May contain slight spoilers to various Marvel Comics story lines.
Though this is now old news to anybody who follows comic books, some changes in upcoming Marvel Comics storylines has created quite a lot of buzz across the internet. I am referring to the news that the next Captain America is going to be African-American and that the next “Thor” is going to be a woman.
To go into more specifics about this turn of events, Thor the character is not changing gender, but rather a female character — who as far as I know is yet to be identified — will be wielding his iconic hammer Mjolnir, thus granting her “the power of Thor.” Meanwhile, Samuel Wilson — better known by his superhero alter-ego The Falcon — will be taking up the mantle of Captain America due to Steve Rogers losing his super soldier powers and rapidly aging.
I know that it is very likely that a number of my readers, small though that number may be, probably already know all of the above. However, I thought I would lay all of that out just in case some people were still uncertain of the specifics of what is happening, or are even completely unaware.
The reason I bring this up is not to report on it, but in response to a lot of negativity I have come across. I do not even frequent pages for comic book fans, yet somehow I managed to be bombarded with people’s disapproval of Marvel’s creative decision over and over again. Some of it was a little understandable, since the assertion that “Thor is becoming a woman” confused people. “Thor” is the character’s name and who he is, not a title that one can inhabit, so I can understand people being a little thrown off by that — not that I would have a problem with them literally gender-bending Thor, mind you.
My distaste with people’s disapproval doesn’t necessarily relate to any race or gender issues, however, but more about people being closed-minded about different narrative and, frankly, cynicism.
To start, let me get my cynicism out of the way. Anybody who has been following Marvel Comics for a significant amount of time and knows their history should be aware that the likelihood of these changes sticking is low. A decade or so ago, for example, Steven Rogers died. It was quite a big deal at the time as well, with news outlets talking about it and Marvel claiming he’d likely be gone for good. However, as we well know, Rogers came back. Bucky Barnes had since taken up the role of Captain America, but he soon “died” as well, leading to Rogers filling his old shoes once again.
More recently, and for a significant span of time, Doctor Octopus was actually Spider-Man. It was still Peter Parker’s body, but Doctor Octopus’s mind was at the helm, having left Parker’s mind to die with his old body. Doc Ock, however, gained Parker’s memories, learning the same lesson of power and responsibility, and became the Superior Spider-Man. For a good while Superior Spider-Man was the flagship Spider-Man title. Sure enough, however, Parker got his body back, and Amazing Spider-Man has returned as the main series. This return coincided with the release of Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
Marvel Studios movies have become very big, both with fans and at the box office. I know this sounds jaded, but I find it very likely that Rogers will return to his role as Captain America and Thor will regain his hammer in time for the release of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, in an effort to help sell some extra issues by tying them together with the film in some way and marketing the storylines as each character’s triumphant return to their classic roles. It happened with Spider-Man, and Marvel has a tendency to try to sync up their comic books with the film universe (I’m looking at you, Secret Avengers).
So, if you are at all anxious that your favourite iconic Marvel heroes are going to be forever changed by this, I really wouldn’t worry.
What you should do instead, is embrace the fact that the writers are trying new things with the characters. When I first heard about Doc Ock occupying Spider-Man’s I was upset and against it. Upon reading much of it, however, I realized that the story was fantastic. Instead being a senseless gimmick, it did things with the Spider-Man mythos that one couldn’t really do with Parker behind the mask. It challenged Parker’s perspective of being a superhero, and actually left me pondering whether or not Dr. Octopus was in fact a superior Spider-Man.
You must consider the fact that it is likely these changes to the characters will bring about interesting new storylines that otherwise could not have been told, such as just how different of an experience it would be in-universe being the icon of America and its values, while at the same time being black — an idea we already see rejection of through fan backlash.
We should also consider that we may actually fall in love with these characters, leaving them here to stay in some form. This may contradict the above cynicism, though I do find it doubtful they would permanently replace characters of their prominence, it is not unheard for a character to remain changed.
Recently Flash Thompson, the high school bully of Peter Parker, donned the Venom symbiote and became the new Venom. This turned out to be a very popular decision, with myself included, resulting in Thompson remaining Venom to this day. Thompson’s veteran background, reverence of Spider-Man, and recovering alcoholism presented a character of greater complexity who faced compelling challenges that dwarfed Eddie Brock’s and Mac Gargan’s roles as Venom.
Open your mind if you need to and experience these characters in a way you otherwise couldn’t. You might be surprised just how much you love the stories. These characters have existed for over half a century and don’t show any signs of disappearing. You just have to accept that with series and characters that have been around this long sometimes there needs to be a significant change to shake things up and bit and experiment. There’s no way that characters that have been around as long and reached their level of iconography with their fan base will remain reinvented forever, so enjoy it while it lasts.
If you really are that resistant however, get off the ride and get in line behind my above cynicism. The wait probably won’t be as long as you think.