When we talk about female superheroes—how many of them there are, what jobs they’re given to do, the way they dress—we’re really talking about females, period. Over the last few years, the conversation about how well our girls in the sky are doing and what it means for us down on Earth has reached a fever pitch, thanks in large part to Marvel. They’ve rolled out a groundbreaking female Thor character, a hugely popular Spider-Gwen series, and a teenage Muslim Ms. Marvel—and today, they’re unveiling the cover of the first book in their A-Force series, which revolves around an all-female superhero team, right here. Behold:
Squad goals, you know? New hero Singularity is the star of the series—she arrives in the Marvel Universe during the aftermath of the Secret Wars. She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Medusa, Dazzler, and Nico Minoru also show up in key roles. A-Force is the brainchild of writer G. Willow Wilson (who also writes Ms. Marvel) and Sana Amanat, Marvel’s director of content and character development. I spoke with them about how female superhero status has changed over their careers—and what’s next.
How did both of you get into the comic book business?
SANA AMANAT: My background is in magazine publishing. Then I worked at an indie comic book company and got my start as an editor there. Back in the day, I read Archie and Calvin & Hobbes, but in terms of the superhero genre, I was mostly a fan of the X-Men cartoon.
G. WILLOW WILSON: The first comic I ever read was an X-Men themed anti-smoking PSA they gave out in health class when I was about 10. I’ve wanted to write comics ever since I figured out it was a job.
So you were both early fans. What’s changed the most about female characters in comics since you were young readers?
AMANAT: I think there’s a more authentic depiction of the female form and female characters. It used to be all about their physical charms.
WILSON: Anytime you’re writing stories about a group of people with whom you have limited experience, there’s a lot of guesswork. Even as a kid, I could tell that they were written by guys and the guys were guessing at what it’s like to be a woman. Not to say there weren’t any great stories—X-Men has been revolutionary since day one. I mean, it’s a team led by a guy in a wheelchair and a black woman.
What moments made you feel like progress had become official?
WILSON: The reinvention of She-Hulk was a big one for me. She used to always be sunbathing, thinking about something vapid. Now she’s a kickass lawyer in a wrestling singlet who fights crime. She’s still in touch with her sexuality, but she’s not lying on the roof in a teeny, tiny towel.
AMANAT: For me it was Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers, who was Ms. Marvel and then became Captain Marvel. She had been wearing a bathingsuit and thigh high boots for her entire superhero career, and we reinvented her uniform and gave her a haircut—which caused a lot of ruckus.
Really? This haircut was a big deal?
AMANAT: Yeah. But we thought it made her look powerful and beautiful. The way women are currently dressing [in the real world], there’s a blurring of the lines of masculine and feminine.
The other Ms. Marvel is 16-year-old Kamala Khan. Most of the headlines about her focused on the fact that she’s Muslim. How did you want the world to see her?
WILSON: One expectation was that this was our token nonwhite lead, that we’d make a model minority book and then go back to the status quo. The other was that we were going to push some kind of Islamic agenda. What we wanted to do was tell a story that felt relatable to anyone who’s been a teenager. We haven’t all been a second-generation Pakistani-American girl with superpowers, but we’ve all been 16 and awkward.
AMANAT: It’s so exciting to see people connect with it who are not young Muslim girls. I’ve heard from 45-year-old white men and 17-year-old Jewish boys who love it. Kamala will always be the younger sister I ever had.
Let’s talk about A-Force, Marvel’s first all-female Avengers series. Where did this idea come from?
WILSON: We thought it would be cool to take all these female characters who have no reason to interact and put them all in the same book. It’s a fan’s dream to see these characters with very different background stories having to work together. And it’s very exciting to imagine what a world run by women would look like. There are a lot of moments about that—and then there’s giant sharks and punching things, too.
The world of comics has really bled into mainstream pop culture—we’re always talking about what female superheroes and how they’re depicted figures into the bigger picture. Why do you think these ladies have suddenly surged to the forefront?
AMANAT: The industry’s whole audience has changed. We have more female readers and minority readers, and they expect our characters to reflect them. The amount of female-driven titles we’ve launched that aren’t being cancelled, that’s a phenomenon in itself. A-Force, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Gwen—we couldn’t have done these things seven or eight years ago. The dialogue of female representation is so hot right now, not just in comics but in general. And that makes us more responsible in how we depict our characters.
Speaking of depicting them, who should be the next Marvel female superhero to get her own blockbuster movie?
WILSON: She-Hulk! She’s so subversive. She’s not a beautiful blonde—she’s muscly and strong. Ah, one day.