Let me begin this descent into subjectivity with the blanket statement: I really like the recent changes to Thor and Captain America. As recently announced by Marvel, the new Thor will be a female, of whom is yet to be identified, and the Falcon will now be Captain America as a result of Steve Rogers losing the Super-Soldier serum and then rapidly aging (Iron Man is also going through a rebranding to Superior Iron Man and moving to San Fran but this change is mostly just a re-dressing).
These changes address a big concern of mine that Marvel is running out of stories to tell with their current cast of characters, add some refreshing diversity, and open things up for their most known characters for exciting new directions. However, Marvel has already instituted controversial changes that they stated were ‘permanent’ only to renege (see Superior Spider-Man). The last thing I want to see is this diversification be undone just so Marvel can promote the next Thor or Avengers movie with the original characters, completely undermining the push towards fresh ideas (see Superior Spider-Man canceled for Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie).
Something that is made painfully obvious in the “Original Sin” event is that Marvel is running out of ideas. In a nutshell, and without taking a drive through Spoilertown, the Watcher has seen everything that has ever happened in the Marvel universe and is killed. Upon trying to figure out whodunnit, most major Marvel characters encounter an obscure bad guy who has the Watcher’s eyes and through an ensuing power surge all of the secrets about these characters come to light (eg. Thor has a sister, someone else was bitten by a radioactive spider, Tony Stark is somewhat responsible for making Bruce Banner the Hulk, etc. etc. etc.). While this story is able to inject some much needed life into Marvel and does it rather organically, it is unable to mask the fact that Marvel is getting to the point in which they have told all of the stories that they could possibly tell with this cast of characters, many of which have been telling continuous strings of stories since the early ’60s.
Because DC had done their hard reboot for the New 52 campaign, they can tell brand new and classic stories with a modern interpretation (eg. Batman’s “Zero Year” and Superman’s “Superman: Doomed”). However, since Marvel has never done a hard reboot (discounting the completely forgettable “Heroes Reborn” failure), they have been telling the same stories with the same characters since their respective inceptions. Some characters have the luxury of not having their origin tied to a particular event in history, or as in Steve Rogers’ case, Marvel can simply say after World War II he was frozen in suspended animation and thawed out X years ago. Easy peasy. Iron Man is more complicated in that his original origin was linked to the Vietnam War, which eventually became not PC to mention and was then changed to take place in the war in Afghanistan. Spider-Man used a similar tactic after he unmasked himself during “Civil War” (dumb) and Aunt May was shot when Mephisto allowed him to go back in time for the “Brand New Day” arc. But this method of the sliding reboot that adjusts an origin or setting without starting over will not be able to fix Magneto, of which the character is able to generate sympathy because of his experiences during WWII.
The added diversity to the top-tier characters will also help not only in telling new stories but in bringing on new readers, the latter of which Marvel is also striving to do with their constant re-launching of titles during their Marvel NOW! and All-New Marvel NOW! campaigns. Even though these announcements seem slightly like pandering with them happening so closely together, it was still a good choice to make the changes. But again with Marvel constantly canceling and re-launching titles, it’s difficult to believe that these changes will be permanent and not just temporary to try and increase sales for the Captain America, Thor, and Avengers books. Most titles that were started since Marvel NOW! have not lasted more than 30 or so issues and many don’t make it past 20. It’s probably not a coincidence that these announcements were made so shortly before San Diego Comic Con as I’m sure Marvel has many more big announcements to make about their upcoming solicits, especially with whatever they have in store for next summer after “Time Runs Out” in the Avengers books.
It’s no secret that it’s tough being a minority in comic books, whether it is DC, Marvel, or other. Even though the American population is almost 75% White, the lineup of superheroes feels like it is almost completely White. I know I can name almost a dozen African-American heroes in the Marvel universe off the top of my head, but diversity is something that is sorely needed in comic books because the nation’s demographics aren’t properly represented nor are the demographics of comic readers, and this is a step in the right direction. There still needs to be more mainstream gay characters, because even now there are very few, and DC’s decision to make the original Green Lantern Alan Scott a gay character was a bit of a cop out because it wasn’t a current GL, but it was still something. I had recently read an article with the author saying that they wanted to see Marvel retroactively make Tony Stark a gay character, and cites that his constant womanizing and inability to keep a woman might be because of his identity crisis with himself that he truly is homosexual. Personally I don’t think that would jive with the Tony Stark character and would seem like even more pandering to the need of more LGBT characters, but I do agree that Marvel could benefit from a top-tier hero coming out. The most recent significant event for LGBT in Marvel was Northstar marrying his boyfriend in Astonishing X-Men and while it was a big deal it’s hard to count that as a hugely seismic event with a character from Alpha Flight.
Again, my main thesis is that I really like the changes to Thor and Cap. Even though I’m not a Thor guy, the idea of a woman wielding the mighty Mjolnir will present interesting conflict in a traditionally testosterone filled role, and the switch to the Falcon as Cap will be a nice modern interpretation to see someone wield the shield who was not from the extremely Jingoistic 1940s. Marvel kills two birds with the added diversity and fresh set of stories to tell with these new interpretations of classic characters, but how permanent are they? The current Thor will still exist and even have his own book The Unworthy Thor and you can’t simply remove Steve Rogers. I’m still not sure how I personally feel about a Marvel hard reboot similar to DC’s New 52, but this will at least address the short term concerns that Marvel is running out of steam creatively. I think they could benefit with some new IPs, especially ones that are not Anglo-Saxon, but I am very excited to get my hands on All-New Captain America in November and I might even check out the re-launched Thor title.
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