ON WEDNESDAY, Marvel Comics will debut its relaunch of Ms. Marvel — in which she’s introduced as a Muslim American teenager from Jersey City — as part of a broader women’s initiative that the publisher is calling “Characters and Creators.”
As part of the initiative, Black Widow, Elektra and She-Hulk will be spotlighted in their own books, and X-Men and Captain Marvel will see a new emphasis on women.
Even as Ms. Marvel takes a big step forward for diversity in comics, the “Characters and Creators” initiative has broader implications, as it aims to speak directly to an audience that long was not the target for superhero comic books in America: women and girls.
Axel Alonso, Marvel’s editor-in-chief, tells Comic Riffs that the stars of these new books “are not the big-breasted, scantily clad women that perhaps have become the comic-book cliché. They are women with rich interior lives, interesting careers and complicated families who are defined by many things—least of all their looks.”
Sounds promising. Is Alonso worried about scaring off the traditional male readership associated with comic books?
“What people want are heroes,” he tells us from Marvel’s New York offices. “They want fascinating stories with compelling characters, regardless of gender.”
Jeanine Schaefer, who edits the new, all-female X-Men, agrees.
“There’s this fear that the men who have traditionally been our fan base will stop reading if we bring in new voices,” Schaefer tells Comic Riffs. “But we’re finding that that’s just not the case.”
The proof is in the numbers, and in the case of the all-female X-Men series, the numbers are solid. The first book was released last May, and became Marvel’s top-selling comic that month.
The comic book world, Alonso asserts, is no longer a boys’ club. “While we don’t have any market research, the eyes don’t lie,” he tells us. “If you go to conventions and comic book stores, more and more female readers are emerging. They are starved for content and looking for content they can relate to.”
So is this just about the bottom line? Is there a group of dudes sitting around a table at Marvel, trying to come up with books they think female fans will want? After all, according to the Web site Comics Alliance, Marvel only has seven female-led books (DC Comics, for comparison’s sake, has nine female-led books).
“It’s easy for fans to think, ‘They’re just a bunch of guys doing what they think women want,’ ” Schaefer said. But, “It’s not about publicity or trying to jump on the bandwagon.”
Schaefer says that for many other women editors, writers and artists, these female-led books are “a labor of love.”
“There are women here and there — always have been,” Schaefer says of the comic-book world, both on the creative side and within the fan base. “And we’re trying to make our voices heard.”