By Meghan O’Keefe
Despite what you may think, comic books are not just read by boys. In fact, there are a lot of girls out there who enjoy reading about killer robots and mutant superheroes. So we thought it was time to get a woman’s perspective on an industry that is creatively dominated by males. Enter Heroine Chic: a monthly look at female comic book characters and the people who have created them, written by Meghan O’Keefe, a girl who reads X-Men just as voraciously as she reads Vogue.
Recently, a friend and I developed an improv show about teenaged superheroes and I had to invent an original character to portray. This experience forced me to consider an issue that has been rattling around in my mind since I’ve begun to write this column. What makes a female character a GOOD comic book character? What strange alchemy of qualities much she have? For instance, why do I love Kitty Pryde, but can’t stand Jubilee? How can I like a character as demented and whipped as Harley Quinn? And even though I loathe her, why do I have a begrudging admiration for Emma Frost?
It didn’t take me long to realize that this is a much bigger question than one column can handle, so I’m going to devote a series of columns to this one issue in an effort to try to break down what it takes to be a truly great comic book heroine. And I’m going to start with a showdown between two X-Men darlings, Kitty Pryde & Jubilee. (For the record, I’m going to deal with pre-M-Day Jubilee, as her recent development in New Warriors has almost entirely changed her as a character.)
Both Kitty and Jubilee were introduced into the X-Men to fill a little sister role and provide a gateway for a young female readership to enter the comic. As a result, the two share similarities in the way they are written. They both have to consistently face the villains of the Marvel world as they stand side-by-side with the X-Men, while also being told that they are “too young” or inexperienced to be taken seriously. These situations provide endless amounts of whiny dialogue: Kitty’s famous “Professor Xavier is a Jerk” line and most of Jubilee’s mallrat one-liners. They both fill a minority gap, Jewish and Chinese-American, and possess an additional skill to their powers; computer expertise and Olympic-level gymnastics respectively. So why does it often seem that Kitty Pryde is adored by fans while Jubilee comes off as a joke?
It would be easy to say that Kitty is just written as a more fully fleshed-out character, except that they were both written and created by the same person (Chris Claremont). It is also easy to say that since Kitty came first, fans look at Jubilee as a knock-off. However, I don’t think that’s the crux of the issue. There is something else about Jubes that seems to annoy people. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, or thought to myself, “Jubilee is so lame. She sparkles and fizzles out DVD players. What’s so cool about that?”
In short, everyone thinks her powers are lame. However, if you step back and assess what it is Jubilee can do, she actually comes across as a badass: she can short-circuit machinery, shield herself from telepathic assault, and has the potential to detonate matter on a sub-atomic level. Kitty Pryde can walk through stuff. Oh, and she has a dragon…or did until Joss Whedon turned Lockheed into a double agent for S.W.O.R.D. Put in those terms, Jubilee should own Kitty Pryde, despite her ninja training. So why is Kitty featured in the films and in Astonishing X-Men, while Jubilee was elected to be depowered by M-Day? Because Kitty has spunk.
In Kitty’s first appearance with the X-Men, she’s a thirteen-year old who takes it upon herself to save the X-Men from the machinations of the White Queen. Vice versa, Jubilee discovers Wolverine being tortured by the Reavers and waits for him to set himself free before offering help, since she’s afraid of getting caught. From their introductions, Kitty is far more pro-active about being an X-Man and using her powers to help fight evil. It always seemed like Jubilee, though, would be happier at the mall. Like Kitty, she becomes Wolverine’s unofficial sidekick, but when she leaves the mansion, she goes to LA to become an actress. Kitty leaves and joins Excalibur. One of these two girls is far more apt to kick Mr. Sinister’s butt — and it has nothing to do with fighting skills.
Until M-Day, Jubilee seemed a lot like a Dazzler or Polaris. What I mean by that is that she’s happy to use her powers to help people, but that her heart is really elsewhere. For fans of the X-Men, it would be a dream, a fantasy come true, to be a member of the team. Reading about a character who seems less than completely committed to the team is not exactly fun. While their point of view may be realistic, it comes off as ungrateful. From day one, Kitty is feisty and ready to fight. It’s not the kind of spunk that doesn’t come with a side of chili fries, but with a side of knuckle sandwich to an opponent’s face. That fire and determination is what drives us to love Kitty Pryde so much. Could you see pre-Wondra Jubilee deliver a “Now it’s my turn” comment like Kitty did in Astonishing X-Men #15? No. She just never had the fire to face a villain man-to-man like Kitty did.
In this case, spunk is the winner against powers or abilities, and Kitty Pryde has it in spades.