Son Goku. Batman. Slade Wilson. Aragorn. Nightcrawler. Felix Harrowgate.
If I were to assemble a team of my favorite fictional characters, I would have an army of men before me. Aliens, mutants, wizards, royalty, they are all male. As a feminist, I am ashamed that the characters who I identify with, across film, television, graphic novels and books are men.
As I read books by women, I’m making a special effort to uncover a growing list of favorite female characters. There are incredible women and girls in fiction and I mean to discover them, love them, and praise them and the authors who created them.
This will be the first in a series and I’m kicking it off with perhaps my first favorite female character:
Terra from Teen Titans.
Terra (or Tara Markov) is a DC character who initially appeared in the New Teen Titans comic in the 1980s (you can find the two parts of the Terra arc compiled in Terra Incognita and The Judas Contract). She was later re-imagined for the Teen Titans cartoon. In both versions of the character, Terra is a teenage girl with the power to control earth. Many of the similarities between her comic book and cartoon interpretation end there, but for clarity’s sake, I’ll be speaking about the cartoon version of Terra, and I’ll be speaking about Teen Titans, not Teen Titans Go.
In the cartoon, Terra cannot control her powers and meets the Teen Titans while on the run from numerous earthquakes, mudslides and disasters she has caused while trying to be a hero. The villain of the series, Slade Wilson (Deathstroke the Terminator in the comics) plots for her to become his apprentice. He trains her to control her powers so she can infiltrate the Teen Titans and bring them down from the inside.
Terra was the first female character I ever loved and almost certainly the first female character I identified with. When I was a sophomore in high school, I identified with her need for control in a world that felt so overwhelming. I saw my need to prove myself reflected in her drive to master her abilities. She was at once outgoing and shy, a loner while still desiring to be social and loved. She was flawed: deeply insecure, a traitor even, and I loved her. I love her still. She is betrayed and betrays in turn. She makes horrible, villainous decisions with the desire to do harm. She lies. She cries. She is abused, but she survives.
My name is Terra. I have done horrible things. And I have absolutely no regrets. – Terra, “Aftershock Part II”
For her complexities and contradictions, she was real.
I wrote her letters. I wore goggles around my neck through my junior and senior years of high school in emulation of her style. I wrote my college essay on how we are similar and what she has taught me.
But for the past few years, I thought I had outgrown her. I haven’t watched Teen Titans for a while and I figured the show was too childish for me now that I have graduated college. But just the other day I found an AMV on youtube dedicated to Terra and I’ve fallen back in love.
To be honest, I never really fell out of love, as Terra teaches me it’s okay to be female and flawed. She reminds me that a compelling character is a compelling character whether she’s in a children’s superhero cartoon or a classic literary novel. I’m learning to create such compelling characters in my own fiction.
Keep an eye out for your favorite female characters. They’re out there, if you know to look.