The future of X-Men is in its women, ladies and gentlemen—and the future is now. In a surprising move, Marvel Comics announced recently that they will relaunch X-Men as a comic title headlined by all X-Women! This new book starting in April will be headlined by Brian Wood (writer of comics like DMZ, Mara, and The Massive) with art by Olivier Coipel (Thor) and will focus on such long-time favorite characters as Storm, Rogue, Shadowcat, Psylocke, Rachel Grey and Jubilee.
Why is this so exciting?
At a time when so many are standing up to speak about a lack of well-developed female lead characters in various geekdoms, Marvel has been actively addressing that absence with some amazing titles. Let’s take a look at what we can expect from the upcoming X-Men book and some of the other great books featuring Marvel’s mightiest women.
X-Men—Why It Looks Great, And Why We Should Care
It’s no secret that in the mutant world, women have often been the catalysts for a lot of major storylines, but only rarely have they been the agents of their own stories, or their own destinies. The title might be X-Men, but this new team is populated by some of the most popular female characters in the history of Marvel mutantdom, and has the capacity to bring the rich female cast to the forefront and let them shine, rather than leaving them on the all-too-familiar sidelines. The most exciting thing about the new X-Men is that while there certainly have been books that have been female-heavy in recent years, this promises to be a book that just happens to have all women as opposed to one that makes an all-women team the focus.
That’s a serious distinction. This isn’t going to be the Charlie’s Angels of Marvel or some cheesecake-filled, tongue-in-cheek attempt at tackling women’s stories. This team is filled with the crème de la crème of the mutant population, characters who bring all kinds of fodder for great storylines in their long histories and relationships. This is one team that can’t help but pass the Bechdel test, which (for those who aren’t familiar) is used to test gender bias in fiction. Can we call this the start of a post-Women in Refrigerators era? I won’t jump there just yet, but these strong, capable heroines aren’t likely to end up helpless (or stuffed into any kitchen appliances) any time soon.
Major kudos also seem in order for artist Olivier Coipel, whose cover for X-Men #1 shows a tastefully dressed and cool as hell X-team. Gone are the major cleavage shots or the outrageous poses—this is a comic book cover a woman can be comfortable with. Each woman looks kickass and capable in costumes that are cool as well as sensible. You have all the classic looks represented—even Storm sporting the mohawk—with some new additions, all in outfits that don’t over-sexualize the characters.
The only downside to this book might be the startling lack of female representation on the production side, as it’s helmed by two men. However, with Brian Wood’s history of writing intriguing and well-developed female characters in his previous titles and Coipel’s amazing work, one can see that the book appears to be in good hands. Especially intriguing is Wood’s interest in exploring the double standard of the romantic dramas and relationships that have been a huge part of the mutant soap opera of the X-Men world. Dare we hope for a comic that will explore the sexual double standard between men and women head-on? I’m excited to see what happens.
So what exactly can we look forward to in the upcoming X-Men? Teasers have hinted at the return of the Sentinels, a war or two, alien invasion, and a lost baby that Jubilee brings home—and maybe a plotline dealing with Jubilee and her little vampire problem? Please? Sounds like an average day of the week for the X-Men—now let’s see those adventures through the eyes of their most popular women. In a world where the All-New X-Men is being lead by the newly returned Jean Grey, mentored by Kitty Pryde, and Wolverine and the X-Men features a Jean Grey School for Higher Learning where Storm is the headmistress, the mutant world is certainly one in which women rule.
Marvel Does Women Right—Other Kick-Butt Women of Note
It’s not surprising that Marvel as a publisher has produced such a fabulous team. The backlash in recent years against the comic book industry’s startling lack of female representation has been vocal against both of the big two companies, with a petition hitting DC comics in 2011 targeting their lack of female headlining characters and creators. Marvel, however, has responded by not only increasing the visibility of those creators and characters already in their stable, but by headlining new female creators on some major books. They even went as far as to organize panels at various cons over the last few years, including 2012’s New York Comic Con featuring the Women of Marvel, highlighting the contributions of their writers, artists, and editors of the female persuasion. One such talent is Marjorie Liu, writer for such Marvel titles as X-23, Dark Wolverine and Astonishing X-Men. Her work on the X-titles has earned critical acclaim, including quite a lot of recognition for the first same-sex marriage of Northstar and his boyfriend Kyle in Marvel Comics as well as for the exploration of fan favorite X-23.
But of course, Liu is only one of the powerhouse creators driving some of Marvel’s books…let’s take a look at some of the others!
First up, Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer for Avengers Assemble and the fantastic Captain Marvel series. Not only is this book helmed by a wonderful female creator, but also features a beloved heroine. This new Captain Marvel is in fact an old familiar face—Carol Danvers, aka Ms Marvel, aka Binary—who has taken up the mantle of Captain Marvel as she tackles her own ongoing adventures. Backed by the art of Dexter Soy, this new series has Carol Danvers standing up as her own complicated, driven, and powerful character, letting her explore the legend of Captain Marvel and what it means to her. The power of this book, besides the beautiful art, is the way that DeConnick captures Danvers’ heroic nature and her free spirit so well, giving us a headlining women a reader can really love.
It’s also refreshing to see Danvers rescued from the background placeholder she’d become over the last few years, as well as from the ever-changing nature of her character. Like many Marvel women, she was lost in the shuffle, reinvented a dozen times, and now finally given a place where she can stand on her own two feet and shine.
Journey Into Mystery
Not to be outdone is the phenomenal Journey Into Mystery series, featuring the awesome Asgardian, Lady Sif. Following up on Kieron Gillen’s awesome run on the book, writer Kathryn Immonen and editor Lauren Sankovitch follow Lady Sif as she confronts the fact that she doesn’t feel strong enough to defend Asgard. Her journey takes her far from home as she deals with her concern over her strength, her relationship with her brother Heimdall, and her place as a warrior of Asgard. There are plenty of amazing moments and fantastic combat for those who want swordplay too, but the heart of this book really lies in the exploration of Sif and her comfort with her own power.
Coming off of her inclusion in the first Thor film—though couldn’t we have seen a little more Sif there, guys?—it’s good to see the warrior goddess getting her due as more than just Thor’s love interest.
And what would a list of the powerful women of the Marvel Universe be without the mention of She-Hulk? In this case however, we’re talking about the new Red She-Hulk. The Marvel NOW initiative has given us a book headlined by the red powerhouse herself in Red She-Hulk #58 as Betty Ross, Bruce Banner’s old flame, Hulks out and takes on all threats. Along with being a member of the Defenders, Ross is written (by Jeff Parker) as a rogue Hulk, out to do things her way and to remind people why the name “Hulk” should make folks nervous. What’s a little collateral damage between friends, right? This series is a welcome edition to the roster, though it has presented uncomfortably cheesecake covers like this variant for #58. Still, it’s refreshing to see a great character like Betty rescued from the “damsel/girlfriend/wife” category she languished in for so long to become her own butt-kicking super heroine.
These are only a few examples of how Marvel has expanded its female presence, both on their pages and behind the scenes in their bullpen. Now that X-Men is standing up to be counted with an all-women team, I look forward to what is, perhaps, a real shift in the comic world and their representation of women for the better.
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com.