Women of Marvel: Volume 2
by Roy Thomas, Chris Claremont, Mark Gruenwald, and Terry Austin
Why am I not just reading Bronze Age comics all the time?
If you are not familiar with the ages of comics, the Golden Age covers roughly the late thirties to the early fifties, The Silver Age the mid-fifties to the early seventies, the Bronze Age the seventies to the mid-eighties, and the Modern Age the mid-eighties to now. Mark Voger makes the argument that the late eighties and nineties, known for its deconstructions, “extreme!” tone, and allowing Rob Liefeld to make a living, are the Dark Ages, which I can buy. This also allows me to predict that, when DC gets its head surgically removed from its derriere in the future, that the time we live in will be referred to as the Grimdark Age. (Although a new word will be have to be invented to describe Marvel’s current state, which should indicate ascension, a steamroller, mass media saturation, and rolling in money.)
My previous adventures in comics have been keeping me well on this side of the millennium—Harley Quinn, The Unwritten, Wonder Woman, and Journey into Mystery, to hit the highlights of my collection, currently on hiatus. There’s no particular reason for this, beyond accessibility and information. For some reason, the public library systems that I rely on don’t like to spend their funds on things like Dazzler: The Movie, and I’ve always followed characters through comics. If the modern incarnation does not interest me… well, good luck for its past incarnations.
But as the Marvel Cinematic Universe begins expanding to its lesser known heroes and as I voraciously consume every episode of Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men (why are you not listening to this right now I thought we were friends), I’ve become more and more open to exploring the back issues. And Women of Marvel, volumes one and two, have definitely helped me realize that what I need in my life right now is that strange alchemy of traditional superheroics (that actually embrace anything potentially silly about them), social commentary, and that sweet, sweet Neal Adams-esque house style.
So, you know, I need Marvel. I may be taking DC’s descent into Grimdark Canyon a little harder than I thought.
In any case, I have been loving what I’ve read so far out of the Women of Marvel trades. But while the first installment highlighted a lot of the wonderful qualities of Marvel’s ladies circa the seventies and eighties (Rogue blows up a satellite with a Susan B. Anthony quarter. FEMINISM!), the second volume highlights some of the ways that Marvel’s ladies were poorly served by their creators during the Bronze Age.
Specifically, I finally got to read The Avengers #83, an issue infamous for its amazing cover, wherein an all-lady team wipes the floor with the male Avengers and Valkyrie declares, “All right, girls—that finishes off these male chauvinist pigs! From now on, it’s the Valkyrie and her Lady Liberators!” It became so iconic that it was re-used for a Hulk cover focusing on She-Hulk leading an all-lady team. (Less iconic, but no less deserving: Valkyrie declaring “Up against the wall, male chauvinist pigs!”)
It’s a great image, but the actual issue largely uses feminism as a joke. Valkyrie, the one who gathers all the ladies together and points out the microaggressions of the world they live in, turns out to be the Enchantress, who wants a time machine because she’s super-angry that the Executioner ditched her for another blonde. (This is decidedly not the Amora that turns a dude into a tree because he’s dumb enough to ask to bask in her glory 24/7. The Enchantress does not have time for that.) Her arguments are framed as hysterical, villainous, and false, even though the issue ends with Hank Pym calling “women’s lib” phony and the Scarlet Witch and the Wasp wondering if they shouldn’t reform the Lady Liberators in the future. The penultimate collected issue—which should be a fun romp between Black Cat and Dagger while their men are out of the picture—is similarly disappointing. Felicia takes Tandy out on the town in order to teach her how to seduce and use men, and it just falls flat.
Still, there remain plenty of virtues. Spider-Woman #10 finds Jessica Drew so fascinated by the appearance of the mysterious Gypsy Moth, who may be like her, that she hits her boyfriend with a venom bolt to get closer to the distant Moth. The Claremont collected here is typically lovely, focusing on the dynamics between the X-Men as Kitty tries to earn a spot on the team proper and Storm challenges Scott for leadership of the X-Men. The kinkily dressed Hellfire Club makes an appearance, but so does the relationship between Rachel Summers and Magma, complicated by Amara’s determination to avenge her mother’s death. The Vision and the Scarlet Witch #12 is quite sweet, but much less from a feminist perspective and much more because watching Magneto attempt to negotiate his near-broken relationship with his daughter is kind of heartwrenching.
I rented this book from the public library.