By Daniel Cole
This week sees the re-launch of the “adjective less” X-Men. It’s written by Brian Woods, drawn by superstar Olivier Coipel and stars a female only cast. It may not seem like a big deal but in today’s superhero comics, where diversity is quickly becoming the norm, it is a huge step forward to have such a high profile title feature a cast full of women. There are comics out there that focus on female protagonists, but the difference is that this is the X-Men. It is a massively popular franchise and it would seem that Marvel is actually actively backing this title. Also another reason is it’s worth noting the fact that it is about time that the women of the X-franchise had a book dedicated to them and only them.
Granted a few years ago Chris Claremont and Milo Manara wrote X-Women, but that was more of a niche title that seemed more concerned with the depiction of the female form rather than showing the full potential of these characters. No, this is a different beast. The fact that the title has been kept as X-Men shows that Marvel has acknowledged that these ladies are equal to their male teammates. But long time X-fans will know that the female X-Men have been an integral part of the franchise from day one and are in fact more often than not the most interesting members of the team.
If we look at the beginning we had of course Jean Grey. But in those early days she suffered from the 60s “damsel in distress” syndrome that was the norm for female Marvel superheroes back then (invisible Girl I’m looking at you). Although Jean had powers she wasn’t exactly on an equal footing with the guys on the team. But as the years moved on she has become a fan favourite, and a strong character in her own right (even with her multiple deaths). But of course Jean was the first of many strong female voices within the team and it was only a matter of time before the franchise was synonymous with strong women.
Claremont was the pioneer of this. The quintessential X-Men writer revamped the franchise when he was hired to write Uncanny X-Men in 1975 and his work has made the X-Men what they are today. His time on the book with artist John Byrne is a touchstone for many a fan and is rightfully considered the best run in the franchise’s history.
Claremont took over the team that Len Wein and Dave Cockrum built. It was clear that he was interested in strong leading females as he focused a lot of attention on Storm. He fleshed out her back-story and portrayed her as a serene and independent character. She inhabited the role of Mother Nature due to her god like powers, but she was just as tough as her fellow teammates. Claremont also introduced us to a plethora of female X-Men that are now mainstays of the franchise. Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Psylocke, Mystique, Emma Frost and Jubilee are just a few of the big names he created. He also upgraded Jean Grey, empowering her with the cosmic entity known as the Phoenix.
Not only did he introduce a lot of these characters, but also he focused a lot of stories around these women. Most notably “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” which dealt with Jean turning to the dark side. Granted the storyline featured a lot of bondage gear and corsets, but it was also an interesting character piece that showed Jean struggle with the Phoenix force and her importance to the team. Another classic X-Tale that had a female protagonist was “Days Of Future Past.” This time is was Kitty Pryde’s turn to save the day.
Although one can argue that Claremont’s characterisations and penchant for melodrama did often see these women in overtly emotional storylines, you can’t deny what he has done for the interpretation of women in superhero comics.
The seeds he sowed have only grown stronger with time. Over the years more writers developed these characters and brought them to the forefront of the franchise. Storm became the leader of the team for a time, Rogue was the team’s powerhouse in the 90s, Psylocke was turned into a badass Ninja and mystique became one of their deadliest adversaries.
The 90s saw the X-Men move to the TV. The popular animated show used a lot of the stories from the comics. It also made Storm, Rogue, Jubilee and Jean Grey household names. They were equals to Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast and Gambit in the show. Their visibility grew when Marvel’s Merry Mutants moved to the silver screen in 2000. Granted the film was focused on Wolverine, but Rogue was a close second.
But this is all about the comics. As the new millennium dawned it brought with it new writers that explored these characters. Grant Morrison’s New X-Men focused heavily on Jean Grey and Emma Frost. He turned Jean into the headmistress of the school and the most powerful mutant on the planet. He also made Emma Frost into a fan favourite and a woman who was proud of her sexuality, using it as a statement and a weapon. Following on from Morrison, Joss Whedon came along and developed Kitty Pryde and introduced us to Armor a new junior member of the team, Agent Brand the tough ass nails leader of S.W.O.R.D and Danger the sentient consciousness of the Danger Room. Whedon’s skill at depicting strong female characters served the X-Men well and continued on from what Claremont had created.
Marvel’s recent Now! initiative has placed these women in high profile roles within the X-Universe and beyond. Jean Grey is back, Magik and Emma Frost are at the forefront of Cyclops’ revolution, Rogue is an Avenger, Psylocke is leading a team, Storm is on several books and kitty Pryde is the main focus of the Ultimate X-Men title. It is a healthy time to be a female X-man these days. And Brian Wood’s X-men is the purest expression of how important these women are to the franchise. Although the impact of the title will depend on the quality of the storytelling, it will certainly go down in X-history as a big moment for the X-Men and superhero comics in general.
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Posted on May 31st, 2013
Category: PANEL SPACE, REVIEWS
Tags: Chris Claremont, Comic Reviews, Daniel Cole, Dark Phoenix, Emma Frost, Grant Morrison, Jean Grey, marvel comics, Mystique, Panel Space, Psylocke, Rogue, Storm, X-Men #1 review, X-Women