Sunday, July 09, 2006

Shadowcat, Wolverine, Batman, Buffy


The final panel of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men 15 -- Whedon's strongest issue thus far -- ends with an image of Shadowcat (Kitty Pryde) standing in running water and proclaiming "Now it's my turn." This is, of course, an homage to Uncanny X-Men 132 (The Dark Phoenix Saga) in which Wolverine said the same thing in the same situation when he fought the Hellfire Club.

The moment -- Shadowcat is the only team member not to be taken down by the bad guys -- also invokes the standard Justice League of America plot in which the villains have subdued the entire super-powered team but underestimate Batman. In Grant Morrison's JLA: New World Order for example, Protex, having captured Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter, can't believe Batman is giving him so much trouble. "Batman! Batman! He's only a man!" he cries. The captured Superman smiles to himself, and Batman saves the day. The bad guys ignore Batman because "he is only a man" (i.e. only a human being without superpowers); the bad guys will ignore Shadowcat because she is only a little girl, and not a man (like Wolverine).

In his introduction to the collection of his comic book Fray (the only indispensable Buffy comic book spin-off) Whedon says this:
"Don't get me wrong, there were certainly other things on my mind in my young adolescence. But almost certainly topping the list were girls and comics. More specifically girls in comics. Because, frustratingly, there weren't that many. At least in the Marvel universe, where I made my nest, there were very few interesting girls young enough for a twelve year old to crush on. ... Until Kitty Pryde... Cut to me grown up -- yet somehow not remotely matured. The idea for Buffy the Vampire Slayer came from that same lack I felt as a child. Where are the girls? Girls who can fight, who can stand up for themselves, who have opinions and fears and cute outfits?"
Shadowcat, Whedon comes out and pretty much says, is the origin of his obsession with cute girls who can fight -- Buffy, all the Slayers, Willow, River Tam (from Firefly) and Wonder Woman.

That final panel in Astonishing X-Men 15 is important because in it Whedon invokes the two biggest male bad-asses in comic book history -- Wolverine and Batman -- and puts the origin of his cute girl fighters in their place. He thus usurps comic book history, making his preoccupations central. None of this would matter unless he was such a strong writer, strong enough to make us see the history of comic books a little differently in the light he shines. "Shadowcat, Wolverine, Batman, Buffy," we say to ourselves, "That actually makes sense." Only Whedon could make us see those names as equal, and importantly related.

15 comments:

Coligo said...

A very interesting analysis, but I'm curious about your feelings regarding Whedon's overall characterization of Kitty Pryde. Whilst I think he's been relatively true to established interpretations of other X-men (although Xavier acts quite out of character in my opinion) its seems he's taken the opportunity to use Kitty as a vessel for the archetypal Whedon charcter, i.e, the nervous, self-doubter who has the power to come through in the end.

I'm not sure how I feel about Whedon making her so unsure of herself, just take a look at issue one's exchange with her teammates, "I officially really, really don't know why I'm here", despite the fact that she has operated on numerous X-teams for years.

Geoff Klock said...

Coligo: Yeah, but the trouble comes in on that last phrase, "she has operated on numerous X-teams for years." How many years? Surely not the same number of real world years that have passed since she was introduced as a character. Umberto Eco talks about the "oneric climate" of comics, where, as in a dream, we are never quite sure of when and where we are. Even though Shadowcat has been on the X-Men forever, this is Whedon's first time writing the book, and he is drawing on a younger, less sure, Shadowcat. That's not perfectly "in character for her," but when you are writing comic book characters, because they have been around for years in so many different forms, you have to pick and choose from their past when constructing your version. There is no other option because "realistic" character development is based in a "realistic" time frame, and long running comics don't work like that. It's more dramatic with a character like Batman, whose "history" includes both silly stuff (in the late 60s) and serious stuff (Arkham Asylum) -- there is no way to make that history make sense as "characterization" so you pick and choose, and that's a good thing and a strength of the genre. (Sorry for the rant; this is one of my stump speeches)

The Ever-lovin' Blue-eyed Mitch said...

In Dan Slott's "The Thing" he states (is definitively the right word? Definitively until the next person?) that Ben Grimm became The Thing thirteen years ago. So, mathematicians... TO WORK!

I know this goes against everything you believe in, Geoff... so, I apologize. I do think that's pretty crazy for Slott to throw that out there like that.

On to Kitty--I agree whole-heartedly with Geoff. The Kitty in "Astonishing" is the Kitty I fell in love with in 5th grade. From Issue one, Whedon and Cassiday have her walking through the walls, reconnecting to memories of her earlier days with the X-Men. She says, "Nothing has changed."

Coligo said...

I couldn't agree more with what you're saying about creators cherry picking the past of their line-up so as to tell the stories they want to. It certainly is a strength of the genre and its why a great writer coming to a classic character is such an event, we're getting to see their interpretation of our heroes.

My problem with Whedon's Kitty, however, is that it is a character regression with the simple aim of being able to get her back to the point she was already at, i.e, being a confident and integral X-man. Not just that, but that her arc seems to move at a very fast pace and with more emphasis than any other characters. By the time we got to the battle with Danger, Kitty was cemented as Whedon's unofficial team leader, in the sense that she is responsible for nearly every major turn in the arc (finding Colossus, being with the X-kids when Danger goes mad, bringing down Danger, even her pet Lockheed gets in on the action as the only one to hurt Ord in their initial encounter).

This may sound like I have a problem with Astonishing as a monthly title. I don't. I think its a good solid X-men adventure book. It just seems to me that Whedon is perhaps too reverential of the heroic young girl character. I think he's a great writer, its just that when we see the big strong men being saved by the unassuming young girl for the hundredth time it can feel a little forced.

Geoff Klock said...

Mitch: it is crazy for Slott to say that but the crazy is good -- the decisions writers make about characters are not the necessary outcomes derived from that character's history, but they have to feel like they are. Slott is just asserting his authority, which is what he is supposed to be doing.

And Kitty says "Nothing has changed" because Whedon has been hired to "fix" Morrison's run, in which, for the first time in a long time, everything did change (though again, as I will write about soon, New X-Men was Morrison's biggest failure).

Coligo: fair points, all of them. I think Whedon could do a lot better, but as I just said, he was hired to "fix" Morrison's run, which is why his run feels regressive. Ironically, moving characters forward was his saving strength on Buffy. I look forward to his future Buffy comics.

Anonymous said...
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Geoff Klock said...

It was removed because it was spam.

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Patrick said...

In each case you mention, I think a case could be made that each of the female protagonists( the cute girls who fight) is eclipsed and surpassed by the male hero. Spike eclipses and surpasses Buffy, Xander eclipses and surpasses Willow, the (overwhelmingly male) Vampires eclipse and surpass the female Slayers, and Mal Reynolds eclipses and surpasses River Tam.

Patrick said...

For all his talk of “girl power” Whedon ultimately gives preference to his male heroes.

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Geoff Klock said...

both spam

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Geoff Klock said...

spam