When speaking with people who aren’t comic book readers, I’m occasionally asked if there are female superheroes beyond Wonder Woman and Batgirl. While I enjoy both characters, it bothers me that some think they’re the only game in town. Part of the issue is, of course, that women superheroes haven’t been getting enough exposure and attention outside of the comic books themselves. But one major exception to that is the X-Men.
As reported by CBR, writer Brian Wood and artist Olivier Coipel are bringing readers a relaunched “X-Men” title featuring an all-female cast, part of the Marvel NOW! initiative meant to provide a jumping-on point for new readers and old ones curious to return. There’s been a lot of talk following the announcement with many comic fans surprised about the book’s all-women cast. While this fact about the roster is worth mentioning as one of several elements that differentiate it from other X-titles such as “Uncanny X-Men,” “Wolverine and the X-Men” and “Cable and X-Force,” it also shouldn’t seem all that strange or startling. Not only are mainstream superhero comics no strangers to all-female casts (let’s remember DC’s first “Birds of Prey” comic was published over sixteen year ago), but because the X-Men in particular have a long history of strong female (and minority) protagonists.
In a recent interview with USA Today Wood said,Â “I feel like as far as the X-Men go, the women are the X-Men. Cyclops and Wolverine are big names, but taken as a whole, the women kind of rule the franchise.” He has a point. Outside of the regular comic reading audience, Storm and Rogue have a stronger presence in the minds of many film, video game and cartoon fans than team founders such as Cyclops, Iceman and Archangel. Likewise, the villain Mystique is nearly as popular (or moreso in some circles) as X-Men archenemy Magneto.
This isn’t some trend that’s happened in the past ten years either. When Jean Grey Professor X’s team of mutants in the very first issue of “Uncanny X-Men” in 1963 she was never told, “And now, the X-Men team have their very own X-Lady,” nor did the cover say “THE X-MEN: And there’s a girl, too!” She was welcomed as an X-Man, an equal part of the team. So were later members Polaris, Storm and Kitty Pryde, the young woman who would be a major inspiration in the creation of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” There was also Rogue, a terrorist who first came to the X-Men because she was desperate for help, but then was inspired to redeem herself, becoming a hero and a leader.
When Storm took over as team leader, she was accepted in that role and showed that she was a strong enough personality to rein in even Wolverine, without needing to use her powers in the process. Later on in 1986, Cyclops challenged her for field leadership (though not because of her gender) and Storm beat him in fair combat even though she had no access to her powers at the time; she bested him because in that time and place, she was the best person for the job.
Days after “Brave” and the HBO series “Girls” won Golden Globes despite some heavy competition, the focus on this new book shouldn’t be “will the team work with all women?” With characters such as Storm, Kitty Pryde and psychic ninja Psylocke, we know the book will have an interesting, powerful roster. Rather than be startled by the book’s cast, we should just be impatient with those who don’t understand that a good protagonist is a good protagonist, regardless of gender.
If you encounter those who think an all-women roster doesn’t work or shouldn’t be called “X-Men,” don’t gently reassure them everything will be all right. Tell them how silly and behind the times they are. We’ll all be better off.