Where the Wonder Women Are: #9 Jubilee

So… whatever happened to Jubilation Lee?

Like Rogue, Jubilee is one of my favourite characters from the old X-Men cartoon. She is the point of view character for the audience in the first episode, who overhears her adoptive parents giving her up to the authorities for being a mutant, and goes on the run – only to be found and taken in by the X-Men. I recently came across Jubilee’s debut appearance in the X-Men comics, and was delighted to see how many elements of that issue were used in the cartoon itself, including her flight through a mall, pursued by the robotic giant Sentinels.

Hardly surprising that there were points of similarity between the comics and the series, as Jubilee was launched as a character in 1989, only three years before the cartoon was created, and was thus still fresh and unsquashed by a decade or more of continuity like her peers. The main difference in her origin story was that in the comics, her parents had been killed before she went on the run.

A cheeky, irreverent Chinese-American gymnast, Jubilee’s superpower was to create sparkly fireworks (or explosive plasma) from her hands, which allowed her to blow stuff up. With style. Her style also included a violently bright yellow and pink ensemble of clothes, which looked pretty awesome in the early 90’s, possibly.

She joined the X-Men (in the comics) at a time when they were living in a secret base in outback Australia (yes, really) and has a particular attachment to Wolverine who has taken something of a parenting role with her. You know, for a rebellious loner it’s amazing how many characters Wolverine has mentored over the years!

Unlike Rogue, I never located much Jubilee material after the animated series. She didn’t seem nearly as prominent a character in the comics, and didn’t appear at all in many of the later cartoons or the movies (okay she is technically in the movies but barely even a cameo or two). I always wondered what happened to her.

Then I happened across a recent graphic novel, Wolverine and Jubilee, written by Kathryn Immonen and thought, oh cool, I get to find out!

I promptly discovered that Jubilee had lost all of her mutant powers, and was now a vampire. WTF? How did this happen?

Despite me not managing to find her before now, Jubilee has been around and about the Marvel Universe quite actively for the last twenty years. She teamed up with Generation X, regularly fought crime at Wolverine’s side, and avenged her murdered parents. She even nearly hooked up with Robin when the DC and Marvel universes collided in a massive crossover event in 1996.

The fact that Robin is seen as Jubilee’s equivalent is very telling. She’s a junior member of the team – endlessly the young teenage tagalong. But she’s been a part of the Marvel Universe for more than twenty years, and there have been several new waves of teenage characters along since she and her hot pink sunglasses first crashed into town. Nevertheless, she has still been treated by the narrative as if she was a young adult, even a kid, with storylines like the one of the cybernetic aunt who wanted to adopt her.

At least, until the controversial House of M storyline, and “M-Day” in which millions of mutants were stripped of their powers by the Scarlet Witch, leaving only a few hundred people with mutant powers left in the world. Jubilee was on the wrong side of the line, losing her fireworks.

The cool aspect of this storyline is that Jubilee didn’t lie down and choose a “normal” life without her powers. First, she was seen running a halfway house for depowered mutants, helping others get back on their feet. Later, she got hold of a pair of technological super-strength wonder gauntlets and powered herself the hell up, joining the New Warriors under the name “Wondra.” I kind of love this part, and wish I’d read some of her appearances as Wondra – I particularly like the fact that all the wikis I read discussing this period refers specifically to the fact that Jubilee is now strong enough to lift a freight train.

And then she becomes a vampire. Yes, just like that. Sure, a vampire created by a bio-engineered virus, but still a vampire. She didn’t even get the fun part of being bitten by Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome! Rest assured, though, Jubilee is now as broody, angsty and cranky as one might expect a teenage girl vampire to be – and at least now there’s a reason for her to stay the same age forever?

Bah.

I know these posts are intended to be (mostly) positive, but I’m not happy about this one. Jubilee was a fun, light-hearted character, and her mutant power was symbolic of her name and her personality. Stripping her of that power severely harmed her identity, and how can a superhero become iconic if no one quite knows who or what they are?

She might be still wearing a yellow coat and pink sunglasses, but she doesn’t feel like Jubilee any more. Even her role as Wolverine’s student has been eclipsed by, well, just about everyone else in the Marvel Universe, but particularly characters like Armor and X-23. The only obvious improvement I can see in the way she is being portrayed is that her Asian heritage tends to be more evident in the artwork depicting her, as compared to the early days which was often so subtle that you could easily assume she is supposed to be white.

The treatment of her character arc, however, or lack thereof, is such a shame, because Jubilee’s superhero name didn’t include a -girl or a -kid. It was a contraction of her real name that happened to make an awesome, powerful and symbolic noun. Jubilee didn’t need to develop into an Oracle or a Nightwing to shed her teenage image – she could have been Jubilee forever if only the Marvel writers had figured out how to let her grow up, and grow into herself, without losing too many pieces of who she was when she started out.

But you know, it’s comics. Where there’s life (and sometimes not even then), there’s hope. Someday, Jubilation Lee might start blowing things up again. And who says a vampire can’t have mutant powers and wear a bright yellow coat at the same time?

The sunglasses still work.

Or I could just go and watch more episodes of the 90’s animated X-Men series. Yes. There’s always that.

Where the Wonder Women Are:
0: Introduction
1: Black Canary
2: Rogue
3: Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman
4: Black Widow
5: Wonder Girl
6: Captain Marvel
7: Vixen
8: Abigail Brand.

One reply

  1. Ben Payne says:

    I love Jubilee. Haven’t read a lot of her though… she had a brief run in the recent X-Men series, but seems to have been written out again. She was great in Generation X.

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