The article idea I had in mind all week hit a slight snag…I realized I don’t know enough about it personally to properly comment on it. My back-up idea was honestly a bit weak. Then I remembered it’s been a while since I challenged the narrative that there were no strong women on TV or movies before the current generation of college graduates took over storytelling. Back in 2019 I listed 5 strong women characters I grew up with, but that isn’t close to the full list. I’m not even talking subservient roles (as in backing up the hero of the story, though that doesn’t mean they couldn’t also be strong and have their own agency since it meant earning a helpful level of authority not by being the love interest or something but on her own merits). I mean they were the headliner or only secondary because it wasn’t there show. They called Teela the “warrior goddess” for a reason.
So it’s long overdue that I look at five more strong women heroes that I watched on TV everyday. Yes, I can find five more and they didn’t have to be a man to do it. Anyone telling you my generation, or even generations before seeing as we didn’t panic at things like not having color and thus could watch something that predates our birth, didn’t have good role models for girls that boys could also cheer on before puberty struck (that’s the less vulgar way of putting it), here are five women who were either the hero or the actual hero couldn’t succeed without.
Princess Ariel (Thundarr The Barbarian)
When your a barbarian and a Chewbacca ripoff you have more than enough muscle but just enough brains to survive a fight. Even then that was all Thundarr and this was a guy who would run head first into a wall with his signature yell, winning just by being that awesome…and possibly also being the title character. These two couldn’t find their way down a river unless there was a fight at the end of it.
Enter Ariel, princess of the mythical land of Theydontreallysay. (Neighboring kingdom of Beatstheheckoutame.) This was Saturday morning. You don’t get origins unless it’s the first episode and even then you may have to settle for the intro. Two thousand years after a 1994 that actually sounds worse than 2021, though not by much, Ariel, Thundarr, and Ookla the Mok travel the ravaged planet, usually just in the US, fighting wizards and saving people. Thundarr had his not-lightsaber, the magic Sunsword, and Ookla had whatever large blunt object was in reach. Ariel was the magician in the group because while every wizard in this new world is evil but sorceresses are okay. She also had an IQ that could be registered, making her the brains of the group by default.
Ariel was knowledgeable not only about things in the current world but had at least rudimentary knowledge of anything that existed in the 1980s that could also have been around in the alternate 1994. She had to explain things, serving as exposition for the kids and setting up information that was either fun trivia or important to whatever the trio would be up for. While she did have to be saved now and then by the boys there were times when her magic would save them as well. This was a boys show, but it still had the team working together AS a team and helping each other. Ariel also had a great sense of humor to help lighten the mood, which was of course annoying to villains but unlike how some people write Spider-Man was actually a benefit to the heroes as it kept them focused without being too intense. Basically Ariel is awesome and while she didn’t make the first list I knew she had to be here.
And speaking of people on team.
Astrea (Space Sentinels)
Lucky for Astrea her companions Hercules and Mercury were a bit smarter than the pair Ariel ran with. The de facto field commander for this trio, Astrea and friends were taken from Earth, given superpowers and eternal youth, and then sent back to fight evil, given marching orders by the AI Sentinel-1. Said AI also had a robot that for reasons only Filmation understands was smitten with our heroine. I mean, the thing looks like a bunch of boxes stacked together. I love Mo for the nostalgia more than anything else.
Astrea’s special power was shapeshifting into “any living form”, which she often did in the form of animals. Not even the last Filmation created heroine on this list, Astrea didn’t have a major personality because nobody did on this show, unless you count Mercury’s addiction to telling bad jokes. She did however come up with most of the battle plans to deal with the villain of the week and was treated as just another hero, even by the bad guys. They didn’t care that she was “a girl” or “black”, she was just another human being with eternal youth and superpowers. I’ve already done a Saturday Night Showcase on this show so let’s move on.
To be clear I didn’t grow up with the comic. I might have heard about it but it wasn’t for the longest time that I had any comics with her in it. No, I grew up with the cartoon.
The show didn’t change her origin (just simplified it because explaining the High Evolutionary is a trip on its own) or her powers (she did have a sting before Miles Morales, though the show did give her the ability to transform into Spider-Woman rather than simply get changed). What they did add, and I’ve never seen this in any comic, is that she ran her own magazine, Justice Magazine. She would also bring a nephew she didn’t have in the comics because bringing a child to events with supervillains, killer mummies, and giant monsters can only end in good, and her photographer/love interest if it wasn’t Saturday morning along so she would have a reason to put her secret identity at risk. Really, I’m not sure they had another function.
While the last episode did have her teaming up with Spider-Man otherwise it was her that saved the day, battled evil, and rescued her idiot sidekicks. I’m sure they must have returned the favor once or twice but when you bring male Lois Lane and a kid who was at least smart enough not to run head first into danger like his hero (a rarity for a situation that has ruined the concept for the no-fun anti-kid brigade) you know they’re going to have to be saved. Spider-Woman did just that, and I enjoyed watching her show as much as I did reruns of the original Spider-Man and the later adventures of Spidey joining with Iceman and Firestar. I could put Firestar on this list too but I’ve done two teams already. Let’s stick to the web theme instead.
Web Woman (The Super 7)
I’ve discussed this semi-anthology superhero show in another Saturday Night Showcase (and I should probably make sure those don’t need updating) so let’s breeze through this one. When you have a name like Kelly Webster you have to expect you’re getting superpowers in a superhero universe. In a nice twist she didn’t go supervillain but superhero. (Usually the pun names are reserved for the guys who don’t show up often enough to keep groaning but it’s not like her secret identity ever mattered.) Instead it was her willingness to risk her life to save a complete stranger who didn’t even look human Kelly is rewarded with the ability to control insects. Usually the stereotype is that “the girl” is afraid of creepy bugs unless it’s funnier to have one of the boys do that but all she had was a plushie that could push the “get me out of this” button in the car. Instead she commanded them and had the powers you would expect from a character named Web Woman.
Like the Space Sentinels, Web Woman and Spinner (the aforementioned plushie) would be told by Scarab that the villain of the week is doing crime of the week and she needed to stop it. How did he know what crimes were going on here when he was back on his home planet? Beats me, but he had good company with Focus One, Sentinel-1 (no relation), and Falcon Seven, and he didn’t even need to be Scarab-5 or something. So Web Woman and Spinner would just in the flying car with spider legs and save the day. There wasn’t much else outside of some “waiting for the call” hijinks because this was one of a group of shows following various teams, all of which also had superheroines I cheered on as much as the super males but Web Woman wasn’t part of a team. Spinner was the sidekick, so team on a technicality, but outside of Isis the women usually fought crime with their husbands, one of who was a fish man and the other was black Plastic Man. (It’s okay, she was black Atom so it worked out. Also, they had a dog with no powers.) But if you really want a strong female lead, I’ve saved the best for last.
Jana (take a wild guess)
What happens when Sheena is given Xena’s necklace? You get Jana and your life is better for it, especially if you’re in the jungle. Jana Of The Jungle surprises me in hindsight as the “jungle girl” craze had died out with the other Tarzan ripoffs, though Sheena does pop up every now and then. Like Tarzan and Doctor Doolittle, Jana could talk to the animals and had her own companions, a white tiger named Ghost and a water possum (according to Wikipedia because I wouldn’t know) named Tico. She also had human friends. Montaro is the jungle native who rescued her when her boat capsized, separating her from her father when she was a little girl, but she hasn’t given up finding him. (Spoilers, the show didn’t last long enough to give her the chance.) Also there was a white doctor who lived in the area, Ben Cooper. Oddly he’s not a love interest, but again it’s Saturday morning.
I’m not sure why none of the previous Warner Brothers/Turner owners have ever broken this show out. It’s not necessarily set in Africa and wasn’t all that racist. Montaro is a native and that’s pretty much it. Outside of a staff that could hold smoke bombs and that outfit you couldn’t place him with any one group. Many of the villain natives are the barely humanoid “cryptid” type races you’d see in some Saturday morning shows from different secret tribes, but in one of them the visiting humans were the real villains. Jana wasn’t much of a fighter, which is where Montaro came in (Cooper handled travel and modern medicine but the “civilized” world wasn’t treated as superior to the “jungle”), but she was clever, compassionate to a fault, and made sure the baddies got what they deserved in a humane way. She was the protector of the jungle and showed girls that “feminine” wasn’t the same as “weak”…which is probably why it’s been officially buried in the back of the Hanna-Barbera vault at Warner Whateverournameisthisyear.
And I STILL haven’t come close to the full list. All I had were animated stuff this round, which of course doesn’t sit well with the elitist media snobs, but the point is these were strong women that boys cheered on whether they had male colleagues or not as well as being good role models for girls. There are a bunch more and even a third round won’t be a full list, but I’ll try not to take as long next time. My childhood flies in the face of modern critics. Strong women weren’t invented this century.