Welcome to Cover Girl. Each month, we gather a team of WWAC contributors to analyze a new and notable comic book cover featuring one or more women. This month, Adrienne Resha, Dani Kinney, and Wendy Browne take a look at David Aja’s cover for X-Corp #2 from Marvel Comics.
Wendy: Who is that very elegant Black woman wearing Monet’s gala attire?
Dani: The first that hit me about the cover was I literally thought it was Dominique Jackson. The larger shapes and proportions of the face that Aja constructs had such an uncanny resemblance to the POSE actress. The image itself even feels very “Elektra Abundance,” Jackson’s character on POSE. The style, the drink in hand, the tilt of the head, the attitude and grace, along with the uncanny nature of the face had me initially wondering whether or not there was a specific image of Dominique Jackson that the artist was pulling from. That led me to reflecting on the recent history of Monet’s visual representation and the lack of consistency we continue to see as.
Adrienne: Between the fascinator, having seen Russell Dauterman’s Entertainment Weekly Hellfire Gala designs, and the X-Corp logo, I knew this was supposed to be Monet, but I didn’t know how to feel about it. When they announced the new X-Corp series, there was a significant amount of backlash on social media, enough that Marvel adjusted Monet’s skin tone in the interior art. They made it darker than it was (and often is in more recent comics), closer to how she first appeared in the 90s. I didn’t realize that this cover was Aja’s art because I’m not used to him rendering skin with this much detail. His famous Scarlet Witch covers leave Wanda literally white. This cover makes Monet literally black (and blue).
What do you think the artist is trying to achieve?
Wendy: The design is a distinctive stylistic choice that I really want to like, particularly because we don’t often see Black characters drawn with African phenotypical features in comics. The colouring is also distinctively dark and lit appropriately so as to highlight Black skin, rather than wash it out. The hair also speaks of blackness. But. Is Monet a Black woman? As Adrienne points out below, there’s so much more to what Monet should be in terms of her ethnicity and race, but Marvel has never bothered to put any work into canonically defining her. So instead, we get an image of a woman who doesn’t match the general designs of Monet we’ve seen in the past. I’d say that Aja should have referred to the character Marvel character design bible for this, but Marvel can’t be bothered to make one, to the detriment of BIPOC characters who are never permitted consistency in their representation.
Dani: As other BIPOC critics both on Twitter and on WWAC have pointed, out Monet is consistently being drawn without a consistent model or set of parameters. Without a strong sense of the character’s history, lineage, and continuity, I am left feeling very much unsure about the implications of the cover. And being a white critic, I don’t know that it’s my place to even say what those implications are. But, I can say that this is yet another moment where Monet’s depiction shows a flagrant lack of consistency in how the character’s race/ethnicity translate into the work of the artist. I can imagine for many BIPOC readers, seeing the character so regularly white-washed, this reads maybe as an over-correction from the criticisms in recent months about the way Monet was depicted in the X-Corp preview.
Adrienne: How Monet is read is dependent on when and in what context someone sees her. Her racial and ethnic identities are complicated, partly for what Dani points out — the flagrant lack of consistency — and partly because creators haven’t clearly articulated them, even when they think they have. In X-Factor #217, which was published in 2011, months after the Arab Spring began in North Africa (starting in Tunisia), Monet proudly asserts that she is Muslim, saying “My mother’s Algerian, ninety-eight percent of Algerians are Muslim, do the math.” What she failed to articulate was whether her mother identified as Arab Algerian or Indigenous Algerian or both.
Arab and Muslim identities have been conflated for decades in superhero comics, so a reader could not be faulted for assuming that Monet was Arab, but the comic doesn’t say or show that. Nothing on Aja’s cover, or Dauterman’s design, points to Monet’s definitively North African heritage. Her outfit, according to Dauterman, invokes a pantsuit, and the fascinator feels European, which Monet is, but nothing in the design speaks to her being Algerian. This speaks to the absence of anyone like Monet in the X-Office. Dauterman noted how several creators provided input to different designs, but there’s no one like Monet to advocate for her. That feeds into Aja’s cover, which is, I think, meant to convey Monet’s personality — her haughtiness — with her head tilt, but her eyes are closed, she’s turned away from the viewer, diminishing any pride that would otherwise show on her face, and she doesn’t look like any of the many versions of the character that have appeared since 1994.
What do you think about the pharmaceutical design elements?
Dani: Do the Krakoan drugs require a prescription? As somebody very much aware of and critical of the pharma-industrial-complex (PIC), I also have some issues with the design elements. If you wanted to do a book about mutant drugs, there’s a lot of complexity surrounding the PIC that I’d hope to see translated. Why 32 tablets? What dosage regimen requires 32 tablets? Do they require a prescription? Are they over the counter? The inclusion of “2mg” suggests a dosage consistent with prescribing regimens, but the 32 tablets confuses me, as you’d rarely be prescribed 32 tablets for a myriad of reasons.
I’m just worried, as somebody who comes from a community that struggles against the PIC, seeing it presented the way the books seem to be presenting it (based on various covers, interviews, and previews) I’m expecting something very inconsistent. I also don’t think I’ve seen the three design elements used on many pharmaceutical labels. Marvel, feel free to consult me, my prices aren’t bad.
Adrienne: I was so preoccupied with Monet that I didn’t immediately see the design elements that frame her. Compared to most of the other Hellfire Gala covers, they make this one clinical. The white space and flatter elements are in line with Aja’s aesthetic (see the aforementioned Scarlet Witch covers), and the design elements that Dani mentioned speak to Tom Muller’s X-aesthetic, but they don’t tell me anything about Monet.
Wendy: It adds a level of concern for the Krakoan business model of providing drugs to humans. How are they being distributed once shipments arrive? Who is controlling the distribution? Pharmaceutical companies surely are taking a dive on the markets and insurance companies cannot be happy. How are humans, other than Delores at the X-Desk feeling about these miracle drugs? Do anti-vaxxers have a new target? Is Bill Gates off the hook?