Before we put 2015 up on the shelf and move on to the new year, let’s take a moment to draw attention to something remarkable: 2015 was the year where superheroines got superpowers as a matter of course. Sure, there had been some exceptions — Sue Storm in various “The Fantastic Four” reboots, the various female “X-Men,” but still … in the newest iteration of superhero-based television and cinemas, the heroines were almost strictly devoid of superpowers.
Peggy Carter of “Agent Carter”? Spy. Natasha Romanov of “Avengers”? Spy/martial artist. Bobbi Morse and Melinda May of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Spies/martial artists. Jemma Simmons of “S.H.I.E.L.D.”? Scientist. Felicity Smoak of “Arrow”? Hacker. Sarah Lance of “Arrow”? Assassin/martial artist. Dinah Lance of Arrow? Lawyer/martial artist. All heroic, certainly, but none able to defy gravity or bend steel in their bare hands. More than a decade out from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” that’s a little concerning.
But 2015 changed that, here’s a look at some of the actually super-powered superheroines who graced TV and movie screens in 2015, rattled with spoilers for just about everything. Supergirl (Kara Zor-El/Kara Danvers): Melissa Benoist’s earnest and sweet-spirited take on Superman’s cousin has been a joy to watch on CBS’ “Supergirl” series. Even if the writing is sometimes uneven, her Supergirl somehow remains believably human, even with her enormous powers. Indeed, the character’s struggle to come to terms with her powers is extremely compelling.
Jessica Jones: As dark and cynical as Supergirl is light, Krysten Ritter’s bravura performance in the title role of Marvel’s eponymous series on Netflix was a master character study. Ritter’s Jones was superhumanly strong, and able to leap great heights (much like Superman when he first appeared, in fact), but the real strength of the show was Ritter’s portrayal of Jones’ emotional damage as a survivor of assault. “Jessica Jones” was highly addictive television, and by the end, Ritter made the viewer understand that it wasn’t just her powers that made Jessica a hero.Quake (Daisy "Skye" Johnson): A character introduced in the first season of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D,” Chloe Bennet’s Skye was a computer hacker who fell in with the spy agency. But along the way, something remarkable happened, and she was revealed to be an “Inhuman,” Marvel’s superpowered, alien-bred offshoot of humanity. The story was transformative, intertwining the character discovering her family and origins along with her power to create seismic vibrations. The transition has added layers to her character, and created a strong metaphor for her personal journey of becoming as much as she’s capable of being.
Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff): In the comics, the Scarlet Witch can manipulate probabilities, making seemingly random effects happen. Which is probably a little hard to portray on a movie screen, so it’s probably for the best that Elizabeth Olsen’s version in the movie “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a little more streamlined, being basically a powerful psychic and telekinetic. Introduced as an antagonist, her journey toward joining the Avengers is one of the film’s most-interesting plotlines, and her power is sure to make a useful addition to the team. She’s set to appear in “Captain America: Civil War,” but there’s no word on whether she ends up on Cap or Iron Man’s side in the brewing rift.Hawkgirl (Kendra Saunders): We’ve only gotten a couple of episodes of Ciara Renée’s Hawkgirl, who debuted on the CW TV show “The Flash” and then appeared on its sister show, “Arrow,” but it’s enough to whet appetites for her turn as a series regular on the forthcoming spinoff, “Legends of Tomorrow.” Unlike the comic book version, the TV Hawkgirl’s power to fly is innate, not brought on by technology. There’s also been some effort to build some space between her and Falk Hentschel’s Carter Hall, aka Hawkman, making the character more independent from her lover. Their complicated backstories are still inextricably entwined, but this Hawkgirl seems ready to fly solo.
Vixen (Mari McCabe): The CW took a sneaky approach to introducing this cult-favorite DC Comics character into “Arrow” continuity, by launching her in a short, animated Web series. They must have gotten the results they were looking for, as Megalyn Echikunwoke, who voiced the character — who has the ability to take on the abilities of any animal, such as the strength of an elephant — will be appearing in the role on “Arrow” this season.The Wasp (Hope Van Dyne): Watching the movie “Ant-Man,” it’s hard to understand why scientist Hank Pym calls on Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang to become the new Ant-Man, instead of turning to his own daughter, Hope Van Dyne, played by Evangeline Lilly. Hope is, after all, smarter, a trained fighter and an all-around competent person. Even Lang points out that she’d be a better choice. But by the end of the movie, Pym’s relented, and Lilly will be taking on the mantel of the size-changing, flying Wasp in the forthcoming “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and, reportedly, “Avengers: The Infinity War.” Rey: OK, “Star Wars” isn’t quite a comic book film, although there’s a long tradition of Marvel publishing “Star Wars” comics that continues to this day, and they're both owned by Disney, but come on … admit it … it was pretty cool to see Daisy Ridley’s Rey discover the Force and wield a lightsaber, something General Leia Organa, for all her awesomeness and all–around competence, never got to do.Later this year sees the DC Comics movie “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” which will feature the debut of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, and Marvel Studios has a movie centering on the female superhero Captain Marvel in the works, so hopefully, this trend is just beginning.
Email Victor D. Infante at Victor.Infante@Telegram.com and follow him on Twitter @ocvictor.