Lorna Dane, Ororo Munroe, Kitty Pryde, Emma Frost, and Rachel Summers: Marvel, Treat the X-Women Better

I’ve whined about Marvel’s treatment of Jean Grey before. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the myriad of other ways in which she’s been mistreated outside of the Dark Phoenix saga, in terms of comics, cartoons, and movies alike. But as poorly as she gets treated, there’s something to be said about the fact that people at least remember she exists and know to include her. I’ll admit, as a Jean fan, that isn’t much of a comfort, when it involves so much of her getting treated as just an object in someone else’s story with no agency of her own, to the point of her role in The Wolverine being “a figment of Logan’s imagination that he apparently forgot he’d only known a week during which she wasn’t into him”. But it’s something, and compared to the other X-Women? It’s kind of a big deal.

Lorna Dane, 1968. Ororo Munroe, 1975. Kitty Pryde, 1980. Emma Frost, also 1980. Rachel Summers, 1981. None of these are new characters. The youngest of them has still existed for more than thirty five years. But they still don’t get treated with as much respect as they should. So, in the order of their first appearance, an explanation of why they all deserve more.

Lorna

x-men-blue-new-team-1077722-1280x0.jpeg

Let’s make a list of characters Lorna has been around longer than, shall we? Wolverine, of course. Nightcrawler. X-23. The list goes on. Nightcrawler has been in cartoons, in movies, and had lots of his own storylines. Wolverine is literally everywhere and I’m sick of him. X-23 was one of the main characters in Logan and has had plenty of issues about her and even a solo title, despite only being introduced in the X-Men: Evolution cartoon in 2006. For the most part, Polaris only exists in the background.

Lorna’s profile has risen due to The Gifted. Sure. That’s to be expected – generally speaking, adaptations have a wider audience than comics and people become aware of different characters through movies and shows. But despite how long Lorna has existed, she’s never had a solo title. Never appeared in the movies. Only briefly appeared in the animated series. She did play a pretty big role in Wolverine and the X-Men, but that one is known for being so stuffed with characters, that it wouldn’t be too much of an exaggeration to claim just about every character that had more than one appearance in the comics got at least a cameo. It’s kind of weird – there really aren’t many characters like that, that are that old but so underused. It comes across feeling like people at Marvel have something against her.

Lorna was the second X-Woman. This year is her fiftieth anniversary. You’d think that would mean something special happening – whether that be a miniseries, a one off, or a merch release. As far as I know, there isn’t. Now, I’m a DC fan at heart, and I don’t follow Marvel accounts on social media, so for all I know, Marvel isn’t about that “celebrate characters’ birthdays” life – though I think I remember Spider-Man getting something when he turned 50. But DC does make a point to commemorate its characters. For Superman’s 75th anniversary, we got an animated short of the character through the years. That year also had Man of Steel come out. A similar thing happened with Batman – the year he turned 75, there was an animated short released. The first season of Gotham started to airProduction on Batman v Superman started. There were variant covers. Wonder Woman made her silver screen debut on her 75th anniversary and got a special issue with new stories and art. It’s not at all unprecedented to celebrate.

Of course Lorna doesn’t have a profile as high as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, or the like. So naturally, her fiftieth isn’t going to be as big a deal as them turning 75. And to be fair, as far as I know, Havok isn’t getting a celebration either. He was introduced the same year she was, and for quite a while, she’s been treated as…like…his pet girlfriend, thinking about him and focused on him even when she has much more important things to worry about, so I wouldn’t have been all that surprised if this year was advertised as his fiftieth anniversary without any mention of her. It hasn’t been. But even so, most characters get something special happening on major anniversaries. A comic, a rerelease, even a Tweet, acknowledging that it’s their birthday. It doesn’t look like that’ll be the case. Sure, Lorna still might get something in October acknowledging that she’s a great looking fifty year old. But she’s spent decades consistently treated as a perpetual second stringer with none of the same attempts made at pushing her into the A-List that other characters get. I’m not expecting anything.

One thing we can often count on when it comes to the X-Men is writers latching on to a specific character, whether that be a new kid or a little used character that they want to get to create the defining version  of, and trying to make them popular. Kitty, of course – she was the first of those and by far the most successful. But also Jubilee, Quentin Quire, and the like. Despite the long stretches of time in which Lorna doesn’t get much to do, or where she just disappears because people forget about her, I can’t think of any writer that latched on to her.

Lorna’s stories often revolve around her being Havok’s girlfriend/ex/whatever their status is now or Magneto’s daughter. And yes, those things do matter for who she is. But I’m still looking forward to the day where we get more exploration as to who she is and why she matters outside of the men in her life.

Ororo

storm.jpg

Storm is one of the most iconic X-Men characters. That much is indisputable. To the general public, she’s more recognizable than many characters that have existed longer. I’d be willing to bet that more people recognize Storm than they do Angel, Iceman, or Polaris. Be that as it may, Storm is more an icon than she is a character to a lot of people. She’s a symbol. Look at the reaction after Black Panther came out – how many people were jumping up and down about how Storm needs to be in the sequel because they were married in the comics? A lot. But either these people haven’t actually read any of the comics or don’t care about Ororo as a character, because that relationship ended terribly, T’challa never deserved her, and it was written poorly from the get go.

Storm is a mutant. That’s important to who she is as a character. She is not an accessory to T’challa, she’s one of the X-Men. T’challa? He’s aligned with the Avengers. And for a long time now, the Avengers have treated the mutants terribly. It would be hugely offensive to her long history as an independent character to have her be okay with that. In concept, there’s nothing wrong with their relationship – it could actually be really good – but the divorce was bad, she was used more as a prop in the comics during their relationship than a character in her own right, and there’s something gross about how they were on different sides of a war where the Avengers brought an army to try to destroy the Phoenix Force and a country for mutants.

The reason most of the people want them together in the movies is that they recognize the name Storm, know she’s one of the X-Men, and think they would be an awesome power couple. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong about that, but it’s got very little to do with her as a character. While I can’t really blame comic writers for how Storm is perceived by the general public, I can criticize the people behind the movies and cartoons. A lot of the time, she’s there for a combination of reasons: to make whatever the adaptation in question is less white, to fill out a roster, because she’s supposed to be there. It’s not about actually contributing anything to the story or getting interesting development, it’s about putting her there for the sake of putting her there. She deserves to have an actually fleshed out role and character development, rather than just being around to throw lightning and look cool.

Kitty

Kitty-Pryde-David-Marquez

Kitty is a weird case because she was a childhood favourite of so many people that are today running the asylum. So in general, she gets treated pretty decently in the comics. But outside of that? It’s been years, and I’m still mad about how Kitty was treated in Days of Future Past adaptations. This applies to both the movie of the same name and the animated series. Let’s start with the movie.

The Days of Future Past comic was Kitty’s first major story. It’s very highly regarded and pretty much the most well known story featuring her in a major role. So of course, the movie shoved her out of her own role and pushed her into Rachel’s so that Wolverine could take her spot. Let’s set aside the fact that that didn’t even make sense, and focus on the ludicrous reasoning given for why she didn’t get to be the central character. The claim was that it couldn’t be her because of the way it was the mind that went back and not the body and only Logan was alive then, but that’s clearly nonsense. They were okay with completely changing the story, but not with changing the time travel rules, or even just time to which someone had to go? Everyone involved did a whole lot of mental gymnastics to justify removing Kitty from the story.

She wasn’t used in the cartoon adaptation, either. I think she was one of the only then X-Men to not make a single appearance in the entire show, which in itself demonstrates why she deserves better. In terms of the Days of Future Past arc specifically, Bishop took her role. That bothered me quite a bit less than the movie, actually, even though it was basically the same concept. Partially, that’s because of all the simplification that went into adapting the story, but more so, because Kitty wasn’t in the animated series. It wasn’t that she was there and they weren’t using her, she was just not present, which was bad for a different reason. And they wanted to use their recently introduced and pretty popular character. I get that. What I found more frustrating about the show was that Kitty was in general replaced by Jubilee – AKA, the Kitty of the 90s. It didn’t usually bother me, because the similarities seemed mostly at the surface level, but the episode “Jubilee’s Fairytale Theatre” was obviously an adaptation of a comic about Kitty. Now, I have nothing against Jubilee, and but the way to popularize a character can’t just be to try and mimic a different one.

Kitty was the ultimate escapist character. She was wish fulfillment. She was the naive newcomer that readers of the time watched grow up and rooted for as she went from sidekick to hero in her own right. She was essentially the X-Men equivalent of Robin. But we’ve never gotten to see that outside the comics. Obviously, adaptations aren’t the be all end all. Comics are not a lesser form of art, I love reading them, and characters can still be treated well without adaptations. How else would we get all those lists of characters we want to get a solo movie? And I don’t especially want Kitty to get one. The movie she allegedly has (had?) in development doesn’t excite me. But the fact remains that she’s perceived as important enough to merit appearing, but not so much that she gets to keep her most famous storylines to herself, and even in the comics themselves, she spends so much time hooking up with writers’ author avatars that it actively detracts from her individual story.

Emma

emma frost wolverine and the x-men.jpg

Oh, Emma. The queen of inconsistent writing.

Yes, different interpretations are inevitable when it comes to comic book characters. Of course. Comics are a collaborative medium, with lots of different writers and artists working together to create each character over a long period of time. And at some point, it would probably get boring if we only saw the same aspects of a character explored and handled in the same way. But even so, there has to be some level of continuity, some consistent character traits that hold throughout. Emma doesn’t really have those. Not really.

I have very complicated feelings about Emma. When she’s written well, I do like her. In the hands of a competent writer, she’s interesting and entertaining and complicated. Her ambition and brilliance made her manipulative, but she still cared deeply for her students, and losing them turned her into someone that spent years trying to make up for what she’d done. But her years of character development have been thrown away repeatedly by different writers. Look away for a second and she swings from flawed woman that cares about mutants and is trying to do better to spoiled brat villain whose intelligence and qualifications are ignored in favour of painting her as the “sexy, evil teammate”. To an extent, that character derailment happens with every character, but it’s frustratingly and glaringly obvious with Emma.

The “ice queen” thing, or the fire ice contrast with Jean, the “Frost” vs “Summers” contrast with Scott – none of that existed until Morrison. Frost was just her name with nothing to do with her personality until he decided it did. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s helps demonstrate the way writers change aspects of her at a whim. She’s existed since 1980. She’s been the atoner for most of that time now. She’s hasn’t been a real villain since Generation X in, what, 1994? After that, she became pretty much a textbook example of Good Is Not Nice. She has always cared about her students and been fiercely protective of them. Grant Morrison…made her a sex therapist whose “telepathic affair” with Scott felt uncomfortably rapey and whose treatment of him was handwaved because she was in love with him. How he handled Emma is in large part why I have such mixed feelings about his writing. All Star Superman is absolutely incredible, and I adore Batman and Robin, but dear God, his X-Men work is…something. It involved the character assassination of every vertex of the Scott Emma Jean love triangle, and that doesn’t even touch what he did to Magneto. She was derailed even further in the whole  Inhumans vs X-Men arc.

Emma is treated as an object more often than not. She’s used as eye candy. Her intelligence is discounted. She’s both put in revealing costumes for the fanservice and mocked for them. She’s written so inconsistently, it’s impossible to tell whether it’s mostly good or not. Emma needs more women writing her. Maybe it won’t help with all the issues with her writing, but it would at least help in making everything about her feel less exploitative. I don’t know if I’d be as interested in Emma or care so much about well written versions of the character if she didn’t get mistreated so often, but I would love to find out. She deserves enough good writing that people can actually tell if they care about reading her stories.

Rachel

rachel summers

Rachel’s not a new character. She’s only a year younger than Kitty – a year is nothing in comics – but unlike Kitty, she’s never showed up in an adaptation (unless you count a brief cameo with no lines. I don’t). People responsible for adaptations clearly love Rachel’s stories. And yet she keeps getting adapted out.

She wasn’t in the Days of Future Past movie. I seem to recall someone saying they introducing her would have taken too much time away from the story. My response to that is why? Yes, I’ll admit, I’d probably have grumbles about it had she gotten no attention and just maybe a brief, hey, this is Rachel, she can send you back, but far less than I’m complaining now. And even if they did properly introduce her, it wouldn’t have taken that long. Days of Future Past isn’t her story. It didn’t have to be a huge thing.

While one could argue that they couldn’t use her because Jean and Scott both died in The Last Stand with no kids, I would respond by pointing out that they didn’t have to name her, leaving her as just a cool cameo for the fans. There were plenty of characters that had cameos that didn’t get named in the movie. And Rachel’s last name wasn’t revealed in her first comic appearance anyway. They could have behaved as if she was a new character that was just an expy of Rachel. They could have done any number of things, because it’s not like they care about the timeline anyway. First Class was supposed to be the start of a soft reboot, but that, combined with Days of Future Past, resulted in such a messy and nonsensical continuity, that the general rule has become don’t think about it. They were wiling to go with any number of contrived coincidences to get Patrick Stewart’s Xavier back for the movie. They gave Logan back his adamantium claws after he lost them in The Wolverine with no explanation. But Rachel was the deal breaker? I guess they had to draw the line somewhere.

The villain of her backstory was the central villain of the first season of The Gifted. Ahab and the Hound program weren’t just mentioned in passing, they were deeply involved in the story, to the point when I figured more than once we were about to meet Rachel. I remember at least two for sure – 1) when everyone’s powers stopped working, and I doubted they were going to use Leech, and 2) just before the first episode with Esme aired and all we knew about Skyler Samuels’s character was that she was a telepathic refugee. But we never did. While I know it probably wasn’t intentionally misleading, it felt that way.

Matt Nix said something about not wanting to step into movie territory when explaining why they never use Magneto’s name, and I was talking to someone a while back that speculated that was why Rachel didn’t show up – they’re saving her for the movies. We had a whole debate over who counts as an important character”and how that pertains to who gets what rights – operating on the basic idea, of course, that the biggest names might go to the movies, while the lesser known ones go to the shows. But the thing is, the X-Men aren’t like the Justice League. They can’t be separated into different cities and only meet up for big crossover events. They’re a team, all connected by the fact they’re mutants, or through the mess that is the Summers family tree. They work because of their relationships with each other. And continuing this idea that the major characters should go to movies is a further propagation of the idea that television is lesser than film. Separating the universe into “major” and “minor” characters doesn’t work, and even trying to do that will inevitably leave characters like Rachel in Limbo – she’s a “major” character, so the shows won’t use her, but the people behind the movies have spent the past two decades demonstrating that they don’t care about anyone in her family by not properly using any of them.


Comics can be frustrating, because they’re full of writers that write a character they personally hate badly to try to make other people feel the same way, resulting in a vicious cycle of a character being hated for the worst writing they’ve had. Readers deserve better than to have characters they’re interested in derailed and mistreated with no regard for their development over the years. It’s disrespectful to them, the characters themselves, and writers alike.

When it comes to the X-Men, appealing to the white male demographic means that the women get some of the worst of it. Polaris, Storm, Shadowcat, Emma, and Prestige all deserve way more than what they get. They deserve to be treated as more than just disposable objects whose long character histories don’t matter. They deserve to be written by writers that actually care about them. I doubt that’ll start happening any time soon. But when it does, I’ll stop catching up on comics five years after the fact.

The 8 Things I Want To See Most In Season Two Of ‘The Gifted’

The Gifted is everything to me. It may not have the production value of shows like Gotham, Legion, or Krypton, or the lighthearted fun of Legends of Tomorrow, but it’s a rare example of a comic adaptation that, as unlikely as it is, manages to be well executed and faithful enough to the spirit of the source material to please the fans. Here is a non-exhaustive list of things I’m hoping to see in season two.

8. Rachel Summers

Rachel_Summers_(Earth-811)_from_Civil_War_II_X-Men_Vol_1_3_001.png

Before the first episode with Esme came out, all we knew about Skyler Samuels’s character was that she was a telepath, and that, combined with the fact that the Hound program had already been introduced, made me think something along the lines of, oh my God, Rachel-Rachel-Rachel, yeeesssss, remember how to breathe. Guys…It wasn’t Rachel.

I was talking to someone a while ago about both The Gifted and the X-Men movies, and we bemoaned the lack of Rachel and the disrespect for the Summers family. She didn’t appear in Days of Future Past, despite the fact that was her first appearance in the comics and she had a central role. Here, they actually went with a Roderick Campbell and the Hound program plot without bringing up Rachel, the most famous Hound. If Rachel doesn’t show up later, it’ll be a travesty of justice.

7. Utopia

Yes, I recognize that I’m demonstrating a trend in what I want here. Shut up.

Supposedly, the Struckers spent the season trying to get to Mexico, where the anti-mutant laws are looser. You know where else those laws would be looser? The country Cyclops founded to give all mutants a safe place to go when he got sick of waiting and asking nicely for baseline humans to stop persecuting them. Polaris bringing down the plane could be a catalyst for broader mutant persecution, prompting the need for a country for mutants.

Matt Nix said in an interview that season two will focus more on mutants out in the world and the idea of the mutant underground as a network, rather than a place. This makes it unlikely that the lead characters would actually go to Utopia, but doesn’t rule out the possibility of a running plot of the characters hearing rumours about the X-Men still being alive and getting ready to actually stand their ground. I know this one is unlikely, especially because Cyclops will probably be considered “movie territory”, but I think they ruled out any possibility of cleanly dividing who got what once they made Polaris – Magneto’s daughter, who’s also the woman that nearly became Scott’s sister in law, – a main character.

6. Dreamer Back

dreamer and thunderbird the gifted

I loved Sonya and thought she had a lot more potential, but her death was very poorly handled. We were told about her backstory, rather than had it shown through flashbacks the way we learned about every other character. It was pointless, because Andy and Lauren did what she told them not to thirty seconds later anyway. We saw her funeral, but not how her death actually affected any of her friends. No one mentioned her when trying to get through to Lorna, and nor did Lorna bring her up as part of her justification for killing Campbell.

Even before her death, she was treated more as a tool than a character, pushed into situations that didn’t actually make sense but were for the sake of moving the story along to where the writers wanted. There was no reason for her to not take away her memory from Clarice once Clarice regained control of her powers or tell Clarice what she’d done, but she didn’t do either of those things because the writers wanted to cause conflict between the two of them, introduce the love triangle between them and John, and provide justification for Clarice to take off later. She was an awesome character, Elena Satine is a great actress, and she deserved way better than to be pointlessly killed off. Bring her back.

5. Fewer dropped plotlines

Remember how when Caitlin went to her brother for help, the episode ended with Agent Turner ordering the shut down of every mutant sympathizer and safe house? I’d understand if you don’t, because it was never followed up on. I kept anticipating that coming up again, but it never did.

4. Deeper exploration of mutants as a metaphor for persecuted minorities

To be fair, The Gifted started off really well in that regard. In the beginning, it was as if every episode explored a different aspect of how that was true. The later episodes veered away from that in favour of more action scenes, which I find sad – there’s plenty of that in other X-Men related media. The Gifted was unique because of its focus on the “lesser” mutants, on characters without the resources that go along with being one of the X-Men.

People tuned into the show for different reasons. Maybe some did it because of how it was promoted as being family story, others because it was X-Men related, and so on. I did it for a variety of reasons. One of them was Polaris, who in the comics, has been the victim of frequent terrible writing. But the primary reason I watched that first episode was because it was in its own universe and promised to dive into how mutants are an analogy for marginalized people in a way that the movies didn’t, focusing on the characters as people more than just a way to show off cool powers and fight scenes. I was delighted by the first few episodes. Later? Not so much. I’m hoping season two remembers what mutants are supposed to represent.

3. The Morlocks

The literal mutant underground. This one is unlikely, I know, what with the whole the next season is going to focus on mutants interacting with the broader world thing. To be clear, I am very excited about that. One thing about the movies, not so much a flaw as a different focus, is how insular they are. They focus on the same few characters over and over again in the context of the school. We don’t see much of regular, non-politician humans or mutants that, for whatever reason, don’t join the X-Men or the Brotherhood. It’ll be awesome to get to see that. But the Morlocks could add a new level to the range of perspectives on how mutants should act that we’re seeing.

The mutant underground is, in a way, the reincarnation of the Xavier Institute. There are differences, of course – fewer resources, generally less impressive powers, the fact that they’re not actually a school – but they’re the spiritual successor in that they were founded by the X-Men to have the same values. The Hellfire Club has been and will continue to be more militant and goal oriented. The Morlocks have traditionally been the visible mutants that can’t fit in with human society and mostly just want to be left alone.

Sonya’s comics counterpart, Beautiful Dreamer, was a Morlock before she was killed by Purifiers. She was such a minor character, I don’t think anyone expected her to appear here. The Gifted‘s version of Sonya isn’t a visible mutant, but the fact that she appeared suggests to me that the writers have at least considered bringing in the Morlocks. I’d get why they might decide against it – adding a faction of visible mutants could mean overstuffing the cast and being forced to spend a significant chunk of the budget on makeup – but I think alluding to their existence would help flesh out the world in which the show takes place.

2. LGBT characters

Mutants aren’t a metaphor for any specific type of marginalized person – they have aspects of many. This includes people of colour, the disabled, and LGBT people. Several of the characters in the mutant underground aren’t white. Lorna is, but also mentally ill and living without access to health care and medicine (it was also implied that she’s bi through the whole “Tinder is full of girls that are into mutants thing”, but that probably wasn’t intended like that). The Gifted has done a much better job in regards to diversity than the films, which are almost absurdly white, but it’d be nice to have that extend to LGBT characters.

1. For God’s sake, let the Struckers actually learn the lesson

the gifted poster

  1. The Struckers complain about how the leaders of the mutant underground are handling things.
  2. They learn that they’re being naive to the point of stupidity and that they don’t have any idea what it’s like to be a mutant.
  3. They resolve to start pulling their weight more.
  4. Rinse, repeat.

The Struckers may be the focus of the show, but it really doesn’t work. I’d love them getting reduced screentime, but I’m smart enough to know that probably won’t happen. So I’d at least like them to not have the same yo-yo plot for another season. The show has been pushing the idea of the Struckers as leaders in the mutant underground which I find a fundamentally gross concept. Even setting aside the fact that they’re not mutants, ninety percent of the issues the mutant underground faced throughout the season were their fault, but their response to Fade and Sage pointing out how much harm they’d caused was to completely deny all responsibility, like it was absurd and petty to even suggest it.

Here’s the issue with the Struckers: they’re fundamentally selfish. You could make a case that it’s just them coming to terms with not having the privilege they’re used to anymore and struggling to get used to what the mutants have always known, but that doesn’t excuse their frequent oh, it’s okay for you to risk your lives for us, but it’s asking too much to ask us to help out. Caitlin complained about Lorna teaching her kids how to survive.  They see the world as all about them. Reed had no qualms about prosecuting mutants until it turned out his kids also had active X-genes. We were supposed to consider him not calling the police on a girl that couldn’t control her powers while being taunted and instead just telling her and her father to leave an example of him being a ~good guy. Caitlin didn’t have any issue with her husband’s job finding out about their kids’ powers and considered Lauren and Andy’s argument over the use of the word “mutie” as them having an argument over social studies class. Marcos called them out on that in the second episode, and they still didn’t seem to get it by the end.

Lauren is seventeen. She’s not some child that needs her mother to make all her decisions about her life for her. I think someone mentioned that the first season took place over about three weeks, and if that’s the case, then Lauren definitely needs her parents to stop speaking for her, because she mentioned that before Andy’s powers manifested and they went on the run, she’d planned to move somewhere far away once she turned eighteen. She spent years hiding her powers, genuinely afraid of how her parents would react, but is somehow content with letting them tell her how to use them. It’s not logical. Season one had the kids mostly used as a way to keep the parents involved with the plot. The finale changed the status quo a bit by tearing down the HQ and having Andy decide to leave, so I’m hoping that season two will involve the characters actually progressing.

As much as I adore the show, I think the Struckers are the weakest link. They have potential to improve, but they’re really going to have to be less static as characters for me to care about them as much as I do the others.


Anyone else have anything they hope to see? Let me know!