Ten Tough Heroines you should know about!
I started my publishing career writing award-nominated borderland noir fiction set in Mexico and Texas. These days I write thrillers about Camaro Espinoza, a bad-ass former combat medic who never met a gun she didn’t like and never found a problem she couldn’t solve through violence. My affinity for her type goes back a long way, and here are the top ten kick-ass women I’ve loved.
- Wonder Woman. I started watching Wonder Woman, played by Lynda Carter, in 1975. I didn’t understand the sex appeal of her skimpy uniform and the (literally) bondage-inspired Lasso of Truth, but I did get that she kicked butt and made no apologies for her strength. She was joined on TV later by Jaime Sommers, the titular Bionic Woman, but it was Wonder Woman who came first.
- Leia Organa. My first crush, dating back to 1977. Princess Leia fought just as hard as any other character in the Star Wars films and looked good doing it. I was thrilled to see The Force Awakens in 2015 and find General Organa still kicking butt. The recent death of Carrie Fisher means no more Leia after this year’s The Last Jedi, but her memory will never fade.
- When I was twelve, the GI Joe brand was revived in action-figure form. I had my favorites among the guys, of course—Snake Eyes for life, ya’ll—but there was one bad-ass woman in that initial wave of figures: Shana O’Hara, code name Scarlett. They gave no justification for her being a woman on what was apparently an all-male team, but that’s how it should be. Her character was expanded by writer Larry Hama in the long-running GI Joe comic, and he said Scarlett’s character was based on his wife.It would be another couple of years before Baroness, the evil equivalent of Scarlett, made her debut, and she also remains a fave to this day. Yo, Joe!
- Colonel Ninotchka. The Colonel, a bad-ass Soviet soldier with no scruples, was the best “heel” in the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW). Lori Palmer played Ninotchka, and even though we were in the grip of the Cold War during the Reagan years, she was an inspiration. After Saturday evening tabletop role-playing sessions—where I played a proto-version of Camaro Espinoza named Alyson Brant—my friends and I watched GLOW, which aired at midnight. I especially liked it when Ninotchka mixed it up with Tina Ferrari (Lisa Moretti), GLOW’s most popular “face,” or good-gal wrestler. They were great.
- PFC Jenette Vasquez. When Aliens hit in 1986, I thought it was the most awesome thing ever. Everyone fixated on Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, and still do, but I was captivated by PFC Vasquez, the smart-gun-wielding bad-ass who exemplified all the best traits of a fighting woman: strength, resolve, and when the situation called for it, sacrifice. Let’s not forget that everyone who survives Aliens has Vasquez to thank because she killed herself to cover their escape. Spoiler alert. It’s probably no mistake Camaro’s last name is Espinoza, though I didn’t make the connection at the time.
- Kaira and Amathea. The actress Lana Clarkson was murdered in cold blood in 2003, which left me heartbroken and furious. Her heyday was the ’80s, but she was still making movies into the 21st Her characters in Deathstalker and Barbarian Queen remain among my pantheon of bad-ass women, combining sex appeal with swordplay and steely determination. Sure, the movies were trashy, but so what? The DVD copies I own of both movies came from Clarkson herself, who also autographed two mini-posters I keep tucked away in my firetrap of a house.
- Xena. I don’t know of anyone who wouldn’t put Xena in the top-ten list of bad-ass women. An unstoppable warrior woman with a dark past, she killed her way through scores of bad guys over six seasons and set the standard for female action heroes to follow. Lucy Lawless continues to tear it up in every role she plays, and I could easily bulk out this list itemizing parts from Spartacus, Ash vs. Evil Dead, and Battlestar Galactica if I wanted to. And a shout-out to Xena’s sidekick, Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor) who turned out to be quite the bad-ass herself.
- Éowyn. When writer/director Peter Jackson brought The Lord of the Rings alive on the silver screen, he gave a fair amount of exposure to an essential but often overlooked character, Éowyn of Rohan, who saved the day in the Battle of Pelennor Fields by slaying the Witch-King. The Witch-King said he couldn’t be killed by any man, to which Éowyn replied: “But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn I am, Éomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.” Whack. Dead.
- Mallory Kane. Almost no one saw the movie Haywire (2011), but I was there on opening day to see former women’s mixed martial arts champion Gina Carano in her film debut. Mallory, a former Marine now working for a private military company, is betrayed by her boss and former lover, which sets off a multinational action-adventure where many people are maimed or killed. It’s a great movie, Carano is terrific in it, and Mallory Kane absolutely deserves to be on this list.
- Miesha Tate. This bad-ass woman is not a character, but a real person. Miesha Tate, like Gina Carano, is a pioneer of WMMA and a two-time champion bantamweight. Tate has never been the quickest grappler or the hardest puncher, but she has incredible heart, the ability to soak up unbelievable amounts of punishment, and, in real life, is a genuine heroine who has saved lives. She’s known to be one of the nicest people around, and she would seem to be an odd inspiration for the notoriously prickly and introverted Camaro Espinoza, but the two are so intertwined in my mind that when I think of Camaro, I think of Tate, and when I think of Tate, I think of Camaro. Miesha Tate is just that damned inspirational.
There you have it, but I could go on and on. Bad-ass women have been a part of my life for decades and now I have Camaro to keep me company for years to come. I’d be thrilled if someday someone put Camaro on a list like this. Then I’d know she’s made it.