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Join the revolution? X-Men #1 Review

2013 June 18

WARNING – CONTAINS SPOILERS
Cover for X-Men 1 showing an all female lineup

It’s been a long time since I’ve bought a paper comic. I was deeply in love with comics at one point in my life. I swore off them a while ago for reasons of both taste – I’d run out of titles with female characters that I was interested in – and budget: it was one too many expensive habits for a theatre professional, and in the end, red wine won the day.

I’ve kept a weather eye on the comics world, and the announcement of an all-female line-up for X-Men was enough to send me to Forbidden Planet. But what made me actually buy the thing despite the £3 price tag was writer Brian Wood (DMZ, Channel Zero and Northlanders) and colourist Laura Martin (Planetary, Authority and JLA Earth 2, which all sit beautiful and bold on my shelves thanks in part to her palette choices and ability to make heroes look truly heroic).

Marvel introduce the issue on their website as follows:

Because you demanded it! The X-Women finally get their own book!

So, a fan-based revolution in the world of comics? Perhaps. The title is part of Marvel NOW, the 2012 relaunch of the brand aiming to bring new readers into the market, or in my case, perhaps to bring readers back into the fold and into comic stores.

Could it be that the comic industry is  tackling the gap in the market for mainstream titles that are interesting to women? I’m heartened by the weight put behind this comic; it doesn’t seem to be a gimmick or an afterthought. The issue was heavily trailed with an XX teaser campaign, which was hard not to notice. And what I’ve also been interested to note is the supportive voices around the line-up, with Bleeding Cool praising Marvel for “raising their game in this regard” and other commentators using the launch as an opportunity to dedicate space to interviews with women in the industry, and to the importance of more titles about women, for women.

There’s a good piece here in Clutch, an interview with editor Jeanine Schafer over at The Mary Sue, and another piece here at Bitch magazine.

To me, my reviewers!

The series features an all-female team including Storm, Jubilee, Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Rachel Grey (daughter of Scott and Jean) and Psylocke. They’re based at Jean Grey’s School for the Gifted and pitted against runaway trains, teenage tantrums in the hallway, and the arrival of John Sublime with a request for help.

I’m very pleased to see Storm’s mowhawk back in business, and Jubilee was always a favourite of mine from the TV series, even if she was often cast as a mutant girl version of Snarf. She spoke to me of teenage wish-fulfilment, her mutant power always waiting in the wings for the right moment to shine, exactly like mine. Except my mutant power hasn’t developed yet. I’m sure it will.

What’s good about it? Lots. Lots and lots. The storyline moves on nicely, with a strong introduction that sets up future intrigue. It’s issue one, so I’ve not got a lot to go on, but so far it feels well-paced and with good action scenes and themes of homecoming (positive and negative) alongside the usual “outsider” politics that have always been a solid foundation for mutant-related plot.

The main characters get set up nicely and all showcase their abilities, personalities and range of powers. Jubilee and Kitty are set at a similar age and look like they are set to play out the roles of younger, naive/vulnerable characters, although there are two pupils at the school who look like they might also fill that position, so we’ll see. In terms of more experienced or older figures, Storm takes centre stage on the cover and is the team leader and headmistress with Rachel Grey as her second-in-command. Rogue is the powerhouse, and is shown enjoying herself being gung-ho in saving the day during a classic runaway train sequence, whilst Psylocke is pleasingly intimidating in the role of bad cop when Rachel interviews John Sublime.

Rogue climbing onto a moving train

There’s the usual balance of action/adventure with high school drama, much as you might expect, so in the future I’m hoping for something along the lines of Grant Morrison’s New X Men. This is referenced clearly through the young people at the school, so in those panels you can play a fun game of Guess Who? Mutant High Edition. This does also tend to lead on to a less fun game of Where Are We In What Passes For Continuity Around Here, but generally I take the Doctor Who approach on that one, so try not to get cross-eyed, basically.

I can’t write this review without talking about how the characters look, partly because comics are a visual medium, but also because it’s so good to see a lot of the traditional problems of female representation overturned here. We have two non-white characters in the line-up, neither of whom are the xenophilia standard sexy blue lady. Almost all of the outfits in Olivier Coipel’s artwork are really nicely, thoughtfully designed and look very practical, including Rogue’s costume which comes complete with a hooded top. No spiked heels – or any of the break-your-legs Girl Power stacks of Frank Quitely – are in evidence. Everyone’s zippers go all the way up, with the sad exception of Storm who, in the words of a friend of mine, seems to have developed a secondary mutation allowing her outfit to stick to her breasts despite flying at speed. She’s clearly the Emma Frost replacement in the line-up.

I’m going to be charitable and say that the instances of female characters doing needlessly sexy poses is fairly low, but having passed the issue around a few friends (male and female) the mileage varies. That said, it’s certainly way below what I would have expected and certainly nowhere near the awful debacle that is DC’s recent treatment of Starfire. I could easily imagine a world in which an all-female X-Men line up could have been all bikinis, all the time…

Storm in actionIf I’m being uncharitable, I could say that it’s sad all the women are quite so perfect in how they look. Mutation offers such a variety of bodies to the writer and artist that it would have been good to see a character who subverted traditional expectations of what heroic women in comics should look like. A woman with the glorious curves of Morrison’s Angel Salvadore before she got reworked into a “prettier” version. Similarly, it’s a shame not to have an older female character to give something of the sagacity of Professor Xavier (can we make Helen Mirren a mutant already?), not to mention the fact that without him and without Cyclops the line-up could perhaps be seen as somewhat ableist compared to other line-ups.

All said and done though, this is only the beginning, and only a few pages. And in case it wasn’t clear: I really enjoyed it. I’ll spend money on the next one. A slim volume cannot hope to achieve everything that I might have wanted from a comic, but even if it weren’t an engaging start that has me hooked, it has already done an awful lot to show what female superheroes can do when well-written and well-drawn: tell a fantastic story that makes you wish your mutant powers would hurry up and kick in…

Does this herald a much-needed change and a step in the right direction for the future of comics? I hope so. But I’m hedging my bets, just in case I’m once again entirely cut off from my source of illustrative imaginings. Instead, I’ve been out on the wild plains of internet comics, on the hunt for decent female protagonists and generally doing pretty well – more on that in another post. Watch this panel.

In the meantime, I leave you with this quote I found in the slew of Google searches that I pass off as “research”:

For a bulky segment of a century, I have been an avid follower of comic strips – all comic strips (…) I cannot remember how the habit started, and I am presently unable to explain why it persists. I only know that I’m hooked, by now, that’s all.

Dorothy Parker, 1943

2 Responses leave one →
  1. July 2, 2013

    Three non-white characters in the line-up, surely? Isn’t Psylocke also a woman of color?

    (Mind, this is the first X-book I have bought, and what I know of Psylocke’s history bothers me, so I may be entirely wrong about this.)

  2. Russell permalink
    July 25, 2013

    Unfortunately, due to some monstrously poor editorial decisions, Psylocke is basically stuck in permanent yellowface. She is British by birth but had her mind transferred into the body of an Asian woman. I remember Matt Fraction (who, to be fair, is normally not only a good comic book writer but one who is respectful of female and minority characters) actually described her as “another non-white face”, which is awful. I wish they’d put her back and make Karma a full time member of some team.

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