Sisterhood and Superheroes

Sisterhood and Superheroes

I’m lucky enough to have two incredible sisters (one of whom also writes books that you should read), so I’m naturally interested in depictions of sisters in media.

And is it just me, or are a lot of superheroes only children? Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Iron Man… The list goes on. And I feel like “Hero with a Treacherous Brother who wants to Murder him for the Throne” deserves its own category.

Evil Brother Image
‘Sup

But you can find some great depictions of sisters in superhero media if you know where to look. On the big screen, my recent favorites are Gamora and Nebula.

The bits we got about their rivalry and history in the original Guardians of the Galaxy movie were some of my favorite parts–but it wasn’t enough. I thought the movie didn’t give them nearly enough focus. I wanted more! Then GotG 2 came out and gave me the subplot of my dreams.

They tried to kill each other again. They talked it out and reconciled. There was even hugging!

Nebula and Gamora Hugging Gif
So awkward, yet so beautiful.

I was blown away by how much screentime Gamora got in Infinity War. Same with Nebula in Endgame. And saving one another was the core of each character’s motivation. Gamora leads Thanos to the soul stone to stop him from torturing her sister, and Nebula goes so far as to kill her past self to save Gamora. I loved it.

The CW’s superhero shows have some great crime-fighting sisters, too. You’ve got Kara and Alex in Supergirl and Sara and Laurel in Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow, but the relationship I like the best is Anissa and Jennifer’s from Black Lightning.

Lightning and Thunder Image
Just look at how awesome they are.

They tease each other, argue, and worry about one another, and the show does a great job of grounding them with relatable real-world drama between all the crazy superpowered stuff . And they’re two very different people.

Anissa is motivated by social justice and constantly stands up for what’s right even before her powers develop, so she jumps into her superhero identify with gusto. When Jennifer gets powers in Season 1, she sees them as a huge problem that could ruin her life. It’s a viewpoint her sister doesn’t understand and leads to some fights, but you never worry that their relationship will fall apart and they’ll stop having each other’s backs.

Anissa and Jennifer also star in some super cute animated shorts, if you need some kid-friendly Black Lightning.

In the realm of comics, the first sisters that spring to mind are Wonder Woman and Donna Troy. Their relationships can get complicated due to Donna’s ever-changing, tangled origin story (She’s adopted. She’s a magically created copy of Diana. She’s a Titan.) but the two of them are always sisters one way or another.

Starfire and Blackfire have a female version of that “Hero with a Treacherous Brother who wants to Murder him for the Throne” thing I mentioned earlier. (Have they ever reconciled like Gamora and Nebula? I’d love to see that.) And speaking of royalty, you’ve got Crystal and Medusa from the Inhumans, who have the stress of ruling a nation on top of their relationship and even managed to survive Medusa dating Crystal’s ex.

But I don’t want to just talk about biological sisters. Going with the broader definition of sisterhood as women who support each other and share one another’s struggles, you don’t get much better than the Amazons of Themyscira. Those ladies have perfected the concept of sisterhood so much that they’ve built a utopia out of it.

Beautiful Gif

I think Oracle and Black Canary from Birds of Prey are another prime example. That series did fantastic character work on all the superheroines in the cast, but the relationship between Barbara and Diana was the foundation of the team. And they’re far from the only pair of heroines who are practically sisters.

Sisterhood is one of the themes in Samantha Bryant’s Menopausal Superhero Novels, which refreshingly features friendships between older women. And I think I’ve said before on the blog how incredible and complex the friendship between Evie Tanaka and Aveda Jupiter is in Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex. The novel also has a tense relationship between Evie and her younger sister, who she’s been raising since their mom died and their dad abandoned them.

Going Through the Change

And as long as I’m talking about superhero fiction, (To be real, when am I not talking about superhero fiction?), the heroine of Dale Ivan Smith’s Empowered series is motivated mostly by the desire to keep her twin sisters and grandmother safe. (And the first ebook in that series is free on Amazon at the time of this writing, so now’s a great time to check it out.)

It’s not surprising that sisters feature in my own superhero novels. Granted, they’re not the good guys. Val’s sister, Bianca, hasn’t retired from the supervillain scene like she has, so Val contacts her for intel during her investigation in Villainous. And in Kill Them All, Bianca’s the one Val turns to when she needs someone to watch over a hospitalized Dave, freeing her to go on a roaring rampage of revenge on his behalf.

Then there’s Val’s youngest sister, Bloody Mary, who tries to murder her, but not every depiction of sisters has to be positive, right? 😉

Villainous Cover

In my forthcoming novel, Blood Orchid, a major subplot is the main character reconnecting with her sister after coming back to life as a vampire, and we learn that her sister carried on her superhero identity while she was dead.

This post isn’t even close to a complete list of sisters in superhero media, and I haven’t gotten into why these depictions are important, how it’s impactful to show that female narratives have just as much value as male ones. The evil stepsister trope is old and tired, and we don’t need every depiction of women to show them as rivals tearing each other down rather than friends lifting each other up. Superhero stories in particular have a great opportunity to show that sisters working together can literally save the world.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Shout out your favorite superheroic (or villainous) sisters below!

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Kristen Brand

Kristen Brand writes speculative fiction with lots of action, witty banter, and a bit of romance. She loves comic books and all kinds of superhero media, and she's probably drinking tea right now.

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