WIRED/Laura Hudson: Obligatory opening question: How did the idea for an all-female X-team come about? What made this the right time?
BW: It’s a little hard to pin down exactly when and how, as there was a lot of common thinking between myself and editorial and plans morphing into new plans. But the basic timeline was: last year when I was writing this title, it was essentially an all female team, Colossus being the one guy on the roster. I had originally signed up to do eight issues of that, but they wanted me to keep it going, and thought it could be cool to do a soft relaunch at #40 and go all the way and make it an all-female team. Then, they decided to make a bigger deal out of it and relaunch it for real, so I was taken off the book at that point to give me the time to develop this new book. So it was definitely Marvel’s idea, but I think my X-Men from last year got the ball rolling.
Everyone is really excited at the idea of an all-female team, but we’re not trying to make it all ABOUT that. It’s an X-Men book, first and foremost, and these characters are all X-Men, not “X-Women”. Last year, when I had a team of four women and one man, they were all called X-Men back then, you know? And as far as this being the right time, that’s probably something Marvel could answer better than I. It seems like a no-brainer to me, now, or last year. or ten years ago. The female X-Men are amazing characters, they always have been, everyone knows that. They’ve been the best thing about the franchise.
WIRED: What’s the rationale behind forming the all-female team within the context of the plot? How do the male X-Men feel about it?
BW: Who cares! Haha. I hope I never have to write that scene, because even the suggestion that anyone would see a problem with these particular X-Men together on a team is enough to suggest there’s something wrong with the idea, when of course there isn’t. As far as the rationale, well, its sort of wrapped up in the first issue’s story, and this far out I don’t want to tell too much of it. But in broad strokes they rally around one of their own in a time of personal crisis, and that crisis has bigger implications than anyone thought, and they next thing they know villains old and new are showing up at the Jean Grey School and there we go. But at the core of it is they’re friends, they care about each other and so of course they’ll all help. They’re family.
WIRED: X-Men has a long history of having both strong female characters — the real ones, not the Kate Beaton kind — and also a demographically larger number of female team members than a lot of other superhero teams. Why do you think this is, and what has that meant for both the team and its readership over the years?
BW: I don’t know why it was at the start, but I’m glad its the case now. I think the X-Men have a demographically larger number of female READERS, too. I see proof of that just anecdotally, but I think you would agree. My editor, Jeanine Schaefer, tells a story I hear a lot, about being young and seeing the cartoon and reading her brother’s X-Men comics first, and so on. I think a big part of the appeal is the flawed nature of the characters, in a human sense, in a relatable sense. If you compare to the DC characters, they are the jocks and cheerleaders, but on the Marvel side, and especially the X-Men side, they are the freaks and geeks and misfits and weirdos and outcasts and anyone who doesn’t fit into some mold. AKA the most interesting people.
WIRED: I’ve talked with comics pros and editors in the past about the perception (sometimes substantiated by sales) that female heroines are less likely to have the iconic/star power to really anchor solo titles or translate into “sure-fire” hits. (http://www.comicsalliance.com/2011/12/08/marvel-women-comics-editors/). Do you see that as an issue for superhero comics? Or do you think it might function differently within the context of a group dynamic — or within the context of the X-Men specifically, given their history of strong female leads and general brand prominence?
BW: I think this title here will be an interesting test case, to see if a high profile book with an high profile artist and marquee characters can indeed overcome what often happens to books starring female heroes. I think we have a good shot, but even now, based only off the announcement, there’s all sorts of negative feedback that ranges from generic sexism, to open hostility, and to lame charges of reverse sexism. Fear of a female character being ‘real’ in that she has a relationship and/or sex (something I’ve hinted at happening in my book, also something we’ve seen in the X-Men before). I think this resistance is most common to superhero comics, but exists generally. My character Megan McKeenan from LOCAL inspired a lot of hate and anger from male readers simply for being female and imperfect.
I think its important to not only push back when that happens, and to keep trying by doing books like this one, but also to be aware of how the material is presented. There’s too much cheesecake out there that is sold, or at least marketed, as a “strong female” character or book when its anything but, and it just reinforces the worst opinions of the most sexist fans, and we gain no new ground. We probably lose ground. I’m not approaching this new X-Men as a “female book”, but I’m writing it as a high action X-Men comic, and with some luck that will nullify some of these poisonous critics who go looking for something to feel angry/uncomfortable/threatened by.
WIRED: Another complaint you sometimes hear about female superhero characters is that they are often written as though their primary character trait is simply to be female (or be sexy). What is your take on how to best write female characters, and how has that informed your approach to the new X-Men book?
BW: My big secret - and I do think I have a decent track record - is that I write men and women fundamentally the same. I approach the page with the belief that, as people, we all have universal reactions on a basic level to things and thats where the truth lies, where primal human emotions can be found. With that as a foundation, you can tweak the details according to character and gender and personality. So what you get here, if done well, is a very relatable character that should transcend gender lines and have mass appeal. When you approach the page with the thought, “okay, so what should this WOMAN do now…”, you start off from a place of stereotype and bad writing, and there’s no fixing it because that is now your foundation.
It’s not complicated, but it does require the writer to see the characters as people first and gender later.
WIRED: Relatedly, you’ve done quite a bit of comics writing specifically about female characters in the world beyond superheroes (Local, Supermarket, Mara). Do you find that it’s a different experience to write women in the superhero world? If so, how?
BW: Its not that different for me. The very first comic I made, Channel Zero, had a female lead, and that wasn’t a deliberate thing. Well, it was deliberate in that this was a character I enjoyed drawing, but I had zero sense of the comics world and it never occurred to me there was a dearth of female leads. Once I was told there was, and that Channel Zero was a little unusual in that sense, I decided I should continue to create characters, write books to meet that need and for readers who were looking for them. I don’t make a big distinction in approach whether it be The New York Four or Ultimate X-Men - I try to do everything the same. But the style of art can make a HUGE difference, and that’s why something like Mara with Ming Doyle will have such a radically different feel than Ultimate X-Men with Carlo Barbieri (a much more straightforward superhero artist). And that’s the reason I work with Ming, and with Ryan and Becky, because it does make such a big difference.
Mara is a good example, because as we go and as you see the story develop, its a very classic sort of superhero narrative, a familiar progression, but with Ming’s art its this totally unusual, really weird experience, but in a good way. Its a cliche to say it, but it does feel like a new take on familiar material. It completely flies in the face of every convention of the “female superhero”.
WIRED: What are the implications of having an all-female team, from a storytelling perspective? What excites you (or worries you) most about the opportunity to write a title like this?
BW: The only thing that is a concern is just the need to live up to expectations and to make this a success. Chances are this book will launch very high, but if we can keep it high and resist the typical decline that happens to female-led superhero comics, we’ll have proved something and maybe even set a precedent, and that would be fantastic.
Brian Wood Interview with Wired
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