Superheros & Warrior Women in Modern Pop Culture

Wonder Woman (Wikipedia)

The original female superhero had her beginnings in DC Comics in 1942. Originally Princess Diana of the Amazons, she had a number of "super" abilities/props. These included indestructible silver bracelets, and an indestructible lasso that required the encircled victim to speak the truth.

Diana came to the small screen as a TV movie with Cathy Lee Crosby and later television series in 1976 with Lynda Carter.

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Cathy Lee Crosby as Wonder Woman

Lynda Carter played Diana for 3 seasons


Mrs. Emma Peel of The Avengers.

Created in 1960, The Avengers television show ran for 6 seasons (with breaks) through 1969. Throughout the last 5 seasons, John Steed (played by Patrick McNee) was partnered successively with Cathy Gale, Emma Peel, and Tara King. Gale, played by Honor Blackman (who left after 1 season to play Pussy Galore on the Bond film "Goldfinger") introduced the leather outfits that later became a hallmark wardrobe look for the early Emma Peel, played by Diana Rigg. Emma was an expert with gun, sword, and martial arts (not to mention publishing papers on physics!).  Emmas's kick-butt ability was continued in the person of Tara King (Linda Thorson). Returning to the small screen for 2 seasons in 1976 and a feature film in 1998 with Uma Thurman as a newer Emma Peel.



Left: Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel. Publicity shot from the first Emma Peel season of The Avengers television series (filmed in B&W).


Right: Uma Thurman in the 1998 film version.



The final segment of the animated feature film Heavy Metal introduced Taarna, the last of the Tarakian race of protector warriors who comes to the aid of a city under attack. Arriving too late to save the victims, she sets out to rid the world (wherever that world is) of the leader of the barbaric villains.

Xena. Originally created as a villain during the first season of television series Hercules, the Legendary Journeys, Xena underwent a personal transformation that was continued in a spinoff series Xena, Warrior Princess in 1995.  Dressed in leather, an armored breastplate, and sword carried on her back (after the first few episodes), her trademark weapon was the chakram, a sharp-edged circular throwing weapon actually used by Sikh warriors in slightly different form. 

Xena's path in life is to atone for her evil past, although it is evident that she will never allow herself any real redemption. It is also revealed early in the series (and repeated later on as a reminder) that her darker "evil" side is a necessary part of making her who she is, and is a source of part of her strength. (This aspect is blatantly obvious by the use of Yin-Yang imagery).

Her more violent tendencies are tempered by her companion Gabrielle, who in many ways is her voice of conscience (not too unlike Jiminy Cricket is to Pinocchio in the Disney classic animation). Beginning as an "annoying" tag-along, Gabrielle learns to fight, then renounces all violence, only to become Xena's replacement by the end of the series.

Here are some weblinks and filmography.


Beginning first as a tongue-in-cheek motion picture starring Kristy Swanson in 1992, Buffy the Vampire Slayer became a TV series in 1997 starring Sarah Michelle Geller as the lead character – the latest in a long line of a vampire slayers that stretches back centuries. While the mythology surrounding Xena was based largely on classical  Greek imagery, Buffy's derives from the vampire and other occult legends.  The show's main themes revolved about the difficulties of making the transition from being a teenager to becoming a young adult, all the while having to fight evil in many forms.

Ellen Ripley

Introduced as the First Officer of the Nostromo in 1979's Alien, Sigourney Weaver played Ripley in 3 sequels – Aliens, Alien3, and Alien Resurrection. In Alien, she attempts, unsuccessfully, so save the rest of her crew from being slaughtered by the title character (in what is a thinly disguised haunted house horror movie) and becomes the sole survivor. In Aliens Ripley becomes reluctant "Rambo" while acting as the surrogate mother to a young survivor (Newt) of an alien takeover of a human settlement on the planet where she originally encountered the first creature. The last 2 films deal with the aftermath and are progressively darker visions of the future.


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Last updated March 5, 2006