When Marvel Divas was first announced back in April of this year, I will admit that I was a bit wary. The pitch sounded a little wonky, with Joe Quesada calling it “Sex and the City” in the Marvel universe and telling us that it would involve the exploits of Black Cat, Hellcat, Firestar and Photon. I will admit that I don’t know bunches about Photon and I’m not a diehard Hellcat or Firestar fan, but when I read that Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat herself would be gracing the pages of a comic that wasn’t Heroes for Hire, I was intrigued. I was ready for one of my favorite anti-heroines to come back and show those who hadn’t followed her from the start what was so great about her.
This is why I picked up Marvel Divas #1 when it came out on July 1st. The initial buzz surrounding it was less than inspiring, but I wasn’t about to be turned off until I saw it for myself. Just because a comic advertised romance and sudsy fun in the sales summary doesn’t mean that it can’t be enjoyable. Personally, I loved X-Men: First Class and that featured the original cast in roles lighter than they have been seen in for at least the last thirty or so years.
Boy, was I in for a surprise.
As a twentysomething woman who spent more time than I care to admit watching episodes of “Sex and the City” with my roommates during college, the opening sequence of Patsy Walker, better known as Hellcat, banging away at her laptop as she narrates was a familiar scene. It was a near-identical mockup of scenes that open and close episodes of the series and I couldn’t help but feel a little less than impressed. Apparently they were going to be taking the Sex and the City pitch in a literal sense, without much cleverness or adjustment for who these women were in the universe outside of the gimmick. Okay, fair enough, there’s a bit of the Fashionable Four in each of them so it kind of makes sense to try and shove each of them into these awkwardly fitting holes.
Let’s take a quick break to talk about the art. As far as art goes I can be quite forgiving. I’ll admit, I love a beautifully drawn panel as much as the next girl, but I know that every artist has their own style that they bring to each of their runs. Take Greg Land’s recent run on Uncanny X-Men that had people throwing fits at how various characters were turning out. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t horrible. Some of it was actually kind of nice. Zonjic’s art is questionable at best. Perhaps this is my taste bleeding through, but this seemed like a strange amalgamation of manga and cheap newspaper art. From the uniform facial expressions that resembled emoticons to the fact that Felicia Hardy now has Lady Deathstrike-like claws, there was a lot to be desired.
To avoid focusing too much on the negative in one go, I will say that I did find the manner in which they managed to get all four of these women to meet and connect to be somewhat clever. Bonding over a shared experience and the communal failure of something as routine as speed dating brought an element of realism to an otherwise unreal set of situations. That is essentially where the good starts and ends.
From there things such as characterization and continuity take a backseat to the overall theme that these are women hanging out without the need for a man. While it might be argued that the writers are going for hip behavior and independence, to show modern women without the need to hang on a man the one thread that holds this collective friendship together is men. That and bitching about the “so-called A-Listers”. A prime example of this is when Felicia, Monica and Patsy flee Patsy’s own booklaunch because Sue Storm-Richards and company dared to show up at a party being thrown at the Baxter Building. The Baxter Building, which happens to be owned by the Fantastic Four and Sue is adamant in declaring herself to be fan of Patsy’s. Couple this behavior with the confusion as to why Firestar would be visiting when it was addressed in an earlier series that her radiation powers might cause illness. These inconsistencies coupled with shallow attempts at “fun” dialogue manage to make the issue fall flat rather quick.
If this is Marvel’s attempt at writing a comic aimed at women, then I can only suggest that they stop, step back and try again. What could have been a good idea quickly dissolved into something of a disaster based on stereotypes. These women get together to bitch about men, drink away their problems and flee from commitment. They avoid those who seem more popular, are overly bitchy and the rushed cliff-hanged of Firestar having cancer felt too forced to have any sort of depth. It was immediately obvious that this was a comic written about women, but for men and by men who only had the vaguest notion of what women are really like without men present and had only read the Cliff’s Notes on each of these characters. They come off as emotional shrews, who if they can’t have the spotlight or a man in her bed then they are simply not interested. It seems like the worst of values has been packaged and given cheesy dialogue and questionable art and marketed as something fun. Something can be seen as a breather from the “heavier” storylines. It’s a waste and while the cover art for the next issue looks slightly more promising, all I can say is that it might be too little too late.
Next time, I hope someone realizes that the women who read comics aren’t just in it for the sex and man-candy.