Sally the Sleuth The grandma of them all, Sally may have had been portrayed as almost constant rape bait in her early appearances, but she was nobody’s bimbo. She appeared in countless comic adventures, originally in the pages of Spicy Detective.
Betty Blake Sally’s big sister. A little better dressed, a little more stylish, and far less prone to being threatened with rape on a regular basis. Written and drawn by pulp artist legend H.L. Parkhurst, Betty appeared, like Sally, in comic adventures in the pages of Trojan’s line of pulps.
Tiffany Sinn “One of the best private eyes in the business,” but her career gets sidetracked when the CIA forces her to go to work for them. Definitely one of the more interesting female private eyes to ever show up in comics, even if it tried too hard to be part of the sixties spy craze.
Ms. Tree Max Allan Collins and Terry Beatty’s early eighties take-no-prisoners, guns-a-blazin’ private eye bitch-slapped the notion that a female detective had to defer to anyone’s idea of what a female detective could or should be. Or what a comic book featuring such a character could or should discuss. This wasn’t kid stuff — topics included pornography, abortion, rape, free speech and breastfeeding along with the usual P.I. stuff. Imagine Spillane woke.
Dakota North Former fashion model turned private eye whose cases may not have always made much sense, but dang! — in those tight leather pants she looked good solving them. Which apparently was the point. Marvel has since tried to retcon some narrative meat onto those lovely bones, but messy, complicated Jessica Jones seems to have already filled that slot.
Jinx Alameda A hard-ass, foul-mouthed bounty hunter from Cleveland appeared in a string of feisty, defiantly indie comics in the nineties, written and drawn by future comics big shot Brian Michael Bendis.
Velda Bellinghausen Essentially a smarter, more knowing Sally the Sleuth for the new millenium. A heart-felt tribute by a true fan, with a previous era’s soft-core rape scenarios replaced with a more respectful (and consenting) wink-wink, nudge-nudge.
Kate Bishop (aka “Hawkeye”) Jessica Drew (aka “Spider-Woman”) Jonni Thunder (aka “Thunderbolt”) Three superheroes from the big leagues (two from Marvel, one from DC) who also happen to be, at least occasionally (when the story fits) private eyes. The most recent, Kate Bishop, in particular shows some plucky potential, opening her own agency in Venice Beach, but how long before she’s back in spandex shooting fire arrows at an evil clone of the Incredible Hulk or something?
A.Y. Jalisco The nuance-free trials and tribulations of a recent Mexican immigrant seemingly cursed by bad luck and bad choices, trying to make it as a private eye in New York City, written and drawn in decidedly broad strokes by Argentinians.
Jessica Jones She’s a mess. A former super-hero who couldn’t quite cut it becomes a foul-mouthed, alcoholic New York private eye with her own agency. She thinks she’s left the super-hero world behind, but she hasn’t. Created by artist Michael Gaydos and Brian Michael Bendis, Jessica’s best when she’s working the mean streets, not soaring above them.
Dex Parios A tough-talking, no-holds-barred detective created by crime novelist Greg Rucka, capable of holding her own in a fight, Parios shares the same fictional universe as Rucka’s Atticus Kodiak, with several minor characters occasionally popping up.
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Philadelphia, Quirk Books, 2017. Sub-titled “Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book history,” this amazing volume traces the evolution — and sometimes the de-evolution — of female characters in Canadian and American comic book history, giving us the scoop on superheroes, detectives, nurses, Lois Lane and even Wendy, the Good Little Witch. Among the female P.I.s covered are Sally the Sleuth, A.Y. Jalisco, Ms. Tree and Dakota North. Sharp where it needs to be, and smart all the way through, this is just a fascinating romp through comic book history.
Respectfully compiled by Kevin Burton Smith. Any additions would be greatly appreciated.