X-Men #1-3: Primer
Where the X-Women Continue to Do What They Best by Jerry W. Vandal
“know what would make your all-female book better? Some male characters”-20% of the emails I’ve gotten.-
That was a tweet Brian Wood put up months before the relaunch of X-Men # 1, a book that looked by solicitations to differentiate itself from the other X-titles by showcasing a team comprised of only female X-Men. The picture was eye-catching as most of Oliver Coipel’s work is. Part of the appeal was clearly meant to be that above the X-Men logo stood six women. But, the bigger appeal to me was the cast of character. Six characters I’ve come to like and/or love over the years on a team together had the potential to be a good read. I wonder if any other book outside of the X-verse could have pulled this off without it feeling like a publicity stunt. There are the Fearless Defenders, Bird’s of Prey, there was Danger Girl and there’s been a few others—but none that have the spotlight the X-Men, Avengers or Justice League have. I can’t see an all Avengers female team working or even a Justice League. That could just be my lack of history with those franchises. These women however, ( in part thanks to the love Chris Claremont showed them over the years) were prepared for this.
The tweet however, which I read months after it was posted in conjunction with my first viewing of the cover is very disconcerting. I’ve always loved the X-Men because society has always been at odds with them. They were always designed to explore how society views things they do not understand and how empowered minorities affect the status quo of the majority. I have to be honest. Before I read that tweet I hated seeing threads on forums complaining about the treatment of women in comics or even how there need to be more females involved in the process. I’m not talking the objectivity here, as I feel it’s slightly different then the actual writing of and by women issue. I’m talking about the need to focus on women to draw in women readers—only because I feel that the writing itself should be the concern not the race or gender of those involved. Good writing should take care of that itself and roles should evolve organically. My naivety surpassed me. I believe in complete equality and in that when it comes to creativity I believe in one thing: a quality story. I never saw the issue in that light. What the world doesn’t need is stories that cater to a particular group, but stories that expand outside of skin, gender and religion and makes us see the connections between them. I read that tweet though and my heart felt like it was being held by the phased hand of Kitty Pryde offering “that look”.
Those are the stories I want to write. Those aren’t the stories the world has been primed for however—at least not everyone—not even in the X-verse. I’d like to think that comic book readers are better than holding to age old stereotypes, but that was again, my naivety. I’d like to believe that all comic book readers are more interested in how enthralled they are by the story in their hands. But then I remember reading letters from fans complaining about the Young Avengers had two gay characters and how they didn’t want to see that in “my” book. It didn’t matter that it was a good book—that’s what stood out for some. How can readers get passed age old stereotypes when they’re presented them on a monthly basis? The X-verse has done a better job of that then most for a longer period of time, but clearly the comments delivered to Wood’s suggests that there are still issues of gender dominance that need to be addressed.
There was a quote from Joss Whedon I read not long after I read that tweet. He was asked, “why do you write these strong female characters?” To which he replied, “because you’re still asking me that question.” In my world I’ve always tried to find characters I related to. When I was a kid it was Jubilee and Wolverine. While I’m not an orphan, seeing how alone she felt as her foster-parents argued over her struck a cord with me. Wolverine, beloved for being the badass so many boys wanted to grow up to be was no different for me. But he was also a loner which is something I questioned if I was going to be. I’ve always been socially awkward and those two characters, very different characters mind you, gave me something to relate to. That isn’t to say I’ve found as many women to relate to as men in comic books, but I never really saw the issue of gender in comic books in part because I thought everyone read these books in that way. Perhaps it’s because more than anything until after high school I pretty much stuck in the X-Verse and women always seemed to be on equal footing with the men. Jean was always the second most powerful telepath on the planet next to Professor X. A depowered Storm won leadership of the X-Men over Cyclops. Gambit chased Rogue, someone who was physically stronger than him around for years. Whedon’s comments have stuck with me. He’s aware that women have been depicted as beneath their male counterparts and it’s part of why he writes them as he does—because people still see that gender line. I want to note here that I am only talking about women in comic books not other mediums or other forms of literature. I’m only talking here about my ignorance as in regards to how women were/are being utilized in the comic book world.
So I’ve had to reevaluate my stance on women in comic books. As literature it’s the job of words and pictures to propel society forward—equality must be pushed as the norm. The point of doing what is done here in X-Men #1 should be creating a story that while featuring an all female cast doesn’t lose sight of telling a story. Wood, Coipel and company have done that. Fear Itself lost itself in its gimmick—one where heroes had to take on monstrous versions of other heroes and villains. Meanwhile the real story—humans having to rise to give the superheroes strength became a background tale to push readers into buying more books to see what happened when Thor had to fight Hulk and Thing. DC tried to gain some attention by making it known Green Lantern was gay, but not only did they choose a minor character, it had little baring on the Green Lantern story. It was simply a reaction to the wedding that took place in Astonishing X-Men.
I’ve spoken with a few people and at least from them I got the same reaction I had. I doubt they were as naive as I was about where readers are. They were certainly hyped to see an all female team, but that wasn’t the first thing they said about the book. They said, “wow, Storm, Rogue, Psylocke, Rachael Grey, Kitty Pryde and Jubilee. That’s a pretty cool sounding team. An all female X-Men team—it’s about time.” The female concept was secondary. The character selection here was so well picked out that, at least initially, the fact that this is an all female cast, to some wasn’t the first thought. Apparently it was for 20% of some readers, but not in those I spoke to. I suppose where the X-Men have an advantage is there really are that many top level women in their part of the marvel universe. Each of these characters are strong, fully developed characters that have had their shot in the limelight. They’ve each had multiple arcs dedicated to progressing their story. And in the case of Storm and Rogue been longterm leaders of a core X-team. Psylocke has had her own mini-series, presently leads Uncanny X-Force while Kitty Pryde is headmistress of the Jean Grey Institute for Higher Learning. Rachael Grey is no slouch either despite not leading a team. She is considered one of the strongest telepaths on the planet and has been able to control at least a portion of the Phoenix Force. Jubilee, while not known for being a massively important character gets a little spotlight on her after becoming a vampire (apparently she found some other vampires who learned to live without feeding on blood and can walk in the day called the Forgiven by the way). She’s also established herself as a worthy sidekick for Wolverine. I know the female sidekick to a male is a norm, how often is that inverted. But we’re talking Wolverine here—how many characters get top-billing over him? These women have more than a solid resume.
Now the question is can “X-Men” hold up and be a good book. Brian Wood has made a name for himself with his work on his creator owned DMZ, Northlanders, X-Men: Alpha and Omega and Ultimate X-Men. And Oliver Coipel has had the opportunity to strut his stuff on House of M, Thor and Uncanny Avengers. I can typically read through an issue of any book on my pull list in 10-15 minutes. But when Coipel’s name is attached I tend to spend a little more time simply looking at the page. He has a clean, alluring style that I admire and enjoy. The combination of these two was an excellent way to sell the book.
In their first three issue arc titled “Primer,” they show this book has a place. At no point reading the first arc did I feel a sense of this being a gimmick. And that is the perfect direction to take. I absolutely believe there should be more women front and center in the comic book world. I believe their should be more minorities represented and showcased. But I do not think that it should be done in a way that screams look at us—we’re progressive. We’re cool. Vote for us…err…read our book. And it does that by focusing on the story telling. That is the dynamic that needs to be conquered.
The gist of the story is that John Sublime’s (see Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men) sister, that he disposed of millions of years ago has returned, being carried by Jubilee’s son Shogo. Arkea, Sublime’s sister hijacks Karima’s (Omega Sentinel) body and proceeds to lockdown the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. We get a whole lot of action that eventually leads to the X-Men having to make a crucial decision on whether they kill their friend Karima Sharpender to eliminate Arkea’s threat. It’s a great story moment that I think could have used a little more room to breath. Psylocke ends up with a psychic blade pointed at Karima’s skull unsure of what to do. If she pushes through Karima’s mind will be lost, but the threat will be trapped. It’s an interesting position for her as she explores where she stands on killing following Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force and is being explored in Humphries run now. It’s my only actual complaint about the arc—it’s length.
Wood and Coipel’s X-Men first arc is a little short. The story itself keeps the pace moving with it’s action sequences, but considering this is supposed to be an advanced being, more intelligent than our heroes seems a bit too quick. An extra issue may have allowed for a little more action and maybe some more back story featuring Jubilee ( who appears to be the anchor of the book) and Shogo, the orphan child she rescued following an explosion in Budapest. Why was she in Hungary? How about a little explanation on the whole vampire thing? Why is Psylocke around when Wolverine (in Uncanny X-Force) sort of kicked her out for beating on the antagonistic Quentin Quire? Wood offered up an answer in an interview—that he didn’t see it as a kicking out but more so sent away on a mission—but that’s never even hinted at in this book. I had to google it. Other than that though, this first arc is a very good read that just needed a little more room to cement its footing. The artwork is solid. Arkea’s reveal is dark and gritty and certainly created a need to see what this being was capable of.
This relaunch for X-Men adds to an already impressive list of X-books out now. And while I complain there are way to many X-books it’s a very good time to be an X-Men fan with 4 core books that are proving to not only differ from one another, but are very good to fantastic reads. This book thus far is revealing its potential to do the same. There’s an old saying, behind every great man is a great woman. I believe if these women were real they’d snarl at that notion. They’re not looking to stand behind anyone. They’re not looking to advance the role of their gender. They’re heroes plain and simple. They’re out to protect the world. And that’s a job for everybody.