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She Has No Head! – Ruminations On X-23, Minx, Comics For Women vs. Comics For Girls, Twilight, And The Kitchen Sink

I was genuinely psyched to do a review for the Marjorie Liu X-23 one-shot that came out this past week.  I had X-23 One Shot Coverread CBR’s seven-page preview of the issue and was pretty impressed with what I saw.

In fairness, I know very little about X-23.  I know she’s supposed to be a clone of Wolverine, and that on the surface, though not a bad idea in a way, it’s the kind of comics gimmick that generally makes me roll my eyes.  I feel like I can actually hear the meeting in which a character like X-23 is created.  “No she’ll be totally badass!  Hardcore and unstoppable like Wolverine – but a hot young chick!” Plus, while I didn’t read the issues in question, and thus can’t comment specifically on how it was handled, it strikes me as a bad idea to make her a prostitute/victim of sex trafficking.  I have a hard time imagining Wolverine (the original male version) being given the same treatment – which seems like a pretty standard example of Women In Refrigerators.  I suppose it’s another issue entirely whether an X-Men comic book is capable of dealing with such delicate and important subject matter effectively.  Having not read the issues and story in question however, I’ll put that aside for now.

While the character concept tends to grate on me before we even begin, that doesn’t mean that the actual character in the hands of a great writer can’t become fascinating and totally turn me around.  In some ways, I felt like I should be the perfect reader for an X-23 one-shot as I come to the character pretty clean – a nice blank slate.  Additionally, I’m interested in strong female characters, especially ones that have strong female writers at the helm (and Marjorie Liu has a solid reputation though I personally have read very little of her work).  I found the cover cool looking, and as a bonus, done by a female artist (Alina Urusov).  So I’m WANTING it to be good…I’m starting for a place of genuinely pulling for the book, despite my hesitation about the character.

Unfortunately, the book kind of falls apart as far as I’m concerned, after the first nine pages.  The beginning is fairly strong, giving a few key details about X-23’s origin and back-story; we see her interact with both Wolverine and Jubilee which further explores the character – if only slightly; and we get a brief two page peek inside X-23’s well illustrated but fully messed up head.  After that the book delves into some head trippy drama that is either us trapped in X-23’s head with nothing actually happening or equally cryptic interactions with the Nyx kids.  The Nyx stuff reads as an in-joke/epilogue of sorts for the now defunct characters and I guess how much this works for you is largely dependent on whether you’re familiar with those characters or not.  I’m not, so it mostly left me only more confused.

I feel like a one-shot should by definition be able to stand on its own.  To introduce you to a character you maybe don’t know, to intrigue you about them, and if you’re really lucky, tell a great self-contained story that is good enough that you’re interested in searching out more about that character.  But here I mostly just felt lost.

Considering this is a one-shot, the Nyx kids are given WAY too much page time.  Although quite frankly, since they are having actual conversations and interactions with each other – rather than rambling incoherently and arguing in their own minds with a villain that I guess is Gamemaster – the Nyx stuff actually ends up more interesting than the X-23 stuff.  Which is a problem in a book called X-23.

The end result of the book for me, as a newbie to X-23, is that she feels a lot like a messed up victim that is having trouble dealing with her trauma.  Unfortunately, hero with a traumatic past is a story mined so many times that you have to find a really interesting way to do it if you’re going to go to that hoop again, and this is not so interesting. The fact that X-23 maybe has Gamemaster in her head…or is hallucinating him (it’s unclear which it is) would perhaps be interesting if this was a mini-series – or if it was dealt with in any real way within the book.  But it isn’t.  We are given a confusing and jumbled look inside X-23’s world but it teaches us almost nothing about the actual character.  For my part I ended up wishing that we’d spent more time with the Nyx kids, whose story seemed a little more cohesive.  I suppose I should admit that I’m not a big fan of story lines with characters that are “going crazy”, characters who speak and make no sense, who talk to themselves and are “tortured”.  Sure it can be done well, but most of the time it isn’t and you just end up with real confusion.  What little I could fully understand about the book felt kind of overwrought and unenthusiastically melodramatic.  A bit like teenage angst, but bottled and without much plot.

Unfortunately, the art here does not help matters.  The “real” stuff is done by Filipe Andrade and while I like the style enough – overall it was overly dark and hard to follow.  I also found Andrade’s handling of the Nyx kids and even Wolverine and Jubilee more interesting and effective than X-23, reinforcing the kind of missed note of the entire book. I found the pacing to be a bit disjointed and sometimes it was just plain hard to read, making me yearn for really clear storytelling the same way I yearned for a clear plot.  The “hallucination” stuff was done by Nuno Alves and initially I really liked it.  I thought the lightly reminiscent Bill Sienkiewicz style was cool and very effective for what was trying to be conveyed.  However it was overused, and not all the pages were equally as effective.  By the end of the book it was as difficult to tell what was going on in Alves’ pages as it was in Andrade’s pages.

Here are two samples – one of each.  If you’d like to see more pages, please read the CBR preview linked to in the first paragraph:

X-23 Page 1

X-23 Page 2

elektra-assassin coverAdditionally, while I’ll take a slightly Sienkiewicz style any day as I’m a big fan, it drew an unfortunate parallel to another damaged badass with serious head problems – Elektra.  And Elektra Assassin by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz is far superior to this one-shot in every way…I mean to the degree that it seems laughable to mention them in the same breath.

As I put this book down, frustrated and more than a little confused, I had to admit that maybe I’m just not the intended audience for this book.  Maybe if this book could get into the hands of teen girls in high numbers (which it can’t), maybe they would love it.  Maybe the angst driven skew of the book would really work for them (no offense teens – I was once one of you myself – and at that age we tend to skew that way – I think it’s only natural).

I’m constantly ranting and raving, sometimes here, sometimes just in my head, that mainstream comics needs to reach out to girls – that they are ignoring a huge wealthy demographic that reads books in record numbers and they are doing so to their own peril.  So maybe that’s what this book is intended to be?  Maybe it’s impossible for my 33 year-old self to “get it” and not find it pedestrian and cliché because it’s not designed “for me” in the first place.  Maybe I’m not supposed to like it.  Maybe me liking it would mean that teenage girls wouldn’t.  I’m not sure.

However, even if teen girls would find something remarkable in this book, how would they find this book or others like it?  They won’t.  The same way girls did not find the Minx line.  So I’m left feeling that this book fails before it even begins because a 33 year-old that is highly interested in female characters and female creators didn’t like it and gets the feeling that it wasn’t even intended for her – and I expect adult males will for the most part feel similarly.  So the book doesn’t do well and/or garner any critical acclaim and we’re back to square one with “girls don’t read comics”.

So even when Marvel and DC don’t proclaim it themselves, and in fact, seem to be actively producing material that girls might like…it’s still somehow where we end up.

HOW do we solve this problem?

I had this fairly positive (naïve?) post I was working on for the column that was all about DC and Marvel needing to make a huge push to get girls into comic book stores – or alternatively to find a way to get comics into regular bookstores in big numbers.  I made an argument that was mostly passion and personal belief that boiled down to lofty but unproven sentiments like ‘fortune favors the brave’ and ‘if you build it they will come’.

But then I read X-23 and had to sadly admit that no, they won’t come.  And if you can’t make an excellent product that is going to be widely read and loved by adults – both male and female – and also be appealing to teen girls, then no, you’ll never be able to keep building and creating and wait for them to eventually figure it out.  For some reason the big two (and maybe beyond the big two?) don’t seem to know how to write books that will pull in adult audiences of both genders and also appeal to teen girls – even though they seem to know how to do this for teen boys.  I don’t really know what the x factor is in crossover literature.  You see it happening in mega hits like Harry Potter and Twilight – books that capture the hearts of both young and old and actually change the industry with their success, but I don’t know what the comics equivalent would be for girls.

I sometimes think Marvel or DC should have pulled out all the stops (and given up creative control/ownership) Twilight Graphic Novel Vol. 1in a massive bid to adapt the rights of the YA smash hit Twilight and then adapted it as single issues available only in comic stores.  At the same time, they should have approved several female teen friendly books and pushed them through with excellent creative teams, so that they could shelve those books right next to a book they knew a female teen audience would come looking for in droves.  Then they should have promoted and marketed the hell out of it.  It would have been a huge financial risk, but one with the potential to pay off in the form of a massive new crop of young female comics readers – all new money that comics has never seen before with any regularity.  Because maybe the girls would have come.  Maybe they would have come like they did to the San Diego Comic Con – in massive numbers that pissed off long time fanboys.  Not all of them would have stayed around for the other stuff of course, but some of them would have, some of them would have had similar experiences to what I had upon first entering a comic book store at 16.  The experience of instantly knowing comics would be a lifelong love affair.  Because most girls seem to need a gateway drug to comics in a way that most boys don’t seem to.  The X-Men cartoon was my gateway drug – and without it I don’t know that I ever would have discovered comics.  If Twilight – or whatever the “next big thing” is – has to be other girls 1992 X-Men cartoon equivalent – then so be it.

100 Comments

I vacillate between thinking Marvel & DC genuinely don’t know how to make comics for anyone besides the increasingly-small middle-aged cynical nerd cabal that all their major projects seem to cater to, or that they do know, but can’t be bothered. I don’t know which is more depressing.

The issue of luring female readers to comics has been one I’ve listened to in many panel discussions, not to mention the articles I’ve read about them. It would appear to be as simple as making an effort, but the reality is complex. Part of this is a result of the unpredictability of commercial support. Make your book, fill it with popular characters, market the crap out of it and it still doesn’t mean the book will succeed. Comics are also ghettoized by assumption that they are not only for kids but for boys. This is why I’m glad that you’re doing a blog about this on a site like CBR. The more people that are talking about it, the better.

why is she wearing a swim suit all the time?
i dont get it.

One important factor is to make >lots< of books geared towards girls (or better, just geared towards people who like good stories). Imagine Minx if instead of one volume a month, there was one chapter from two or three of the stories a week.

That’s not a swimsuit, that’s her costume.

“Plus, while I didn’t read the issues in question, and thus can’t comment specifically on how it was handled, it strikes me as a bad idea to make her a prostitute/victim of sex trafficking. I have a hard time imagining Wolverine (the original male version) being given the same treatment – which seems like a pretty standard example of Women In Refrigerators.”

How is it an example of “Women in Refrigerators”? Was her past as a victim of sex trafficking conceived to generate angst for a male hero? If the answer is “no”, then the only way X-23′s past as a prostitute qualifies as “Women in Refrigerators” syndrome is if one stretches the definition of “Women in Refrigerators” to include ANY unfavorable portrayal of female characters.

If the “Women in Refrigerators!!” accusation gets brought up whenever any female character goes through bad/unpleasant stuff, it will become meaningless fast. It might be a good idea to save that argument for cases in which it actually applies.

In a cultural environment where Robin can be beaten to death with a crowbar to create angst for Batman, Speedy can become a drug-addict (to create angst for Green Arrow and also add a sprinkle of “political relevance”), Uncle Ben gets killed to create angst+motivation for Spider-Man and Bruce Banner is retconned into a victim of child abuse to explain his fractured personality, it already smacks of double-standard to create a special buzzword to complain about female supporting characters who go through bad experiences to generate angst for the main characters – as if supporting characters weren’t used to generate reactions from major characters since fiction was invented. Was Hamlet’s Ophelia an early case of “Women in Refrigerators”? What about his father, also killed to generate angst+motivation to the main character? Or were they just supporting characters sacrificed to generate emotional impact on the main character?

I get that female characters are often treated poorly in comics. Most superheroines don’t wear enough clothes, there aren’t ANY superheroines as successful as Batman or Spider-Man, and the superheroes’ girlfriends are often killed (although that often happens not out of mysoginy but because the hero’s romance had become a problem for the writers, as Gwen Stacy knows so well). Yes, it’s a real issue in superhero comics. But the “Women in Refrigerators” complaint does not apply to every single situation where a female character goes through unpleasant experiences. If anything, X-23′s sordid experience with sex trafficking is an attempt to use a fictional character to address/call attention to a real-world problem, just like Speedy’s drug addiction and Tony Stark’s alcoholism were all those years ago. Let’s save the “OMGWomen in Refrigerators!!!” rallying cry for instances where it actually applies, shall we? Otherwise it will inevitably lose all meaning and become a joke.

The X23 one shot (which I read today) was terrible. And I love X23. The writing was sub-par and I wasn’t even sure why they tried to introduce a new concept like the Gamesmaster in a one shot. That was a terrible idea. The art was ok, but I’ll forgive substandard art if the story makes sense.

I was thrilled that the NYX kids were in it because I love that book. And to have actual characters interacting was refreshing in a book filled with self-rambling and head-trips.

The X23 oneshot is a terrible introduction to the character.

If you still happen to think the character is worth checking out (she is in my opinion) check out her origin story (the X23 mini). Also, check out NYX (the first run not the second). It doesn’t deal with X23 much at all until about halfway through but its probably the best stuff Marvel has put out in a long time. Joshua Middleton does the art. If you aren’t familiar with him, you should. He mostly does covers now but interiors by Middleton are a sight to behold.

Anyway. That’s my two cents. Give X23 a chance. Try to forget that one-shot you read even existed.

I think Les may have a point in there somewhere. But I do think, in her defense, that Kelly’s original statement was mostly a throwaway emotional reaction to her disappointment in finding X23 to being nothing like Wolverine.

I’d like to put something out there as a sort of ‘formula’ for widespread success, if you want to look at Harry Potter, or Twilight, as examples, and that is to base your stories in a normal world. Simple as that.

1. Your characters must be human.

Harry Potter was a normal, though incredibly abused, boy at the start. Bella is just a normal girl (in more ways than one). With superheroes, you have Spider Man, the most relatable character ever in comics, because his troubles are a part of his character. You can’t have a spider man comic without the rent issues, girl problems, work conflicts, etc. But the vast majority of the other superheroes are completely unrelatable, except to those who have fantasized about being a superhero at one stage. Bruce Wayne is going to lose vast shares of his company to a mysterious buyer? Golly! The one 5 figure executive out there who still reads comics while his executive friends are out in their private planes and jet skis, burning money for a firelit dinner with six or nineteen playboy models, must be loving that story. And that’s a sizeable target audience to be proud of, for sure.

Yes, I understand, Batman can be aspirational, but who’s going to buy something aspirational if they’re completely fine with who they are? I don’t relate to Batman.

Maybe we might be better off seeing some aspirational hero comics where the secret identities have just paid off their mortgage by the time they’re 35, or they have children who don’t shout and run around on the bus, and are well behaved and they’re very proud of them. Boring? Maybe. That’s what the superheroics are for. Downtime is important.

As they said in the Incredibles, when everyone’s super, no-one will be.

2. Set your story in a small town. Sure, there are a lot of people in a lot of cities, but just like those out in the country struggling with their mobile coverage and overpriced milk, they’re being ignored in comics too. What is there in comics, where almost everything takes place in big cities, for vast sections of the population to relate to? Nothing. Harry Potter begins in the outskirts of London, not in it. Twilight is set somewhere in the woods near Seattle, not in it. Heck, a lot of people in big cities COME from small towns, so you’re still getting some city dwellers going, ‘heh, that looks like my old main street.’

Heck, DC did one better by setting most, or all, of their stories in completely fictional places. Way to up that relatibility factor! Wait, no, that’s the other way around isn’t it. Hhrm.

Regardless of whether superhero comics are geared toward girls, boys, or both, they’re very rarely geared toward being relatable. They’re just set-up, conflict, resolution, repeat for all infinity. Most superhero books don’t even have a *message* other than, ‘look at how cool I am’. And we all know, as soon as you attempt to say you’re cool, you are no longer so. Textbook definition. Look it up. ;o)

Sorry for the rambling, folks. See, this is why Kelly has the column, and we stay here amongst the peanut shells.

Peace. Reality. And all that jazz. :oD

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Having been an X-nerd for the better part of the last two decades, and having read pretty much all of X-23′s appearances, I’ve got to say that I never thought her getting involved with sex trafficking ever made a lot of sense, at least after we got to know the character a little more through her own minis and the books in which she’s been a cast member. When she first appeared in NYX, she seemed more fragile and vacant, almost like she had no sense of self. And, while the struggle to find her humanity has been a big part of the character, she’s always had at least a sense of self-preservation that is inconsistent with her being the victim of anyone but the shady government agencies trying to hunt her down – and even then, she has shown the will (and ability) to fight back.

So, if anything, I think this one-shot was an attempt to unify the two interpretations of the character (the one from the original NYX, and the one we’ve seen recently), and rationalize her actions… except they really don’t jibe. And so we get an issue that has, as at least part of its purpose, included this rationalization that, at best, weakens the character’s tough-as-nails image, but really I think just points out how much the two characterizations don’t fit together. And that’s what disappointed me about the one-shot – it truly felt like I had wasted my money on this thing. It didn’t have much of a story and I didn’t come away feeling like I learned something about any of the characters involved.

Oh, and Daniel, the Gamesmaster was a concept introduced, and then never resolved if memory serves, in the early 300′s in Uncanny X-Men. He was a psychic more powerful than Xavier who formed the Upstarts and set them against each other in his “Great Game” or something like that. I believe this was the same character.

I think you should read X-23: Innocence Lost and NYX. Then you’ll understand the character’s background. I’d also throw in X-23: Target X, but while good it’s not essential to understanding her. Honestly, the entire campaign is silly and this one-shot, while good, is probably a poor way to introduce X-23. The whole “continuity is bad for new readers” argument usually falls flat, but that’s because longer stories can be continuity heavy and have the space to explain it or make it not essential because other things are going on. One-shots should either be part of a larger, contemporary story or fringes of continuity, not built entirely on two minis from at least 5 years ago.
@Theif: I think that the ending of her first mini puts her in a vulnerable enough place that she could be pulled in to the sex trafficking. I won’t spoil it here for people like Kelly, but it’s one of the most emotionally raw moments in comics history.

X-23′s time as a prostitute is a weird glitch from her earliest appearances in NYX, which was dropped almost immediately, but does unavoidably come up if you’re going to do an NYX reunion story. While you can just about square it with the rest of her continuity, it’s always struck me more as an anomalous hangover from an original conception of the character that bore little resemblance to what they ended up doing.

The two X-23 miniseries are actually surprisingly decent. She’s a tricky character to write properly; there’s a thin line between writing her as someone who’s been brutalised into one-dimensionality, and someone who’s just plain one-dimensional.

I think a big chunk of the issue is that the people who are currently in comics – Quesada, Johns, Didio, etc… are great creators in their own right, but they’re working on/writing/publishing stuff that they would like to read, which doesn’t necessarily translate to what teen girls would like to read. Sure, some of it might appeal, but to the Twihard crowd, you need to work your material a little differently – by still remaining respectful of the genre and the readers you’re trying to pull in (i.e. the female protagonist shouldn’t be a girl who’s kept outside of the action and needs someone else to consistently protect her).

But yeah. They don’t have a handle on the kind of stuff that that crowd might want to read because they don’t want to read that kind of stuff – they don’t get it and they don’t understand it. When they’ve hired people who presumably would get it – Tamora Pierce, for example – the experiment generally fails.

Marvel came the closest, I think, with Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. If they could work in a companion series – Patsy Walker & Friends or something – by McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa or David Hahn – which works in elements of the original Patsy Walker series as well as the more supernatural stuff like Patsy’s relationship with Daimon Hellstrom, Marvel could REALLY be on to something, and appeal to that Twilight crowd, all while writing Patsy as a strong heroine in her own right.

I second the assertion that the sex trafficking thing is consistent with the character. From the get go she has been a ‘feral child’ kind of character with only a very loose sense of self. She has only recently become something resembling a ‘real girl.’ Which is what the one-shot was trying to refer to but failed.

X23, in many ways, reminds me of early Cass (Batgirl) stories. But only more extreme in the sense that early on Cass was taken into the Bat family where-as X23 got kicked out into the streets where she became easy prey. Just because you can murder a room full of people doesn’t make you able to take care of yourself. Which is definitely something they wanted to bring across to the reader.

Also @Dalarsco: I forgot the name of that first mini! Thanks.

This is a totally unrelated observation but…

Why is it that artists don’t understand that you can STILL show off your character’s musculature just as well with a tight fitting tank top or T-shirt as with… whatever the hell X23 is wearing. Who wears clothing like that? That isn’t a shirt! They don’t even MAKE clothes like that in most stores. Seriously, in that first panel, if the colorist had colored X23′s back purple like the rest of her shirt it wouldn’t have made the shot any less sexy, but it WOULD have made a hell of a lot more sense.

I’m a guy, so I’m ok with random ass shots and massive cleavage and silly superhero costumes but when people give their characters street clothes that make no sense I find it EXTREMELY annoying. It just rubs me the wrong way as a storyteller.

X23 is a cutter. She should be wearing long sleeves.

Also, and this is being nitpicky, but why doesn’t Wolverine smell the blood whenever X23 cuts herself? I mean she’s standing not TEN FEET from him and cutting herself and he doesn’t even address it.

Ug. Poor writing. And bad art choices abound in this mini.

has rob liefield a sister?????

The Andrade page seems to be blatantly ripping off Frank Miller’s Sin City, with other panels thrown in from other artists (JRJR, for one). Doesn’t take much artistry to copy others, and perhaps that is what makes it so hard to follow the art.

when i’m in bookstores, i always head to the GN section, which tends to be near a spinner rack nowadays. about 95% of the time, i see a teen girl going through the single issues on the spinner rack, reading them while sitting on the floor, and then putting them back. the interest is out there for more than just a middle-aged male demo for superhero comics, only the distribution (and probably price points) are just not open to a wide range of readers. if i was a teen girl, i’d only go to the comic shop as a joke sort of excursion with a friend — otherwise, it’s just too much of a foreign experience. but in bookstores, where it’s much more likely that a young female market can get its hands on the product, the prices are WAAAY too high — 2.99 direct market books become 3.99 and i think 3.99 DM books get marked up to 4.99. NO WAY would i, let alone a teenager, pay 5 bucks for a single issue with 22 pages of story. and i don’t it necessarily has to be books with “hip” female protags — things like the X-Men, Avengers, and JLA have appeal when their covers depict a diverse cast with a lot of interesting backgrounds and perspectives.

I was mad at this book for another reason actually and it is something that Marvel does all the time in the X-Universe: To make one character look cool they downgrade another’s growth.

Jubilee had grown into her own in the New Warriors comic and even became a solid leader. In one page, all of that is taken away as she is told off by the two bit female clone of her mentor. I called it being “Icemanned” or “Cannonballed”. New writer comes on and thinks the character has had no growth since they remember. Would have had a better time if Liu avoided this pitfall.

As far as the girls/teens thing goes, let’s face it both Marvel and DC sacrificed that when they went all ultra morose with body parts flying everywhere. Think about this for example, I turned on my cousins to comics through the ultimate line since there was no convoluted history yet the art wasn’t “kiddified”. How did that line end up?

O yeah, incest, mass murders, eviscerations, cannibalization, cities flooded or blown up, and the piece of dog <> called Ultimatum….

Nuff Said…..

@Michael P and Keith: I’m right there with you.

@Adam: Agreed. And thanks!

@Les: It’s possible that I have broadened the concept of Women In Refrigerators beyond the “textbook” (although I didn’t mean to). Having a female clone character of a male that is treated differently (and in a sexual way) than we would ever dream of seeing said male character treated seems pretty inline with the concept of WIR to me…but either way I don’t think I was all “OMG WOMEN IN REFRIGERATORS!!!!” – it was just a one line mention that I’m not wild about that storyline idea. I’m sorry if it seemed like I made it a big deal to you, that wasn’t my intention, or the focus of the post.

@Daniel and Dalarsco: Thanks for the recommend. I have been thinking about checking out Nyx, but I wasn’t really considering the X-23 minis – on the recommend from a few of you now, maybe I will. Thanks. If I do I’ll weigh in on the sex trafficking aspect once I’ve had a chance to do the reading.

@ThiefTMA: My gut instinct is that your reaction to the sex trafficking is how I would feel, but I’ll wait until I’ve actually read the issues to make up my mind I guess :)

@Canaan: Hmm. I’m not sure I agree. Perhaps based solely on the fact that I live in Manhattan and my favorite character is Batman though :)

Although, it’s interesting that the first point you make is that the characters must be human…and then you set up Batman as a terrible example…and yet he’s one of a fairly small handful of totally HUMAN superheroes. Interesting. :)

@Amit! I agree. Totally actually. I think the only way we’re likely to see real change (over time) is having a lot of people with different tastes involved at the editor/writer/creator/etc. level (read: more women and minorities).

I think it’s one of the reasons that this one-shot was a let down to me, because I feel like Liu should be someone that gets it, but I didn’t feel that this one-shot was good. That said, as I said in my column, maybe a teen girl rather than a 33 year old…would think it was great…I’m not sure.

As a funny sidenote, I recently picked up Tamora Pierce’s White Tiger.

@Daniel: Do not get me started on costumes again…that road only leads to heartbreak! ;)

@Nick: As do I, but I usually only see girls reading the Manga…which bums me out every time. Not that there’s anything wrong with Manga…but I just want to scoot them over a little and put some superheroes in their hands too. I was encouraged the other day at my local B&N to see in the YA/Teen section a whole bunch of Runaways books. YAY! Also, this store has a nice design in that the Graphic Novels and Comics are housed right where the Literary Fiction, Fantasy/Sci Fi, and YA/Teen all meet…a great spot actually.

@Daryll B: I don’t know. I might be totally biased since my novel is a YA Superhero story about two teen girls with powers – and it is FULL of violence, but in my mind I don’t think girls and boys differ that much in what content they want, but rather they each want strong protagonists that they can relate to, which often means girls reading about girl “heroes/leads” and boys reading about boy “heroes/leads”. That’s what it usually was for me at least. When there are no girls around I end up feeling left out…and when the girls are weak and unable to be their own person I end up feeling mad. :)

I agree with you though that Jubilee kind of gets shafted here. But my feeling was more that she was just beyond dealing with X-23′s angst-y drama…that and she was confident in her relationship with Wolverine and didn’t feel threatened as X-23 seemed to. But I see your point.

I don’t think X23 ‘told off’ Jubilee as much as was showing her own inability to understand others. Most people would understand the need to find your identity themselves through a group as being incredibly important. X23 isn’t able to recognize it as what it is. She just thinks it was a ‘stupid mistake.’ Jubilee is smart enough to not ‘take the bait’ so to speak and get drawn into X23′s issues and so basically ignores it. She’s got business to do and doesn’t have time to get in an argument with a ‘two bit’ kid.

I don’t think the author was trying to ‘make one character look cool [by downgrading] another’ as much as trying to realistically portray their personalities. But naturally its debatable.

and @Marino: I think you have a point. The price point does play a huge part in a comic’s accessibility. Even taking trades into account, other media, manga for example, give more story for your buck than the average comic. The manga digest magazine format trumps comics in quantity. And it also helps that manga covers a more diverse spectrum of topics than comics. And then there are YA novels that cater specifically to girls. These also contain more bang for your buck. American comics may have higher production values but all the pretty art in the world won’t mean anything if it isn’t something a teen girl can get behind. And that’s only printed media… Actually I think I lost my point in there somewhere…

Wow guys. Sorry about that super long comment – I didn’t realize it was so big. :(

Oh the heartbreak…

Eh. You had a lot of things you wanted to answer. No biggie.

It’s one of the immutable laws of comics that minis and one-shots featuring solo stories of X-characters will be pretty awful. Guaranteed. It doesn’t really matter whether the protagonist is man, woman, boy, girl, or hermaphrodite. It will be bad.

I agree with caanan by the way. The Smallville TV show got it right in placing a superhero in a small town and centering it on (more or less) relatable personal issues for maximizing mainstream appeal.

Kelly, I agree with you about a Marvel or DC-published Twilight being a huge missed opportunity, but isn’t Twilight just as objectionable a representation of women as any of these superhero comics? Probably moreso than most of them, since while a character like X-23 may have abuse in her backstory, Bella actively seeks it out and is rewarded by the author ( a woman herself ) for it? It’s indubitably popular, but it’s evidence that the victimization of women in media is far from limited to comic books.

On Twilight: yeah I got major issues with it but I think most girls gloss over some of the more questionable elements and focus on the wish fulfillment aspects so in the end I don’t think its that bad for girls.

Now, now… you’re just being literal, Kelly. ;o)

Batman IS human, yeah, but there’s no-one alive like Batman. If there was a reality show following a guy who knows a dozen different styles of martial arts, creates high tech gadgets in his spare time with an endless budget, I’d like to see it. There are only tons of people who wish they were Batman (or like Batman, fighting crime, rich, whatever). The ones who, oddly enough, probably buy Batman comics.

I wrote a lot of stupid stuff in my comment, but the main point I was trying to make is having relatable characters is key to cross-over appeal. Comic characters tend to be less relatable, more aspirational. And for people like me, who aspire to only be the best ME I can be, not any other character, person, or super hero, the aspirational appeal is non-existent.

Sadly, Twilight is popular with teenage girls because, at that age, they tend to fall for the bad boy. It’s cliche and stereotypical, but stereotypes come from somewhere. I wish it were not so, but its popularity speaks volumes. A lot of these girls identify with Bella. They probably don’t want to be her, but see themselves in her.

Tom Fitzpatrick

March 22, 2010 at 8:34 pm

To be honest, when you mentioned “Minx” in your title, I thought you were reviewing Peter Milligan & Sean Phillips 8-issue series “MINX”.

Would like to see you review Steve Gerber and Phil Winslade’s NEVADA series. (sadly, the 2nd and 3rd part of the supposed trilogy were never brought forth).

Both series have lead female characters.

Does anyone know when Phil Jiminez is going to do the second half of OTHERWORLD?

@Tom: We must be in synch. I just acquired both Minx and Nevada.

Regarding Twilight. I haven’t actually read the books (or the graphic novel), so I can’t really comment. However, from a ‘bring in the audience standpoint’ I still think it’s a huge missed opportunity…and even if it doesn’t have good lessons and powerful female characters, I’m not sure DC or Marvel are in a place to throw any stones…from their glass houses and all. :)

I know nothing about X-23. I’ve only seen her in two issues of New X-Men, and she didn’t do much there. And I have no idea what NYX is.
So I’m going to have to avoid the main subject and just discuss the other issues.

I don’t know what the big publishers’ problem is at aiming books towards girls. They’ve never been very good at it. I guess they’re just too obsessed with fights and cool explosions.
I guess Spider-Man has a lot of potential appeal, since his stories often deal with relationship problems and stuff, and the series rarely gets ultra-violent. But a lot of Spider-writers have had difficulty writing the female characters well. Sometimes they seem as clueless about their motivations as Peter is.
If been trying to think, and it seems the last Marvel series that really seemed to appeal to girls was deFillipis’s and Weir’s New Mutants and then New X-Men. (I haven’t read Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, and only a few Spider-Girl stories, so I can’t say how well they worked.) And thinking about older series, the ones that spring to mind are the original New Mutants (despite the hideous Sienkiewicz art, which I know scared a lot of kids away), and Generation-X. All of these were essentially the same series, but I don’t think you actually need a Mutant School to appeal to girls, all you need is a diverse cast and a great deal of attention to their personal lives. More emotion, less fighting. It sounds simple to me. I don’t know why it happens so rarely in comics.
(Marvel Divas was clearly intended to appeal to female readers, but I think they tried to hard with some of the superficial stuff, such as shopping. And to really get emotionally involved with the characters I think you needed some familiarity with their history, particularly with Patsy and Daimon. I know the story explained enough that even the greenest reader could follow the story, but understanding what is going on and getting emotionally involved are two different things.)

I didn’t know comic books had higher prices in ordinary bookstores. That certainly isn’t the case at the bookstore I go to. On a couple of occasions I’ve bought four-dollar New Avengers for only three dollars, and more recently I got X-Factor #200, which had a cover-price of five dollars even at the comics store, for just three dollars. There was no special sale or anything. They just charged less for these issues for no apparent reason. (And I didn’t know that would happen until they rang them up at the register.)

I’ve lived in a small town most of my life, and I can say there is no way you could possibly set an ongoing super-hero story in a small town. There just isn’t enough crime to justify it. It strains credibility, even for a comic book. (This applies to ordinary police stories, too. I was always annoyed by Picket Fences. That town must’ve had the highest crime-rate in North America. ) Small-town crime-fighting only works for something like the Andy Griffith Show, in which the stories concentrate on other things and the crime-fighter only fights serious criminals on very rare occasions.

Don’t get me wrong Kelly, my venom wasn’t intended at you..or even Ms. Liu. I just get tired of this always happening to my X-Characters….and my Titans……and Legionnaires…..and certain Avengers…..

You see the pattern here? lol I love her work with Dark Wolverine and given enough time I am sure her work with X-23 might be as captivating. That scene just got my goat….

*starts to meditate* ok I calm..I calm…I going to my happy place..lots of Tiny Titans and Mini Marvels books around me…lol

Some stray thoughts for Kelly . . .

I have read some of X-23′s old material — such as her first miniseries which gave us the origin story at excruciating length, and the subsequent NYX mini — and my opinion of the basic concept and how it was handled early on is not substantially different from the skeptical snap impressions you expressed at the beginning of this piece. So you haven’t been missing much by not reading that material yourself!

About reaching out to a new generation of teenage girls as potential readers, here’s something that might interest you:

Last year, when DC started its new “Batgirl” title, I saw a fan offer the following opinion regarding the logic of DC’s abrupt decision to give the Batgirl of the past decade or so (Cassandra Cain) the boot, and hand the Batgirl role over to Stephanie Brown, formerly known as “Spoiler” and also as “the fourth Robin” (just briefly in that latter role, until Batman fired her over a trifle which he would have tolerated in Dick or Jason or Tim).

The fan said (as paraphrased from my imperfect memory): “Obviously DC wants to make the Batgirl concept, a spinoff of the classic Batman concept, feel more accessible to teenage girls who don’t already have a thorough knowledge of the various Bat-characters and don’t see why they should need to acquire it in a hurry. Stephanie Brown, a girl who grew up in an almost-normal fashion in an American community and is now starting college, is far more ‘normal’ and ‘accessible’ than Cassandra Cain’s unhappy and thoroughly messed-up backstory — which would take forever to explain to a reader who was just starting from scratch on this new title!”

I was amused — in a sad sort of way — by that flimsy rationalization. I responded along these lines: “That argument would be a lot more convincing if I had ever seen or heard of any trace of evidence that DC is lifting a finger to try to put the new Batgirl book in places where large numbers of ordinary teenage girls will actually NOTICE it exists, and therefore might be tempted to read it! The local comic book shop is not such a place, and where else is Stephanie’s new title displayed? In reality, the only people who will even realize Stephanie is now Batgirl, much less care enough to consider spending their money on her adventures, are the sort of diehard veteran fans who already know all about the backstories of Cassandra and Stephanie in the first place!” :(

I am so glad DC does not have anything to do with Twilight. The female protagonist is everything opposite that stands for female empowerment and she is like almost liek blank slate so girls looking for something to relate to or think they can attract some bad boy vampire can imprint themselves on her boring needy persona. As a female who admire Wonder Woman, Buffy, Lara Croft, Catwoman and co…let me say DC are better to do quality than go for mediocre writing that really does not do anything positive for girls.

I don’t understand how a Wolverine CLONE (supposedly without the Y chromossoma) becomes a wispy pretty lady. Wolverine is STOCKY, MUSCULAR and UGLY! Why isn’t she like that?

I know, because then the books wouldn’t sell. Feh!

Best,
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

Its obviously not intended to be a perfect clone (ie notice how she has her third claw in her foot?).

Lorendiac..that was deep and insightful…I could say the same of the Johnny DC and Marvel Adventures lines too….Just imagine those books at Wal-Mart or Toys r us…..

[...] As for that Twilight graphic novel? Find out opinions here and here. [...]

I was thinking on something Kelly has mentioned many times, and that is the fact that she got into superhero comics through the X-men tv show. And X-men has been mention by several girls I’ve encountered over the years as one of, if not THE, reason they got into comics. Now, this is likely becuase of several reasons but I think primarily, its because of the simple fact that its a team-book.

I think team-books have the greatest chance of drawing girls into comics not only because of the fact that it has characters girls can identify with (in X-men alone there is Kitty Pride, Jubilee, Pixie, Armor etc) but because it is harder to really screw up your girl characters. Less weight in the story is given to individuals and so a writer’s unfamiliarity with the female teen demographic won’t be that evident. The average reader, is going to see a character and fill in the details themselves.

Down side is that girl characters can get pushed to the side in teambooks.

But then sometimes you get the exceptions to the rule, like Runaways where all the primary characters are female. And well writen, interesting ones to boot.

I think Marvel is taking a step in the right direction putting Runaways in the manga section. Its probably the only legitimately solid step in bring girls into comics they’ve done.

Again, I’m not sure I have much of a point. I was just making an observation.

X23 seems to work well in a team book and I liked her origin story, but lately I’ve not been a fan of what writers have been doing to her…

Wolverine is stocky and muscular, but I don’t think he is ugly, as drawn by most writers.

Hi, Kelly–I really enjoy your column! Just a quick word about Twilight: having looked at the first novel, I can’t imagine that DC or Marvel would have known what it do with it. If anything, it has a lot more in common with shojo manga like Vampire Knight or Black Bird than any DC or Marvel series I could name, so granting Yen Press the license for an adaptation makes a lot of sense. Yen hired a Korean artist for the project, and the overall visual style is consistent with many of the books in its manhwa line (e.g. The Antique Gift Shop, Goong, Pig Bride). The packaging, too, makes a lot more sense than floppies, given who’s likely to buy it: hardcore fans who want it for their collections (and will probably never buy another graphic novel) and teenage girls who are more familiar with tankubons than stapled color booklets. It’s probably a small blessing that the books are available through big chain stores and not just comic shops; the confrontation between grouchy comic fans and “Team Edward” members could get very ugly!

One final thought from someone who writes about kids’ comics for the SLJ website: we don’t need to “get girls into comics.” They already ARE reading a lot of comics — they just might not be reading stuff published by DC and Marvel. I’m all for stories featuring smart, resourceful, and, yes, ass-kicking heroines, but feel it’s important to recognize that those qualities can be present in all kind of stories, not just superhero/action comics.

Danielle Leigh

March 23, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Kate basically said what I was thinking (i.e. girls are reading comics!) I wasn’t sure whether or not to get into this because you seemed concerned that girls aren’t reading superhero comics or aren’t being drawn in (or even invited perhaps?) to the weekly comic book shop culture. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have access to the spaces that do nourish the kinds of comic book reading that they currently do (i.e. libraries and chain bookstores).

I mean, I watched the X-Men cartoon just like you did…but also watched the Sailor Moon cartoon around the same time. Both have lead me to comics, just in very different ways (& to very different comics).

Danielle Leigh

March 23, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Well, blerg. I meant “LED me to comics”. Me and my damn typo-mania…

@Kate&Danielle: Well, I can’t speak for others, but for myself when I talk about “getting girls into comics” I’m talking about using superhero comics as a kind of gateway into the deeper world of American comic books. Which is what happened to me and others. Obviously (what with me posting on a comic site) I find American comics compelling and I want to share this with others.

In fact, Kelly did an article on getting your family into comics not too long ago.

Anyway, I’m not sure exactly what your point was, but being that I’m a comic fan myself and I don’t participate in the “weekly comic book shop culture” quite as much as others do, it certainly isn’t something I advocate exclusively. I got into comics largely by reading trades and I think trades are a wonderful new extension of the media.

There is something very unique about the monthly comic experience. Waiting for the new issues of Detective Comics feat. Batwoman was a recent highlight of last year for me and I don’t think it would be quite the same in trade form.

But it certainly isn’t the only way to experience comics.

“They already ARE reading a lot of comics — they just might not be reading stuff published by DC and Marvel. I’m all for stories featuring smart, resourceful, and, yes, ass-kicking heroines, but feel it’s important to recognize that those qualities can be present in all kind of stories, not just superhero/action comics.”

This is what I was thinking, too. It’s something that always frustrates me in these discussions, the way “comics” are usually assumed to mean “superhero comics.” If you expand beyond that, you do, in fact, find quite a lot of girls getting into comics, as they have been for years now. I think if the goal is to get more girls to read superhero comics, we need to grapple with a very important question: why should they? What are they missing by reading, say, Fruits Basket, instead of X-Men?

“What are they missing by reading, say, Fruits Basket, instead of X-Men?”

A whole entire medium. The American comic books are not superhero comic books. Just as manga is not shojo. To say that either one represent the entirety of what one can get out of the medium is ludicrous.

I personally am not very familiar with manga so I couldn’t even begin to tell you what there is to read besides your standard Shojo and Shonen fair. My experience with manga is pretty much limited to Rerouni Kenshin and Dragonball, both of which I adore, but is likely not exactly the most sophisticated storytelling being produced in the medium.

My point, and this time I have one, is that American comics offer something wholly different than manga. And is worthwhile in its own right.

@Daniel: I’m not trying to be difficult, but manga, like American comics, is “a whole entire medium” that runs the gamut from mainstream, teen-oriented titles like Naruto to surrealist, experimental works like Travel. A reader whose first great comic love is Fruits Basket has just as many genres, styles, and artists to explore within the world of manga as a reader whose initial interest in The X-Men eventually leads them to Daniel Clowes’ work.

I understand your desire to encourage girls to explore a medium that’s personally meaningful to you, but why must liking American comics be only way for girls to be “true” or “real” comic fans? I don’t consider a dyed-in-the-wool R. Crumb fan or Batman reader to be any less of a comic reader than someone who reads Lone Wolf and Cub or Love Hina. So why not welcome the fact that there are comics that appeal to girls, and that girls are making up a bigger share of comic market? Undoubtedly some of today’s Naruto fans will discover Fables, The Red Star and The Dark Knight; my own journey as a comic reader began in manga, and has gradually broadened to include a lot more American and European titles, an experience that’s hardly unique to me. Creating a welcoming, supportive atmosphere is more likely to encourage girls to try a variety of titles than telling them that they’re only comic fans if they support DC and Marvel, or worrying about how to retool various superhero franchises to appeal to girls.

“Telling them that they’re only comic fans if they support DC and Marvel, or worrying about how to retool various superhero franchises to appeal to girls.”

That wasn’t the argument I was making at all. In fact, much of what you said was just a restating of my argument.

You seem to be implying that there is cross-over into American comics from manga readers. Well, that’s all well and fine and I think most people would encourage that sort of thing but it does not always happen that way. Many manga readers are afraid to branch out into American comic books because they see it as something they cannot relate to. I used to work in a book store and I heard this argument from girls (and boys too actually) a lot.

Whats wrong with “worrying about how to retool various superhero franchises to appeal to girls?” There are a lot of girls out there. Whats wrong with wanting them to join in on my hobby? It can only help the industry. And I want the industry to succeed. I like comics.

Just to share my quick thoughts here on the ongoing dialogue you guys have going…I don’t think anyone is saying that American Comics are superior to Manga or vice versa. They’re very different animals and I think we can all agree that it’s great we’ve got both of them.

I think (from what I’ve seen) that the Manga style of Twilight is fitting, but I don’t think it’s necessarily superior to what could have been done with DC or Marvel and a more traditional “American” style. Would they be different products – definitely. Would one be definitely superior to the other? I doubt it. My point remains though, that it would have been a good gateway drug to getting girls into comic stores – and kind of breaking that seal.

I do think pigeonholing “American” comics or even “mainstream” comics as just superhero is a huge simplification of the medium, and a description I don’t really subscribe to. I know very little about Manga, but I do know that it’s incredibly varied in its own right, in the same way that “American” comics are.

I’m delighted that girls (and boys) are reading Manga in high numbers. My concern in the article is actually more for the future of mainstream comics, more than ‘oh the poor girls who are missing out’. I think with print media floundering as it is, mainstream American comics need to actively court these readers simply because it would be a huge influx of cash for them to finally be able to tap that market – about 50% of kids are girls – so why you’d willingly and actively ignore all those potential customers, I don’t really understand. I’m not saying it’s not a risk, or that people haven’t been trying, but the medium that manages to attract young female readers (like Manga has) will benefit hugely.

In my personal experience, for whatever reason, there’s not much crossover between Manga audiences and more mainstream American comic audiences. So while it’s great that girls (and boys) are reading Manga – and obviously Manga is doing something right as their audiences have fallen in love, while they continue to be unimpressed – rightly so I think – with what is offered to them in mainstream American books – I personally am still very hopeful of girls to try out other stuff beyond Manga – and that doesn’t just mean superheroes. There’s a ton of great stuff out there that has nothing to do with superheroes.

Additionally, when I say ‘girls aren’t reading comics’ (and I should have specified that my knowledge of Manga is exceptionally small) it’s mostly about the fact that I don’t see American comics – especially the mainstream stuff – reaching out to girls and producing anything they would or should be interested in. And I think this is an antiquated way to run a business and that I desperately want it to change.

I do agree with whoever said it up thread – I think it may have been Daniel – that the price of comics is really prohibitive at this point. As a teenage girl I can’t imagine spending $12 (or worse $16) on four comic books when that can buy me an entire novel (sometimes hardcover – depending on where you shop). Maybe the evolution of the media beyond print (ipads or whatever) will make those costs more manageable in the future.

I think comics has a hard road ahead of it. All print media does. Less people are reading in general. Much less reading comics.

I really hope comics innovate. Somehow bring in more readers. Maybe the economic pressure will finally drive the comics making companies to innovate, shake up the media, experiment with new formats, get fresh blood into the the biz, seek out new demographics… whatever.

I’m tired of paying five bucks for a flimsy little pamphlet that may or may not be worth my hard earned dollars.

As much as I love comics… I’d really love it if they were cheaper.

Ug. Sorry for the griping but Kelly’s comment didn’t leave me much to be hopeful about…

Coming in a bit late to the party, but
@caanan about Twilight and girls going for bad boys:

I think there is an appeal beyond simple attraction to bad boys. There is also the idea that “their love is so true” that it will work out. There is the idea of danger, but also safety. In the real world, Bella would have had her throat ripped out before the first book was half over.

I’ve seen the same thing in Japanese manga aimed at women. Given a choice, the female lead always goes for the bad guy. He’s sleeping with another woman. He may be sleeping with a married woman. He may be moody, depressed, or potentially violent. He may hide his true self from others. He might be an obsessed stalker who fell in love with her when she was a grade schooler. But the female lead is always so special that it will work out. He might sleep around on other women, but with her it will be true love and once they are together, he will never cheat on her. Some take things a step further by reducing the guy’s bad boy-ness after the relationship is achieved. Like if the guy was originally portrayed as married, the story might then reveal that he’s just been unable to move on ever since his wife had died, at least until the female lead came along.

American paranormal romance for a slightly older audience takes a different approach to “safety”. There, the female lead is generally made so kick-butt tough that she can hold her own against her bad boy monster boyfriends. (Monster, because most female leads in that style of book only ever sleep with inhuman men. Regular humans are presumably just too safe. For these books, it also seems common for the first book to say that the female lead is unsuccessful with human men and that humans have never really been attracted to her, but pretty much every supernatural that she encounters will have the hots for her.) It isn’t uncommon for the female lead to be put in the controlling position, no matter how inhumanly powerful the the male is.

Eh, I’m not sure if we should get derailed into a deconstruction of Twilight (or ‘monster fiction’ in general which I think is a separate topic) but since it was in the original article somewhat I guess I’ll go ahead and put my two cents in.

The long answer to the whole bad boy character trope likely has something to do with the female psyche because it seems to be a pretty powerful archetype in literature. If I were to guess it may be the obverse to the damsel in distress archetype that men find so compelling… but this is an area I have very shallow knowledge of.

What I do know, and here’s the short of it, is that Edward Cullen is blatant Byronic hero (as popularized by the Bronte sisters). Meyer is huge fan of gothic lit and so borrows the typical male lead of any good gothic story for her male lead. Which, actually, is pretty brilliant. If you’re gunna steal ideas, steal from the best.

Meyer’s Twilight is pretty much Wuthering Heights but set in Washington and with sparkly vampires. Which, if you think about it, is actually a pretty novel idea.

I personally wasn’t a big fan of the later books in the series but the first one was really very decent.

Twilight is the most sexist piece of literary trash I have ever had the misfortune to pick up. I am glad that uncompromising characters like X-23 exist in today’s society, who challenge the traditional perceptions of female characters in comic-books. Twilight is shitty fanfiction which repeatedly smashes feminism in the face in order to get from one bland, insipid plot point to the other. It’s a disgraceful piece of hack writing.

I do not believe that you have the background to make critical judgements on this issue. What are you qualifications?

@Seres: You might get a better answer if you let us know who you are addressing your question to. Is it me (the column poster?) or the commenter above you, etc.?

Also@ Seres: I certainly wouldn’t call the Twilight series as a whole ‘Feminist’ but to label it ‘hack writing’ and ‘fanfiction’ is deliberately inflammatory. I seriously doubt Kelly wrote this article to argue over the literary merits of Twilight. And you are mostly just insulting it. Which is ok I guess if you can do it with specific examples and keep things civil.

And to ask anyone “what are you qualifications” is fairly meaningless on an internet forum. I could be Stephen Hawking or Cormac McCarthy. Or, you know, a twelve year old. You do not need to be qualified in anything to participate in a discussion on the internet. And that is kind of the point of the whole thing in the first place.

I enjoyed the one shot,but i’ve read the X=23 trades and this was a complement to them. You are correct that this would not encourage a young girl to read comics. In fact the whole celebration of Women by Marvel does not seem to want to draw in new readers. In these economic times I think companies and retailers are scared to take a big monetary risk to try to bring female fans in.

You are asking all the right questions :) Time will tell the outcome. I feel things are changing though. I notice more and more girls in my local comic shop. Book Bloggers are invaluable I do a lot of blogging about comics and manga and have got very interested responses from women who had never read either.

Kelly I agree with you on the Twilight point. It’s going to sell massively over years even. The movies are far from over and provide the best promotion. I’d love to see a new “Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane” with a new creative team.

I’m an aspiring comics creator. So if you read this Kelly, any comments at all would be appreciated.

I read this a few days ago and this “WIR” issue has been rolling around in my head. I agree that at times, smart and strong female characters are often reduced to eye candy or “innocent” targets for the the male hero to cradle in his arms during a rainstorm.

Personally, I think it’s lazy writing to maim, rape, torture or kill any character male or female just to make the protagonist and the story as a whole that much more interesting. I’ll admit I fell prey to something like that in DC’s Identity Crisis.

I’m now reviewing my opinion and feelings on that story. Did I like it because it was a thrilling, complex mystery? Something that made me look at the people and the masks they wear differently?
Or did i just like the idea of someone killing off superhero’s loved ones?

In my comics, I treat all my characters differently. I do believe in dragging characters through the mud: heroes, villains, guy, girl, bending units etc. It shows their resolve, their ingenuity, their integrity, and most of all their identities. It’s like that saying about the Marine Corps not building character, but revealing it.

I don’t know what think about some of the comments made on here. One that struck my eye particularly was a comment made about writers and editors like Geoff Johns, Dan Didio, and Joe Quesada are writing things that they’d like to read (basically guys ages 13 onward) instead of what teenage girls or women like to read.

I don’t get it. Are you supposed to cater to an audience or write your stories the way you want them to? What happens when you have different demographics in that audience? Do you care about the money or the message your book has, if any? I think that’s a problem Marvel and DC have and that’s why I think a lot of writers like to have editorial control and go to creator-friendly publishers.

“I suppose I should admit that I’m not a big fan of story lines with characters that are “going crazy”, characters who speak and make no sense, who talk to themselves and are “tortured”. ”
To that I have to say it’s because the writer has no real experience with true madness or going full on insane. Most of what I’ve read like that just reeks of – this writer has no clue what they’re talking about, few get it even close to right. Few writers ever make it anywhere after experiencing that, other than in & out of the hospital and on meds that wipe away the experiences for the rest of their lives.
I’m a writer & an artist, female.

In junior high I started learning how to write & draw comics, and I have massive plans that are going to begin seeing the light of day this year. X-Men was what got me into comics, and I’ll never turn back. The only time I don’t buy comics like a fiend is when I’m too broke to pay all my bills and buy proper food.

Twilight – I saw the 1st movie and the pacing was unbearable, so bad that I had a hard time finishing it. Plus vampires that sparkle? seriously? Uh no. It’s over-hyped and I saw very little substance in that movie, I might have if the pacing weren’t so horrifically distracting. The characters felt so flat, even though the acting was fine. I’m not saying the movies won’t improve or anything bad about the books, I’ve never read the books and I’m no longer interested in reading them after I saw that movie. I’ll be 30 in October and I won’t that graphic novel anymore now than I would have when I was a teenager, because of how unimpressed I was with the 1st movie.
I don’t know many girls who read comics personally but every time I go to a comic book store there are always girls in there browsing. I’ve got one cousin who reads some comics, she is a gamer and watches animation & anime. You know what comics I’ve seen her read – Jay & Silent Bob and Jhonen Vasquez stuff (I got her into both as well as comics in general, though I don’t read Jay & Bob comics). And she was recently gushing about how she just got her box at her comic book store, I’m so envious I haven’t been able to afford that for a long time.
I gave one of my sisters some Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. She’s not at all into comics but she loved that. Because it’s funny.
It takes more than marketing or contrived feministicalness within a comic to capture the female audience, there is no secret formula. Though I will say quality writing & quality art are a great start. I spot contrived feministicalness and I’m outta there so fast there’ll be speed lines wooshing in my wake.

I think “brcksmsn” made an intersting point in “[do writers] cater to an audience or write [their] stories the way [they] want them to” and as a writer myself I can say with a certainty that writers write for themselves first, formost and primarily. There are pleanty of editors other people who are focused on catching demographics and, well, generally making money. On the creative side you just have to do what you think fits the story.

Now, I’m not going to say that writers never think about their audience after the fact or at a certaine point or ever… just that intitially the reason writers write are to make themselves happy.

Naturally, a writer like Jeoff Johns is going to write stories that apeal to him. Now, I’m just generalising, becuase if writers never considered their audience there would be children’s books or YA fiction and so on… but you get my point right?

brcksmsn – Write for yourself 1st and foremost. While it’s smart & useful to figure what your basic audience (and understand it) is likely to be it’s the writers that at the end of the day write more for themselves than anything else put out the best stuff.
Readers are smart, even if they don’t catch that the writer isn’t fully submersed in their writing on a conscious level all the time they do catch it on a subconscious level and while they might show up to get the stuff for awhile they will at some point walk away just because of that.
Personally if I lose a reader it is never okay for that to be the reason why. Money comes in it’s own time if you’re meant to have it, writers shouldn’t try to superficially push it with that, because the quality suffers and people will pick up on it. Then they’ll tweet about it.

Some good points here. interesting all around. We write POWERGIRL for all ages…and am very pleased to see a lot of female readers looking past the existing pg suit and getting into the story…which is always most important to connect with readers.

good piece.

@brcksmsn: The simplest answer I have to your question is more diversity in creators.

I would agree that writers should not be trying to force themselves to write for a certain audience, or try to write stories that they don’t feel comfortable with (although much good storytelling comes from risk taking)…but simply diversifying the creators in charge of what stories we get – more women, more minorities, I think it would improve the landscape of mainstream comics significantly…and better reflect the actual audience they are trying to capture.

That said, there are plenty of mainstream male creators that are interested in really powerful female voices – Greg Rucka, Brian K. Vaughan, Joss Whedon, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Terry Moore, Marc Andreyko, The Hernandez Brothers (though not mainstream) just to name a few…the list goes on and on. So I think it’s not always a case of male creators are only interested in primarily male protagonists and female creators are only interested in primarily female protagonists…I’d say it certainly skews that way but is definitely not universally true. Still, I will always advocate that more women and minority writers will only make the field more lush and interesting.

I also think that a lot of the implied “no girls allowed” stuff is much subtler than anyone would guess – and A LOT of times has nothing to do with the writing but the art. Very small things can be done to make girls feel like they’re on equal footing with men and not being objectified.

I think the book Power Girl is a pretty good example of small subtle stuff that can be done to make a book more palatable to girls and women. I like that book in general – it’s light and funny, the art is fantastic, and the writing is better and sharper than a lot of my other monthly titles, however I would never recommend that comic to girlfriends because of the stupid boob window. I’m willing to look past it because I’ve been reading comics for a long time and I know that it’s a joke and that there’s a lot of history and that sadly it takes a long time to get things like this to change…but I couldn’t recommend it in good conscience to other women, because it’s just too objectifying.

Some people took issue with me using the word “safe” as a descriptor for how I felt when reading Girl Comics…but I think it takes very little to make a book feel safe for girls…so that they get the feeling that they’re equal, respected, and valuable as readers in the same way that boys are.

@Kelly Thompson: I fully agree with all of what you just replied to @brcksmsn with.

And it is no understatement, it really does not take much for a book to feel safe for girls. There are many things that I would have no problems reading but then would not recommend to other females just because of the little things. Women usually have an innate desire to look out for each other. Not all girls have made it to the place in their life where they are sure of who they are enough to feel safe amongst things like”boob windows” even if the book is as good as you say Power Girl is. I would have picked up by now if I’d been able to afford comics more often. I’ve heard good things about it.

“Twilight is the most sexist piece of literary trash I have ever had the misfortune to pick up. I am glad that uncompromising characters like X-23 exist in today’s society, who challenge the traditional perceptions of female characters in comic-books.”

Oh please. I haven’t seen a single female character in her own comic book who didn’t have to do something about those evil men who plague their pages. Ms Marvel? In the first issue of her now-cancelled series, she bragged about shooting Stilt-Man in the groin repeatedly. Elektra? In her post Secret Invasion mini, she beat up several male SHIELD agents because one of them asked her if she was okay because, as we know, men can only have sinister reasons for approaching women, right? They then stunned Elektra and took her into custody, so yes. And X-23? What better way to show how much of a feminist she is than cutting off a male pimp’s head? And of course it would be a pimp, considering they sell women’s bodies and a crime against women is the worst thing possible. That’s before we get started on DC, who are even worse offenders.

The thing is Marvel & DC, cut the casual sexism against men in comics with female characters or you won’t even have the male audience you already have. An issue of Mighty Avengers featured Ban-Luck making the now-tired “testosterone poisoning” comment and the “Love & War” arc of Incredible Hercules was so sexist against men that it caused me to drop the book. If comic book companies are so intent on bringing in female readers, concentrate on ways to bring in the masses and then female readers will stick around if you have titles that interest them. Comic books aren’t a big enough entertainment medium to cater to specific demographics of their audience, such as movies and television shows can, so devising ways of bringing in new readers, period, is more important than appealing to men, women, black people, white people, atheists, Catholics, Americans, Australians or whoever you decide to reach out to that week.

Hi Kelly. Initially, I would like to comment that you are an incredible writer yourself. I thouroughly enjoyed your article as well as your subsequent response to comments. And you seem to have an incredibly keen eye for pop culture trends and how to apply them in a business sense in regard to comics. Do you mind if I ask what your occupation is? I think DC or Marvel should hire YOU and create a position for you to market their comics to young women/girls. What a boon it would be to awaken that market to comics and thereby make the entire industry stronger. Bravo for you and your opinions.

Hey everyone, here’s the real issue……comics are about action adventure stories period.Now if your goal is to attract young girls or adult women to them…..well throw in a love story and you’ve got them hooked.What are some of the first stories girl’s read or hear?…….fairy tales (which is why FABLES is a huge hit)Give the readers a compelling plot thread along side the awesome sci-fi action adventure and you’ve got a winning combo IMO, besides Chris Claremont has been dinning out on this formula his whole career.

I really don’t think Power Girl’s boob window is very bad at all. I mean, her costume as a whole is actually long sleeved and really not that trashy in comparison to, say Starfire (which is atrocious btw). I’d always thought PG wore it because she wanted to show off her boobs. I know several full breasted women who wear low cut top just for that reason.

I’m not entirely sure why. It’s a bit distracting but it certainly isn’t out of the ordinary.

And the recent PG series with Amanda Conner was fantastic. My girl friend like it too.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with manga being the ‘gateway drug’. If shoujo manga is what gets them in the door, then at least they are in the door. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to stick with those sorts of characters for the duration. Dependent on what kind of characters appeal to them (which will change as they mature), eventually a number of readers will be looking for stronger more independent characters. While they may start with things Fruits Basket or the like and perhaps migrate to something akin to Bride of the Water God, some of those readers are going to want to read stories about strong, independent women. They will be able to find characters like those in Black Lagoon (an older teens title where Revy is the ass-kickingest character in the series) and Shaman Warrior. And that will lead them to expand further and look outside manga. And they’ll find characters like Courtney Crumrin and all of those in DC’s Vertigo line. And then they might take a gander at the spandex set if they get the right recommendations.
I did like what one of the commenters mentioned earlier in terms of team books perhaps having more appeal (in the spandex set at least). That does make sense because it gives a broader range of characters to find a connection with. A team book that has multiple female characters provides more opportunity for a reader to find a point of appeal than if they pick up a solo title. If they don’t find any connection with the character in the solo title, there won’t be anything for them to come back to. With a team book, there is a better likelihood of there being at least one character among the cast that is interesting enough to keep them coming back.
I don’t really know what the best selling manga titles are among female readers, but I would imagine that most of those likely have a fairly decent size cast and don’t tend to revolve around just one character the way solo superhero titles do.

Question!

If people want a better portrayal of women in comics, wouldn’t it be better to have no Twilight graphic novel at all? I mean Twilight’s representation of women (especially the main character) almost border of misogyny.

I meant to write borderline misogyny. Damn I-phone.

Why do you only ever write about Marvel or DC when complaining about the lack of comics appealing girls and women? Why do they have to be responsible for them? Why don’t you ever write about publishers and cartoonists who do provide work by and about women that appeal to both genders because they are just great comics overall?

I just looked at your past columns, and I saw the Gabrielle Spotlight. It’s a start. Hopefully, there will be more spotlights and less rehashed bitching.

I can’t help but notice that comics and superhero comics are used interchangeably. Why does it matter what comics new readers read? Would it be so bad if dramatic or comedic comics were the top sellers? The only segregation I get is separating manga from American comics, because if all that is read is produced elsewhere, then North Americans will lose the ability to aspire to becoming creators. And for whatever reason, that is a part of the appeal of comics.

At the end of the day they way to expand the reader base to any demographic is the same. Produce the best stories we can, with the most engaging characters we can in the most gripping plots we can and market it as best we can. As the overall bases grow, we’ll find the ability to target niche markets, but, right now, without a reader base, diving straight at a specified demographic will fail.

DJM: So you call 14 out of 19 posts that are all positive “only ever writing about Marvel or DC when complaining about the lack of comics appealing to girls and women?”

For my money I’d say of 19 columns, 14 are unabashedly positive, 2 are negative, and 2 are neutral in that they complicated but discuss both positive and negative aspects and a general feeling, of “what can we do to make things better”…but even if you want to call those negative I’d still say 14 positive and 4 negative is not such a bad ratio.

Maybe a little more research before you comment next time.

@kalel41065: I’d like to hire you to follow me around and say nice things like this all the time…my own personal PR if you will…unfortunately I’m poor and can only pay in return praise.

More seriously, thank you for the most excellent compliments. I am trying to be a writer these days…which means I am a combination of unemployed/freelance/and consultant. My first novel is soon to go out on submission though…which could help or change nothing…you never know!

@Daniel: Being a large chested girl myself I can certainly admit to wearing plenty of low cut stuff…for a variety of reasons, but to date I’ve never worn anything low cut or revealing when I head out to fight crime. :)

@squidlad: I guess I don’t agree with the premise. I don’t believe that “comics are about action adventure stories period”. I believe they’re far more complex than that (usually) and that action and adventure often makes up a very small aspect of that complexity.

@Devyn: I mentioned it above in the comment thread, but I haven’t read Twilight, so I can’t comment on how positive or not it actually is…I’ve heard alternating views (and extreme ones at that). However, my argument is simply the “let’s get the asses in the seats and show them what comics can do” variety in which case, if it’s a product we KNOW girls are coming for anyway – regardless of whether we approve or not – (which they did – in record numbers to the tune of 66k sold in the first week) then why not capitalize on it and try to get our stuff in front of them too?

If comic publishers want to bring the audience to them, they might also consider putting their product in places where people can develop an affinity for it.
I realize it may be anathema to actually consider giving their product away (or even offering it at ridiculously low prices that may not actually cover the cost), but I think they could be well served to put some of their trade collections into libraries. Marvel already publishes some of their collections in the digest size (Runaways for one) so they are a little less expensive to produce. DC also produces some of their younger-audience collections in that format as well.
Getting the product in front of an audience so they are actually aware the material is out there could help them to penetrate that demographic they so desperately want.
A friend of mine used to work at a library and I sent her some trade collections on a few occasions since their library had only a small offering. Mostly it was manga such as Inu Yasha and Oh My Goddess (she said the Inu Yasha trades flew off the shelves) but I also sent some of the Courtney Crumrin trades as well as a number of copies of the Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane digest because I thought that might be a good way to introduce some female readers to superhero comics (whether it actually created an interest in Spider-Man or not, at worst they would get to read a very well written and entertaining series).
(of course, if I knew at the time that Joe Quesada was going to crap all over the Spider-Man history and introduce a complete dunderhead Peter Parker that isn’t respect-worthy or likable in the least, I would have gone with some other series instead).
Of course, with the arrival of digital delivery for comics, it will be even more cost effective for comic publishers to make some of their material available as an enticement. They might still consider working with libraries to deliver some of that ‘free’ digital content — or see if they can find a web-portal of some sort that already has access to that desired demographic they can partner with to deliver their content and try to develop the audience.

Why do you only ever write about Marvel or DC when complaining about the lack of comics appealing girls and women?

Why do you make complaints before you check to see if they make sense, not after? Checking first would have saved you the trouble of making an ill-founded complaint.

X-23 is perhaps one of the most offensive characters created in mainstream comics. It’s basically bottom feeding at it’s worst. Her character, rather than being a teen female Wolverine whose appeal I can see (especially when New Mutant Rhane was created to be such a wussy character), is instead a Wolverine you can fuck. I mean, did she really have to be an Asian whore? Does that serve any purpose other than twisted masturbatory fantasies? No matter how many times I see her I still can’t believe that it ever made through editorial discussion and onto the printed page. Then again, considering what just happened with Tigra (who should also be a female Wolverine given her powers) and how it took years before Chris Claremont pointed out that Ms. Marvel had essentially been raped and ran off with her rapist, I guess I shouldn’t be.

Pixie Strikes Back. That’s all you need.

@Worsthing: Labeling X23 an “Asian whore,” as if that sums up the entirety of her character is a misrepresentation. Granted, she’s not the best of characters compared to someone like Wolverine. But then again, Wolverine has had people like Frank Miller and Bill Jemas (Oh, and Clairemont!) on him and X23 has had… who? Joe Quesada? I think her first appearance (in NYX) was added for shock value (she had, up until that point, only appeared in the Xmen cartoon, which was for kids) but I think that is something quite different than “bottom feeding.”

And I think her character in general is interesting. Though you have to see X23 as different than Wolverine. They aren’t the same character. Wolverine was an ADULT when the government experimented on him, but X23 was a CHILD. What would the kind of abuse and neglect she had suffered as a child do to her?

X23 is a tortured character… but rightly so. She isn’t as strong as Wolverine, but I don’t think this has anything to do with sexism on the part of the writers. Its just the way her character is created. X23 has control issues, intimacy issues, trust issues… a whole bag of mess to deal with. But she’s also still just a kid.

Though now that I think about it… X23 and Wolverine do have some parallels. Both find solace in self abuse of a sort. X23 is a cutter (again, control issues) and Wolverine is something of an alcoholic… And I’m grasping to find a way to further express this but I’m having difficulty. Its been a while since I’ve read me some X-men…

Obviously I we wouldn’t be able to talk about her in at length if she was just a one-dimensional character. I don’t think she has always been handled the best by her writers (as her recent one-shot displays)… but I think she has a lot of potential and she is interesting at least.

I’m sorry, but she’s not the best of character compared to anyone. She’s a sexual fetish creation first and foremost.

@Worsthing: Based on what? The fact she was a prostitute once? She isn’t a prostitute in current continuety. Nor was she a prostitute for very long. Further she hasn’t really had any meaningful romantic relationships since then (maybe Hellion?) nor has there been any indication that she has had sex with anyone at all since then. If X23 was only a sexual fetish creation first and foremost, shouldn’t she be… I don’t know… having sex with people?

I mean, she’s not even really very attractive compared to super sexpots like Jean Gray or Emma Frost. If anyone in an X-book was a “sexual fetish creation” those two would be more likely candidates.

I’m trying to follow your argument but I’m having a hard time doing so. You haven’t really laid out your reasoning.

I have to agree with WorsthingUS, X23 is the worst character Marvel has produced and that’s saying a lot.
If she is a clone of Wolverine why is she Asian? Since when is Wolvie Asian, I thought he was French Canadian?
If your trying to create the perfect assassin, use Deadpool’s DNA and create an army of amoral dunderheads.

I think when you end up with a character similar in concept to X-23, you essentially have a case of a lazy writer. Rather than try to figure out a better angle on how to present a character as having a tough life and many obstacles to overcome, they just take the ‘easy’ road by piling on a bunch of the usual cliched stuff so they can point and say ‘see how tough this character had it’. It almost becomes a game of one-upmanship. Your character is a killing machine? Well my character is a clone killing machine who has never had any sort of family upbringing. Well my character is a clone killing machine with no family history who turned to prostitution. Well my character is a clone killing machine with no family history, was formerly a prostitute and likes to cut herself.
And they just keep throwing more and more crap against the wall regardless of how little sense it makes. Following the evolution of the character, there isn’t any viable reason why she would have gone into prostitution and allowed herself to be manipulated by a pimp. There were certainly other options available for her to make money to survive. But again, the writers are not looking to make sense, they are just looking for ways to make the character even more tragic so they can tout how far the character has gone on their road to redemption.
And to tie into Kelly’s comparison to the WiR situation, I certainly don’t recall any male heroes who had to overcome a past involving their being a former gigalo. And have we ever had a teenage male hero who cuts himself? Just a part of the uneven playing field created by unimaginative and lazy writers.

If you want to read a good, fun book that all people can read- men, women, girls, and boys- then check out Spider-Girl. It’s got a strong female main character that isn’t overly sexualized or horribly graphic and violent. Spider-Girl should be the example to follow when looking to make a title available to everyone and interesting to everyone.

@Hutch, squidlad: Hmm. I don’t know if I’m going to get much from you all by explaining the character history… because I could. I think the publication history would help you all understand the character more as well. Because I think some of why you are responding to the character negatively stems from an unfamiliarity with the character.

Publication history:

X-23 was originally a character from the tv show X-men Evolution. Its a show for kids so at this point she was pretty much ‘badass little kid’ version of Wolverine. Fine right? Well then NYX comes along and Joey Q decides it would be a great idea to stick X-23 in it as a child prostitute. This is fine too. It fits the gritty, edgy vibe they are going for in this book (ie the main character is first introduced at a rave, her teacher gets shot by a class mate, its stuff we don’t normally see at Marvel often). Well, guess what, they got a good response from that so they got the creators of the X-men Evolution show to write a mini about her. And then the character really takes off.

So, how this effects the character:

Well, obviously you have two versions of the character that don’t quite sinc up. Marvel has had a tough time balancing the ‘badass’ aspects of what people expect from a Wolverine clone with the actual history of the character.

Sure, if you read between the lines you can imagine that a child who has had little interaction with humans and has been controlled by others her entire life would be easy prey for someone like a pimp. But Marvel never directly deals with it.

X-23 doesn’t want to be a murderer and in the past most of her ‘kills’ had been done through her trigger scent. I can see how she would get stuck in a cycle of self loathing and fear that someone like a pimp would create. People don’t just ‘run off and become prostitutes’ like it was something they chose (that is actually a pretty sexist idea) they are forced into prostitution through others. Prostitution (at least the illegal kind) is very much about a person without control of their life. Its a man dominating a woman. This is why you would rarely see this kind of thing happen to a man because… well this kind of thing doesn’t usually happen to men.

Ever heard of a man who was a giggalo and didn’t want to be?

X-23 isn’t “a prostitute and likes to cut herself.” She’s a person who was forced into prostitution who HAS to cut herself. X-23 is definitely a character with control issues. And she’s also a character who struggles to even understand what it means to be human. Feral children are a real phenomena in life. And that basically what X-23 was.

Now, is X-23 an interesting character? Eh. Maybe. I’m not impressed with how Marvel has been handling her. Is she the worst character Marvel has come out with?

No, that’s Dakken.

Just kidding about the Dakken thing. Mostly.

@Daniel: I would not back off from your previous statement about Dakken, between X23 and him your correct, they are the two worst Marvel characters in recent memory. Any time a CLONE has to be used to create a new character you know your in trouble, maybe Marvel should get back to the business of producing exciting NEW heroes unrelated to the current crop they own??

@Daniel “Ever heard of a man who was a giggalo and didn’t want to be?”

And you call X-23 sexist?

Tell you what; when Wolverine starts beheading non-superpowered women who’ve used him in the past, this’ll be even. As it is, it’s sexist against men, portraying them as sexist users of women who sell them into prostitution.

@guest

I don’t doubt that a man can find themselves in a situation where they are whoring themselves out for money. But you don’t hear about it. Which was my point. The widespread view on prostitution in America is about men whoring out women. Pimps, almost by definition are “sexist users of women who sell them into prostitution.”

The state of the world is sexist. Women still make less money and are still subjugated by men. Rape is still almost exclusively a man abusing a woman… I understand the sentiment you are trying to convey (one that sexism goes both ways) but its hard to justify it wholly. It is possible for women to be sexist and even men to be sexist toward men, but doesn’t usually turn out that way.

And as for Wolverine beheading a non-superpowered woman? Well I’m of the opinion that Wolverine would behead ANYBODY he felt deserved it. Despite his sometimes antiquated feelings toward women he’s still very liberal in his application of deadly force.

Though X-23 is different. X-23 killing that pimp did feel a tad out of character to me. It seemed almost like a random killing. I understand her particular vehemence toward men considering her abuse by them but they didn’t do a good job of explaining why she murdered somebody on the street. Another reason why that one-shot was so bad.

I’d like to forget it even existed.

Brian from Canada

March 30, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Having read the issue in question, I think the ONLY valid accusation of this one-shot is that it completely fails to function as a one-shot. One-shots do two things: encapsulate the character’s past, and set them up for a change in the future. And this one does not.

But what change for the future can there be when it’s set retroactively in continuity. Jubilee’s post-mutant support group was Decimation, years ago. And we don’t have any mention of Laura’s presence in X-Force, where Wolverine worries a lot about her emotional fragility.

So then we should focus on encapsulation — but there are clear gaps in the character’s past.

X-23 is NOT just a clone of Wolverine. X-Men Evolution set it up that way, but the mini-series about the character reveal some additional **KEY** facts that should be mentioned, like…
- she was supposed to be aborted for not being a boy
- she was denied normal upbringing in the facility that turned her into an assassin EXCEPT by her mother, whom she was programmed to kill for that weakness
- she out her aunt and cousin into hiding when they became ancillary targets
- after drifting to New York without a life goal, she fell in with a pimp who used her specifically for clients who liked to abuse their women
- she ran away from that and into Kiden’s circle
- the X-Men found her and immediately plopped her into the Institute with the goal of showing her a “normal” life
- and now, post-one shot, she’s become a member of X-Force where she’s allowed to revel in killing again

THAT makes a hell of a lot of difference as to how you view the character and their actions. And it’s all missing from this comic, except the NYC parts… and that’s jammed between the Wolverine/Jubilee framing device. Ugh.

If Marvel had really wanted to delve into the X-universe with a girl-positive character, there are much better choices: Pixie, for one, Mercury, Dust, or going older Dazzler, Rogue or even Kitty (the last of whom would make much better marketing sense given that she’s coming back). Hell, even HOPE would have been easier to deal with in 22 pages.

X-23 has NO appeal to an individual reader except one who wants to see violence and destruction… and that’s not what most of Marvel’s girls want. This was a bad marketing decision all around, and I applaud Kelly for saying it is. As someone who is approaching this comic with new eyes, she sees its flaws right away.

Upcoming one-shots deal with Black Widow and Firestar — these are characters I think are much better molded for the one-shot treatment story-wise and can have much more appeal than X-23 towards girls.

Brian from Canada

March 30, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Squidlad —

I disagree with you on the clones being worst. No one in the X-universe is worse than Fantomex, a high concept with no grounding that has no personality, no consistency (how many times does this guy get killed off), and no appeal.

Then would come Daken. Daken is a plot device allowed to exist far too long — an evil version of Wolverine that Logan won’t kill for familial reasons? Wasn’t that Sabretooth’s role?

With X-23 at least, there was the immediate potential because she came in as the girl with baggage at a time when any new mutant was welcomed in — and that gave the character some intrigue. None of the others had it. Winddancer? Wallflower? Surge? Mercury? Dust? None of them. Mercury did have an allegory for coming out but that was stifled almost immediately, and Dust’s focus was religious mostly.

Far too many of the mutants from the point Grant Morrison comes on onwards are cardboard cutouts. Even the ones that get a lot of panel time — Lifeguard, Slipstream, Thunderbird III, The Cuckoos — fail to really grab you as people with real personalities.

But Fantomex is, IMO, the absolute worst for the reasons I’ve given.

Brian from Canada

March 30, 2010 at 1:37 pm

Kelly: as someone who teaches teenage girls, I’ve seen a lot of them get into Twilight heavily — and then get quickly out because they reject the narrative for its overly dramatic romance. Its plausibility decreases rapidly. And the books they jump into afterwards are all tending to be manga because that, at least, has the appeal of light adventure with romance that I think Marvel and DC are really missing.

For most of the female characters by the big two, it’s either a question of modifying the male counterpart or coming up with a character that should appeal to girls by checklist, rather than creating something with interest. Someone earlier mentions MARY JANE LOVES SPIDER-MAN, and I think that’s really the much better way to go: take an existing strong female character and give her a world view that’s distinctly hers of the superhero world.

I agree with Brian from Canada. Almost point for point.

Except for one. I don’t think Marvel is choosing the wrong characters. I think they are just writing them wrong.

I think an X-23 one shot wouldn’t have been such a bad idea if they had chosen an ENTIRELY different story to tell about her. Why not a story about a typical mundane day in X-23′s life? That would have been refreshing. Sure, she has the emotional baggage and the bloody, violent job on X-force… but she’s also a girl. Most of my favorite moments from the Whedon Astonishing run was when the X-group was just chillin in the kitchen. There’s that scene where Wolverine realizes that Peter and Kitty had done the nasty which is just priceless. Then there’s that scene where Beast is remarking on the coffee… all of them are great little character moments that DONT involve angst.

Lets face it, life isn’t always about angst and bloodshed. Even for characters like Wolverine.

I don’t think there is anything explicitly wrong with X-23 as a character… I just think Marvel has done a terrible job of finding the right stories to tell with her. Nobody wants a bunch of half-intelligible angsting and mindless violence all the time (or any time for that matter). They want stories that they can connect with but at the same time takes them out of their everyday 9-5 and petty drama.

That’s what comics are supposed to be about right? Comics are supposed to be fun. Comics should be good right? I think we would get more girls into comics if we wrote better comics. I think Marvel and DC should step up their game.

Thats the answer. Get better talent. Or, have the existing talent focus remember why they got into comics in the first place.

I was going to give a more lengthy response to Brian’s other posts… but I would mostly just be repeating him.

So… dito on the “appeal to girls by checklist” and “take an existing strong female character and give her a world view that’s distinctly hers of the superhero world.”

@ Brian from Canada (and Daniel)…I only have a second to comment – but just wanted to say that in fairness to Marvel there is a pretty strong Pixie Mini out right now (which co-stars Mercury – as well as X-23 and Armor I believe along with a few other ladies); In addition to having two minis already in 2009/2010 Black Widow is going to be an ongoing (or at least it’s going to try to be), Firestar and Dazzler are both getting one-shots, and Heralds (with Valkyrie, Captain Marvel, Emma Frost, She-Hulk, and others will also be out in June).

More later…

Billy Bissette

March 30, 2010 at 9:17 pm

On the question of a teen male superhero who cuts himself, while he isn’t a teen, you cannot ignore Penance. The whole gimmick was to take a happy-go-lucky guy and make him so depressed that he put on a suit full of inward facing spikes that would constantly pierce him.

As for the mess that is X-23′s history, she fell prey to several writers who had different opinions. The original character as created in X-Men Evolution was fairly boring, but she was only in two or three episodes. Quesada re-envisioned her when he brought her into the Marvel comics universe (and added the prostitution aspect). The problem was that NYX was notoriously slow (ultimately taking something like three years for its seven issue run), but Marvel wanted to cash in on X-23 fast. I think she had just been introduced in the end of an issue of NYX when she immediately started guest-starring in Claremont’s X-Men. So now Claremont is writing a character who has appeared in only a few pages of her main title, in a completely different setting, without her friends, and with no established personality or actual “character.”

Claremont writes her for a while, portraying her as a blank slate, and having her fixate on Psylocke. But then Marvel would boot her down to the kiddie team, where she received another personality. Kyle and Yost would have their own ideas for the character. For one thing, she actually started getting some form of character. She’d see most of her development under Kyle and Yost, for better or worse. (The worse was their fixation on excesses of violence, with the kid team facing mass murder on a monthly basis and then Cyclops completely uncaring that X-23 was a fragile and recovering girl when he thrust her back into her role as an assassin in X-Force.)

Huh. Forgot that NYX had such terrible hiatuses. I originally read it in trade. Makes her publication history more convoluted than I thought.

Wish somebody would write another mini about her. But not make it in her past. And not make it angstastic in the extreme. I’d like to see her work through her trama and live like something resembling a regular person.

Now that that I think about it, I got alot of affection for this character. And its likely more to do with her potential to be a good character than anything I have read. I liked that she seemed to be able to form something resembling humanity during her time in the X program. And I thought it was cool that, despite my general dislike for the artist on that first mini, he was able to actually convey her personality just through gesture (what with her being mute and all).

:/

Ah well.

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