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Mutant Women of Earth
February 19, 2013 10:39 AM   Subscribe

How Chris Claremont Reinvented the Female Superhero
posted by Artw (54 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, that sounds about right.

Claremont really was unique in how many female heroes and supporting characters he used, not just in the X-Men, but also e.g. with the Iron Fist cast, costarring Colleen Wing and Misty Knight.

You can see his influence in other eighties titles, like the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans, starring four blokes (Robin, Changeling, Cyborg, Flash) to three women (Wondergirl, Raven, Starfire) where the original series only had one, or the Outsiders, which paired Batman with a couple of old heroes (Metamorpho, Black Lightning) and several new heroines (Halo, Looker, Katana), all in a fairly obvious attempt to recreate the X-men dynamics.

What Claremont did was to have the female heroes on an equal footing to the male heroes, which really hadn't been done to such an extent before. It's not ideal of course, some of his female characters really are more like male fantasies, but it's better than anything mainstream superhero comics had ever done before.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:22 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah - I was spoiled, in a way, starting out my comics reading partway through the Dark Phoenix saga and through Jean's death and the New Mutants. It meant I came into things expecting fairly strong women in the genre.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:30 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I could go along with much of this article, but it is cheapened at the end by comparing Cyclops to the Wasp.

He's not fit to shine (any of) the Wasp's (hundred thousand pairs of) shoes.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:38 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


It should also be noted that funny lookin' physical mutations are common among male X-characters, but almost entirely absent among the female characters. I doubt that's by design, but I don't think we'll ever see a female mutant protagonist who accidentally blew her own jaw off with her energy-blasting powers, y'know?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:39 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I wouldn't give to get the old, real Avengers back though, without Wolverine or Spider-Man and without all that stupid super Homeland Security stuff Marvel has been forcing on it for the past decade.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:40 AM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Marrow?
posted by MartinWisse at 11:41 AM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Marrow?

Didn't grow bones out of any important bits, though.

C.f. America's Got Powers
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:44 AM on February 19, 2013


Ten years after Kitty Pryde was his first recruit, another teen girl with a very different attitude became the last of his original run. Jubilation Lee was not a quiet observer with passive powers. As brash and obnoxious as the decade that followed, she hitched her wagon to Wolverine and threw herself into trouble. Claremont wrote Jubilee for less than two-dozen issues, but he made sure readers knew who she was, and she was again very different in character to all the women who came before her.


And I still have no idea why the character persists.

I really enjoy all the women otherwise featured as his finest female creations, but not and never Jubilee.
posted by Atreides at 11:45 AM on February 19, 2013


True, she still has the most common superpower.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:46 AM on February 19, 2013


Never liked Jubilee either, but there are whole generations of X-fans who love her the way old farts loved Kitty.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:47 AM on February 19, 2013


Never liked Jubilee either, but there are whole generations of X-fans who love her the way old farts loved Kitty.

I think part of it is because she started off as an audience surrogate in the 90s X-Men cartoon and got to be mentored a little by Wolverine, too. I think the X-Men movie did a same thing, except with Rogue.
posted by FJT at 11:54 AM on February 19, 2013


I liked Jubes in Generation X, when she was all "but I have real experience being a crime-fighting mutant, and you should listen to me!" and everyone else laughed at her. I mean, yeah, she's annoying, but when written decently, she's sympathetic. She is not often written decently.
posted by asperity at 11:54 AM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


A real problem with characters in the process of growing up is that part of that arc is that they should actually grow up, but the weird chronologies of fictional superhero universes don't always allow for that.

Franklin Richards, what a nightmare...
posted by Artw at 12:04 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have fond memories of early Excalibur comics because it was the first comic book I got hooked on. So how could they overlook Excalibur!? There were 3 females and only 2 males on the team. If you exclude the dragon. And the robot.

And as a 10 year old, a majority-female team didn't even seem weird because I had nothing to compare it to.
posted by mcmile at 12:07 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It should also be noted that funny lookin' physical mutations are common among male X-characters, but almost entirely absent among the female characters. I doubt that's by design, but I don't think we'll ever see a female mutant protagonist who accidentally blew her own jaw off with her energy-blasting powers, y'know?

Big Bertha... terrible example though it may be.

"Big Bertha has the ability to make herself super strong and durable (to the point of being bullet-proof) by becoming extraordinarily obese. She can also purge most fat from her body through vomiting to take on a slimmer appearance."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bertha_(comics)
posted by Morvran Avagddu at 12:41 PM on February 19, 2013


I've never been an X-Men fan myself, but I do remember an early storyline in Cerebus -- long before Sim became known for misogynistic screeds -- involving a sorcerer based partly on Claremont, who was disguised as a woman and running a school for girls that was a front for his attempts to summon a Man-Thing parody called Woman-Thing. Sim explained the inspiration: "Having read (and heard) so often at this time that Chris, when faced with developing a new character in the series, would ask, sometimes rhetorically but more often not, 'Is there any reason this character can't be a woman?'"
posted by baf at 12:46 PM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


That's also refered to in an issue of Strikeforce Morituri, which in a backup strip shows the writer and artist coming up with new heroes (which they needed to do fairly regularly, as they died frequently), with a poster showing Claremont in the classic Uncle Sam pose with that exact question.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:25 PM on February 19, 2013


That really must have driven Dave Sim mad(der).
posted by Artw at 1:41 PM on February 19, 2013


Yeah - I was spoiled, in a way, starting out my comics reading partway through the Dark Phoenix saga and through Jean's death and the New Mutants. It meant I came into things expecting fairly strong women in the genre.

Yes, same here. Once Jim Lee and other artists started gaining more control of the title and making every female character pose in a pseudo sexily, things went rapidly downhill.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:46 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


My friend claims everything Joss Whedon wrote comes directly from Claremont's run on X-Men, so maybe we can add Buffy to the list.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:47 PM on February 19, 2013


Franklin Richards, what a nightmare...

Try making sense of Val.

I know his X-Men was formative for pretty much every other comics reader of my generation... but I always found Claremont's characters to be extraordinarily flat, even by early '80's comic book standards. No one felt remotely like a real person; nearly every single thing they did seemed arbitrary.
posted by Zed at 1:48 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It should also be noted: Chris Claremont was the writer who refused to let Marvel get away with the horrible "mind control rape pregnancy baby-is-its-own-father and everybody's happy with it" bullshit they did to Carol Danvers -- who was and remains one of the greatest non-mutant female characters for Marvel.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:19 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hear, hear. One of my first comics by the way and mightily confusing it was too, coming into this controversy cold.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:25 PM on February 19, 2013


Jubilee rocks, stuff it.
posted by oddman at 2:31 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


scaryblackdeath: ""mind control rape pregnancy baby-is-its-own-father and everybody's happy with it" bullshit they did to Carol Danvers "

what in the world?
posted by boo_radley at 3:07 PM on February 19, 2013


Uh-huh.
posted by Zed at 3:12 PM on February 19, 2013


Once Jim Lee and other artists started gaining more control of the title and making every female character pose in a pseudo sexily, things went rapidly downhill.

As the article points out, one of the interesting things about the Claremont era is that the attitudes toward sex held by the characters are not homogeneous. "Virginity meant something quite different for Kitty and for Rogue." Mohawk-Storm was as confident in her sexuality as the underwear models of the Hellfire club. Sex was equally important to male characters. Where would Logan be without his brooding pseudo-noble pining? For both male and female characters sexuality was a matter of personal identity, not just cheesecake fanservice.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:36 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


What Claremont did was to have the female heroes on an equal footing to the male heroes, which really hadn't been done to such an extent before.

If, say, anybody from The Comics Journal were to see what I'm about to write, I think some minds would be straight up lost, but: The female heroes were not at all on an equal footing with the males, but were generally referred to as "queen," "empress," or even "goddess" (!). The men of the X-Men were often shy, retiring, anguished, their powers curses, and were prone to resolving their inner conflicts with male bonding and an occasional cry to the heavens; the women had a tendency to deal with shit by wiping out planets or drowning the eastern seaboard with a literal typhoon fueled by angst and righteous fury. I would (here it comes) compare Claremont in these respects to Daniel Clowes, who seems to basically regard his male characters as boner-driven simpletons generally worthy of pity and loathing, and his women as complex wonders who can be forgiven anything. But let me quickly say -- I love Daniel Clowes! And, though his word balloons could sink battleships, Claremont as well. This is not meant to be a damning criticism of either gentleman, but rather an observation borne of having spent perhaps too much time reading their work.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:04 PM on February 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


WHY CAN'T CYCLOPS BE A GODDESS? #MRA
posted by Artw at 4:25 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Have you seen Cyclops' hips? Zero goddess potential.
posted by cheap paper at 4:44 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


WHY CAN'T CYCLOPS BE A GODDESS?

From the neck up he's incredibly phallic.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:47 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love Jubilee. She showed up when I was in 8th grade/high school and it was kind of mind blowing. Asian American like me, but without the stereotypical good-at-math/school crap (in fact the opposite). She was brash and spoke her mind, which I wasn't too good at. I vaguely remember a panel where she, Wolverine and revamped Asian Psylocke are fighting the Mandarin and Jubilee is all, "I'm American, I don't speak Chinese." which was super-refreshing considering all the stupid but well-meaning questions of "What's my name in Chinese? How do you say this? Are you a Japanese spy?"

She had a ton of bluster but she had a big heart and you could see it with Illyana/Legacy Virus or when she teaches Prof X to rollerskate or in various early Generation X moments. I stopped following Marvel sometime in the mid- to late 90s but she's my favorite Marvel character. The only reason she might not be my favorite comics character is because Cassandra Cain is pretty fucking awesome too.
posted by zix at 4:50 PM on February 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


In other X-news: Days of Future Past Might Have Peter Dinklage as the Creator of the Sentinels, Will Have 3D Richard Nixon
posted by homunculus at 4:56 PM on February 19, 2013


kittens for breakfast: " boner-driven simpletons"

Hello sock puppet name.
posted by boo_radley at 5:37 PM on February 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


De-powered, mohawked, X-Men captain Storm is still my favorite Storm.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:23 PM on February 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I asked my wife which X-baddie she thought they should cast Dinklage as, and she didn't even pause a second to think about the answer: Mojo.

Awesome.

This is why I love my wife.

Altho... Apocalypse would be my guess, thinking on it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:14 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, it's not Puck then?

/sulks.

He would have been a good Wolverine, if Wolverine hadn't grown by a couple of feet.
posted by Artw at 9:48 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


So who will be Spiral? Tilda Swinton?
posted by homunculus at 9:55 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dinklage and Swinton... That might work...
posted by homunculus at 11:06 PM on February 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


homunculus, take all my money right now.
posted by X-Himy at 4:49 AM on February 20, 2013


It should also be noted that funny lookin' physical mutations are common among male X-characters, but almost entirely absent among the female characters. I doubt that's by design

Kinda is.. I recall a few different hand-wavy explanations that the mutant gene expression gives both men and women above-average looks.
posted by anti social order at 6:56 AM on February 20, 2013


If you don't count the Morlocks. Also, Mystique.
posted by P.o.B. at 9:06 AM on February 20, 2013


Marrow might have counted, until they turned her into a cute young thing with big boobs who wore skin tight clothing and a bare midriff.

Callisto was noted for being ugly, until someone gave her the looks of a model.

Uh, Magik had horns? Cecilia Reyes had something that looked like bad dreadlocks on her head? Rogue had the ridiculous white streak in her hair?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:24 AM on February 20, 2013


Callisto was noted for being ugly, until someone gave her the looks of a model.

Was that before or after they replaced her arms with tentacles? It's hard to keep up when you don't read the books regularly.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:47 AM on February 20, 2013


No idea, but can't imagine that was a real thing.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:51 AM on February 20, 2013


I've seen enough hentai to know where this is going.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:58 AM on February 20, 2013


I'd like to expand on what kittens for breakfast said above. Yes, Claremont put women (Jean Grey, especially) in the forefront of the X-Men quite often, but that doesn't mean that he always knew what to do with them, and sometimes his plot twists not only didn't make a lot of sense but ended up kind of ruining the character for a while.

Jean Grey is the best example of this. Yes, she was kind of an underutilized wallflower in the original X-Men, not unlike the way that Sue Storm was portrayed in the Fantastic Four of the era. But Claremont went to a ridiculously opposite extreme, making her powerful enough to first knock out Firelord, a former herald of Galactus on the level of the Silver Surfer, then saving the universe from a "neutron galaxy". So then Phoenix's power level got cut back down, then went up again, and she went all Dark Phoenix and was killed off on the orders of editor Jim Shooter. (Claremont's original plan was to have her be given a "psychic lobotomy" on the orders of the Shi'Ar empress--yep, there's your strong female character--but Shooter, maybe mindful of the fact that Marvel was still abiding by the Comics Code Authority, thought there should be some more serious and permanent consequences to a former superhero wiping out billions of sentient beings.)

So, OK, they brought Kitty Pryde into the team... and Claremont made her a super-genius (at least for a while), on the level of Peter Parker if not Reed Richards, which soured things between him and John Byrne, who thought that Kitty was going to be more of an average kid who happened to have a mutant superpower. She also got brainwashed into becoming a ninja skilled enough to take on Wolverine. Storm, in the meantime, got depowered and became the leader of the X-Men, plus an expert hand-to-hand fighter, when she'd previously shown no sign of being particularly adept at either, and Ms. Marvel... Yes, as mentioned above, Claremont wasn't happy with the "mind control rape pregnancy baby-is-its-own-father and everybody's happy with it" bullshit, and had her say so to the Avengers' faces, but he wrote that reaction in for the character after he'd not only depowered her but taken away all her memories, followed by her becoming a cosmic-powered heroine. And then, of course, Psylocke.

I'm not trying to claim that Claremont was never a good writer, as some have, but I do think that as the X-Men became more popular and especially after Byrne, who had his own strong opinions about the characters, left to do FF and Alpha Flight, there really wasn't anyone around to tell him that he couldn't do such and such with a character or that maybe he should show more and tell less (eventually, his characters had internal monologues that went on for days). There could, and should, be more female characters in comics, and both DC and Marvel have missed chances to do so, even fairly recently, say, with Green Lantern and Nova. But part of writing strong characters, either male or female, has to be that you have some respect for their integrity as characters, and that should include bothering to give them a decent character arc rather than just pasting on whatever random idea you had this week as if it's no more significant than putting on a new costume. (This being comics, maybe even less significant.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:00 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I asked my wife which X-baddie she thought they should cast Dinklage as, and she didn't even pause a second to think about the answer: Mojo.

So who will be Spiral? Tilda Swinton?

I would pay so many monies for five minutes of Mojo doing his thing.
And now I'm all sad 'cause there will never be a decent Longshot movie.
posted by lekvar at 2:33 PM on February 20, 2013


... Emma Frost even argued, in a Classic X-Men #128 vignette by Claremont and John Bolton, that her style of dress was a form of personal empowerment.

This argument was put in the mouth of a female character by a male writer. The essayist, who is male, apparently finds this argument compelling.

I do not find this argument compelling.

I'm not saying I'm against cheesecake, just shoddy rhetoric.

(Strong Female Protagonist is worth reading, btw.)
posted by sebastienbailard at 9:17 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


sebastienbailard: "This argument was put in the mouth of a female character by a male writer."

That story was actually written by Ann Nocenti not Claremont.
posted by the_artificer at 9:08 AM on February 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The case against Cyclops.
posted by Artw at 8:38 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bryan Singer: I’ll “Repair” Things From The Last Stand in Days of Future Past
posted by homunculus at 4:02 PM on February 24, 2013


Ex-X: The Noble Tradition of Rage-Quitting the X-Men
posted by Artw at 1:52 PM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


X-Men: Days of Future Past Adds Previous X-Men Star, Twilight Actor, Iron Man 3 Actress
posted by homunculus at 11:48 PM on March 16, 2013


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