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Why Marvel NOW! Is Great For Female Characters

We explore Marvel's latest line-up of female centric titles and beg the question, why now?

If you haven't noticed, there are some big changes happening at Marvel thanks to Marvel NOW! The new initiative is introducing new ideas, new creators and new characters to different teams, allowing the publisher to shuffle things around and try some new stuff -- stir the pot, if you will. However, that's not the only thing that's going to be seeing some changes. Marvel NOW! will not only allow the shuffling of creative teams from one book to another seamlessly; it will also allow the company to address a particular issue that has bothered many (myself included) about the publisher for a very long time -- the lack of female centric comics at Marvel.

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If you were to compare Marvel's line of books to DC's line of books, say, six or seven months ago you would likely notice the lack titles whose focus was on the adventures of female characters. With the exception of team books, Marvel ladies didn't really have their own ongoing series, and the ones that did would almost definitely see cancellations. Recently, for example, X-23 was given "the axe" due to sales (it wasn't even Marvel's lowest selling book at the time), and before that books like MS. MARVEL (which saw to issue #50 with the same writer, Brian Reed) was canceled. Series featuring strong, female superheroes (of which Marvel has a plethora of), were lacking. Did the publisher think these books just wouldn't sell?

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Last week Marvel announced that this coming February they would release a new series titled THE FEARLESS DEFENDERS, written by Cullen Bunn and drawn by artist Will Sliney. The new series would be led by Valkyrie and Misty Knight, two characters who are very different, but ban together to face a common enemy and to establish a new team of super-heroines. Think of this as Marvel's solution to DC's BIRDS OF PREY series -- a team of very different female heroes from all walks of life. This announcement got me thinking, why now? According to the Marvel Press release, writer Cullen Bunn stated that he didn't develop this as an opportunity to tell a story with an all female team, but to "tell some really cool stories, some things that [he thought] would be exciting." I think it would be rather naive to think that this idea was the product of a desire to merely "tell some good stories." While the timing to tell "new and exciting stories," may have been a factor, I do think that Marvel may have gone into this thinking of how to address the fact that they really didn't have a lot of titles focusing on the adventures of their female characters. Marvel NOW! gives the publisher the opportunity to shuffle characters and creators around, launch new titles and test out some theories that could potentially answer the question of whether or not the mainstream comics market wants to see more female-centric books.

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THE FEARLESS DEFENDERS isn't the only title at Marvel that will focus on female characters. This past summer Marvel had announced that Red She-Hulk would be taking a more prominent position in their universe, and she has since taken over HULK starting with issue #58 (issue #59 is out this Wednesday). And while we are seeing a different character play the part, a lot of the tone and the amount of butt kicking has remained the same. Basically, there's not much of a difference between HULK and RED SHE-HULK save for the characters' respective genders.

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Marvel also re-launched CAPTAIN MARVEL, taking Carol Danvers' character and giving her her own title where we not only see an exploration of her character's identity, but also how she fits into the universe and deals with the new Captain Marvel mantle. In addition, Sif will be taking center stage starting with JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #646 where the character will take over the book for Loki (his character is being moved to Young Avengers). The four books mentioned have a few things in common. Aside from being titles that focus on the adventures of female characters, the titles to three of the four books mentioned are not "gender specific." Meaning that if you went to the comic shop and didn't know what CAPTAIN MARVEL was all about, would you assume it was a female centric title? Or perhaps you liked the cover to JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, but were unfamiliar with the comic, there's no way of knowing it's a comic about Sif and her adventures. Note, I am not criticizing, I am merely making an observation; one that I think will prove to be an interesting experiment. If the title of the comic doesn't indicate the gender of the character inside, will the sales be better? It is definitely something to think about and something to observe in the coming months.

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This is great news for comics, for Marvel and for readers. By giving these female characters more prominent roles and responsibilities in their universe, and allowing them their own ongoing titles, Marvel is changing things. The publisher is not only just exploring new characters and developing them, they are also targeting a broader audience.

What do you think of these changes and these new books? What books are you most looking forward to? Do you think these changes are representative of something bigger, or, as Cullen Bunn said, just a means to tell "a good and interesting story"?