough to be made into a movie starring Pamela Anderson (though it was vastly different from the comic).

Catwoman (1993 series) #28 cover by Jim Balent.
Catwoman (1993 series) #28 cover by Jim Balent.

Reborn under a bad sign

Another approach to the bad girl trend was to take an established character and change their outfit and attitude to fit. Psylocke had been the guiding light for this concept, and it saw a few prominent examples during the decade. The most popular was probably the 1993 Catwoman series. It sent the character off on a never-ending search for riches and featured lurid art by newcomer Jim Balent, who quickly rocketed the title to Wizard’s infamous top lists of “hot” comics. Another oft-cited example is Diana losing her Wonder Woman identity to Artemis and adopting a black “biker chick” look. The art by Mike Deodato certainly fit the look of a bad girl title, but ultimately the run was more concerned with playing with the trope than adopting it.

Wonder Woman art by Mike Deodato.
Wonder Woman art by Mike Deodato.

Over at Marvel, there were surprisingly few titles devoted to the solo exploits of bad girl style characters. Instead, it seemed like every team title had at least one bad girl as a member (with Psylocke remaining the iconic example) and even long-standing heroines found themselves recast in similar roles. One prominent example is Dani Moonstar. The former New Mutant returned to the grittier, edgier X-Force title in the form of a masked, scantily clad anti-hero allied with a villain group. The decade also saw Elektra herself feature prominently in comics for the first time since her death and suggested resurrection, receiving a solo title in 1995.

A similar idea was to introduce a bad girl character into an existing franchise to “spice it up”. This had mixed results. Topps Comics introduced the character of Lady Rawhide as a nemesis of distinguished pulp hero Zorro and the disjoint between the hero and his femme fatale villain/ally was only made more obvious by the 19th century setting.

Witchblade (1995 series) #8 cover by Michael Turner.
Witchblade (1995 series) #8 cover by Michael Turner.

Arrival of the queen and decline

Image founder Marc Silvestri introduced a character named “Witchblade” in 1995, presumably unaware that she would become by far his most profitable and famous creation. Given her own series later that year, Witchblade became perhaps the most iconic and long-running of the bad girl titles, featuring the adventures of a tough New York City cop bonded with a metallic symbiote that tended to form into skimpy bikinis and helped her fight a plethora of deranged villains and supernatural threats. Witchblade was an unprecedented success but not everyone of her fellow bad girls were as lucky.

Red Sonja (2023 series) #1 1:10 variant cover by Jenny Frison.
Red Sonja (2023 series) #1 1:10 variant cover by Jenny Frison.

As the investor market collapsed, many of the bad girl titles succumbed along with their publishers. Many others were just cancelled for no longer being profitable. Reader tastes were quickly changing and what had been “hot” in 1994 seemed dated and unappealing in 1998. However bad girl comics never really went away despite a period of relatively low publication. By the end of the 90s and early 00s, new publishers arrived on the scene such as Dynamite Entertainment who made it part of their company profile to bring the bad girl comic back from the dead. One of Dynamite’s flagship characters was Red Sonja who had been created at Marvel for their Conan line of comics but quickly become popular in her own right. With Sonja and many other classic and new bad girls (such as the Martian princess Dejah Thoris), Dynamite quickly became the top publisher in the genre. Alongside Dynamite, other publishers like Zenescope have also kept the trend going into the new millennium.

As of writing, Vampirella, Red Sonja, and Lady Death have regular ongoing series alongside a host of other characters, proving that while the 90s may be long gone, the idea of a violent woman in a skimpy outfit fighting monsters and robots will never go fully out of fashion.

Advertisement

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Don’t miss out on our newsletter

Get reading recommendations, lists, reading orders, tips and more in your inbox.

Sign-up to the newsletter

Don’t miss out on our email newsletter full of comics recommendations, lists, reading orders, tips and more.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter too.