The Masculine Versus Feminine Subtext of X-Men #1

There’s potential in the ether.

It’s hard enough to find a strong female lead among mainstream superhero comics, so when Marvel announced that writer Brian Wood and artist Olivier Coipel’s relaunch of (no qualifying adjective necessary) X-Men with an all female team, the announcement was met with skepticism. Joy. Sexist chatter.

The skepticism was centered on how successful an all female team book could be even in today’s more progressive market. The joy was two-fold: Brian Wood, a fan favorite writer, was writing an X-Men book again; and maybe a large publisher was taking another step to push aside the adolescent male fantasies that have dominated the mainstream comic scene. The sexist chatter was exactly what you would believe coming from a marketplace dominated by adolescent male fantasy stories. They’re not X-Men, they’re X-Women.

The banality of arguing over the gender of the lead characters in any comicbook (or work of fiction for that matter) is just that, tiring. Critically speaking, good stories are not limited by gender, nor know no specific gender appeal. The success of the book rests solely on the authors’ ability to create compelling and visually appealing stories with dynamic characters. And we thought this was going to be difficult.

I will put this bluntly: DC relaunched 52 titles nearly two years ago, rebooting nearly their entire fictional universe, and were unable to create the type of compelling stories that Marvel has done with a handful of relaunched titles that are picking up nearly where they left off.

But this is not about Marvel versus DC.

This is about Wood, Coipel and their other creative partners creating an engaging story with existing characters within the subset of a universe with possibly some of the most convoluted and involved continuity ever.

To be blunt again, this X-Men #1 is a textbook for how to relaunch a title with a new direction. What it does best is move, at the speed of a train, demonstrating connections between the characters and creating themes.

Several themes emerge including technology as an invasive threat, familiar bonds as safety and the supplanting of expectations in the face of the observable. They are compounded by establishing the very humanity of the characters as they each take on different roles within an atypical family unit.

It’s interesting that in the very first issue, Wood crafts a story that immediately subverts notions of masculine and feminine worlds. Many scholars have forwarded the idea that there are masculine and feminine realms that can be divided into exterior and interior. The exterior, consisting of politics, economics and science are masculine. The interior, consisting of the home, culture and love are feminine.

Science and technology from this view derive from the exterior or masculine world, which is absent of love and family. While a case can be made that Wood is putting these notions at odds, technology versus the bonds of family, it would appear in this first issue that he is staking claim to different ideas of family, supportive and competitive. This is the essential difference between the families of the X-Men and John Sublime. That Jubilee has taken on the role of mother with child, who is moving from exterior world to interior world, underscores both aspects.

All these themes, however, could be wasted if the authors fail to excite the ether between published work and reader. The train sequence, while an apt metaphor for the themes mentioned above, is also symbolic of the book’s pacing. It moves.

Yet the movement is deceptive. Perhaps it’s the streamlined dialogue or Coipel’s design of each panel, but far less action actually happens than what a reader may feel. It is pointedly a compliment to the creative team and the editorial team that such strong narrative progress can be achieved without the book having to fire on all cylinders – in other words, the best is yet to come.

While we certainly have various themes that engage aspects of the masculine versus feminine debate – the book would lack its thematic punch if it was absent its female leads insofar as the subtext is in direct relation to its stars – it is far more appealing and interesting how Wood and Coipel handle the task through subtext than by directly addressing it. Less is more, in dialogue and in action. And although we have a train derailment and a couple of deaths, in the world of the X-Men this amounts to a lazy day.

The bottom-line is this: X-Men #1 is a beautiful and thoughtful work of modern mainstream comics.

RATING 9 / 10
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