Marvel NOW! – Why It’s A Huge Step Forward for Superheroines


‘I Have An Issue’ is a regular opinion column from Kimberley Griffiths, with no fear or favour shown. If you’d like to suggest something for a future column, drop us a line. Also, check out Kimberley’s blog!

You’ve all probably already seen Shawn’s glowing review of X-Men #1, so I’m sure you have an idea of the general consensus around these parts on the new X team. I’m right there with him – I loved everything about the first issue, and I can only hope that high standard is maintained throughout what is hopefully a long run.  While I can’t help but feel disappointed at the cancellation of Red She-Hulk, Marvel really is doing some great stuff for women heroes at the moment.

x-menFirst off, as with most Marvel NOW! titles (I certainly have a few exceptions, and two of them are written by the same writer), the new X-Men treats its characters like just that – characters.  There’s no sense that the team is all women just to tick a box.  Marvel is certainly heading in the right direction if this is their way of respectfully portraying  women in its books, without seeming exploitative or simply attempting to jump on the feminism bandwagon.

Along with Brian Wood’s excellent writing, we also have artist Olivier Coipel at his absolute best.  One of my criticisms of many female characters, has always been many artists’ lack of ability to draw characters that look different, without falling back on obvious cues like hair colour and costume (yes, I’m looking at you, Greg Land).  Every one of Coipel’s characters is well defined, consistent, and beautifully executed, with obvious differences in facial structure, and not just using skin colour to identify diversity.

As with Captain Marvel, X-Men has shown that we don’t need characters driven by romance, abuse, or disturbing past events (remember Women in Refrigerators?) to enjoy reading about them.  We can be aware of these events in characters’ histories without having to be reminded of them continually, and for them to be the primary motivation for their actions.  While there are plenty of shippers out there – hey, I’m one of them – romance is not something we need to keep things interesting in comics.  Do we even really want it at all?  I would much rather see Carol punch a dinosaur in the face, than having [shippy hero of choice]’s tongue down her throat.

FD9In addition to characterisation,the plethora of costume redesigns over the past year or so are a real breath of fresh air.  The movement away from the ‘traditional’ bodysuit and/or thong was badly needed, and while some detractors have called the new tac suit inspired costumes of Psylocke, Jubilee, and Captain Marvel boring, I think they are the exact opposite.  Valkyrie is also getting a makeover in issue #8 of Fearless Defenders, and it’s finally farewell to the ridiculously impractical and dangerous metal boob cups, and hello to a more simple, comfortable looking outfit, that still has nods to Asgardian styling.

Speaking of Asgardians, the Sif led incarnation of Journey into Mystery is going from strength to strength.  A combination of astonishing writing by Katherine Immonen, and the incredible artistic talents of Valerio Schiti on pencils and colourist Jordie Bellaire, is one of the best creative teams out there right now.  While I’m not as much of a fan of the fantasy elements that JiM brings – I’m more into stories rooted in what passes for the real world – I can’t deny that this book is excellent in every way that matters.

While there is still a distinct lack of female led books out there, you can’t deny that Marvel is heading in the right direction.  Less than two years ago, the only superheroine led book was X-23, and when it was cancelled, it left nothing on the roster with a female focus at all.  Now, we have X-Men, Fearless Defenders, Captain Marvel, Journey into Mystery, all with full rosters of women, or with a single focus female lead.  In addition to that, Uncanny X-Force, FF, and even Hawkeye are pushing forward with core heroines.  The only one of these failing in its characterisations is Uncanny X-Force, but it has to be a hard ask coming back from Rick Remender’s run, that was so well enjoyed by many.

Many have criticised Marvel in the past for its treatment of its women characters, but I think it’s safe to say those days are sliding into the rear view mirror.  This year we’ve had so many incredible titles featuring some of the most badass women in comics.

Women who are dangerous, powerful, and menacing, but haven’t lost any of their humanity.  Women who are characters we really want to read about, rather than just tinsel to hang around the male heroes who dominate most titles.  Women who don’t need a male presence in their team to motivate them when they lose their way.

Good on you, Marvel.  Good on you for employing writers who interact with the fans, and talk to us about what we really want in modern comics.  Don’t get me wrong, you still have problematic moments, and there are areas that need work, but over all, I’m impressed with Marvel NOW! and the clear determination to recognise more diversity, not just gender, but also sexuality, gender identity, and race.

Now if you could just give us that Spider-Woman solo, it would be greatly appreciated.

Review: X-Men #1 – Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel

xmen-1The story of X-Men #1 begins with twins separated at birth, one male, one female – both begin life as a strange form of intelligent, evolving bacteria. John Sublime has evolved from the bacterial stage to become the preliminary adversary of the story, but things aren’t always what they seem to be. He is following Jubilee who has with her a tiny traveling companion, a baby. We don’t find out much about the little guy in this issue beside the fact that it is of the utmost importance for Jubilee to get him safely back to The Jean Grey School and once there to give him a family. This task is close to Jubilee’s heart because she came to the X-Men in much the same way, with nowhere to go and no-one who wanted her. The sincerity she feels for this child’s safety and well-being comes across so well in Wood’s writing. This is by far the most emotionally charged of the X-Books and I am not saying that because of the all-female team. I’m saying it because of Wood’s character driven story that focuses on interaction and dynamics rather than pointless action and contrived dialogue.

The chase takes us from Bulgaria to Grand Central Station where Storm, Rogue and Kitty meet up with Jubilee on a moving train. It is Kitty who actually meets her as she phases through the roof of the train to find Jubilee and baby, however unbeknownst to her John Sublime has learned that she is headed to The Jean Grey School.  Once the four X-Men are reunited on board, Jubilee begins to explain her current situation. It is at this point that we see the baby is no ordinary baby. He reaches out his tiny hand to touch one of the train’s P.A. speakers and some sort of electrical charge is passed from his finger into the train’s wiring system short circuiting many of the doors and killing the two drivers. The team flies into action to save the passengers. This scene is another example of how emotion trumps mindless punching. The action is suspenseful and smart, more of the edge-of-your-seat type than smash & crash, but no less exciting.

While waiting for their team mates to return to the school, Rachael and Psylocke are about the business of interrogating John Sublime, who has surrendered himself to their custody. Sublime explains in some detail the danger of his sister’s return. He implores the team to help him, stressing the life/ death seriousness of the situation. The last two pages of the book are gripping and full of tension. Wood has constructed a rich, poignant sequence of events that leaves us wanting the next issue immediately.

Brian Wood is a class act all the way around. He has taken the high road with this book from the costumes to the absence of any male X-Men to come in and save the day (it’s very clear they are not needed here). The gender of this team is not even thought of when you are reading this book – you are just swept up in a great story that is complex, entertaining and ultimately very satisfying. The characters are genuine and altruistic and they come across as very human. Wood has set this book apart from the other X-Books simply by virtue of its distinctive captivating tone. This is not to say that it is the only X-Book worth reading but it is very high on that list.

Olivier Coipel has created a visual delight. His work on this book ranks as some of his best in my opinion, and I consider him one of the best artists working in comics today. He doesn’t waste time with garish pin-up poses of these heroines; instead he draws strong women who just happen to be beautiful. His realistic style brings the characters to life in a way that is sometimes lost in comic books. Laura Martin does a really excellent job of coloring Coipel’s work. Her colors add dimension and emotion providing each page with depth, combining for a visually stunning book.

Overall I think Brian Wood has set the bar extremely high with this first issue. X-Men #1 is a dynamic story that is emotionally charged and suspenseful. Olivier Coipel delivers some of his best work to date concentrating on the plot and not the poses. I would suggest you not pass this one up. In a time when money is tight and comics are expensive this one is worth the $3.99.

So until next week, see you at the comic book store.

Review: Uncanny X-Men #4 – Bendis & Bachalo

UNCANNYX-MEN-NO4-COVER1 As a lifelong X-Men fan going back to the mid 80s, I have followed this constantly shifting crew of heroes and villains into some very exciting and downright mind-blowing periods.  You can look at so many different eras of the various titles and a debate can be had over which of the many big moments are the most important, or the most defining for the X Universe.

Personally, I think this is the start of one of those great eras, beginning with the launching of the Marvel NOW X titles.  With multiple crossover events taking quite a toll on these mutants and their worlds over the past chunk of years, this has put them in a very interesting position.  So for me, it’s a great time to be an X-Men fan, and this 4th issue of Uncanny X-Men is more proof for my brain that while big and sweeping changes may mean difficulties in setting up good stories or even complete arcs afterwards, it can also open a tired area of Marvel’s Universe up to new and special things.

This issue is special in its own way, as it is mostly a scene we saw play out in the newest issue of All New X-Men, except from a whole different perspective.  In ‘All New’ we had the straight up scene, with all the drama and danger it held.  Scott and his new team (the ‘Uncanny’ one) arrive at the Jean Grey School campus, attempting to recruit new members for their team, or ’cause’ depending on how you see it.  The issue ended with an unknown X-Men member crossing sides over to Scott’s “mutant terrorist” group, which was a great cliffhanger.  Luckily, I also read this title, as that ending is continued within this issue #4.

Now, the way this scene plays out is one of those moments in recent X books that make me excited for the future.  Instead of the full scene we had already read in “All New X-Men”, we get the same scene, only lightly told in the background of a psychic conversation between Emma Frost and her ‘Stepford Sisters’ – Celeste, Mindee, and Phoebe.  In the issue of ‘All New’ we see the 3 girls join Scott’s side near the end of the comic, and here we get to see the ‘behind the scenes’ of why they made that choice.  It is a brilliant way to catch an important scene from two completely separate viewpoints, giving a more solid feel for the overall scene itself.

Another major part of this new issue is learning more about the ‘new mutants’ Scott is ‘keeping’ at the new (and very secret) Xavier School.  We open on the group – the whiny Benjamin, the very powerful Eva, the over confident Christopher and the seemingly useless Fabio – discussing their role at the school, and pondering the fact that they have been left to their own devices within the school.  There are some very light attempts at character development, and even some within the group dynamic, but these come off as a bit forced and the scene itself leaves you wanting.  Seeds are planted for what may or may not be future complications and closer relationships among the group, but most of it feels very stereotypical for such a scene.  The most glaring of these is when we have the egotistical Christopher rudely hitting on the smart-ass Eva, in a way so ‘by the book’ that it almost makes the very pages themselves feel stale.  There is no life, no spark of anything between any of the group, save for a short but slightly sweet exchange between Eva and Benjamin.

There is a hilarious section where the new group accidentally find themselves fighting in the Danger Room, not knowing where they are or how they got there.  It’s a great couple of panels, yet it’s nearly completely ruined by the weakly thought out reason behind their plight – goofy Fabio was ‘looking for a phone’ and just randomly hit buttons until the Danger Room was inadvertently activated.  This was a downer to such a great moment, and it really bugged me.

With this title and All New X-Men I have been enjoying Bendis’ writing, but a lot of that has more to do with what is currently happening in the X titles than the actual writing itself.  A lot of times it’s too stiff, too forced.  This is one of those times.  Even with a pretty brilliant story device in the Emma/Stepford conversation, this issue fell flat pretty quick.  Add in a seemingly random problem with Magik, and what you get at the end is a bit of disappointment and confusion.

My main complaint – and this is a spoiler – is that it turns out to be the Angel from the past that joins up with Scott.  That was the ‘cliffhanger’.  It really bothered me that the one character that expressed the most unhappiness with the whole situation would be the one to join.  It may make sense, but it feels too easy.  I expected to be surprised when this was revealed and, though I had figured it would most likely be Angel, I really thought Bendis would have thought that too easy as well.  I’m sure it’s leading into something bigger, but it left me cold, and killed my interest in the idea of a member ‘jumping ship’.  The worst thing a writer can do is kill excitement for a book’s development and although Bendis can write some pretty good stuff when he wants to, this is not a shining moment for him.

A lot of people I know have issues with Chris Bachalo’s artwork for this title, and wish he didn’t work on any of the X books.  While I had major issues with his previous work on Wolverine & the X-Men (where it felt too far ‘out of the box’ with no real grounding at all in the X Universe), I have been a diehard fan of his work since finding him in Shade: the Changing Man in the early 90s.  Not only was that title written wonderfully by Peter Milligan, but Bachalo’s artwork sealed the deal, making it one of my favorite runs in nearly any comic’s history.  So I’m a bit biased, as I’m a huge fan.  I have not had much of a problem here as I had with Wolverine, and a lot of his work is damn beautiful – especially the covers (with the exception of the poorly designed cover to #3), which have become mini-posters on my wall I love them so much.

It may sound like I’m not the fan that I make myself out to be when it comes to the X in Marvel, but it is actually that exact thing that makes me so critical of this issue.  This is one of my favorite recent eras for these titles, and having this issue fall so short of what it has been so far is a real downer.  I hope issue #5 will pick it back up.  I’ll be there, either way.  It’s an X book, after all.


Review: All New X-Men #1 – Brian Michael Bendis & Stuart Immonen

all-new-x-men-1-marvel-nowI’m a sucker for a good time travel story. Most of my favourite works of fiction deal with the concept of time travel, and I can’t seem to get enough of it. So when Marvel announced as part of their Marvel NOW! relaunch that All New X-Men would find the original five X-Men; Beast, Angel, Iceman, Jean Grey and Cyclops, taken from the past and brought to the future to help talk down one of their own from committing mutant genocide, my interest piqued. Fortunately for everyone,  Brian Michael Bendis sets the stage for what will be one of the most interesting titles in coming months.

All New X-Men #1 picks up right after the events of the Avengers vs. X-Men event earlier this year. Professor Xavier is dead, murdered by a Phoenix-possessed Cyclops. This leaves the school renamed as the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning under the leadership of Wolverine. New mutants have been popping up all over the globe, as Cyclops’ X-Men move to start the “mutant revolution”, leaving a trail of regular human-beings in their wake. Wolverine’s X-Men soon discover that desperate times call for desperate measures, as they are forced to retrieve the original X-Men in hopes they would be able to save the mutant race from once again being caught under the prejudices that the series was built on.

Bendis brings the feelings of prejudice and fear for the mutant race back on to the table easily. While not allowing humans to be outright  assaulting the new mutants, the sense of fear and dread, even to one mutant who can save lives with his touch, is palpable throughout the book. This title may say New X-Men, but these are classic X-Men themes.

The characterisation takes a back seat for the first issue, as Bendis first seeks to set up the world post AvX. The only character who is given any real spotlight  is Beast. With his opening monologue, we learn that the idea of travelling the space-time continuum was not something he has taken lightly. The rest of the characters take a back seat to action and story – with the notable exclusion of Wolverine, this initial outing seeks to set up events to come rather than showing the characters who will take part.

Stuart Immomen’s art, coupled with Marte Garcia’s colouring, gives the entire issue an animated feel. The action panels have a sense of momentum, and his art in the more talking moments gives each event their proper due. While his work may not necessarily stand out, it still looks fantastic, and suits the tone of the book well.

All New X-Men #1 succeeds fully in introducing the new status-quo for our favourite mutant family. While the first issue is light on character, its heavy themes, and the set up for the time travelling X-Men gives the coming months much promise for the title.

Plus did I mention that it has time travel?