It’s no secret that comics have a lady genius problem, specifically a lack of lady genius characters. What do we mean by lady genius? A ‘lady genius’ is a female character who is either a certified genius (IQ of over 140), or someone who is outstanding/exceptional in their field. If it helps, think of male characters like Spencer Reid from Criminal Minds or Tony Stark from Marvel, who are either highly intelligent, highly skilled in their area of expertise, or both. Only we want female characters.
The Fanfinites were able to come up with a list of 7 lady genius characters who were prominent, well written, and either had their own title or were major-ish characters in another title. Considering that comics is a genre with hundreds of characters (and you can’t spit without hitting a male genius), the dearth of lady geniuses in comics is depressing. Thankfully, there’s place you can go in the DC universe to find lady geniuses: television.
Caitlin Snow, The Flash
Caitlin Snow is a skilled scientist and biomedical engineer who worked at two prominent labs, including S.T.A.R. labs, the lab where the particle accelerator exploded. Prior to her entry into the scientific arena, she was a neurosurgeon and currently acts as medical support for team Flash. She’s highly intelligent, if a bit emotionally distant, and her insight and advice helps save the team on multiple occasions. She’s shown some skill in computers, too, evinced by her ability to reprogram satellites.
After Flashpoint (a crucial shift in the timeline Barry caused), Caitlin develops cryokinesis similar to what her evil doppelganger from Earth-2 had. After only having had her new powers for a couple of days, she almost succeeds in defeating the Flash, who has been using his powers far longer. She might not have complete control over her abilities, and fears them to a degree, but her innate intelligence and skill still shows in her ability to almost best a trained superhero. Did I mention she created a cure for a super soldier serum?
Felicity Smoak, Arrow
Ah, Felicity, the genius techie and hacker I’ve always wanted in a superhero show. A graduate of MIT, she’s a super hacker and one-time hacktivist who created a supervirus to expose government fraud. She’s a business leader as well and is eventually made CEO of Palmer Technologies, formerly Queen Consolidated (called Smoak Technologies in one possible future). Intelligent, capable, ambitious, and confident, she’s not afraid to label herself the smartest person in the room. She’s usually right about it, too.
She’s skilled with the creation of customizable gadgets—think Q from James Bond films—only she does the creating as well as the geeking out over explaining it. She has a near impeccable memory and can card count with the best of them. And if that weren’t enough, she can disarm bombs. Oh, and she’s also basically a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about such disparate subjects as history, politics, geography, linguistics, engineering, and chemistry. I don’t currently watch Arrow, but I would just for her. I have a thing for uber nerds.
Lily Stein, Legends of Tomorrow
Daughter of Dr. Martin Stein (half of Firestorm), Lily Stein is a recent addition to the show. She was ‘created’ from an alternate timeline after Martin convinced his younger self to invest more in his relationship with his (their?) wife Clarissa. With an PhD in nanotechnology from MIT, she’s easily Martin’s intellectual equal, which he readily admits. They work well as a team, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the show develops her as a character now that Martin has decided he wants to keep her in his life rather than go back and change the timeline (again). My favorite part about her? She got in trouble for wanting to sing the periodic table in her kindergarten class instead of the alphabet. If that doesn’t scream genius nerd baby I don’t know what does.
Eliza Danvers, Supergirl
Elizabeth and I have talked previously about Dr. Eliza Danvers. At length. She’s a brilliant scientist and bio-engineer for starters, and she and her husband Jeremiah were at one point a team that helped Superman understand his own superpowers. In fact, when Kara lands on earth, she and Jeremiah are the ones Kal chooses to raise his newly arrived cousin. She never loses her interest in alien physiology (she nerds out when she finds out J’onn is a shapeshifter), and she’s the first name on Alex’s list to help the DEO with Cadmus’ anti-alien virus. To top it off, she synthesizes the cure not only for that, but also for J’onn’s White Martian infection.
On the home front, she single handedly raised two intellectually and emotionally intelligent teenagers after her husband went missing, one of whom became a skilled scientist in her own right (Alex). Despite being hard on Alex and a bit overprotective of Kara, the emotional stability of and strong bond between her two daughters is testimony to her investment as a mother. She’s also one of the most supportive moms that a queer lady could ask for. You might even say she’s a, wait for it, super mom. *ba-dum tiss*
Alex Danvers, Supergirl
Speaking of a daughter who followed in her mother’s footsteps, Alex Danvers. For those who didn’t watch Season 1 of Supergirl (Shame on you! Go watch it! It’s amazing.), Alex is more than an ass-kicking expert in hand-to-hand combat and highly trained marksman. She’s also a bio-engineer like her mother. In fact, she was first tapped for the DEO position because of her medical and engineering training. Well, and that Kara is her sister, but even so. The DEO wouldn’t have been willing to train her as an active agent were she not intelligent as well as capable.
Speaking of capable, she personally trains Kara in field combat and has demonstrable leadership capabilities. J’onn hand picks her to lead the DEO when he’s imprisoned. She can handle both human and alien tech with ease, and is about equal to Kara in fighting skill when she’s powered up or Kara powered down. She’s strategic, physically and mentally quick, and can adapt easily in stressful situations. She can keep up with, and even outsmart, tech whiz and entrepreneur Maxwell Lord, and her verbal sparring game is A+.
Lena Luthor, Supergirl
Heir to her (evil) genius and (adoptive) brother Lex Luthor, Lena steps up to the plate as CEO of LexCorp, rebranding it L-Corp and moving to National City in a brilliant business and economic move. She’s proven herself to be more than capable of rebranding and running the business despite the setbacks her brother’s villainy presents and wants to turn it into a force of good. She’s not unlike Asami Sato from Legend of Korra in that regard.
Also like Asami, Lena is a tech-nerd and engineer of some skill. This lady built a working bomb that would disable alien weaponry and threw a gala event to cover up her plan to capture the Cadmus gang. Genius. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she’s heavily involved in research and development at L-Corp given her proclivities. To top it off, she’s cunning enough to have outsmarted her mother Lillian Luthor, a genius in her own right.
Cat Grant, Supergirl
Last but certainly not least, I present to you media mogul Cat Grant. Former assistant to Perry White at The Daily Planet, she becomes CEO of the foremost media company in National City: CatCo Worldwide Media. A company she built from the ground up and nurtured every step of the way. A company that rivals The Daily Planet and frequently scoops them on coverage of world events. She’s ruthless, uncompromising, and stern in her leadership, but boy does she get results.
It’s not for nothing that she’s labeled the most influential person in National City, and she proves the moniker correct. She’s a marketing genius, deftly controlling the conversation around Supergirl from the very beginning. She knows how to control a room as well as a byline, and is a master of spin. Need a clever comeback? Ask Cat. She can talk circles around just about anybody and would probably beat Vizzini in a battle of wits, hands down. She also has an eye for talented people and knows how and when to use her human and media resources to best effect.
But Wait, There’s More
Those are just the biggies. Supergirl also has Lucy Lane (military prosecutor and legal attaché; the fact that she’s on the jobs she has despite her youth is proof of her incredible skill as a lawyer), and Alura In-Ze (a, if not the most, prominent judge on Krypton). The Flash has Tina McGee (director of Mercury labs and inventor of the tachyon device), Jesse Chambers Wells/Quick (science prodigy and intellectual superior to her father, the man behind S.T.A.R. labs), and Carla Tannhauser* (Caitlin Snow’s mother, a biomedical engineer and head of a major research company).
Arrow has Amanda Waller (head of A.R.G.U.S and leader of the suicide squad), and if you count highly skilled assassins, both Nyssa Al Ghul and Sara Lance fit the bill. Later this season, Lexa Doig will be portraying Talia Al Ghul, another elite and intelligent warrior. Then you have antagonists like Lillian Luthor (genius biotechnical engineer) and Astra In-Ze (an outstanding general in Krypton’s military) from Supergirl and Brie Larvan (tech genius and rival to Felicity Smoak) from The Flash and Arrow. I could go on.
Are there still issues with this list? Certainly. All of these women are white. The Fanfinites list for comics had three Lady Geniuses of color. DCTV could do much better with providing Lady Geniuses who are also minorities. If done with sensitivity, it could be great for representation if Supergirl adapted the New 52 version of Lena Luthor and made her paralyzed (Note: she’s not paralyzed in any other iteration). I’d love to see an awesome Lady Genius in a wheelchair on television. So long as it didn’t sideline or fridge her character, of course. At least DCTV has at least one older woman, Eliza Danvers, and one queer woman (that we know of), Alex Danvers, on this list. Even more if you count the secondary/tertiary characters and antagonists.
In short, DCTV is single-handedly creating as many, if not more, lady genius characters than comics. 7 characters on three shows vs 7 characters in hundreds of comics. Even if you pulled in the poorly written and secondary characters from comics it wouldn’t rival the list of secondary characters on DCTV. One could quibble over my inclusion of this or that female character in that list, but, no one can deny the disparity between the main two lists in terms of prominence and name recognition of the characters. Especially given that it took a fraction of the time to come up with these characters than it did the Fanfinites to come up with their list from comics.
Get it together comics industry. DCTV is showing you up big time.