A few months back, Marvel announced two young adult novels focusing on two of their female characters, Rogue and She-Hulk. I thought that this was a fantastic idea, and a great way to get teen girls into the characters and perhaps serve as a gateway into comics. The teen book market, especially books aimed at female readers, is huge right now, and Marvel is smart to branch out this way.
I recently read the first book in the line, Rogue Touch by Christine Woodward. It came out in June, so I’m a little bit late to the party here, but on the plus side it should be available everywhere now if you’d like to check it out. It wasn’t what I expected, not necessarily in a bad way but not in a way that I particularly enjoyed.
As a comic book fan, I like comic book characters. I expected that a book about Rogue would include some other mutants, and perhaps culminate in her arrival at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. However, as best I could tell, there were no other Marvel characters in the entire book. Not even mentioned in passing; there is no indication that this is world in which there are superheroes, mutants, or anything else out of the ordinary. This struck me as an unusual choice for a book that could serve as a gateway to the wider Marvel universe, and abandoning the rest of the X-Men wasn’t what I was looking for as a reader. Of course, I’m hardly the target audience.
Rogue is Anna Marie, a Southern teenager who put her boyfriend in a coma with just a kiss and who is now on the run. She’s got a power that incapcitates anyone she touches, and she takes their memories and abilities. A brunette with a white streak of hair, Rogue wears long sleeves and gloves and avoids touching anyone else as best she can. She seems a lot like Anna Paquin’s Rogue from the X-Men movies, which is a smart touchstone that many readers might be familiar with. When she meets a tall, mysterious man with long hair and a big coat, my mind immediately went to Gambit, but no. I won’t spoil who the mysterious stranger is, but he’s no one we’ve ever seen in a comic before. The first twenty pages of the book felt like Rogue to me, and then the whole thing turns into a science fiction romance.
To be quite honest, it felt like the publisher already had this generic teen science fiction romance novel just sitting there, and so they cut out their female protagonist, stuck in Rogue, tweaked it a bit, and called it a day. I’m sure that’s not what happened, but that’s what it read like. The lead character didn’t need to be Rogue. You could change her name and her power and it would be pretty much the exact same book. That she’s a mutant, Southern, and grows up to be part of the X-Men in the Marvel universe is entirely unessential to the plot. All that was needed was a girl on the run with a weird power.
That being said, it wasn’t a bad book. It was very much in the vein of teen novels that have become remarkably widespread since Twilight, whereby a “normal” girl meets a dark and mysterious man and they fall in love and adventure ensues. I’ve read a few books like that, and the formula feels stale to me, but Rogue Touch is okay comparatively. Rogue is a strong protagonist who can fight for herself and plays an active part in her story, which is a nice change of pace from what we often see post-Twilight. The romance is the backbone of the book in some ways, but there’s lots of adventure and excitement. The pair are perpetually on the run from various forces, and their cross-country travelling makes for a lot of interesting settings, providing a varied backdrop for their regular battles. The story moves forward well enough. It just didn’t really feel like Rogue to me.
Ultimately, it was an average “teen romance with a twist” that we’re used to seeing stacks of at the bookstore, which is fine. It’s just that using Rogue offers so many different options for the kind of stories you can tell and cool characters you can use, and they eschewed all of that and went in a very generic direction that had nothing to do with the character’s history. It felt like a missed opportunity to me. You obviously don’t want to mire a book like this in continuity and past incarnations of the character, but you don’t want to eliminate all of that either.
I’ve got The She-Hulk Diaries by Marta Acosta on the way to me now, so look for a review of that down the road a bit. I still think these novels are a fantastic idea for Marvel, but they way want to rethink the execution slightly. Maybe The She-Hulk Diaries will give me what I’m looking for.