"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
I started blogging in 2007 and in the spring of 2009 two things in comics caused me to start blogging about comics. The first was the nightmare Cry For Justice promo image from DC in which Supergirl had no head – and you guessed it – that was the primary inspiration for the name of this very column. The second, which is what we’re going to discuss today, was the promotional announcement for the book Marvel Divas.
And so today I can’t help but compare everything that was the utter fail of the Marvel Divas pitch (which was everything except the gorgeous Tonci Zonjic interior art) with how right Marvel and Brian Wood are getting Wood’s new all-female X-Men team so far.
Some may think we can’t know yet if this book will be any good since all we’ve seen are the pitch/solicits/interviews/etc. While that is true on its face, it’s also true that I knew long before Marvel Divas came out that it was not for me, the same way I know that Wood’s X-Men will very much be for me.
Putting aside the fact that I trust Brian Wood implicitly – with comics in general, as a writer in general, and specifically in his excellent work with female characters – the plain fact is that solicitations are a huge part of how comics work, especially given the direct market situation we all deal with.
So let’s compare, side by side, why everything about what we’ve seen from X-Men gets it right, while everything about Marvel Divas got it wrong – before a single book even was released.
1. CREATIVE TEAM. Brian Wood & Oliver Coipel are A-List. One of the concerns I see raised over and over again (and sometimes raise myself) when it comes to “risky projects” such as women led books is that rarely do you see A-List creators put onto these books. Which is not to say that non A-listers can’t make a great comic, they absolutely can and do, but let’s face it, starting with A-listers right out of the gate gives your book the edge that so many comics need to start with, especially one considered “risky.” Putting your A-List creators on a book like this also shows a publishers confidence in your project. Brian Wood is A-List in the best of ways with both tons of indie cred (Demo, DMZ, Northlanders, The Massive) and lots of high-profile properties (X-Men, Star Wars, Conan The Barbarian, DV8, Ultimate X-Men). This beautifully brings together both mainstream and indie audiences. Way to maximize your audience, comics. Good job!
There are many great artists out there. But not all of them would be a great fit for this book, as it is far too easy to muddle the message, or send the wrong one entirely. Frank Cho (for example) is a supremely talented artist, but putting him on this book would have been a crucial error and undone so much of what is right about the concept. A book like this needs a Stuart Immonen, or well, an Oliver Coipel! – an A-list talent with a reputation for solid superhero work and strong work with female characters. Slamdunk, Marvel. Kudos to Brian Wood and Marvel for getting this pivotal decision right, and kudos to Coipel for jumping on board. I’m truly excited to see what he can do.
If Marvel is REALLY smart, they have another great artist already on deck to pick up alternating arcs (as they did recently with Chris Bachalo and Nick Bradshaw on the initial Wolverine & The X-Men runs), or alternatively building in a natural break the way Image did for Fiona Staples on Saga (though the former seems more likely for a Marvel title). Regardless, they’ve been incredibly smart so far, and I have to believe they’re going to take it all the way.
Putting this creative team on this book, speaks volumes about what Marvel has learned in the intervening years between this title and Marvel Divas and it feels like such a beautiful sign that they hear us, they care, and they are trying, not only to make great books, but to respect their female superheroes in the same way that they respect their male counterparts. And honestly, it’s the trying that makes me the happiest, the proudest. Because we all freaking fail. Hell, I fail constantly. But I like to believe that it’s the trying that matters. Well, the trying and the not giving up, I suppose.
2. IT’S ALL IN THE NAME. Paramount and yet frequently bungled is both the concept and the actual name of said concept. And this is another area in which everyone involved in X-Men is getting it right. Not only is this book appropriately called X-Men – which is exactly what these ladies are and have been for years – superheroes called X-MEN, but when hassled about this on twitter (and via email) Brian Wood’s response only reinforces why he’s the right guy for this book. Check out these exchanges:
First of all, THANK YOU, BRIAN WOOD. Thank you for being a brilliant man. Just look at how far away those responses are from someone thinking it’s a good idea to call a miniseries about Marvel superheroines, MARVEL DIVAS? I mean, one feels like an idea from the 50’s (or worse) and the other feels like it exists in actual modern times. Times when men and women are equals that share so many experiences, ideas, traits, strengths, and weaknesses, and when they’re both HEROES.
Now, you certainly could (and can) make an argument that Marvel Divas was a different kind of book than X-Men, and I’m sure that’s true, beyond one being a serious ongoing and one being a rather inconsequential mini-series, one is also clearly about “fighting crime” while the other is more like a spotlight on some superheroines after hours. And that’s actually fine. I would probably enjoy a “light” book about superheroines after hours, but it’s hard to take a book like that seriously when the rest of your of line is totally devoid of the more serious “ladies fighting crime” book option.
As always it’s about context.
You give me a lighter fare, X-ladies (or Marvel ladies, whatever) in their time off book now, while I can ALSO get a serious superhero book courtesy of Brian Wood? That’s a whole different ball game. If on the other hand you present that “superheroines not being superheroines book” as the only book available to me if I want to read about a team of lady superheroes…and we’ve got a problem. You’re inadvertently saying that this is what you think of female superheroes. It may not be what you mean to do, but by having a line devoid of serious female led titles and then coming out with a fluffy mini-series about them in their time off, readers can’t help but feel you’re making a statement about what you think about female superheroes – i.e. Not much.
In contrast, while these are some of the amazing things Brian Wood has said in interviews about X-Men:
Meanwhile, here is the most memorable quote I read by Marvel Divas writer Roberto Aguirre Sacasa:
Worlds of difference! WORLDS.
3. THE DETAILS. From the broad strokes of filling this team with marquee/fan-favorite characters (to go with the A-list creative team) Storm, Rogue, Kitty Pryde, Psylocke, Jubilee, and Rachel Grey, to the tiny details like making sure they all have gorgeously designed non-exploitative costumes, this book has it all. Storm and Psylocke, both also starring in Uncanny X-Force are clad in their gorgeous new Kris Anka costumes and it marks the first time I can remember that Psylocke isn’t wearing a ridiculous bathing suit, and the first time in a good long while that the skin Storm is showing is reasonable for a superhero costume. The rest of the ladies are dressed in familiar costumes, both new and old, all appropriate, especially since Rogue’s ongoing zipper issue seems to have been delightfully solved as well. These are the little things that matter so much. It also helps of course that Coipel draws these costumes to look like real clothes/uniforms, rather than paint (as in the J. Scott Campbell Marvel Divas cover).
Another detail evident just in comparing covers of X-Men and Marvel Divas is that Coipel and Wood’s cover shows at least some degree of different in body type. Though the ladies are all appropriately fit, there’s some difference in height and “curviness.” By comparison the “Marvel Divas” all look like the same woman with different hair and different body paint colors. Similarly they all have different faces, while they’re all attractive, they have a variety of facial types and even differing expressions, suggesting (gasp!) different personalities. Except for the extremely bizarre face on Hellcat, the Marvel Divas cover presents all the ladies as sex kittens, with pursed lips and bedroom eyes. Ditto across the board for both covers on posing. On Coipel’s cover Jubilee appears young and relaxed (while throwing up hand signals – love it), Kitty is conservative and serious, Rachel is confident but restrained, Rogue looks sassy, Storm is regal and in-charge, and Psylocke appears ready to chop you in two should she not like the cut of your jib.
This is RIGHT. This says volumes about character before you open the book, before you read a word. By contrast I couldn’t tell you anything about the character traits of the women on the Marvel Divas cover, except perhaps that Black Cat is desperate to make sure she is the sexiest of the sex kitten divas she’s posing with. Which, though Black Cat is obviously sexy, doesn’t actually strike me as accurate to her personality at all. There’s nothing desperate about Felicia.
4. PR. Look at the difference in these solicitations:
I don’t even think I need to go into what’s wrong about the Marvel Divas solicit (hint: it kinda sounds like soft core porn) and what is so right about the X-Men solicit (hint: it sounds like a badass superhero book, which is what most of us are here for), but I just want to stress how big a deal this is. While people love to bring up the old adage that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover – the truth is – especially in comics – we do exactly that, all the time. While a book can surprise you of course and be better (or worse) than its cover suggests, solicits and covers are what we have in comics to decide in advance what to put on our pull lists, it DETERMINES how pre-orders look. And in a world where books can get canceled just months after they are announced (or begin), this is important stuff. You have to get it right. Marvel is getting it right.
So now we have: a solicitation that knows exactly what it’s doing, a cover that is both gorgeous and appropriate, a creative team and characters perfectly chosen and smartly scheduled. Now you can add to all of that an appropriate PR push – the kind a book like this both needs and deserves. Following the teaser and announcement, Brian Wood did interviews with the delightful Laura Hudson, formerly of Comics Alliance, now of Wired, as well as a big mainstream piece for USA Today. It would have been nice to see some outreach to places like The Mary Sue and even Jezebel, but we still have nearly three months until the book releases, so there’s plenty of time for “off the comics radar” spots like Jezebel to get interviews or exclusive preview art (hint, hint!). In the meantime, this was a great start. The kind that has begun a siege of interest, forum comments, retweets, tumblr reblogs, mostly positive. Sure, there are the haters, there always will be, but mostly this has been a cry of “it’s about time!” and “can’t wait!”
In fact, just a week into the announcements, already badass fan art is showing up. Look at this gorgeous piece courtesy of Kris Anka:
Time will of course tell how good the book really is. The trick for Wood and Coipel now is to meet expectation, which will be tough, expectation is very high. And this book is also a test case to see if marquee characters, A-list creators, and a full and confident push from Marvel can get an all ladies superhero book to have the legs you need in this tough market. You never know what the market will do, and what will hit and what will miss, but the best you can do is what has been done so far for this book – a perfect storm of picking the right people, the right characters, the right time, and not forgetting to pay attention to the small stuff that often gets missed and then seized upon (sometimes rightly so, sometimes not so much) as a sign that things aren’t as well-considered as they should be.
This is doing your absolute level best for a title and then letting the readers decide.
At the end of the day, X-Men has checked ALL the boxes. And it’s rare that I can say that about a mainstream comic. And as a result I find myself giddy like a schoolgirl about mainstream superhero comics in a way I haven’t been in YEARS. You have my money Marvel, and if you keep this up (and DC keeps up their current path) you’ll soon have ALL my mainstream comics money. Good for you.
As far as answering the question that the title of this piece supposes – “Mission Accomplished?” – I think the answer is most obviously “not yet, but that we’re well on our damn way” and that is a great thing indeed. Today’s a win, kids, let’s enjoy it.
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