Sunday, July 02, 2006

Noir Women

The August issue of Wizard magazine has a nice little sidebar (p. 131) on X-Factor, a recently relaunched title that I'm actually enjoying quite a bit. The piece, titled "The Noir 'Factor'," has been prompted by Marvel's impending release of a hardcover premier edition containing issues 1-6.

The sidebar lists 5 noir factors that make X-Factor worth reading, the first being Femmes Fatales.

Unfortunately, they totally misuse the term.

Here's what they say:
The series packs four of the baddest broads into one title: Wolfsbane's the moral center and bloodthirsty enforcer; Siryn and Monet combine for a one-two punch of sex appeal and attitude; and Layla with her chaos theory powers provides the unknown element of surprise.

Now, there is indeed an enduring archetype derived from film noir that we call the femme fatale. However, the central thing that separates these women from the heroines of X-Factor is that association with noir femmes fatales was often, well, fatal.

And while I grant you that Siryn, Monet, and Wolfsbane are indeed depicted as sexy women, (with each exuding their sex-itude in a different way), here's the key distinction:

While femmes fatales are, by definition, sexy, not every sexy woman in a noir film or publication is a femme fatale. Sexiness is not the key characteristic of the femme fatal; ruthlessness and single-minded murderousness are.

My point, just for clarity: in noir, beautiful women need not be fatal, guys.

In the great noir films of the forties, the femmes fatales were conniving women who sported killer hair nets, proudly balanced jewel-studded turbans atop their heads, and walked over men in their seriously un-sensible shoes. They used their edgy sexual appeal to ensnare unsuspecting (previously "good") men, and enlisted them as cogs, patsies, and enforcers in their convoluted murderous schemes. Most importantly, these "spider women" fully intended to dispose of the fellows who had wandered into their webs once they outlived their usefullness.

To make things crystal clear to viewers, creators of noir films often juxtaposed a wholesome "good girl" to the femme fatale. And just to make things easy, the femme fatale was often dark haired, with "the good girl" being a blonde.

Notable femmes fatales:
— Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, 1944.
— Ann Savage in Detour, 1945.
— Jane Greer in Out of the Past, 1947.

Now, there's a nice moment in X-Factor #8 in which Siryn uses her you-will-love-me voice in order to gather some crucial information from an unsuspecting (Spider)man.

Is Siryn duplicitous, here? Yes.

Is this power likely to produce disastrous after-effects? It already has.

Does Siryn wield this power in the furtherance of a murderous scheme for personal gain, with the intention of ultimately causing the death of the person she's speaking to? Of course not.

Siryn is a superhero, she's not a femme fatale.

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