The Gold Standard: Where Did Marvel’s Women Go?

I couldn’t not speak my mind on this after the news broke this morning that X-23 was going to have its last issue in January. Yes, I’m used to books I enjoy being cancelled due to low sales, it’s not a new feeling by any means, but Marvel tends to stick to a theme with theirs. X-23 wasn’t their lowest selling book by any means, but it still was chopped ahead of them. A twenty issue run when it’s all said and done, and while it wasn’t some genre defining and status quo altering book that will go down in a list of the top ten greats, it does stand up as one thing Marvel can’t afford to lose.

A solo title featuring a female character, of which it is currently their only one. Spider-Girl was cancelled with issue #8, and the previous Spider-Girl series finally came to a close last summer. Ms. Marvel ended before Siege, and She Hulk’s didn’t make it out of Secret Invasion. You know what ongoing titles at Marvel feature a female in the lead role? X-23, FF, and X-Men: Legacy; which Mike Carey has crafted into a good team book that revolves around Rogue as the team leader. Sure, there are strong females in other books; Emma Frost and Storm are in Uncanny X-Men, Kitty Pryde is in Wolverine and the X-Men, Jessica Jones in New Avengers when she actually appears, etc. There are plenty of female characters to go around, but they’re just parts of the cast.

Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Supergirl, Catwoman, Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Voodoo. Those are the female solo books at DC, not to mention the all female team they have as well. Want me to go into books with strong supporting female characters? Superboy has Caitlin Fairchild and Rose Wilson, Teen Titans has prominently featured Wonder Girl, JLI has given Fire and Ice good page time (and also has Godiva and Vixen), the Body Doubles in Resurrection Man, and I haven’t brought up that Dove should have made the first list for having her name in the title! DC gets it, and you know what, quite a few of these books are actually selling, and in some cases better than some of the guys in solo books.

Female characters are not just for female readers, and they aren’t for some niche audience. Readers want to read a well written book, damned be who it’s about. You know what else they want? To know that the book exists. DC did a great job getting their entire line across and readers knowing what would be coming their way, but I bet most readers when questioned wouldn’t even know that X-23 had a solo title to cancel. Marvel treats these titles as afterthoughts while pushing other characters and franchises around them. It’s not even that new of a practice at the House of Ideas, and the best proof is in one of my favorite comic book covers.

This is the cover to Spider-Girl #60, which was a milestone in that it was the second title in Marvel’s long and storied history to feature a female lead and reach the sixtieth issue. The issue came out in July of 2003, with the first one being the final issue of the original She Hulk series, which came out in 1984.

This is the cover to Spider-Girl #61, because for those who don’t know, it was supposed to have been cancelled with #60. It was supposed to be cancelled many, MANY times before it eventually was given the axe. It went 100 issues with it’s first volume, including an annual and a 0 issue reprint of the What If?! title that the entire MC2 line of books spun out of. The second volume, The Amazing Spider-Girl, ran for another 30 issues before Marvel shuffled it into Amazing Spider-Man Family and then Web of Spider-Man. This was their approach to digital, by the way, they used these over priced titles to reprint online only material, which is what Spider-Girl became. Eventually the character was given a four issue mini series, followed by a final one shot last August. Last November they used the name to relaunch Arana as Spider-Girl.

That lasted eight issues.

So why has Wonder Woman had over six hundred issues? Because she’s Wonder Woman? What about Batgirl? The Cassandra Cain Batgirl had a seventy-three issue long solo series, which would make it #2 at Marvel for longevity with a female lead title. The original Birds of Prey volume, with marquee characters such as Oracle and Black Canary, went a hundred and twenty-three issues. Think about that. Marvel hit a hundred on Spider-Girl and slammed the relaunch button as hard as they could, and haven’t considered coming close since.

So what’s the problem? Why does DC seem to have so much more luck with female centric titles in their lineup? Because they want them to succeed. Sure, you can make a case for how characters like Supergirl and Batgirl stay afloat just due to the name value of their male counterparts, but then you go and you read them. Before the relaunch Batgirl was my favorite book on the market, and while it wasn’t a top seller, Bryan Q. Miller was turning in a must read book. Sterling Gates, on the other hand, had delivered a long term run on Supergirl that actually made me care about Kara for the first time ever. Power Girl had a two year solo series that was launched with the promise of Amanda Connor on art, and then after she left the book they gave it to Judd Winick who made it a great compliment to what he was doing in Generation Lost.

Over at Marvel, however, I was actually unaware Spider-Girl had ended with number eight. I was completely blown away. You see, I was under the impression it was canned at number six. They launched it, did nothing to promote it, and then let it die a swift sweeping death. Sure, they gave her a miniseries for Spider-Island, but who didn’t get a mini for Spider-Island? X-23 has been suffering the same problem in that it launched alongside the current Wolverine volume and the Daken ongoing, but while Daken was given the shot in the arm of a fresh creative team, X-23 has existed completely under the radar for the last year. There have been interesting stories, fun Marvel universe connections, hell, the current arc is Laura teaming up with Spider-Man and the FF, while Gambit and Cecilia Reyes tag along. The connection? Captain Universe. It’s fun!

But X-23 is being cancelled, and Wolverine and Kid Omega will be getting a mini series together written by Brian Wood that couldn’t be inserted into Wolverine’s solo title because…well, Jason Aaron is writing it, of course! Just like he’s writing Wolverine and the X-Men! Winter Soldier is getting an ongoing, FF will stay spun out of Fantastic Four, oh, and seven X titles in February (the first non-X-23 month) are double shipping that month. So X-23 isn’t being canned to make way for a fresh start book, it’s being cleared out so that another book can come out twice. That’s how Marvel wants to treat the economy right now, double print what works and give nothing new a fair shot. After all, Alpha Flight was canned right about being upgraded to an ongoing, and minis like Victor Von Doom and the Destroyers were canned just weeks before the first issue would hit shelves.

X-23 probably would never have wound up a top ten, or even a top twenty book. But it’s just what the title represented, a strong female lead, that Marvel is severely lacking. They can give us Spider-Man two or three times a month, and everything X-Men under the sun twice a month, but they can’t give a title to a female character and keep it going for two years. It’s pathetic. Oh, sure, she’s being moved to Avengers Academy (which I love), but that only adds to the problem of female characters only getting exposure in group titles.

People will get on DC Comics for Catwoman and Starfire in the new 52, and for how sexist their portrayals are. Well, you know what? Catwoman has her own ongoing series, and Starfire is one of the three leads of Red Hood and the Outlaws. Wonder Woman might not have her pants, and Batgirl may be walking again, but they both have ongoing series. You want sexist? The complete and utter lack of female characters with their own books at Marvel.

You want to make mine, Marvel? Give some love to any of the vast number of female characters you own. Maybe two or three of them at a time, even, you don’t have to be married to only giving one a shot at a time. Let X-Men and X-Factor be monthly, instead of twice a month, and put out a title with a female. Take a gamble and then put your full support into it, advertise it, promote it. Send the writer out to do interviews across the web, get both the casual and hardcore fan to have it on their radar. Give it ties to other books, but don’t make it just an extension of them for crossovers, let the book find its own unique voice. The kind of thing that doesn’t happen in six to eight issues. Put a star artist on it, someone who is going to make our female lead look heroic and not like a sex object. Make the book matter, and fans will read it.

Spider-Girl went over ten years without tying into any mainstream titles because Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz made readers care enough about May to keep coming back for her adventures every month. Let someone else do that now. Whether it be another Arana-Girl series, or She Hulk out of limbo, or Ms. Marvel, or even Storm! There’s such a wide selection of strong women at Marvel that it shouldn’t be a problem to find one and make her matter on her own, outside of the shadow of whatever book she’s coming out of. Sure, the title might not sell what they expect out of it, but if you give it an extended chance you’re going to build up a loyal fanbase, especially if you allow one writer, one voice, to tell the stories. Show fans you’re serious by being serious, not by failing to give books a fair shot.

This isn’t a rant about women in refrigerators, or the over sexualization of women. This is just addressing that Marvel doesn’t care about its female characters, and really, they never have. Here’s hoping that one day they wise up and realize this vast untapped resource of characters the same way their Distinguished Competition have.

 

Update: 11/17:

So it came to my attention yesterday that the current Ghost Rider series features a female lead, though I highly doubted it would last or even be remembered in a year. Then today Marvel goes ahead and cancels it. So it’s really a moot point, but hey, this is me acknowledging that I had completely over looked the female Ghost Rider. And then informing you that it’s canned too. The problem stands.

 

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