AVENGERS NOW: A BLACK CAPTAIN AMERICA, A FEMALE THOR, A SUPERIOR IRON MAN, AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR MARVEL AND DIVERSITY
By Andrew Wheeler
On Tuesday morning Whoopi Goldberg and the hosts of The View announced that Marvel will relaunch Thor this October with a female ‘worthy’ brandishing the hammer. Marvel followed that announcement with another high profile switcheroo on Wednesday night as Entertainment Weekly revealed a new-ish and possibly superior Iron Man, and comedian Stephen Colbert joined Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada to announce on The Colbert Report that a new guy is also going to take up Captain America’s shield.
That in itself isn’t much of a surprise — original Cap Steve Rogers has passed on his mantle a few times before before yanking it back. After spending some time in Dimension Z and whatnot, he’s now too old to Avenge from the front lines. The big reveal is that the new Captain America will be Sam Wilson, the African-American superhero currently known as Falcon.
It’s not hard to guess at Marvel’s intentions here. By announcing a female Thor and a black Captain America as a swift one-two punch, the publisher accomplishes two things. First, it shakes up its universe in a way that’s sure to garner attention — as indeed it has. Second, it makes a mission statement.
To the first point; the whole world knows Marvel’s Avengers characters now. That could be a millstone around the publisher’s neck if Marvel put the need to reflect the movies ahead of a need to tell its own stories. Marvel has certainly tried to configure Avengers comics around the on-screen characters, but to no particular success with respect to sales (certainly nothing to indicate that the Avengers are the most popular movie characters in America).
Replacing at least two of its Avengers big three — Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man — suggests Marvel’s commitment to telling its own stories, albeit in a grandstanding, headline-grabbing way. A woman taking the name and role of a male Norse god? A black man representing all of America? These are moves that upset the right people, and that guarantees attention.
Which leads in to the second point. These changes suggest an agenda. I’d call it progressive agenda, but it’s not. Putting women and people of color in key positions isn’t progressive, it’s just evidence that superhero comics are slowly catching up to the present day. It just happens that there’s a strong regressive agenda in our culture that’s resistant to that kind of change.
Marvel’s only motive here may be to stir up controversy and hope it translates to sales, but I think there’s enough evidence in the publisher’s support for books like Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, and Mighty Avengers, that the publisher is sincere in its efforts to reach out to audiences that traditionally haven’t been well-served by superhero comics. There’s always more work to be done, but Marvel’s output feels more inclusive with every passing quarter.
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This article brings up some great points. It makes me outright happy that a company I love and value is taking these motions, listening to their fans, and balancing the representation. I just hope they stick with it.