For instance, in talking about The Avengers – and the Bechdel Test, something Joss Whedon tends to pass – it doesn’t pass the test. And other than Maria Hill and Black Widow – both of whom were amazing – what other female characters were there to add? In particular, who aren’t mutants, since they aren’t mixing those two worlds (mostly due to movie rights). Yet Black Widow might be the coolest hero in the Avengers… except maybe for the Hulk.
More recently, the talk has been around the Marvel NOW reboot of the title X-Men, which has a full female cast of heroes. So far, they are two comics into this title, but that is enough for some solid first impressions.
Alright, so this is I suppose going to be a bit of a whirlwind tour: Where are the female characters in the comics world? Are they good or unique characters? And how is the all-female line-up of X-Men working out?
Where are the Female Super Heroes?
I mean really, where are they? Some of the main ones, for instance, are characters like Super Girl, Bat Girl, She-Hulk, and Spider-Woman. They’re all derivative – because apparently, rather than one of these characters having been female to start with, they’re just copies.
Like the unique events that made the character who they are, the backstory, the drive, the powers – can all be replicated. Then again, they have been, with a number of characters clustered around Batman (others being Robin and Nightwing, for instance), Superman (just look at his rebirth story and the four supermen), Spider-man (like Scarlet Spider and Venom), and Hulk (like the Abomination and the now Red Hulk and Red She-Hulk).
So I guess it’s no surprise that there is a female version of these heroes, but they still feel like token or duplicate characters.
But then, you look around the field, and there aren’t a lot of others to consider instead. Are Avengers like Black Widow, and Justice League members like Wonder Woman, supposed to carry the torch completely for all of female-super-hero-hood?
Even when you look at villains, there aren’t a lot of women that stand out. You get, say, Poison Ivy? One of how many of Batman’s super-villain’s gallery?
Alright, there are some things I haven’t talked about yet because they are yet to come. So let’s move on!
Are the Female characters good characters?
If I am disinterested in male-hero-adjacent characters like Bat Girl or Spider-woman, then really, what I think people are looking for is good, unique, stand-alone female characters. Meaning, are there bad ones?
Well, there is at least the constant concern about what purpose the female characters serve. Are they there as eye candy, really making them no better than a token character? Let’s roast both the big comics companies for a moment, by considering a couple of their female-lead comics:
Here is one of the main females from the Batman universe, and, whether good or bad, she’s still a bit of a mixed bag on what they’re doing with her. Really, they almost try to do too much with her- if I can’t even tell you if she’s a hero or a villain, that should say a lot of it, right? Would it be so bad for all of her various uses and motivations to be, say, multiple female characters, and not just the one?
Here’s an Avenger who has a long history, but then you look at covers like this (and, if you look at the full 50-issue run of this volume of Ms. Marvel, they all look kind of like this), you wonder what purpose she ends up serving – or what audience she has.
I may be focusing on DC and Marvel, but in looking around the ComiXology App (where I found both of these covers), you really see that a lot of the smaller publishers, or other comic runs, are far more ridiculous in their portrayal of women. However, there are comics like Buffy, too, so hey.
If You Are A Female Super Hero… You Are Probably A Mutant
This leaves the place Holly and I usually end up when talking about female comics characters – the X-Men. While the rest of comicdom seems to have missed the 50/50 population divide of male to female, they at least did not miss it when it comes to mutants. I am certainly not going to try to count amidst the (probably) countless mutants to see if there is an even split, but there are a large number of female X-Men.
And X-Men villains, as well. Women like Mystique and Emma Frost are great villains – and maybe even occasional heroes? Not sure I trust Emma Frost enough to call her that.
So to make an all-female team of X-Men maybe doesn’t take too much. Let’s take a look at these characters, to see what they have pulled off in this comic.
I guess Jubilee has been absent for a while. And, from what I read, I guess she’s a vampire now? However, I grew up with the X-Men animated series, and, like Rogue was in the X-Men movie, Jubilee was the young new mutant found by the X-Men to lead us into their world. She also is the catalyst on the plot in this new title, which for me, worked really well.
I don’t know if it’s based on the success of Rogue as a leading character from the movies, or just as a stand-alone character, but Rogue seems to have been the leading and unifying character from a pretty long-run comic X-Men Legacy. They recently rebooted this and have a new character (Legion? As a headliner? Ok…) in Legacy, but Rogue is busy elsewhere: in the Uncanny Avengers.
Rogue is a leading X-Man, super-strong, ability-stealing, spunky… She is both strong on her own, and able to do amazing things plot-wise with her powers-stealing. Rogue has been one of the leading ladies of comics for a while, and stealing Ms. Marvel’s powers certainly helped with that!
Having lived a complicated life, and no longer living in her original body, Psylocke is an intriguing character. She could just disappear into the ranks of mutants-with-psychic-powers, but instead, she is a ninja. With a psychic blade. And actual ninja training.
Not to be trifled with, Psylocke was with the Uncanny X-Force for its whole run, and is now leading the new group in the reboot of that title. They’ve even changed her outfit up to cover most of her body, from the ninja bikini she used to be known for. This is a character they have invested in, and she is paying off.
I grew up with female X-Men like ShadowCat, Magik, and Rachel Grey. They were the young X-Men while I was young and reading X-Men stories. However, especially with Jean Grey dead, having her powerful daughter around might seem like a replacement character.
However, she has been a solid part of making the Jean Grey School work, and has been around throughout the run of Wolverine and the X-Men. And while she might seem like a copy of her mother, Jean Grey, she also has the whole came-back-from-the-future-where-they-used-me-to-hunt-and-kill-mutants backstory. Which, while she has been using her tracking skills lately in Wolverine and the X-Men, she doesn’t like to do so.
Speaking of Kitty Pryde, she made the cut as well. Having lately been the headmistress of the Jean Grey School, and now being the leader for the All New X-Men, she has really taken on a leadership role in the X-Men world, And reading All New X-Men, they are writing her doing so in a really great way.
And with popularity stretching back to Days of Future Past, what is that movie going to do for her when it comes out next year?
And, last but not least, Storm, current headmistress of the Jean Grey School. I remember back when the X-Men had a Blue team and a Gold team – and one of them was Storm’s to lead. Back when X-Men as a title had its first run. Storm was one of the earliest X-ladies, before the rest really came on the scene and did more to even things up.
And Storm’s powers are just cool. I mean, who doesn’t want to control the weather? And mixed in, you get to fly!
And so… X-Men
So all this is to say, that the X-Men have a lot of fairly unique female characters, who are strong leaders in the comics and in the world around them, who all have reasons to be additions to an X-Men team. With the plot in the comic so far, they weren’t pulled together as a specific team, but were all around, and available, for some butt-kicking.
And it felt natural, because they didn’t have to stretch for the characters. Because they were just there, and part of the world.
It will be interesting to see where this comic goes, and whether they keep the female team as a thing, or let that go a bit. It’s not like there were no male heroes around – Beast gets knocked around too. At some point, though, they might have to draw attention in-comic to the fact they are all women – and will that be awkward?
At least Wolverine isn’t part of the team – between the Uncanny Avengers, a solo comic, Wolverine and the X-Men, the Astonishing X-Men, and spending a couple minutes of the week as headmaster of a school… he shouldn’t have any time left, right?