Wonder Woman has the power of the gods. Captain Marvel can punch a hole in a spaceship. The Scarlet Witch…can sometimes do magic, or probability manipulation, or telekinesis/telepathy. It’s confusing.
In my current novel, I’m writing a main character who takes on magic and monsters with no powers of her own, so today, I want to look at the heroines who face supervillain, aliens, and gods with nothing but their wits and years of training. Some of them are super popular, but I want to spotlight a few lesser-known characters, too, so let’s get started.
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I love Cass so much. It was a struggle to keep this list from becoming filled with just members of the Batfamily, but I had to include my favorite Batgirl. She’s been in a spotlight recently thanks to the Birds of Prey movie, but that Cass isn’t the one I came to know in the comics.
Cassandra Cain was raised by her father, assassin David Cain, to be the perfect weapon. She wasn’t taught to speak, instead learning to read people’s body language so she could see their next move and counter before they strike.
When he has her kill for the first time, she runs away in horror, eventually meeting Barbara Gordon, former Batgirl and current Oracle. Cass’s journey as Batgirl is as much about her learning to socialize and live a normal life as it is about fighting crime. She starts out only able to say a few words and is learning how to read, and she’s just a precious cinnamon roll who also happens to be able to beat up an entire gang single-handedly.
P.S., you should read Shadow of the Batgirl by Sarah Kuhn. It’s the perfect Cass story.
I’m not a fan of dark, depressing superhero stories, and Kate Bishop is a superhero who usually looks like she’s having fun.
She also has the best origin story ever, in that she just raided Avenger’s mansion for stuff she could use in a fight, which included the original Hawkeye’s bow and arrows and Mockingbird’s mask.
Luckily, she’d taken archery classes and turned out to be great with the bow, and that’s how she became the second Hawkeye (though her teammates suggested the name Hawkingbird).
She’s been a staple on the various rosters of the Young Avengers and hangs out with OG Hawkeye a lot. She also seems like she’d be a fun friend to go out with for drinks, and I like that quality in both superheroes and IRL people. I recommend reading about her in Young Avengers.
I’m pretty sure everyone on Earth has seen Black Panther at this point, so there’s no need to introduce Shuri. You know she’s awesome.
Shuri’s “superpower” is her brain, and I love genius heroines. And folks, the Marvel Universe needs her. Do you know who they usually call when there’s a SCIENCE CRISIS? Tony Stark, Reed Richards, or Hank Pym. Seriously, forget those guys. I want to see more heroes consulting Shuri. Have her team up with Nadia Pym and Moon-Girl more often and science the crap out of some supervillains.
Shuri and T’Challa are also one of the few examples of happy sibling relationships in comics—bonus points for them being part of a royal family and neither trying to kill each other for the throne. Her scenes teasing T’Challa in the movie had the perfect little sister energy.
A good place to start reading about Shuri is her recent solo comic.
Okay, so you’ve got your Captain America/Bucky ship, your Cap/Falcon, or your Cap/Peggy. May I humbly suggest adding Captain America/Diamondback to your list?
Who the heck is Diamondback? Well, her name is Rachel Leighton, and she started out as a supervillain and a member of the Serpent Society.
She ends up fighting Captain America. Sparks fly, and they fall for each other, which eventually leads to the best sequence ever. On their first date, Diamondback’s BFFs Asp and Black Mamba follow them in secret, taking down would-be attackers so the couple can have an uninterrupted evening together.
Fighting villains so that your girl can hook up with Steve Rogers is probably the purest form of friendship.
Diamondback eventually ends up having to leave the Serpent Society when they try to kill her for consorting with the enemy. She becomes a superhero, though her relationship with Cap doesn’t work out.
Diamondback has no superpowers. Her whole deal is her throwing diamonds, which can be super-sharp, explosive, or filled with venom. But her real power is the power of friendship.
Diamondback is a pretty minor character, and I think her most recent appearance was in the Domino miniseries.
Speaking of snake-themed heroes, the Serpent is a moniker that has been passed down through three separate heroines in The Vigilantes series. The latest is Alice Seymour, who takes it up after her aunt, the previous Serpent, is murdered.
This is after her mother is killed, and her abusive father got thrown in prison. It takes most heroes dozens of issues and several years to face that much tragedy, but this all happens just in book one of the series.
Alice is part of a three-person vigilante team and is the only one on it without superpowers. You’d think that would put her at a disadvantage, but I seriously think the other two guys need powers to keep up with her.
She’s a highly trained fighter, getting mentored by the first Serpent, a grumpy old badass named Mrs. Frost. Plus, her genius BFF equips her suit with darts that she can shoot to incapacitate her foes.
She’s going to need all the weapons and help she can get, because she’s up against a criminal mastermind who’s a seriously legit threat. You can read her story in Serpent’s Return.
Renee Montoya has fought crime in a lot of ways: as a cop, as the hero The Question, and mostly recently, as a member of The Birds of Prey.
She’s awesome at all of them.
Batman: The Animated Series was my introduction to Renee, and as a kid, I thought she was the coolest. She saved Batman, took down Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, and was just amazing at her job. As an adult, I haven’t changed my mind at all. Renee Montoya is awesome and completely dedicated to justice, and the Gotham City Police Department should’ve appreciated her more.
Daughters of the Dragon
So the Iron Fist show was a mess, but I’ll forgive it everything because it gave us such an amazing Colleen Wing.
She should’ve been the show’s main character. She was A) more likable, interesting, and smarter than Danny, and B) had a more compelling story with higher emotional stakes. Over the course of the show, she goes from being a loyal member of the Hand to realizing that they are, in fact, the bad guys, and that the cause she believed in was a lie. Cue conflicting emotions and having to fight her former friends. Such good drama.
Misty Knight was incredible in the Marvel Netfix shows, too, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise, because Misty is pure, distilled awesomeness. I debated including her on this list, because I’m not sure if her bionic arm counts as a superpower, but then I wouldn’t get to show you a picture of her punching a shark in the face, so…
Misty stays on the list.
The Full Metal Superhero series has been on my to-read list for a while. The main character, Arsenal, AKA Amelia Lockheart, is a teenage paraplegic genius who uses her skills to build an Iron-Man-esque suit of armor.
Again, I’m all about heroines whose superpowers are their smarts. Amelia has designed and built her armor, created an AI assistant, and made the millions of dollars she needs to support her crime-fighting efforts by selling the patents for some of her inventions.
I’m already impressed, and we haven’t even mentioned her fighting supervillains yet.
You can check out Amelia’s story in Arsenal.
Superheroes are meant to be inspiring, and these ladies prove you don’t need powers to go out into the world and make a difference. You can do a lot with the right skills, determination, and a friend or two for support.
Obviously, this is by no means a complete list and just includes some of my personal favs. Shout out your favorite non-powered superheroines in the comments!