Female characters are taking off as the stars of their own comic book stories, and writers and readers are thrilled

They punch bad guys, solve crimes and fly around with fantastic heroes.

They are superheroes, and more and more are women.

Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, Angela, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Catwoman and many others are the lead characters in comic books from major publishers. And being a female character no longer means they’re eye candy or helpless characters that need to be saved.

Observers and creators say that’s a great thing.

“They’re moving from characters that existed just to propel the adventures of the male heroes into being fully fleshed-out, living, breathing, deep, rich characters of their own,” said Joe Patrick, manager of Legend Comics & Coffee and co-host of the Two-Headed Nerd comic book podcast. “There is a driving force to increase female representation in comics and change the representation they had.”

Characters such as Ms. Marvel aren’t oversexed, spandex-wearing damsels in distress. Ms. Marvel is a Muslim teenager who wears a more realistic costume, and she has her own adventures that don’t revolve around men.

When she did team up with a major male hero — Wolverine from the X-Men — she didn’t take a back seat. Instead, she shouldered the brunt of the responsibility battling the bad guys.

“I think that the audience for this sort of thing has grown,” Patrick said. “Society has evolved to the point where we recognize that, ‘Hey, some of the ways we used women in stories is not OK.’ ”

In the past it was a common trope for women to lose their power or be injured or killed, but for men to be spared such fates. Green Lantern’s girlfriend was infamously killed and stuffed into a refrigerator as a plot device to anger her boyfriend.

“Across the industry we have been systematically un-fridging ... female characters who may have gotten short shrift in the past, looking at their back stories and discovering, as a community, what has been left unsaid,” said Ms. Marvel writer G. Willow Wilson.

Women and men in the comics industry have fought for costumes that fully cover characters’ bodies and story lines that aren’t always about a damsel in distress, Wilson wrote on themarysue.com.

“I think it’s a really great thing,” said Omahan Alyse Wisdom, a comic book fan who works for Berkshire Hathaway Homestate Companies.

More female leads in comics is great, she said. She hopes that it gets more young female readers into comics.

A push toward more practical superhero costumes has been helpful, she said.

Wisdom has especially enjoyed recent stories with She Hulk. The character has all the powers of her green, super-strong cousin, the Hulk, but she’s also a lawyer.

“She’s very smart. She tries to do things that route, rather than smashing things,” Wisdom said. “It shows not only can you be a superhero, but you can be a superhero by having a career.”

Female-centric comics have been receiving lots of praise. Nominations for this year’s Eisner Awards — like the Oscars, for comics — lean heavily toward such female-focused comics as “Ms. Marvel,” “Saga,” “Lumberjanes” and “The Wicked + the Divine.”

The biggest comics companies are also adding more female-led books to their lineups. DC Comics is updating its comic book line next month with four new female-led series: “Black Canary,” “Harley Quinn/Power Girl,” “Prez” and “Starfire.” The company is also launching DC Super Hero Girls, a new initiative to make comics, cartoons and merchandise aimed at girls ages 6 to 12.

Through next month, Marvel Comics is introducing “A Force,” “Night Nurse,” “Inferno,” “Captain Marvel & the Carol Corps” and “Star-Lord & Kitty Pryde” to add to recent female leads “Spider-Gwen,” “Silk” and “Princess Leia.”

More female-geared comics means more female readers, too. At Legend Comics & Coffee, Patrick said his customers are 15 to 20 percent female. It’s a small number, he said, but it’s up considerably from five years ago.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1557, kevin.coffey@owh.com

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