Welcome to GAME CHANGERS, an interview series at Comicosity looking at female protagonists in comic books from the last decade or two (or more!) — and the original creators who brought them to life.
DC’s New 52 has been controversial, but one of the clear advantages to the initiative has been the drive to create more original female characters, particularly women of color. Today, we look at the newest member of the Justice League — Equinox — and talk to writer/artist Jeff Lemire about the process of her origin, how he introduced this First Nations character to young people of Northern Canada, and what kind of inspiration she’s meant to be for the future of the DC Universe.
And if you missed our interview with artist Mike McKone about Equinox’s development, check that out as well!
Who is Equinox?
Alter Ego: Miiyahbin Marten
First Appearance: Justice League United #0 (2014)
Created by Jeff Lemire and Mike McKone
Published by DC Comics
Miiyahbin is a high school student in the Northern Canadian Cree community of Moose Factory, who — along with her best friend Heather — got swept up in the first adventure of the team ultimately known as the Justice League United. First confronting the mythical Whitago beast, and then being kidnapped by the alien monster facing the JLU, Miiyahbin transforms into a super-hero herself with the utterance of a word her grandmother gave her: Keewatin.
What Equinox did not know until after the danger resolved is that she is the latest in a long line of warriors in her clan who possess the ability to channel the seasons of her homeland, no matter where in the world (or offworld) she may be. When it is winter in Moose Factory, she possesses the power of cold and snow. Presumably, her powers will soon reflect the spring and evolve in turn. These powers are granted by the legendary Seven Grandfathers, who bless their progeny with the seven pillars of Cree life: Love, Humility, Bravery, Truth, Respect, Wisdom, and Honesty. It is with these virtues that Equinox is so empowered.
Partnering with the other new hero on the team — Canadian researcher Alanna Strange — Equinox is able to confront and defeat the Whitago, but does not do so through violence. As could be her own fate, the curse of the Whitago struck her father long ago, and with Equinox’s actions, he has been freed to join her ancestors — and she to join the Justice League.
A few words from her creator
Matt Santori-Griffith: Equinox is not only female, but she’s also from an underrepresented ethnic group, one from whose mythology you derived her powers. Can you share a little bit about making that decision to tie her even more closely to her heritage?
Jeff Lemire: I had gotten the assignment to write Justice League of America a couple of years ago. I was working out what I wanted to do with it, and talked to Dan DiDio about the idea of moving the team here to Canada, just for a little while. As a Canadian creator and author, I take a lot of pride in writing Canadian stories, and I thought it would be fun to represent the DC Universe here.
When he supported that idea, the challenge became what parts of Canada I wanted to highlight. At the time, I had been reading a lot of Aboriginal literature, particularly work by Joseph Boyden. He’s an incredible novelist and an amazing literary voice that I’ve become really inspired by. A lot of his work is set in the region of Northern Ontario that Equinox ended up being from. I was so into his books — the characters and the setting — that I really wanted to visit that part of Canada, since I hadn’t been there. It all became a great way to focus my visit on something.
I visited there a couple of times and spent time going to the high schools and grade schools. It’s a very isolated community; there are no roads in or out for a lot of the year. It’s a very large Aboriginal population and one of the First Nations is up there. It was an eye-opening experience to be immersed in this culture that I had never really experienced first hand. I got really inspired by the kids and their culture, so this project became a way for me to take all of that and give something back.
I feel like Aboriginal culture is not very well represented in pop culture, here in Canada or abroad. Often stories we see about native culture are usually either negative stereotypes or just stories of hardships, and this was a chance to create something a little more positive — a celebration of the culture. I knew that if you were going to create this character, her powers and her origin had to be very much rooted in that culture.
I should also add, Mike McKone’s role in creating Equinox has been really overshadowed. Mike was really wonderful to work with on that and he was very respectful of what I was trying to do and open to all my reference material. There were a lot of things I knew I wanted to be represented in a very specific way, and Mike was very open to that. He was really sensitive about designing the costume in such a way that wasn’t just another cliched Native-looking character, but taking traditional Cree ceremonial dress and updating it into a very modern super-hero costume. Mike was just fantastic.
MSG: So, how was the experience for you to introduce Equinox to an audience of kids up in Moose Factory?
JL: Yeah, that was really great. It’s a very small, isolated community, like I said, and the kids are not used to seeing themselves represented in pop culture, let alone such a big North American thing like a Justice League comic book. It was sort of surreal to them, and they didn’t really understand how widely read the book would be until I explained it.
It was a really positive thing for them to see a little bit of their hometown and their culture represented in something that people are reading. We’re including real locations from the area in the comic, so it was really cool for them to see that.
Aside from the project itself, it was just good for me and for them both. I grew up in a small community myself, although obviously not one as isolated as Moose Factory is. Growing up in a small town, you’re not really exposed to people involved in the arts in any way. It doesn’t really seem like a realistic career choice or life path. Most people where I grew up were farmers or factory workers. I didn’t know anyone who was involved in the arts.
I feel like it’s the same thing for these kids. They don’t really see a lot of people who do art for a living or tell stories for a living. To have someone come into the community and show them first hand that they can explore art and storytelling as a viable life choice seems to have been pretty inspiring for the kids. I’ve kept up with a few of the kids I’ve met, and they keep sharing their artwork with me. That was really great.
MSG: Equinox is also a fairly young woman, continuing a trend of late in introducing more teenage heroines to comics. In Justice League United, you actually have three! How do you think about their relationships in the team?
JL: I don’t even know how that happened — how I ended up with three female teenagers on the same team. I just sort of picked characters I liked and there they were. It’s really cool to have three teenage girls, though, who all have very different personalities and perspectives. Between Stargirl, Supergirl, and Equinox, they couldn’t be more different from one another.
Equinox is very much the grounded character, where all these wild characters and super-heroes in the DC Universe are very new to her. She’s experiencing it for the very first time, so she’s very much a new reader’s viewpoint into the story. Stargirl is very optimistic and a team player, and very positive. And then you have Supergirl, who’s used to doing everything by herself. I wouldn’t say she’s overly negative or pessimistic, but she’s very strong-headed. She usually thinks she can do something herself faster and better, rather than working with the team. So, you have these three personalities mixing and contrasting. It’s a lot of fun to write them together.
MSG: Today, Equinox has this fresh take on the world, but you’ve also had this rare opportunity to imagine her five years into the future as a seasoned hero. How does that story impact your thinking on her narrative going forward?
JL: The idea was always that she’ll start off with a very isolated point of view, not having left her community until now. Slowly, each step of her journey would be this widening of experience, with her perspective on the world widening as well — to the point where she’s in outer space fighting aliens. It doesn’t really get much bigger than that. [laughs]
I always knew she would start off small, and eventually become someone who embraced her role and hopefully becomes a very big part of the DC Universe. It’s nice to see her at her beginnings in JLU and then extrapolate that story where she becomes very self-assure and a big player in Futures End. That was a lot of fun.
The next storyline, where the Legion of Super-Heroes come back from the future, was another opportunity to reinforce that Equinox would become something really big and important. In the Legion you have a character named Dawnstar, who is another Native character. There’s a really great scene coming up where Dawnstar basically tells Equinox that all Aboriginal women look up to her, that she is this great inspiration to generations of Native women. It’s really cool to hint at something bigger for her.
MSG: A lot of Justice League writers have introduced original characters to the team over the years. How do you as a writer ensure that the character you create endures that test of time?
JL: Well, to be blunt, you can’t. A certain amount of that is out of my control. All I can do is try to create the best character I can, who is compelling and interesting. Hopefully, if I do a good job, other writers after me will continue to want to use her and readers will continue to want to see her. Clearly, when you’re working in a shared universe, you don’t have much control about what happens when a book is passed on to a new writer.
MSG: And you’re the only writer who has written Equinox to date. What would you share with another creator who had questions about the character? What is the essence of the character that you want to pass on?
JL: That’s a tough one, because I spent so much time myself in that community, being immersed in it, getting to meet girls like Equinox and getting to know them. I think it would be really hard for me to see another writer just casually use her without understanding that culture. At the same time, I would want them to hopefully do a little research and ask a few questions, and not just fall back on Native stereotypes.
Yeah, it would be really tough. I feel so much ownership over the character, it would be hard to see someone else write her. But as a creator, you want to see her continue on for years to come, so I guess I’ll have to eventually let go a bit.
In the meantime, I’m having a blast writing her.
“It is rare enough that a new Canadian character is introduced, rarer still that a First Nations’ character is shown with more depth than a warmed over Tonto or Shaman.
I can never truly understand what it means for a comic character to represent diversity to me, because I am from the most over-represented population there is in the genre. But the joy I feel over the introduction of a new Canadian character gives me just a glimmer of that feeling, and a sense of why it is so important for the art form.”
– Keith Callbeck, Comicosity
Where can I read more?
- Justice League United #0, 1-5, Annual #1 (2014)
- Justice League United: Futures End #1 (2014)
- Justice League: Futures End #1 (2014)
For a full list of Comicosity’s Game Changers, please visit our index.