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The Fifth Color | A-Force and 'Your Universe,' an owner's manual

Sorry for the absence, but I've been doing a lot of traveling, in and out of the country this month, which has taught me a valuable lesson: the English language makes no sense.

English is complicated, difficult to learn for non-native speakers (and heck, even some native speakers!); it's a mishmash of other languages just kind of thrown in a blender with a hope for the best. It's amazing it's gotten us so far, but it's also easy to see why communication gets so tangled up between people when the words we use can be so imperfect.

Take, for example, that English doesn't have a standard plural for "you." In the United States, we have regional forms of a plural "you," but there's not a standard one taught that I know of. That makes direct speech all sound personal, when the speaker might be generalizing more to a group rather than than the person sitting down to read this right now (hi, Mom). I can say something like "You read comics" and, for the most part, be correct; if you're visiting this site, you probably read comics in one form or another. But if I say "You also watch Game of Thrones," that's a lot more hit-and-miss.

Marvel's "Your Universe" catchphrase is great because of that inclusive feeling; it's both personal and all-encompassing. Did you know you have an entire universe? And Marvel is practically saying you have ownership of it? After all, it's not '"Our Universe," which would imply some type of sharing if not outright excluding "yours." Marvel wants to feel like the "world outside your window," as if to say your view is what Marvel is here to represent.

At the same time, that's a lot of different windows.

WARNING: I'm going to talk about A-Force #1, so pick up your copy and follow along!

Back in February, Marvel announced an all-women Avengers title called A-Force. Written by written by G. Willow Wilson and Marguerite Bennett and penciled by Jorge Molina, the title's basic concept is that an all-superheroine team defends a small territory in Battleworld. The cover image depicts a wide assortment of superheroines seemingly ready to do battle. All other information had to be gleaned from interviews in which the writers discussed what they would like to do with the book and where they see it going. At its core, it's a pretty basic concept.

After the debut of A-Force, Jill Lepore, professor of American history at Harvard University and chair of Harvard's History and Literature Program, wrote a piece for The New Yorker trying to understand the book in the context of her universe. The title of the article, "Looking at Female Superheroes with 10-Year-Old Boys," is kind of a misnomer because, while she does discuss the comic and Avengers: Age of Ultron with two 10-year-old boys, it's Lepore's universe, her point of view, that's front and center. After all, I don't hear a lot of 10-year-olds refer to women as looking like "porn stars," which is one of her notes right out of the gate.

Lepore also mixes together the themes of Age of Ultron and A-Force in a way that makes them seem connected, as if all Marvel comics and comics material comes from one concurrent universe, which can be a point of confusion for new readers. If I just saw Hawkeye depicted one way in a movie, why isn't Hawkeye the same way in the comics? In Lepore's universe, children understand comics naturally, like a mutant power. In Lepore's universe, women as superheroes are an absolute mystery: "Maybe it’s not possible to create reasonable female comic-book superheroes, since their origins are so tangled up with magazines for men."

Here's the weirdest part: Lepore isn't wrong; she's just from another universe. Her day-to-day activities likely don't include modern superhero comics (despite authoring a book about the origins of Wonder Woman), so there's no reason to understand them within their context. She deals in history and literature and, from that standpoint, modern comics can be confusing and strange. I could pick an article out of The New Yorker and take it out of context, and my critique would be correct, too. Those opinions would look just as strange and wrong as hers do regarding A-Force. We're just from two different Battleworld fiefdoms, coming into conflict when we interact.

A-Force is a perfectly respectable book within the context of its universe that I just so happen to share as a comic reader and someone invested in Secret Wars' success. In fact, in many ways, the book does a better job at laying the groundwork for Battleworld than the main series does. Where Secret Wars #2 was expository in telling us the rules and law of this new dynamic, A-Force #1 put it all into practice and showed us how it all works together. That basic concept pitched to us in the solicitations back in May suddenly fleshes out and not only establishes the idea of its territory, the chain of command that it functions with, the law and order of Battleworld in general and how it fits in, but a conflict and discovery as well that will last through more issues. Wilson, Bennett, and Molina are here not just to tell a story about the women of the Marvel Universe, but about this new Marvel Universe via Battleworld as a whole. Will all the tie-in comics be so handy to have around?

Jonathan Hickman's plots can get deep and viscous with details and cosmic order to explain why things are the way they are, but when those moments are put into an emotional and personal context, when his vast universe of complexity matches your universe, it can be immensely satisfying. I'm glad the spin-off books are here to translate from the complex English Hickman is laying down and bring back that connection to the you reading the comic. Just remember that sometimes it's a more plural "you", the comic reader, than a personal and less in-context "you" when reviews like Lepore's come around.

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