The Bad Girl Comic is a comic book starring a female lead who is usually fanservicey to the point of being stripperiffic, often a vampire, witch, or other occult figure, and most certainly an Anti-Hero, usually of the '90s Anti-Hero variety. Some qualify fully as a Villain Protagonist.
During The Dark Age of Comic Books, comics reveled in exploring all previously "forbidden" themes: violence, gore, crime, cynical grittiness, occult or demonic imagery, sex and sex appeal — usually cranked Up to Eleven. On one hand, we got the '90s Anti-Hero, with emphasis on the "violence, gore, crime and cynical grittiness" part. On the other hand, we got this trope.
As the Comics Code waned, comic readers re-discovered pre-Code comic books and comic strips of the late 1940s and early '50s, the latter period of the Golden Age. A lot of them featured depictions of sexy women, featured in various roles: from Damsels in Distress to Action Girl pilot aces to Femmes Fatales to outright bloodthirsty villains in some crime books. That style, exemplified in the works of Bill Ward and Wally Wood, was nicknamed "good girl art" by its new fans. Note that it didn't mean "art depicting good girls" (since a lot of these "girls" were quite "bad") but rather "good art depicting good-looking girls".
Some comic creators decided to combine the sexual allure of "good girl art" with other themes that were previously forbidden by the Code: violence, antiheroic attitudes, occult and demonic themes. Thus a new comic genre was born, nicknamed "bad girl art" or "bad girl comics" by its fans. Its usual definitive elements include:
- An Action Girl protagonist.
- She usually (though not always) has some kind of occult connection, be it her powers or her backstory or the enemies she fights.
- She's got a cynical antiheroic or outright villainous attitude, or is simply Above Good and Evil.
- She is usually driven by personal motives rather than any kind of altruistic ideals. Revenge is a popular one here.
- She and most other female characters are depicted with an idealized body and skimpy outfits to maximize sex appeal. This wasn't just occasional fanservice, but an inherent part of the genre.
- She never shies away from excessive violence to achieve her goals — and her enemies use the same brutal methods, as well.
It should be noted that there are pre-'90s precedents for this genre. In 1940, Fletcher Hanks created Fantomah, a blonde supernatural heroine who was sometimes drawn in a flimsy, entirely sheer garment - but whose face became a skull when she used her powers. Vampirella, originally a Horror Host, was similar in aesthetic to many later Bad Girls, while Italian comics had long combined sexy anti-heroines and supernatural horror.
The Bad Girl genre of the '90s was popular enough to survive The Great Comics Crash of 1996 relatively unscathed. Bad Girl Comics were mostly published by smaller indie publishers, which appeared en masse during the Dark Age. In their heyday, Bad Girl Comics gathered a large and surprisingly diverse audience, with female readers comprising a large part of it. That was possibly because the comics featured Action Girl protagonists who had cool powers and usually didn't rely on men to achieve their goals. Some female readers also liked the risqué costumes, with some even managing to cosplay them despite their improbable designs, and even fans who didn't like the outfits still liked the characters themselves for being among the more competent, independent, and legitimately badass women in comics of that era.
Of course, Sturgeon's Law led to a lot of literally bad Bad Girl Comics. Bad writers created overly edgy and clichéd plots, and bad artists turned "sexy" into "horribly mangled anatomy". Even the best examples suffered from a problem common to most comics of the era: they came across as cartoonishly camp and silly to many readers, but instead of being self-aware they often took themselves completely seriously.
The genre's popularity started declining in the early 2000s, most likely because of the growing popularity of manga and anime in America. Still, some Bad Girl Comic elements got incorporated into mainstream comics, either by ascended fans or former "bad girl" artists themselves. And despite having become a niche genre, original Bad Girl Comics are still present on the market and maintain a rather stable readership.
Comic book examples:
- Lady Death: One of the pioneers of the genre's popularity. She was initially conceived as a mortal brought to Hell against her will, where she managed to defeat the Devil who cursed her to never be able to leave Hell as long as there's life on Earth — which she decided to circumvent the obvious way. There are other (later) versions of the character, published by CrossGen Comics and Avatar Press, which reinvent the character in different ways, while keeping to the Bad Girl Comic genre.
- Purgatori: A demon-like vampire goddess who started as Lady Death's enemy, and then got her own spin-off series.
- Lady Demon: Another spin-off character from Lady Death's comics. She was Lady Death's powerful evil side, created by Lucifer. She later escaped to Earth, possessed the body of a deceased mortal woman, and went on a murderous rampage.
- Chastity: A vampire punk/goth girl who worked as an assassin for a council of vampires to kill other vampires.
- Jade: A Chinese vampire-sorceress sired by Purgatori who controlled a powerful crime family for centuries, and then decided to spread her rule to the other Triad families, and then all of China.
- Bad Kitty: An ex-cop who uncovered corruption within the police force, had her boyfriend turned into a zombie, and devoted herself to fighting supernatural threats.
- Pandora: She's the Pandora from Greek Mythology, fighting against the evil that she once released.
- Hellina: A woman who got magic powers from Lucifer to fight his enemy, and wields a magic dagger that will either purify you of all evil or kill you.
- One of the most successful examples of this genre. It even spawned an eponymous anime set in the same world but with different characters (and later a manga unrelated to the anime). The main character of the comic series, Sara Pezzini, is more of a heroine than an antihero, but she wields a powerful magical artifact which doubles as a skimpy outfit, uses it to dispatch of her enemies, and has a rather dark backstory.
- The live-action TV series was an aversion, toning down the fanservice for basic-cable television and making Sara's outfit look more like stylized medieval armor.
- A spin-off out-of-continuity comic called Switch by longtime Witchblade artist Stjepan Sejic was published in 2015. However, as it features a teenage heroine and is intended for an all-ages audience, most Bad Girl Comic elements are obviously absent, so it isn't an example of this genre but rather a traditional teen superhero story.
- The 2017 reboot also moved away from the more fanservicey elements of the genre, with the new Witchblade wielder Alex Underwood's armor covering more of her body.
- The Darkness, a spinoff of Witchblade, could be considered a rare male version: its protagonist Jackie Estacado is a Mafia hitman who became a wielder of the primordial mystical power of chaos and darkness, seized control over the mob, and created his own drug cartel, while wearing a rather skintight magical armor over his toned body. However, his series also features "bad girls" like The Angelus and The Magdalena.
- Aphrodite IX: About an amnesiac android assassin.
- Madame Mirage is a mid-'00s homage to Bad Girl Comics as well as to the pulp vigilante genre (e.g. The Shadow), created by Paul Dini. It features a Femme Fatale vigilante with mysterious superpowers on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against an equally mysterious evil corporation. Madame Mirage wears a quite flattering outfit, and her appearance is said to be based on Dini's wife.
- Avengelyne: Co-created by Liefeld and model Cathy Christian, this character was a fallen angel who fought demons.
- Glory: During Liefeld's original run, she was a blatant Wonder Woman Wannabe with a couple of added Bad Girl Comic elements, e.g. a sexier outfit and her being a half-demon who tried to overcome her evil side. When Alan Moore came on board, he toned down most of those and turned her into a mix of a cheerful deconstruction of Wonder Woman comics and a prototype for Promethea. (The 2010s retool of the series by Joe Keatinge and Sophie Campbell has nothing to do with this subgenre at all.)
- Catwoman: In her 1993 solo series she was reimagined with elements of this genre. It was written by Mary Jo Duffy, who later wrote Rob Liefeld's Glory series, and drawn by Jim Balent, who also drew several other Bad Girl Comics.
- After her 2000s solo series ended, Catwoman teamed up with Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy for the Gotham City Sirens series, which fits squarely into this as a comic about three borderline Anti-Villain/Anti-Hero women with extremely fanservicey artwork.
- Harley Quinn in general has been pushed in this direction in recent years, becoming effectively a superhero-flavored take on this genre.
- Satana, the Devil's Daughter, was one of the earliest example of this genre. She was created in The '70s, but wasn't used much for decades. She later appeared in all her "bad girl" glory in the mid-'00s Witches miniseries where she played the token evil teammate, and as a Boxed Crook in Thunderbolts/Dark Avengers.
- Elektra, created by Frank Miller in The '80s, is usually considered to be another early example of this genre, despite the occult element being low-key (some of her stories have involved dark versions of ninja mysticism, and after dying in her establishing Daredevil arc she was magically resurrected in rather sinister circumstances).
- Magik from the X-Men started as Colossus' little sister. After some convoluted events, she manifested a Superpowered Evil Side called Darkchilde/Darkchylde, who had a monstrous demonic form at the time. Later, she got killed off, and was resurrected in the mid-00s, as Darkchilde. Her new design and persona were heavily influenced by Bad Girl Comics. She later became Magik again, but retained parts of her Darkchilde personality.
- Comics' Greatest World
- Barb Wire, who also was the protagonist of her own arc, which has Cyberpunk influence. Nowadays, she's mostly remembered for its poorly received movie adaptation starring Pamela Anderson.
- Ghost also was part of this series, but in the first arc and seen as an Action Girl for X, but later she receives her own solo series. Like her first appearance, all about her was written and drawn by her creator, Adam Hughes.
- The Mask Returns starred Stanley Ipkiss' ex-girlfriend and murderer Kathy as the new carrier of the Evil Mask, being the only female Mask of the series (and causing much more madness and carnage than Ipkiss' version).
- Vampirella is considered the Ur-Example. Created in 1969 by sci-fi and horror fan Forrest J. Ackerman and designed by feminist underground comics creator Trina Robbins, she later enjoyed a revival during the Bad Girl Comic craze of The '90s, and remains relatively popular ever since.
- Dawn, created by Creator/Joseph Michael Linsner. Initially she was just a random cheesecake girl appearing on the covers of the horror comic anthology Cry for Dawn. After some time, she was "promoted" to the role of the Horror Host, and then started appearing in some stories, getting long overdue Character Development. Dawn is an immortal goddess of birth and rebirth, with complicated relations to witches, other gods, and Lucifer. She wields a sword and has a lot of supernatural powers.
- Razor by London Night Studios. A violent vigilante on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, she wields blades that extend from her arms causing her pain.
- Shi by Crusade Comics. A brutal half-Japanese warrior on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
- Darkchylde by Creator/Maximum Press: Not to be confused with the demonic Superpowered Evil Side of Marvel Comics' Magik. A girl who is cursed to transform into monstrous creatures of her nightmares.
- Widow by Creator/Ground Zero Comics. A woman with mutant genes of a black widow spider, who constantly struggles against her dark animal (insect?) urges of mating with men and killing them, and fights various enemies.
- Lady Rawhide: Originally appearing in a 90s Zorro comic series as Zorro's sometimes enemy, sometimes ally, this masked vigilante quickly got her own spin-off series.
- Painkiller Jane by Event Comics. A vigilante who got regenerative powers through mysterious means, she was created by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti.
- Warrior Nun Areala by Antarctic Press is often considered one. However, her creator Ben Dunn argued against classifying his comic as this trope, noting that the protagonist has good and altruistic motives, and never resorted to violence first.
- Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose by Blacksword Comics, created by Jim Balent and his wife Holly Golightly.
- Grimm Fairy Tales by Creator/Zenescope Entertainment, and its various spin-offs. A mid-00s series paying homage to Bad Girl Comics, with settings based on Fractured Fairy Tale. Among the general comic fandom they're mostly known for two things: their erotic cover art, and their sizeable female reader base.
- Bomb Queen by Image Comics proper. A rather infamous mid-00s homage to the genre, about a sociopathic supervillainess who has taken over her hometown.
- Fearless Dawn by Asylum Press is a mid-00s tongue-in-cheek homage to both "bad girl art" of The '90s and "good girl art" of The '40s (with a bit of Tank Girl sprinkled on top). It's a cartoonish comic about a heroine in a skimpy costume who fights Nazis and demons.
- Dynamite Comics, who currently owns the rights to a lot of various IP (including most Chaos! Comics characters) created a Massive Multiplayer Crossover event called Swords of Sorrow in 2015, bringing together female characters from different genres, including Bad Girl Comics (e.g. Vampirella and Purgatori). It's also something of a "crossover" on a meta level, being written by a supergroup of the industry's most popular female writers. The publisher did not bag the rights to Lady Death, however, and so introduced its very own Bad Girl as a stand-in: Lady Hel.
- Hack/Slash, by Tim Seeley with various artists, published initially by Devil's Due and later Image, is basically a cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Bad Girl tradition. Cassie Hack is a scantily-clad, very cynical anti-hero who is often drawn for extreme fanservice, but in contrary to the usual tropes of the genre she is a Badass Normal fighting supernatural monsters, and she has much more angst, guilt, and self-doubt than is usual for a Bad Girl protagonist, most of whom tend to be cheerfully sociopathic.
- Crimson Plague, a short-lived Image title by George Pérez, that was chiefly notorious for the sheer jaw-dropping squickiness of its anti-hero's Lovecraftian Superpower. Her menstrual fluids make people dissolve into goo.
- Lady Rawhide is a swashbuckler take on the concept. Originally appearing in Topps' Zorro comic, she was so popular she was spun off to star in her one-shots and miniseries. Since Topps left the comics biz, she has appeared in titles from Dynamite. Her original motivation was seeking revenge for her brother's blinding: an act she originally blamed Zorro for. Exposure to Zorro's heroism gradually made her more altruistic. Her costume is as Stripperific as could be plausible for what an 18th c. character might make and wear.
Non-comic book examples:
- The version of Catwoman featured in Batman Returns is about as close as a movie can get to this within the bounds of a PG-13 rating. She's played by Michelle Pfeiffer in an extremely form-fitting black leather catsuit, she's motivated by revenge against her former boss Max Shreck after he has her killed for trying to expose his villainy, she's supernaturally revived by mystical alley cats, and she is far more violent than Batman and willing to team up with The Penguin to take down Shreck.
- Harley Quinn and Enchantress in Suicide Squad (2016) are clear-cut villains who, like the rest of the Suicide Squad, are only working on the side of the good guys because the government will have them killed if they don't. Both of them are played by gorgeous women in skimpy, fetishized outfits (Margot Robbie as a trashy punk chick and Cara Delevingne as a gothic witch, respectively), and while Harley is a Badass Normal, Enchantress is a woman named June Moone who is possessed by the spirit of a witch. After Enchantress breaks the bounds placed on her and becomes the Big Bad, her and Harley's interactions can be thought of as Bad Girl vs. Bad Girl. The later DC Extended Universe film Birds of Prey (2020), however, toned down the fanservice such that it doesn't really qualify, even if it otherwise ticks most of the boxes on the list (R-rated crime movie about a group of female Villain Protagonists and antiheroes).
- Lara Croft of Tomb Raider fame, especially in her earlier adventures. She was a '90s Anti-Hero who did not have compunctions about cutting down opponents with her dual handguns in pursuit of occult treasures for no reason other than the sport of it, and for a video game character at the time, the amount of fanservice focus in marketing was extremely high compared to contemporary games. Since the 2013 reboot, her outfit has changed to be less revealing while her Anti-Hero elements have been toned down.
- Bayonetta can be considered a textbook example of this trope: a kick-ass female antihero protagonist with occult powers that come from demons, who wears a sexy risque outfit (a lovely dominatrix-style cat suit made out of her own hair), and dispatches her angelic enemies without mercy.
- The Dark Queen in Battletoads was designed closely around this aesthetic. However, she's a villainess rather than an anti-heroine, and also the main antagonist.
- Velvet Crowe from Tales of Berseria is a downplayed example. She's a '90s Anti-Hero with a Stripperiffic outfit and demonic powers hell-bent on revenge against the man who murdered her brother, and has the melancholy attitude to match. The downplay comes from the fact that Velvet's sexuality is never emphasized as much as one would expect from her archetype, and the aesthetic of the rest of the game is as colorful as any other game in the Tales franchise.