The most interesting facet of Avengers vs. X-Men #0, which just hit comic book stands from Marvel this week isn’t the teases of the Phoenix Force, or the fact that Frank Cho was the first artist to draw Cyclops as “slim” in, oh, several decades. No, it’s that as a kick-off to a huge comic book event, the focus is squarely on two female characters… And I wonder how much this is an indication of, if not a seismic change in the comic book industry, at least a step in the right direction.
Even, perhaps, more interesting is that if you looked solely at the marketing for AvX, you’d have no real idea how much it focuses squarely on two women. The covers, solicits, and materials position the Event as a grudge match between the X-Men’s Cyclops, and Avengers Captain America, but the former plays only a supporting role in issue #0, and the latter doesn’t even appear. Nope, instead we get a story about the young X-Man Hope Summers, as well as one focusing on the recently returned to continuity Scarlet Witch.
For Hope, this is something that’s been building for a long time… She’s certainly been the focal point of events before: two, by my count, in the X-Men Universe (Messiah Complex and Messiah War). She’s even been a lead in her own team book, Generation Hope. But Avengers vs. X-Men is an event of an entirely different level, as not only X-Men fans will be reading the crossover, but – Marvel certainly hopes, no pun intended – Avengers fans, and fans of the movies intrigued by seeing two big franchises pummel each other.
Naturally, we don’t know yet how active a role Hope will be playing in AvX, but if the #0 issue story is any indication, it should be a big one that finds her actively taking a role in shaping events, rather than standing idly by while everything else happens around her. And thankfully, that’s how her character has always been written: wondering about her destiny, and whether the title of “Mutant Messiah” is one she can ever live up to; but also, given her training with surrogate father Cable, willing to jump into the fray and kick butt, sorting out her problems later.
On the other hand, there’s The Scarlet Witch, who has been the focus of events before, and not really in the female empowerment way. During Avengers Disassembled, she went nuts over her children never existing, and killed a bunch of her friends. In House of M, she went nutsier, and ended up decimating the Mutant species. And then in the recent Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, the main plot point was that Dr. Doom was trying to marry her. So yeah, she ain’t no role model for the younger generation or anything.
However, her depiction in AvX #0 is a big turnabout. We get a reminder of why she was a great superhero in the first place (though rusty), and she bonds with other lady Avengers, before the guys are jerks and kick her out of their clubhouse. Again, we have no idea the role she’ll play in the main series, but giving her this kind of focus seems to indicate that the answer to how much focus she’ll get is, “A lot of focus.” Extrapolating out a bit, we’d guess there’ll be some sort of redemption arc for the character, where she proves she’s a hero and everybody likes her again. Hopefully not through the time tested, “Sacrifice to save the world,” type thing, where all the Avengers stand around her dead body saying, “I guess she WAS a hero after all… Well, on to the next thing!” But again, there’s no indication that she’ll be idly standing by the sidelines waiting for a man to save her or anything.
So what’s the greater takeaway here? Sure, there’s plenty of chance for plans to change between now, and the end of AvX, where internet journalists can post a million, “How the heck did the #0 issue connect to anything?” But working under the assumption that this issue is an indication of where we’re going, it seems like we’re either going to end up with two female characters either teaming up, or fighting, and to check our Bechdel rules: probably not about a man. Unless The Phoenix is a dude, which we’re sort of doubting.
That’s pretty unprecedented, I think, for a major comics event. They just don’t end with two women leading the charge, they’re always all about the dudes, or their deaths getting the dudes to go the extra mile to save the world. I realize a lot of this is guesses and supposition, but assume this is true: this is Marvel actually responding to fans who want more female-centric titles, and giving them one in spades.
The bigger question is, how industry-wide is this change? We know even less about what DC has planned at this point, but most of the New 52 seems geared to whatever is going on with new character Pandora. And as we found out in Justice League #6, the mysterious purple/pink lady also isn’t someone to stand idly by. She’s packing some serious firepower, takes down The Phantom Stranger, and leaves us with the ominous note that she’s going to force the Justice League to do what she wants.
Again, we have no idea what any event involving Pandora will be like: she could be the villain; she could be a plot device; and it could come down to Superman versus Darkseid, again, for all the marbles this time or something. But again, looking to the bright side, it’s also possible that this new female character will lead the charge, and be the center of DC’s… Well, whatever it is they’re leading up to.
Let’s blow this out even further, and look at the success of The Hunger Games, both the books, and the movie. There’s been a lot of speculation about how the movies boffo B.O. will lead to more female led action movies. The answer, of course, is probably not a lot more unless another one somehow also goes nuts at the ticket booths. But comics is nothing if not a medium that responds to popular entertainment, particularly movies and TV. They influence it, too, sure; but the lessons the more “popular” entertainments don’t seem to learn does seem to be learned, in part, by comics. This may have to do with the much longer production cycle, but if there’s something popular in entertainment, it seems to hit comics later, and stay longer.
Will that happen with female-centric action vehicles, and hopefully, titles? Fingers crossed, of course. I almost can’t imagine a world where AvX doesn’t spin off into a new series for Hope, and one for Scarlet Witch (as long as they survive, of course). And similarly, I’d be shocked if there isn’t at least a Pandora one-shot from DC.
Will those lead to more female characters front and center? Sales will tell, of course, like anything else. But we can hope. Pun definitely intended that time.