Marvel's new transgender hero is a plucky troublemaker who fights for the underdog
Escapade is a feat for trans representation — but her creator says she's ‘a cool hero, first and foremost’
The newest crime-fighting mutant in the Marvel comics universe is a plucky, anti-authoritarian do-gooder who fights for the little guy against unbeatable odds. She also happens to be transgender.
Her name is Shela Sexton, a.k.a., Escapade, and while her debut in the Marvel universe is a huge step for transgender representation in the industry, writer Charlie Jane Anders says she's "a cool hero, first and foremost."
"I do hope that trans and non-binary and gender non-conforming people feel seen by this comic and feel as if they are seeing people who are like themselves getting to be heroes and getting to save the world and have love and support and friendship," Anders told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.
"But I also really wanted to create a character who could be like the superheroes that I grew up being obsessed with — who is just like a super resourceful, amazing, passionate fighter for justice, who really wants to help people in need and who really wants to do the right thing and who is winning out against impossible odds."
Escapade — created by Anders in collaboration with artists Ro Stein and Ted Brandt — will make her comics debut in Marvel Voices: Pride #1, which hits shelves in June.
'A little bit of a troublemaker'
Escapade is no ordinary hero. In fact, Anders says she's something of a con artist and a thief — but in a Robin Hood kind of way.
"She kind of likes to steal from powerful people and uses her wealth and resources to help people — I mean, what resources she has," she said.
Her most powerful resource is her unique mutant ability to temporarily trade places with anyone in close proximity.
"That could be anything from a very literal thing of, if you are holding her at gunpoint, she can swap it so that she's holding you at gunpoint," Anders said.
"But also, you know, it can be more abstract. If you are the mayor of New York, and she can get within like six or seven feet of you, she can swap it so that she's the mayor of New York for a few hours."
It's a power that allows her to turn the tables on her opponents, Anders says, but it also has an annoying tendency to backfire.
"One of the limitations is that sometimes you're not sure how long it's going to last," Anders said. "Also, the more complicated or ambitious the swap, the more likely it is to go wrong. So she might try to swap and become the mayor of New York, and just end up having the mayor of New York's tie."
A crafty sidekick and a winged turtle
But whatever hijinks Escapade gets herself into, she doesn't have to do it alone. Like any good superhero, she has a trusty sidekick.
Enter Morgan Red, a fashionable genius with a flying pet turtle and a penchant for gadgetry.
"They've been friends a very long time and they are both transgender mutants. And they kind of came out around the same time and they kind of helped each other through that when they were kids," Anders said. "They basically just do everything together."
Morgan is the Q to Escapade's James Bond. He outfits her with all the high-tech gizmos she needs for her adventures.
"They're kind of a really unstoppable team," Anders said.
No metaphors, just representation
Creating the transgender duo for Marvel comics was tricky, says Anders. She didn't want to fall into the classic science-fiction/fantasy trope of tackling themes of oppression and discrimination through metaphor, while eschewing real representation.
"There is a danger when you have something like mutants that they come to stand for actual groups of people here on Earth," she said.
The X-Men, for example, often use mutants as a stand-in for real-world minorities, she said. Star Trek has historically done the same with alien races.
Anders didn't want that for Escapade.
"It was really important to me to kind of show that being trans isn't a metaphor for being a mutant, and being a mutant isn't a metaphor for being trans. Those are just two identities that she has," she said.
"I think it's important for trans people to be able to see themselves in these superheroes right now. But I also think that, you know, we should all be able to embrace her."
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Charlie Jane Anders produced by Aloysius Wong.