The age of the superwoman is upon us

Story highlights

  • "Agent Carter" is the latest action series or film featuring a woman
  • The trend of women in big heroic roles can be traced to comic books
  • "Wonder Woman" and "Captain Marvel" are set for the big screen

(CNN)Iron Man, step aside. Captain America, take a breather. Women are taking over.

Tuesday night's premiere of "Marvel's Agent Carter," which drew ecstatic reactions on social media, is just the latest example of more action series and films featuring women.
In years past, we had shows such as "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Xena: Warrior Princess" and "Alias," but lately it seems like female action heroes are popping up more than ever.
    Between "Guardians of the Galaxy's" Gamora, Scarlett Johansson's roles as Black Widow and "Lucy" (and soon to come, "Ghost in the Shell") and upcoming movies based on "Wonder Woman" and "Captain Marvel," it has been a great time to see women have a chance to kick butt and take names.
    "Agent Carter" is a special example, a spinoff of "Captain America: The First Avenger" following the continuing adventures of Cap's World War II girlfriend after the war was over and she believed him to be dead.
    Peggy Carter runs up against sexism in her office, where she's relegated to fetching coffee and answering phones, but she goes on her own rogue action-packed missions, uncovering perhaps more than she bargained for.
    "She's capable and strong, but what we haven't seen are the emotional and psychological consequences of losing the love of her life, of living in a male-dominated environment, of being a triple spy and making sure that people around her don't know who she really is," star Hayley Atwell said.
    "That creates feelings of isolation in her."
    Atwell commented on where a lot of the strides for women in action roles have come from.
    "It feels like we have great roles in Black Widow and Pepper Potts, and Marvel is leading the way for more female characters," she said.
    "The fans want to see it, and they're exceeding their expectations."
    Just like everything with Marvel, it can all be traced back to the comic books.
    2014 was a banner year for female characters, with new series for the aforementioned "Captain Marvel," as well as "She-Hulk," "Ms. Marvel" and "Angela: Asgard's Assassin." Perhaps most significantly, the mighty Thor is now a woman.
    Not to be outdone, DC Comics (owned by Time Warner, as is CNN) revamped Batgirl and launched a new "Sensation Comics" series featuring Wonder Woman, and a "Harley Quinn" series.
    "This is a ground-up phenomenon," explained "Ms. Marvel" writer G. Willow Wilson.
    "This began with the fans. Part of it is because there's gender parity of who goes to (comic book) conventions. It used to be overwhelmingly male. Now at New York Comic Con for example, it's 50/50 men and women. As you bring in more female readers into the medium, they're going to want to spend their money on stories they think are worth reading."
    "Five or six years ago, we probably had one female-led series on the stands," pointed out Marvel editor Sana Amanat, who has made it her mission to make comics for women and other underserved demographics.
    "When we came back with 'Captain Marvel' a few years ago, the response was almost cult-like from the reactions we've had from fans. The way we revamped the character resonated with a lot of the audience, especially female readers."
    And Marvel is no stranger to pushing past the norm in comics.
    "Marvel had 'X-Men's' Storm -- at that time, you would be hard-pressed to find a woman of color in a position of leadership," Wilson noted.
    "Now there's much more freedom to tell authentic experiences that women readers will recognize."
    "Captain Marvel" writer Kelly Sue DeConnick writes stories about women she recognizes as well, whether they have superpowers or not.
    "Carol (Danvers) is a woman who is very aware of her flaws," DeConnick said of the Captain's popularity (the fanbase is called the "Carol Corps").
    "She's not perfect. She doesn't pretend to be. She's always trying to do a little better. She attracts people who have that same quality. Yes, Carol is short-tempered and can be very self-centered. But there are others who do the same."
    Giving female characters flaws in comic books was tough in years past, according to "Angela" writer Marguerite Bennett.
    "There was an undercurrent of pressure to make (every lead female character) a role model," she said.
    "So often, you saw female characters written poorly. But if you write a character who always makes the right decision, it becomes very tedious very quickly. It's great to have a character who can really screw up and make terrible choices."
    Amanat has been very sensitive about how women are written in comics.
    "The one way you can get women to read comics is to not talk down to them and to see representations of women that are strong and beautiful at the same time without being overly sexualized," she said.
    "They want to see themselves as sexy and beautiful, but they don't want to be exploited."
    And characters such as Agent Carter show how things have changed in portraying heroic women.
    "There's nothing inherently masculine about heroism," said DeConnick.
    "Female heroism has been underplayed because it doesn't serve the default narrative. There's nothing inherently masculine about telling stories with pictures, or wish fulfillment or even power fantasies. I'm a 5-foot woman who's always looked like a child; I can teach any man in any room about power fantasies."
    Who better to discuss the importance of heroic female characters than one of the first? Before Wonder Woman (and certainly before Captain Marvel or Agent Carter), there was Batgirl, as portrayed by Yvonne Craig on the "Batman" TV series in 1967 and '68.
    "Women would see me at conventions and say 'When I was a little girl, I saw that girls could kick butt just as well as guys if they wanted to, and it was that character that made that apparent to me,' " Craig said.
    "Men would say, 'I married my wife because of that character; she showed me women could be so much more than we were conditioned to believe in those days.' "
    Nearly 50 years after Craig's Batgirl, we're seeing how female heroes can inspire people in a much bigger way.