State of Marvel Roundtable–Part One

Marvel romance, mental health, and motherhood.

Megan Purdy

all female x-men coverBendis is off Avengers! Marvel’s partnering with Disney-owned Hyperion to put out romance novels! Miles Morales is super popular! It’s a (brand new) day! Maybe.

With Captain Marvel, Fearless Defenders, the all female X-Men, and the upcoming She-Hulk and Rogue romance novels, Marvel is putting its female characters at the forefront. They also recently brought back Jan, teased us with the return of Jean Grey, gave us actual baby!Jean Grey, and have stuck Mary-Jane at the center of a creepy Spider-Man story. For longtime Marvel readers, this probably won’t seem all that remarkable: for at least the past ten years, the company has gone through regular cycles of All The Lady Comics, and then… not.

So if the focus on female characters isn’t remarkable, what sets this stuff apart?

I talked to longtime Marvel zombies Skalja of @#$% Yeah, Spider-Wife!, Corrina Lawson of Geek Mom, RonchRonchRonch, and webcomic creator Indigo about this Marvel moment.

* * *

Marvel wants in on the lucrative romance market, and is going to test the waters with She-Hulk and Rogue novels. Lest we forget Marvel Divas (oh dears), this isn’t the first time Marvel has made a foray into the ‘female’ market. Will these original novels succeed where Divas failed, and failed hard? Should these novels succeed? What, in your opinion, is the key to doing good super-romance?

Skalja: On the one hand, it’s hard not to groan when Marvel comes up with yet another “tap into the female market!” idea that involves taking an existing property or a set of characters and “girlifying” it in the most stereotypical and usually condescending way. But I want to be careful not to condemn stereotypical femininity just because it’s stereotypically feminine — girliness is not a bad thing, and I actually applaud Marvel for (slowly) figuring out that they can use their characters to tell different kinds of stories than the usual punch-em-ups, as much as I love the punch-em-ups.

Actually, when the She-Hulk and Rogue novels were first announced, I didn’t think of Divas; I thought of Judith O’Brien’s two young adult Mary Jane novels, followed a couple of years later by the Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane comics which were written by Sean McKeever and later Terry Moore. O’Brien’s Mary Jane novels were decent enough, if a little bland, and must have been at least successful enough for there to be one sequel. Spidey Loves MJ was a great little universe that lasted a few years and apparently did pretty well in trade sales to new readers, but ultimately got cancelled because of low pamphlet sales. I still consider it a benchmark in how to tweak your existing properties for a new audience, because it took advantage of latent possibilities in the original storyline.

Romance is already a big part of the Spider-Man franchise–it’s why Amazing Spider-Man has always had a proportionally larger segment of female readers, and it’s cited as a reason Raimi’s movies were all blockbuster successes. So hey, why not take the romance elements of Spider-Man and play it up shojo-manga style, with Mary Jane Watson as the lead instead of Peter? It’s a change that respects both the old audience and the new, instead of “LOL Sex and the City with superpowers! Wait, why is no one buying this?”

I also want to add, though, that you can’t attract a different demographic (or a bigger share of it) by isolating them in a corner. It’d be like trying to bring new diners into a restaurant with a special menu they can only eat from in one corner of a restaurant. It’s great that Marvel is branching out, but to be really female-friendly, their main lines need to be female-friendly as well.

Indigo: When I heard about the romance novels, I kind of winced. I’ve read romance novels, and bodice-rippers just do not seem to [be a good match for] Strong Female Characters like Rogue and She-Hulk. But on the other hand, She-Hulk does have a delicate side in her Jennifer Walters persona, and Rogue has a vulnerable side in that she spent so many years with her powers out of her control and thus deprived of touch, that there could be some tender, sensual stories to tell there. So bravo to Marvel for giving them a shot. But they will also need marketing support if they are to have a genuine chance at succeeding. Both of the Big Two have had that problem. They want female properties to bring in female readers, but they don’t show a lot of faith in the material, and then don’t market it well. It ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the boys pat themselves on the back going “see, we knew girl stuff doesn’t sell!” And the girl readers in turn go “Argh!”
I read Trina Robbins’ Roman Holiday when it came out in the 80s and loved it, and that was girly-girly. I bought it right alongside my flights-n-tights superhero comics, because I had diverse interests. I enjoy reading about girly girls even if I’m not a girly girl myself. So the potential exists for success here.

I can’t speak much on Marvel Divas, other than to recall it swept through my friend group on a wave of rage. The series was pretty much a ripoff of HBO’s Sex and the City, right down to boyfriends helping with money, and Firestar ending up with cancer. I hope they’ve learned from that mistake and not just sought to replicate another successful femmecentric property. I am a huge Firestar fan, but the way she was written in what I saw of Divas was not the Firestar I knew and loved. Characterization being consistent from book to comic is vital. Otherwise, readers are going to stay where the character looks like the one they know and love, and shun anything where the character is out of true with what they expect.  

I’m willing to give them a chance, and I’m hopeful, but also a bit wary.

Good point about marketing support, Indigo. I wonder how much of this is being planned and executed by Hyperion, and how much by Marvel? It’ll be interesting to see how they work together on this project.

she hulk coverRonch: I hope the books will succeed. Rogue is a great choice to star in a Marvel novel–she’s popular and recognizable even to non-comics fans, and her relationship with Gambit has had a large female following for decades now, so it’s interesting to see Marvel finally noticing that corner of the fanbase. With Rogue there’s the dramatic, “I want to be close to you, but my powers could hurt you!” tension that sci-fi/supernatural fans love. (Hey, better mutants than more vampires and werewolves.) Plus, the X-Men are known for character-driven stories and strong female friendships like Storm and Kitty’s, or Rogue’s love/hate relationship with mama Mystique. If the books tap into the right vein, hopefully they can find an audience.

As for She-Hulk, I hope her book isn’t judged by its cover because…green lipstick? Really? She’s a superhero and a lawyer and a HULK and the image they choose to sell the book is makeup? This may be the only time I think they should have used a Greg Horn cover instead.

Ronch, I wonder if that’s thanks to Twilight and Fifty Shades. Minimalist covers are huge right now in romance. The less they say/symbolize the better, it seems.

One thing comics companies have going for them is that so many of their readers are ‘completists’. Is part of the challenge making these platform and genre shifts seem seamless; like an essential part of the whole?

Skalja: I think the problem is finding a balance between using all the narrative potential of decades of continuities–the character development, new stories spinning out of the consequences of older ones–without making new readers feel overwhelmed. As someone who loves all the nooks and crannies and accreted characterization of continuity, I’m not in favor of tossing it all out, but there must be a better balance to be found than Marvel and DC’s constant reboots and giant events. (I might’ve pointed out the Star Wars franchise as an example, but the upcoming new movies have put me in a wait-and-see mode for how they handle existing post-Jedi continuity.)

Indigo: They are going to need some really good writers, familiar with the core material in the comics to be able to pull off some fluid and seamless transition between novel and book. I have seen it done well in the movie-to-book transition, but even Chris Claremont’s X-Men novels seemed to stumble a little. But I expect it is doable.  I think someone like Diane Duane or Peter David would be a good role model to emulate for a venture like this.

Corrina: I have a somewhat different perspective on romance novels because I write them. Specifically, I write superhero romance novels that I hope infuse my love of superheroes with my love of relationship stories. If you think about the biggest X-men story, it’s a tragic love story between Jean & Scott. (One might also view Xavier/Magneto as kinda a big break-up story.) I would say that those who think of romance novels as bodice rippers or as not having strong female characters aren’t reading the right romance novels. There are good and bad but making a decision based on a few is like making a decision on superhero comics based on reading a lousy superhero story, like, say, picking up a random copy of Liefeld’s Hawk & Dove or some of the other lousy books out there. I have to steer my romanc novel reading friends to the good stuff, as I have to steer my comic reading friends to the good romance.

There is a big overlap. There was an entire graphic novel section at last year’s Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in Chicago and many of the people who signed there also took the next day and signed at C2E2 which happened to be taking place at the same time. So the marketing crossover possibilities are huge, if they do it right.

The hardest part is convincing geek girls that romance has strong female characters. For that, I hand them J.D. Robb’s In Death series or any of Jennifer Crusie’s books or a number of others. Even I have to check my preconceptions. I just reviewed a book for a big romance novel award and it was a category type (Harlequin) and I rolled my eyes but then it turned out to be good, a serious examination of PTSD suffered by the hero, and had some terrific action sequences.

Last year most Marvel titles were wrapped up in AvX, and we didn’t see as much of a focus on human relationships, as we have in the past. And too, many of Marvel’s most famous relationships, both romantic and BFF, were broken up or on the backburner. Now that we’re done with the latest status-quo shakeup, what characters and relationships do you want to see get some storytelling TLC?

I’m enjoying Avengers Assemble and Captain Marvel, and am looking forward to the new all-women X-Men team, but other than that I’ve been pretty out of the loop for Marvel ongoings. I do have Fearless Defenders and Young Avengers #1 waiting for me in my Comixology purchases–I’m looking forward to reading them both, especially for Misty Knight and America Chavez.

If I’m allowed to dream, then it would be awesome if Kelly Sue DeConnick could wrest Mary Jane Watson away from the Spider-Man titles for a bit. Back when Gerry Conway wrote Ms. Marvel, she and Carol Danvers were good friends! For about three issues in the 70’s, yes, I know, shut up. I did say it was a dream.

Skalja, I’d also love to see some Carol/MJ interaction. Their relationship was professional (Carol was an editor at the time, and MJ was a cover model), but they seemed to really connect. It would be interesting to see how it would play out, now that there’s more emphasis on Carol as a pilot.

when carol met mj
Carol and MJ first met in Ms. Marvel v1.

Indigo: I didn’t known about the MJ/Carol thing, but with current happenings in Superior Spider-Man, that might actually be a workable way to keep MJ on the page. More on that when we get to MJ herself.

Ronch: Now that Jean Grey’s made a time-traveling return in All-New X-Men, I’m excited to see her interacting with the X-Men of the 21st century. In some ways it’s a step back, since Jean is meeting Storm, Wolverine, et. al. for the first time all over again, but Bendis has done an excellent job so far of establishing just how important those friendships are. And the new mentorship between Kitty Pryde and Jean is an interesting and touching reversal of their usual roles–I’ll be very happy with ANXM so long as there are more Kitty and Jean hugs in the future…

Indigo: Characterization and the relationships have always been a big part of what I love about comics! The characters I hope to see grow, along with their relationships again, are my beloved X-characters. A lot of people are boggling at the current Storm-Wolverine romance as fallout from the annulment [of her marriage to Black Panther]. I have always liked their chemistry, and people forget that the weather can be as wild and unpredictable as any berserker rage. I never cared for Storm-T’Challa to begin with. It seemed crammed and shoehorned together, just to get the top Black Marvel characters together. But on the other hand, I was very disgusted that the AvX storyline was contrived to break them up by an arbitrary use of T’Challa’s position as High Priest of the Panther Clan. Still, Ororo is back among the X-Men again, she’s back at the mansion, and she’s running the Jean Grey school–a better choice than Logan or Kitty. And this will give her togetherness with Logan and Kitty, so both those relationships can grow again.

Baby!Jean in All New X-Men.
Baby!Jean in All New X-Men.

Cecilia Reyes is back in the pages of Astonishing X-Men as well, and I was a big fan of her relationship with Hank (Beast) McCoy. I’d like to see that grow too. But they’ve also built her a relationship of a platonic sort with Remy (Gambit) LeBeau. So we will get to see her brilliant mind with Hank, and her playful side with Remy. Multifaceted characters are always the most interesting to me. And I’m very curious about artistic-yet-battleworn Warbird. Uncanny X-Force‘s lineup is also making me piqued. Spiral on the good guy’s side, while there’s bad blood between her and Psylocke? Innnnnteresting.

I am also very fond of the Baby!Jean Grey showing up in the pages of All-New X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men. She’s vulnerable. She’s off balance. She’s also got a mind of her own and is not all demure and meek, letting the boys push her around or make her decisions for her. She’s got the headstrong redhead thing going for her, and the headstrong teen thing. Plus, the whole original five are having a severe culture shock in seeing how the 21st century differs from their native timeline, which is already having ripple effect in how Baby!Jean relates to the Scott from her own time. Her interactions with the current adult X-Men and the new school kids are also fun and amusing. Psylocke was ready to kill Quentin Quire, but Jean just found him amusing.

Corinna: I think the problem with female-led titles is that they don’t sell as well in the direct market. That audience is very, very male-oriented. Hence Hawkeye getting a book and not Black Widow. And Captain Marvel isn’t selling as well as I’d hoped. To get female-led series to sell, I think Marvel has to go digital only and market the hell out of those titles to the wider audience, the 40 percent of the audience that was female and watched Avengers. Or have a SHIELD-led title with Maria Hill, and promote the hell out of it during Whedon’s SHIELD series that should be airing next year.

As for relationships, I’m so skeptical of them in the superhero universes. They get changed so often. I’d like to see some couples stay together, like Luke & Jessica. As for babies, I realize women get it worse but I’m at the point where I hope there are no more kids introduced because something awful always tends to happen to them. I think writers don’t know what to do with babies. Who knows what will happen to Luke & Jessica’s kid? Already been kidnapped once, right?

Indigo: It’s kind of silly, if you think about it, to kidnap the child of two superheroes.  Especially those who also have connections to teams like the Avengers and the X-Men. But then there’s also the Jack-Jack type problem. If you kidnap a superbaby, the superbaby may defeat you all on his/her own.

Corinna: Franklin certainly fits the super-baby thing. And sometimes the babies turn evil. Even Scott Snyder fell into that trap with James Jr., now that he’s a teen.

Superkids don’t fare well, full stop. They’re subjected to far more shenanigans than seems really reasonable. And while rebooted, reconning, and magicking them out of existence might be convenient for the writer, I do think it affects the character of the narrative.

I want to talk a bit about a phenomenon I call Hysterical Super-Wombs of Marvel. Think Jean Grey, Wanda Maximoff, Sue Storm, Carol Danvers, (maybe even Jessica Jones), and all the other women who have too much power to control, bizarre relationships to motherhood, and get shuffled off the page, for want of a good story.

For all the times that Xavier and Magneto have gotten lost in the wilderness of their power and ego, for all the times that Tony and Reed have gone gonzo with experimental science, none of these characters have been benched long term. Female characters with similar powers and histories, however, have had lengthy time outs. Why was Wanda so ‘irredeemable’ for so long? Or Jean so hard to write? Why the simultaneous fascination with women’s mental health, and disinterest in seriously engaging with it?

Indigo: I missed House of M due to budgetary issues, and I was not happy that they used Wanda to cause the Decimation, as it made her far more villainous than she ever was before. I think the insanity problem is that women’s emotions are [perceived to be] so tied up in their womanhood that their sanity is considered more ‘fragile’ than a man’s. I mean, after all, how many of us have heard the jokes that women lose their minds and become someone else–someone scary–once a month? The idea of Jean, Wanda, or Betsy going mad is partly an extension of that, and partly an extension of [the idea that telepaths are psychologically vulnerable]. And then you have characters with in-character reasons, like Rogue, whose brain is full of psi fragments, and Mystique, who probably has identity issues due to never getting to walk around as herself. Betsy straddles both problems–she’s a telepath who is English but was magically transplanted into a Japanese body. There are not an awful lot of male telepaths in the MU, nor do they get subjected to near as much. But men are supposed to be “in control” of their emotions, where women are expected to be overwhelmed when their emotions become strong. It’s just a big Gordian knot of sexism there.

Ronch: It’s funny how people still make “Jean never stays dead!” jokes when in real time, Jean’s been dead for almost a decade now. The Dark Phoenix Saga is a classic, but it casts a long shadow. The old argument against Jean-as-Phoenix was that she was too powerful and made the other X-Men redundant. But at the same time you have Thor, an actual god, on the Avengers with people who have no super powers. What’s the difference? I think there’s a boy’s club mentality which is uncomfortable with stories of female power, and that makes it easier to see strong women as bitches, harpies, and ice queens, rather than heroes.

adam hughes black queen
Adam Hughes’ Black Queen.

Of course, we recently had a story where Cyclops became Dark Phoenix–but in that story he wasn’t mind-controlled into wearing a sexy black corset. And he didn’t die. Hmm.

Corinna: Female characters with strong powers are traditionally put to the side for some reason. Remember, even Storm was depowered for a while. And I’m thinking of Lois Lane, who doesn’t have powers but has really strong opinions, and how she’s absolutely hated in a certain area of fandom which seems, at the moment, to include DC editorial. But that rant’s a little off-topic for this part of the discussion.

For me, with Jean, I think her story was perfect and likely should have ended with the Dark Phoenix saga, and [they should have gone] forward with Madelyne. Ah, Madelyne. Instead, they made her go crazy and evil because Jean was back. God forbid, two powerful female characters with similar power-sets should exist. Despite the fact there’s Warriors Three, and all the Asgardian gods who have abilities similar to Thor. So Jean’s death worked, but her resurrection somehow pushed Madelyne off the page.

But we have to be somewhat careful because all the X-Men have had issues with powers. Cyclops lost his for a bit, Warren had his wings pulled out and lost his mind for a while, Captain Britain had mental issues, and there’s berserker crazy Wolverine.

But berkserker crazy Wolverine has fans. Berkserker crazy Wanda? Bitch. Hate her. 

On motherhood, I think many writers see mothers as not sexy, so therefore their heroines can’t be mothers. Whereas male parents are just fine and can be sexy, like Luke or Scott Lang. So the lack of mothers is partly due to the fact they don’t know what to do with babies and not wanting to make their superheroines moms and therefore, less sexually appealing.

I think it might be interesting to consider Sentry here. Here’s a male character with powers ‘too great to control’, and serious mental health issues to go along with them. He maintained his power, but became a tool for other (also unwell) men. Was Sentry’s masculinity compromised? I think so, yes. Another male character to consider might be Wolverine, who’s been dealing with mental health issues since his creation. Wolverine though, manages to ‘get away with it’. He’s still an alpha male, despite being vulnerable and at times going feral.

Indigo: Excellent point there. But Logan’s also got sympathy because we know he’s a berserker with mental health issues because Weapon X experimented on him. So people are willing to credit him for “manning up” and continuing to be the best there is at what he does because he’s pushing through his mental health issues.  

What I like about Uncanny X-Men and its lead-up in All-New X-Men is that Magneto is owning his mental issues. He has flat out said his sanity has slipped around a lot over the years, but he acknowledges, rather than rationalizes, that it was always him, all the time, making whatever choices he made, while his mind was outside the realm of the sane. And he used this admission to call Scott out for his having killed Xavier. 

Corrina: I adore Magneto for all his anti-hero-ness and his arrogance and his… everything. I like repressed arrogant immortal types. But it’s interesting that Scott’s current team includes an unhinged Magik, who is potentially the most powerful among them. I’m not sure that’s fair criticism, though, as that group is all a bit off the reservation.

Here’s a great example of writers not knowing what to do with a powerful female character: Mary Marvel. It wasn’t enough for her to be a nice person who fights justice. She had to be driven crazy with power AND given a sexed up uniform. Evil bitches get to wear lots of sexy black clothing, usually leather.

Jessica Jones is one of the first Marvel mothers in a long time, who’s gotten to be a mom. What’s the deal with all these time lost, alternate universe, magical, and fake babies? Is motherhood incompatible with superheroics?

Skalja: I think a lot of it is that children are perceived, rightly or wrongly, to age characters out of being relatable to superhero comics’ intended audience. Susan and Reed Richards are the major ongoing exception to this rule, because the longevity of their relationship is part of the Marvel universe’s status quo–not only is having kids a natural extension of their being in a marriage for decades’ worth of comics, but they’re symbolically the parents of the entire MU.

Sue gets her mom on, in FF.
Sue gives the Marvel Universe a talking to.

Jessica Jones is the newest face of super-momhood, which I think works because she occupies a very particular space in being a popular but “fringe” character, well-liked but not the center or any franchise, while also being the darling character of one of Marvel’s most influential writers. She’s never been out of Brian Michael Bendis’ influence for very long, which protects her and Dani both from being fridged by lazy writers.

Indigo: The Jean Grey who is currently dead has definitely had a weird relationship to motherhood. Neither Rachel nor Nathan are her children as such, but they do regard her that way. And with good reason, since she helped raise at least one of them (through time travel).

Sue has always gotten short shrift as compared to the men of Fantastic Four. She was the Invisible Girl for decades before Marvel finally realized it might be a good idea to call her the Invisible Woman. The male writers don’t really know what to do with female characters, other than [use them as] love interests. They know the brainy guys can solve problems and save the day, but brainy females saving the day? Outside the comfort zone–awkward. They know the brick men can punch problems into the stratosphere, but the musclebound lady? Unladylike, unfeminine!

Emma Frost is an interesting case too, because although she’s not a mother biologically she has been very motherly in more than one instance. The Generation X kids. The Stepford Cuckoos. And all without compromising her “sex is just one weapon in my arsenal” vibe. So it can be done.

I guess the reason we have such a problem with women’s mental health in fiction–good story fodder, but hard to engage with–is old ideas. Women’s emotions are still too often [perceived as being] tied with their bodies and hormones. We’re not expected to be angry when an injustice disgusts us. We’re expected to be emotional and histrionic, and our anger to be out of control because–female! Hormones!

Is motherhood incompatible with superheroics? No, I don’t think so. Jean did the superheroic thing while raising baby Nathan in the future, and she didn’t miss a beat. Storm is a mother figure to Kitty Pryde and that never stopped her. But there’s that societal bent again, that moms who aren’t staying home to look after their children aren’t really good mothers. Jessica Jones has never sat well with me, because she has all this strength but can’t see past her own damage to realize it’s still there. And her mental health really needs addressing, considering what she went through at the hands of Purple Man. But it will be difficult to manage in a sensitive way. I’d say she’s earned her retirement, because it had nothing to do with her being a mom. That came separately.

Put simply, Lone Wolf and Cub was a huge hit. A father and son story. Not superheroic, precisely, but still fatherhood and action coexisting. So motherhood [and action] can too.

Ronch: I recently read the Women of Marvel Official Handbook and wow, it was depressing to see how many female characters have had miscarriages/stillbirths/false pregnancies/reveals that the babies were actually Mephisto’s soul (to start with: Mary Jane Watson, Invisible Woman, Mockingbird, Sharon Carter, Misty Knight, and Scarlet Witch). Of course those experiences happen in real life (except for Mephisto), but Marvel’s quick to nix most pregnancy storylines that would radically alter the status quo, so these developments tend to be retconned/ignored or used for unsatisfying angst.

Indigo: Monet and Siryn also have had false pregnancies courtesy of both of them sleeping with Jamie Madrox. Siryn’s was taken all the way to term and the baby absorbed by Jamie prime because it was just a dupe.

Not to get trapped in dualities, but let’s also consider fatherhood. Skalja makes an important point about parenthood being incompatible with superhero comics’ lack of time. So fathers in superhero comics don’t have an easy time of it either. But my follow up is, can we think of a father/child relationship that has the same kind of emotional weirdness attached to it? Does sex, for example, still come up for fathers? Age? Fitness?

Corinna: It’s funny you ask about women and motherhood, as there are a number of kick-ass mothers romance novels. A number of Jayne Anne Krentz/Amanda Quick books feature women who eventually have children. In fact, it’s almost a cliche in some contemporary romance novels that women are allowed to be kick-ass while protecting their children. As in the book I mentioned earlier, where the PTSD veteran is involved with a female police detective who is trying to protect her son. The old “get away from her, you bitch,” routine, which is great, but can be a cliche also.

I guess the most interesting mother I’ve seen was in The Incredibles because she’s a Mom who still hasn’t lost a step. And you see her working in a team. I think Sue has stayed around–and her marriage–because the Fantastic Four only works as a family. All other bets are off.

Iris Allen is now marginalized in The Flash, and she used to be a grandmother. I was hoping that Catwoman would survive in Earth-2, and when the new Helena Wayne got back to her world, we could see a mother/daughter dynamic. But no. And the last fascinating and rare mother/daughter relationship, Dinah Drake Lance/Dinah Laurel Lance has seemingly been wiped out of existence.

I was so annoyed at this problem, as a mom, that in my first romance novel, I my heroine was a former assassin, who also wanted a family. Because it seemed that those two things weren’t allowed at the same time.

On the other hand, my absolute favorite Wonder Woman story is The Circle which is all about women/motherhood. It was an angle I’d never considered for the Amazons but made perfect sense. Gail Simone wrote that and while I feel any writer has a great story about any character in them on a given day, this felt like very much like a story only a woman would conceive.

Indigo: Sex, age and fitness do come up for fathers. The Starjammers [EN: Space pirates and adventurers who debuted in X-Men, but also featured in other Cosmic titles] were led by Corsair, the father of the Summers brothers, Cyclops and Havok.  He was portrayed as a virile, sexy rogue along the lines of Captain Jack Sparrow. Although his “out” for being a good dad was that he honestly believed his children had not survived [the plane crash that ‘orphaned’ Scott and Alex, and saw Corsair and his wife spirited off to Shi’ar space] until they met again, when both boys were adults.  

Reed Richards has never been considered “sexy” because he’s “the intellectual” but his fatherhood has never caused him to miss a step either.  

Scott Lang was a doting father, who was all the more sympathetic for wanting the best for his daughter. Even if his initial approach was misguided. [EN: When his daughter Cassie–now Stature–fell ill, Lang stole Hank Pym’s old Ant Man suit and super-villained around, trying to find a doctor who could cure her. It was a thing.]

And Wolverine? What a hot mess! There are occasions where he is foster dad to a child he loves and who loves him (and who then gets sidelined), and then there are situations wherein he has killed his own children.  But again, Weapon X experimented on him, so his crazy is more forgiveable. But nobody disputes he’s a sexy badass. And Kitty and Jube to this day love him like a big brother, after outgrowing the “foster daughter/sidekick” thing.

The essential Wolverine is hotly contested. Some writers want to position him as an eternally young, generic berserker with a tragic past. Other (SMRT) writers get that it’s Wolverine’s age and experience that make the character. He’s the Man With No Name, with a hundred years of travel and tragedy under his belt. And through it all he’s hanging on as tight as he can, to his humanity and to his ability to care for others. It’s what makes him such a great foil for characters like Spider-Man, and a great father/brother figure for younger characters. (Wolverine + babies = magic). He’s seen it all, done it all, and he’s always going to be a bit of an outsider. Anyway, I think there’s a lot going on there, in regards to masculinity.

Sadly, I can’t think of a female character who gets to be all of these things. Female wanderers tend to be tricksters or villains, and moms who’ve buried children are so often utterly broken. Where’s my Lady Eastwood? 

Next up: Superior Spider-Man, youth books, and the disposability of diversity.

Mai Pucik

Mai Pucik

Mai was born in Michigan and grew up in Switzerland, though she did pop back Stateside to get a BA in English from Swarthmore College and briefly experiment with library science. When not obsessing over comics minutiae or spamming Tumblr with Doctor Who gif sets, she's probably cross-stitching.