It says a lot about the comics industry that when X-Men (v3) #41 was solicited for release in February and proclaimed as the “final issue”, almost everybody expected it not to be the final issue at all, but for the series to be immediately relaunched the next month. Those tricksters Marvel threw everyone for a loop by waiting an extra month, but it hasn’t stopped them doing the full press gamutfor this “new” series.
X-Men (v4) #1 is due in April, brought to you by the creative team of Brian Wood, who had an extended stint on X-Men v3 just last year, and Olivier Coipel, one of the most consistently brilliant artists working today. But despite the solid creative team, the new blandly titled X-Men has its work cut out for it creating itself a niche in a market flooded not only with hundreds of other superhero comics, but oodles of other X-Men comics. It will be soon sitting on the racks alongside Uncanny X-Men, All New X-Men, Wolverine & The X-Men, Cable & X-Force,Uncanny X-Force, Astonishing X-Men, X-Men Legacy, Ultimate X-Men, A+X, X-Factor, Age of Apocalypse andX-Treme X-Men, which is to say nothing of countless Wolverine solo titles and Avengers/X-Men mash-up Uncanny Avengers. With so much competition from just its sister titles, what has Wood and Coipel’s X-Men got to set it apart?
Women. And lots of them.
The cast of the new Adjectiveless (as it is genuinely referred to by readers, for ease of reference) is exclusively female. Presumably it could have just been called X-Women, if that name hadn’t been wasted on a one-shot by erotic artist Milo Manara a few years back. Ever since Chris Claremont rejuvenated the mutant super-team back in the mid-70s, the X-Men has been known for its strong female characters, so an XX-exclusive team isn’t as much as a stretch as it would be for, say, the Avengers or the Justice League, but this is still a first for the team. Storm, Rachel Grey, Shadowcat, Jubilee, Psylocke and Rogue are all popular, rounded and enduring characters (and, tellingly, all created or defined by Claremont) and a comic starring just them has no problems feeling legitimately like an X-Men comic. Unfortunately that’s also because they’re mostly all currently starring in other X-Men comics.
When I first glanced at the cover for X-Men #1 I thought it was the previously announced Uncanny X-Force with a changed name, as both prominently feature Storm and Psylocke, in the same matching costumes. Shadowcat is a main character in Wolverine & The X-Men, as headmistress of the Jean Grey School, where Rachel Grey also pops up as a teacher. Rogue is currently a main cast member of flagship title Uncanny Avengers. Perhaps the only thing setting X-Men apart is the return of the X-Men’s resident vampire, Jubilee.
Adjectiveless X-Men’s all female cast is part of a growing trend of superhero comics promoting strong female characters. Not only is Wonder Woman is reaching new heights of critical acclaim since relaunching in the DC New 52 under Brian Azzarello, Journey Into Mystery now stars Thor’s companion Sif, while The Defenders is being resurrected yet again as a vehicle for another all female team, as Valkyrie sets about recruiting a new generation of, erm, valkyries. The newly relaunched FF (Fantastic Four) is now three-quarters female and Ms Marvel has finally been allowed to move up to being Captain Marvel (though that’s technically a demotion given Carol is a Colonel). DC has made a point of expanding its line of female-fronted titles, adding Katana and Sword of Sorcery to Catwoman, Batgirl, Batwoman, Birds of Prey and Supergirl. It seems that there’s no lack of room for strong women in mainstream superhero comics.
Unless they want to write or draw them.
In late 2011/early 2012, DC Comics came under great fire for the lack of women working on their completely revamped line of comics. This has improved somewhat since, but both they and Marvel still under-employ women relative to how many female characters they publish. Just look at the most recentsolicitations: Wonder Woman, produced by men. X-Men, produced by men. Fearless Defenders, produced by men. Batwoman, FF,Red She-Hulk, Supergirl - all written and drawn by men. Even those titles that aren’t exclusively produced by men share only a handful of female creators, who mostly work separately; Ann Nocenti, Gail Simone, Christy Marx and Nicola Scott at DC, Marjorie Liu, Kathryn Immonen and Kelly Sue Deconnick at Marvel. And even then DC recently had to quickly backtrack and unfire Gail Simone from Batgirlafter a massive backlash.
Obviously reader enjoyment doesn’t fall along gender divides - it’d be ridiculous to think that a female reader won’t enjoy the work of a male writer/artist or vice-versa or to say that a creator can only work with a character of their own gender. But the industry’s decision to push female characters seems like a distraction from the truly progressive move of hiring more female creators.
Wood’s X-Men will likely be a solid and entertaining read and will certainly look beautiful drawn by Coipel, but I can’t help but feel that if the world really needs a 14th X-Men comic it could be one with an all-woman creative team rather than just an all-woman team.