The majority of Jonathan Hickman’s “Avengers” roster was revealed yesterday, when Marvel gave us a peak at Dustin Weaver’s absolutely amazing triptych of covers. Among the roster assembled are stalwart Avengers, characters I now claim among my favorites thanks to a certain blockbuster, some New Avengers and two longtime favorite mutants of mine that I’m thrilled to see getting some attention. Jonathan Hickman is one of the most individual and imaginative voices in comics today. Jerome Opeña and Dean White are partly responsible for crafting the best superhero comic of the past two years, “Uncanny X-Force.” I’ve already set aside the $4 for this comic. It’s under a note that says “Please take me, Marvel Comics. You deserve this for putting this creative team with these characters. I believe in you!”
And then I was noticed that of the fourteen characters depicted, only three of them were women. I’m still going to give you money twice a month, “Avengers,” but not without first voicing some of my concern for what this implies about the industry.
I’m going to make it clear that I am not accusing Jonathan Hickman, the editors or Marvel Comics of being sexist. This is the company that is giving us more female-led books in 2012 than they did in all of 2011. “Captain Marvel” is currently kicking ass and we have “Red She-Hulk” and the Sif-starring “Journey Into Mystery” coming up. I’m also not accusing Jonathan Hickman, who has written a ton of “hell yeah!” moments for Invisible Woman in his tenure in Marvel’s Fantastic Four division. The guy’s also made her daughter Valeria Richards into a powerhouse character, one that’s incredibly fascinating and, hopefully, a major Marvel player in the making. So yeah, no accusations. I know everyone involved has the best intentions and this is not evident of any larger arch philosophy, one that I really feel does not exist.
What I will say is that this is a missed opportunity. These fourteen do not amount to the whole roster; Hickman still has at least four characters up his sleeve. If all of those are women then the ratio is up to 7 women to 11 men. That’s still not equal, but it’s better. But going off this original roster, going off the roster that is being released to hype the books, it’s very disappointing. And again, I’m not shaming the people involved (I honestly do not think anyone involved is sexist), I just want to make sure this gets said. This inequality has to be pointed out and commented on in order for it to get noticed. It has to be noticed for it to change.
Women read comics. Anyone at all engaged in social media knows this. Women read comics and are a driving force behind fandom. I think I could call them the driving force behind fandom and put up a convincing argument. Just think about it: what fandoms have driven America crazy in the last decade? Could anyone dissuade me from saying that they were Harry Potter, Twilight and the Hunger Games? “Avatar” may have put butts in theater seats, but you don’t hear about it… ever. No one is immersed in the world of “Avatar” except James Cameron and people who enjoy wearing Na’vi Zentai suits. “The Avengers” was pretty darn huge and, if Tumblr is any indication, a whopping portion of the people driving that fandom online do not possess a Y chromosome. Women engage in fandom to levels that men do not. When women get behind something, their sheer numbers and passion force it into the mainstream. That’s why you can name the actor who plays that werewolf kid in “Twilight” and probably sing at least the chorus to one Justin Bieber song. What do tween boys like? I have no clue. Sports? Probably sports.
So yes, women read comics and they are incredibly vocal about it online. Can you imagine how the internet would have handled seeing this triptych of covers depicting 14 characters if half of them had been the awesome, bad-ass female characters we all know Marvel has? If Wolverine, Cannonball and Spider-Man had been replaced with Storm, She-Hulk and Maria Hill? Cannonball is one of my favorite characters, but my lone admiration of him isn’t going to make a dent online. An Avengers roster dedicated to depicting women as equally capable at super heroics as men would have been huge.
Of course I may look like an idiot for suggesting to replace Wolverine and Spider-Man, two characters that belong on a list even better than the A-List, but who cares? Those two are already in a ton of comics. I kept all six Avengers that somewhere around 30 million Americans saw in the theater this summer and even added one that they’d also recognize (Maria Hill). Storm and She-Hulk have name value and are A-Listers in waiting; a case could definitely be made for Storm being the most recognizable female hero at Marvel. She should be in the number of books Wolverine is in. And there was no way I was going to touch the only two non-white characters in the cast (Falcon and Sunspot).
The thing is, a character isn’t going to become A-List if no one makes them A-List. Period. Iron Man didn’t rocket to the A-List until his movie surprised literally everyone (in a good way). The Avengers didn’t come out of their slump (commonly referred to as “the ’90s”) until Brian Michael Bendis injected an entirely different method of storytelling into their Silver Age veins. And on top of that, Spider-Woman wouldn’t even be a third of these “Avengers'” women were it not for the passion Bendis felt for the character. The same could be said for Ed Brubaker’s portrayal of Falcon in “Captain America” and, recently, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s love of Carol Danvers. These characters need creators to love them and show everyone just how fun they can be. Storm needs a writer who really gets her to give us the definitive Storm story, one newer than 1984’s “Lifedeath.” These characters will never be A-List if they aren’t given a high enough profile and presented to the audience that wants to read them.
Even if, for some bananas reason, women never start reading comics in desirable numbers, gender equality on superhero teams has to happen just for the betterment of mankind. I know, I know, pardon the melodrama. I’ve just finished watching some incredibly impassioned speeches at the Democratic National Convention so forgive me for being riled up. But seriously, the next generation of male readers need to see that women make as good of heroes as men do. They need to see that Monica Rambeau can stand side by side with Captain America. They need to see that Boom Boom is both a fun-loving person and a skilled, experienced combatant. They need to see that Carol Danvers is not Ms. Marvel, she is Captain Marvel, because women do not need to be defined by their gender. And that there’s nothing wrong with the ones that are named after their gender, like She-Hulk. She still deserves the utmost respect.
I was first introduced to Marvel Comics through the ’90s “X-Men” cartoon. That cartoon counted nine X-Men as its principle roster, four of which were women. Rogue, Storm, Jean Grey and Jubilee never had their roles on the team questioned, nor were they ever treated as an “other.” They were just superheroes. Rogue was the unflinching powerhouse of the team, who confidence was unshakeable. Storm was every bit as efficient a leader as Cyclops, Jean Grey became the most powerful of them all, and Jubilee was the audience’s entry point. None of their personalities were as shallow as “girl mutant.” In fact, all four of them were radically nuanced individuals. With the Avengers being Marvel’s hottest property right now, I would have liked to see this book be a little bit more like a cartoon from twenty years ago.
For anyone that doesn’t agree with me and doesn’t see the benefit of more gender-balanced superhero teams, why do you disagree? Seriously, why? Women make up half of the world, why should they not make up half (or even close to half; remember, the whole reason this article exists is because of a shocking 3 to 11 ratio) of every superhero team? And if not every superhero team, then why not at least the current premier one? A team half made up of women will not make a team book a “girly” book. And I ask myself, because I used the word, why is “girly” a pejorative? You know what else is “girly”? The U. S. Women’s Gymnastics team, Michelle Obama, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Oh wait, I actually just listed the four most badass things from this past summer, and it just so happens that they’re all “girly.”
Hey men, women like action, adventure, high stakes and dire straits as much as you do. They want to see Mockingbird gossip and shop just as much as you want to see Hawkeye do those things… and that’s “not at all.” They want to see heroes do heroic things, and having women on superhero teams is not going to suddenly inundate your fiction with doilies and Tupperware. It’s just going to make your superhero stories that much more representative of both the world we live in (where women count for half the population) and the one we should live in (where women are treated with certain equality).
If you doubt me, please read Brian Wood’s absolutely fantastic run on adjectiveless “X-Men.” This is a team with four women (Domino, Psylocke, Pixie and Storm) and one man (Colossus) and every issue has been about everything BUT that fact. Wood is writing a team book starring the X-Men’s proactive and high-action security team, and it just so happens to be predominantly female. It doesn’t feel forced and it doesn’t come up. It’s not an issue. Storm, as leader, has chosen people who can get the job done. Come to think of it, Brian Wood is coming close to writing that definitive Storm story I was wanting above. The series is great and perfectly illustrates that estrogen is not something to be feared in superhero comics. It just makes for great comics.
What it really comes down to is that I want other people to be inspired. I’m a white male. I grew up with Batman, Multiple Man, Han Solo, Cannonball, Flint and Gambit. I had my heroes who “looked like me” and that I could identify with or aspire to be. I want girls to have that chance too. And as much as I want boys to see women as equals, I want girls to know that they don’t have to identify with Disney Princesses or Really Cool Disney Channel Starlet if they don’t want to. They can identify with Wasp and Invisible Woman or Kitty Pryde. They can be Stephanie Brown or Batwoman or Black Canary. They have as many awesome superheroes as their brothers do. Everyone needs female heroes as much as male ones.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre show Left Handed Radio: The Sequel Machine. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).