Only one female character in comic books has reached the icon status of Superman, Batman and Spider-Man.
But Wonder Woman has only a 1970s TV show to her credit, so far.
At a glance, it seems many women in comics are just the girlfriends, relatives or parodies of the leading men. Others are part of an ensemble, such as the X-Men, who might have had spinoffs over the years, but never achieved lasting popularity.
To be honest, most comics are written by men for teenage boys and young men. Your typical comic book woman is drawn as if she's a Playboy fitness model -- Wonder Woman's height and weight as listed by DC Comics is 5-foot-11, 140 pounds.
Even so, today's comic books don't relegate women as mere damsels in distress. They often project confident, complex female characters that anyone can relate to. Oh, and they can kick some butt, too.
Here are my picks for the 10 most important female comic book characters in order of relevance:
Wonder Woman: After more than 50 years, she remains the most celebrated, powerful woman in comics. Her strength and speed rival Superman's. You don't have to try to find her invisible jet anymore. She flies on her own these days. Who has played her: Lynda Carter. Who should play her: Angelina Jolie.
Gwen Stacy: What's lost in the Spider-Man movies is that it took years for Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson to finally hook up. In the mid-1960s, Parker took a fancy to the blonde Stacy. By 1973, she was firmly in place as his girlfriend. In the groundbreaking Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, a maniacal Green Goblin tossed Stacy from the top of a New York bridge. Spider-Man caught her, but the strain of the fall broke her neck. A major recurring character had been killed, and comic books instantly became something more than just a child's pastime. (P.S. If Stacy's death scene seems familiar, it's because it was incorporated as the climax of the first Spider-Man movie. Mary Jane survived the fall.) Who should play her: Gwyneth Paltrow.
Lois Lane: We'll forget that she couldn't figure out Clark Kent's masterful disguise for a few decades. She was a career woman in a 1940s-era comic book. Who has played her: Margot Kidder, Teri Hatcher. Who should play her: Sandra Bullock.
Mary Jane Watson: In perpetual distress, she still represents the girl a geek like Peter Parker could never date. And just as is portrayed in the movies, she's turns out to be much more than what he had loved from afar. Who plays her: Kirsten Dunst.
Catwoman: The original, thank you. She was the first female supervillain. Who should play her: Catherine Zeta-Jones
Jean Grey: The X-Men movies have barely touched the depth of telepath Jean Grey. The love interest for two X-Men, Cyclops and Wolverine, Grey also became one of the X-Men's most powerful foes. Who plays her: Famke Janssen.
Storm: Introduced in 1975, this weather-controlling member of the X-Men is the most prominent black female character in comics, and one of only a very few black superheroes. Who plays her: Halle Berry.
Rogue: Another character given short shrift by the X-movies to date. In the comics, Rogue entered as a villain and nearly killed one of the most prominent female superheroes of the time -- Ms. Marvel. Rogue permanently absorbed her powers and memories, leaving Ms. Marvel in a coma and Rogue with a split personality. Who plays her: Anna Paquin.
Supergirl: Notable as a horrible movie starring Helen Slater. What you might not know is that DC Comics killed the character off a year after the movie flopped. Superman's cousin died trying to save the "multiverse" in 1985. DC Comics named another character Supergirl much later, but it's just not the same.
Elektra: Elektra's appearances in the Daredevil comic book brought her almost instant cult status. Her spinoff comic book was less celebrated. Let's hope Jennifer Garner's spinoff movie next year proves more worthy.
Honorable mentions: Black Canary, Mystique, Poison Ivy and the derivative Batgirl, She-Hulk, Wonder Girl, Mary Marvel, Ms. Marvel and Spider-Girl.
Wonder woman is an icon among tough girls
Jared Peck, an assistant news editor, worked on and off part-time at a Paducah comic book store from ages 13 to 24, usually bartering his labor for his reading list. Regretfully, over the years, he traded and sold away his entire comic book collection.