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Archive for the ‘Heroine Chic’ Category

Heroine Chic: What’s Spunk Got to do With It?

Posted by Comics On February - 5 - 2008

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.

Your fireworks don’t impress anyone, JubesRecently, 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.)

You tell ‘em, Kitty!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?”

… okay… that’s impressive.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.

Kitty rocks, everyone. She just does.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.

Heroine Chic on Millie the Model

Posted by Comics On December - 18 - 2007

By Meghan O’Keefe

Despite what you might 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 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.

I mentioned last month that I am a huge fan of Marvel, but even I have to admit that lately they have been losing some of their mass appeal to a young female audience. DC has just launched Minx and Dark Horse has Emily the Strange and Buffy to lure girls into their readership. Yet, besides Mary Jane and Runaways (both of which are about to be put on the guidance of the incomparable Terry Moore!), Marvel doesn’t seem to have a lot to offer the digest-sized, manga-loving audience that is teen girls. And yet, they are sitting on a franchise that could potentially be a goldmine: Millie the Model.

Before you start telling me how antiquated the concept of a comedy-romance series about a supermodel is, then tell me, what is the CW’s only certified hit show? What is the most successful reality series in Bravo history? What film brought Anne Hathaway the fame that Disney movies couldn’t? And for what series did America Ferrara win a Golden Globe for best actress? (answers: America’s Next Top Model, Project: Runway, The Devil Wears Prada and Ugly Betty) Fashion is experiencing a unique moment: we are enamored with it and fully prepared to laugh at it at the same time. In essence, the climate is perfect for a comedy-romance series about a supermodel.

The beauty about setting the series in the fashion world is that the very tone and style of the comic can change as society’s perception of fashion does (or as a new writer comes in). It can easily be a wistfully sweet romance series like Mary Jane, a biting satire of the shallowness of that industry, or — and this is what I’d like to see — a blend of both. Millie doesn’t have to be a dumb, blonde stereotype. There are many writers who could easily write her as an intelligent, sweet and even insecure girl who just happens to find herself caught up in the world of fashion. The manga series Paradise Kiss is a great example of how you can write a fashion model heroine and make into her a realistic girl with relatable emotions.

I know that in 2003 there were plans to re-launch Millie as a fifteen-year-old tennis player. Those fell through, and rightfully so. It would be like writing Ultimate Peter Parker as some sort of pro football player. Millie the Model was published successfully for thirty years and like the Archie comics used female readership to keep the comics industry alive when males lost interest in it. There’s no reason that a re-launch, if done right, couldn’t do the same thing in the long run.

I understand that many of the male editors and writers at Marvel may not see the appeal, but I guarantee you, many women (and gay men, perhaps?) between the ages of 10 and 30 will. My only worry is that they don’t realize the appeal of the fashion industry soon enough. Its popularity is so high right now, that in the next few years it inevitably fall. If they launch the series soon, then great writing and art should be able to keep readership up even as the fad wears away. However, if they don’t strike while the iron is hot, the series may lose the very attractiveness the concept would have to new comic book readers.

Timing is everything, but what can I say? That’s fashion.

Heroine Chic on Alan Moore

Posted by Comics On October - 16 - 2007

By Meghan O’Keefe

Despite what you might 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 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.

Alan Moore: Champion for the Ladies or Dirty Old Man?

I spent about twenty minutes browsing the stacks in complete ignorance before I finally asked someone for help. All I knew about comic books was what I got from Saturday morning cartoons, old Adam West reruns, and popcorn flicks. What I saw as I was wandering around the shop were covers of aggressive men, villains I had never heard of before, and scantily clad women. None of these things really appealed to me. So, I told the shop owner that I was looking for something that had a strong, intelligent woman who wasn’t there to be exploited by the guys.

It took him five minutes to think of something.

I left Comicopia that day with Volume 1 of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and my life was never quite the same. As soon as I finished Volume 1, I combed the shelves of the store for all the single issues that followed and started on Promethea. It was as though I had been let in on an incredible secret: that there were writers out there determined to make comic books thought provoking and who wanted to depict women as more than sex objects, damsels in distress or knock-offs of a stronger male hero. Then came Volume 2… of both series… in which the strong, intelligent, beautiful, and morally courageous heroine takes off her clothes and fulfills the sexual fantasies of the creepy old man well past his prime. It was disgusting.

After I read more of Moore’s work, I realized this was a theme, and there is a great paradox within his “intelligent” heroines. As soon as he dresses them up like something resembling independent women, he proceeds to tear their clothes off — possibly for his own sexual pleasure. It happens again in Watchmen. Laurie inexplicably allows herself to live as the sex toy of an emotionally vacant superhuman, only to finally leave him for a man who describes himself as “impotent.” Awkward sex scenes ensue. (And I’m not even going to touch Lost Girls.) I’m not bothered by the sex or nudity. After all, comic books are about fantasy. One man’s fantasy is to save the world and another’s might be to see the hot chick naked. I’m upset by the fact that these characters, who are otherwise paradigms of feminine strength, are consistently refused a sexual partner who is their equal. By equal I am not referring to age or looks — I’m referring to emotional, moral, and psychological strength. This is the imbalance that disgusts me the most.

I appreciate that Moore is playing with the idea of woman as a source of strength and spiritual revitalization for the male, and that gives women incredible power in his worlds. Also, there is merit in bucking the romantic stereotype of the handsome prince as the only worthy suitor for a beautiful heroine. However, the women are being offered nothing emotional in return for the psychological boon they provide for these men. It isn’t at all like the situation in Bill Willingham’s Fables, where the rough and dangerous Bigby gives Snow the loyalty, trust, and devotion that she lacked in her marriage to Prince Charming. In Promethea, Sophie learns the secrets of magic from Jack Faust, but it is part of a bartered arrangement. Knowledge is her payment for sex, as though she were a philosopher whore. Likewise, by sleeping with Allan Quartermain, Mina may have been attempting to escape her present stresses by indulging in the fantasies in her youth, but the Quartermain she got was a pale shade of the former hero. Sexually, she had to do all the work, and then afterwards, Quartermain humiliates her by coldly commenting on the scars left by Dracula. If these heroines are all so independent, then why are they so willing to give themselves physically to weak men when they could find a man capable of fulfilling their own fantasies? It’s as though Moore is playing Pygmalion with these women, and Eliza Doolittle has yet to realize that she doesn’t need to take any more of Henry Higgins’s crap. Well, maybe Mina Murray is the great exception, as she does leave Quartermain at the end of Volume 2, but he is still set to appear alongside her in the upcoming sequels.

Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe my interpretation of the material is biased because I am an intelligent young woman. Maybe it doesn’t matter because as I’ve said before, graphic novels are about the fantasies we have — not the reality, so who cares if Moore’s characters lose their realism when they get naked? Besides, none of this is going to stop me from salivating over The Black Dossier when it finally does hit stores. That being said, I wouldn’t sit next to Alan Moore if we happened to be on the same bus. Lord only knows what sort of things he would want to do with me…



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