A version of this article appeared on The Strand
The first badass woman I ever recognized as such was Wonder Woman. It was 1975, and Lynda Carter played the titular character of Wonder Woman on her own ABC (later CBS) show. I was five years old at the time, and I never missed an episode. Maybe I wasn’t wholly aware of the sex appeal of a skintight outfit, and the (literally) bondage-inspired Lasso of Truth, but I was aware that Diana Prince was something special and different than Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man, who was my personal favorite. 1976 brought The Bionic Woman, to join the Wonder Woman club of badass women, and we were off to the races.
My whole life has been punctuated by the presence of badass women in media. Movies, books, comics, games and toys have all had an impact on me, and ultimately on the creation of Camaro Espinoza, the character I’ve been writing about almost nonstop for five years.
In many respects, Camaro has been bubbling up from my creative center since the ‘80s. Back then I was a heavy tabletop role-player, with at least one game per week, and my favorite character was a total badass woman named Alyson Brant. She was part Nagel beauty, part bodybuilder (like Marjo Selin) and part Scarlett. Did I mention Scarlett? Scarlett was the original female member of the eponymous GI Joe team in the GI Joe toy-line and comic. I loved my Scarlett action figure, and she was a total butt-kicking soldier and ninja trainee under everybody’s favorite GI Joe character, Snake Eyes, in Larry Hama’s classic comic stories.
Years later a reviewer would call Camaro Espinoza, “an action figure in the shape of woman,” as if that’s a bad thing. I’d been playing with female action figures since I was seven years old. Remember Princess Leia? One of my faves. I even had the 11.5-inch doll, which went with the Jaime Sommers doll I got for Christmas 1977. Action figure? Hell, yeah!
I played Alyson Brant on Saturday nights with my friends, getting into all kinds of scrapes against communist agents, terrorists and miscellaneous bad guys. It never occurred to me some might find this odd. After each session, we’d catch GLOW — the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling — where some of my faves like Tina Ferrari and Colonel Ninotchka did battle in the squared circle. In the same year GLOW came along (1986), Aliens blew my mind like it did everyone else’s. Ellen Ripley impressed me, which isn’t surprising, but I fell in love with Jenette Goldstein as PFC Vasquez, and Vasquez to this day remains my favorite part of the movie: tough, capable and, when the situation called for it, ready to lay down her life for others. The heroes of Aliens make it out alive as much because of Vasquez’s sacrifice as anything they do on their own. The fact that Camaro’s last name is Espinoza can be no coincidence, though I wasn’t consciously thinking about Vasquez when the name popped into my head.
The ‘80s were surprisingly full of badass women. Who can forget the late Lana Clarkson in Barbarian Queen and its sequel? And in music we had women like Joan Jett and Lita Ford, who knew how to shred guitar and blast your speakers with uncompromising hard rock and heavy metal as well as any man in the business. Heck, when the Nintendo Entertainment System came along late in the decade, the ass-kicking main character of the wildly popular Metroid was revealed to be a woman, Samus Aran, in the final moments of the game. Players, who probably wouldn’t have given a second thought to an icky girl blasting her way through hordes of aliens to defeat the Space Pirates, were suddenly confronted with the fact that they’d been playing a heroine all along.
As the years have passed, I’ve been given more and more inspiration from badass women coming from all corners of the media world. Remember Xena: Warrior Princess? I do. Buffy Summers? The free-loving, tank-driving Rebecca Buck from Tank Girl? And how about all the other comic-book heroines who came into their own in the ‘90s and ’00s, from Elektra to Zealot to Domino? I have devoured the adventures of every one of these badass women, and they’ve become a part of my creative process.
But it’s not been all TV and movies and toys and comics. I started reading Nancy Drew when I was about seven years old. She didn’t kick ass, exactly, but she did have a pretty cool convertible. And when I was a little older I adored Éowyn, who defeated the Witch-King in The Return of the King. As I write Camaro Espinoza today, all of these women are at her back, pushing her forward, encouraging her to be not just a killer, but a heroine worthy of the name, a person, a fully-realized woman with as much character as any protagonist who ever cropped up in fiction.
I don’t claim Camaro is the equal of any of these great characters I’ve collected in my ever-lengthening memory over 40 years, nor do I say she’s the apotheosis of the heroine in literature. If we are all as writers standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, I and Camaro are standing on some very strong shoulders indeed.
Badass women everywhere, I salute you.