The times, they are a-changin’. Right now Thor is a girl, Iron Man is a black girl, Spider-Man is mixed race, and if you disagree with these changes you’re…here it comes again, sexist and racist. Because that’s easier than actually understanding the nature of the complaint. Or maybe it’s the actual racists and sexists that yell the most. What do you expect, by their nature they’re angry nitwits; but both sides of every debate ever have plenty of those. Especially politics and fandom, and with so many things being politicized certain parties assume it’s always politics. Heck “politics” seems to have taken over “social issues” and made it into the same thing lately.
To better frame this I’m going to post a commentary by Bob Chipman. While the Game Overthinker has popped up on this site many times, “Moviebob” has another show nowadays, In Bob We Trust, where he discusses politics and media, sometimes at the same time, and in the latest episode he goes over some of the things I want to discuss, just with more swearing. This is a hot discussion topic by comic commentators in both the blogosphere and vlogosphere. While Chipman tries to make the case for the new round of “diverse characters” replacing the originals, there’s a reason why fans are upset, and it’s not racism or sexism. It’s also Marvel’s fault.
Look, I’m not against diversity in superheroes. I’ve written so many articles in favor of it that should some accuse me of that means they haven’t done their homework. I favor interracial marriage. I favor characters of color. I’ve listed plenty of black and female heroes I would like to see in action, and complained when they have been mistreated just as much as white males. To me color is just a different coloring pencil (that doesn’t even match the “designated” colors…according to my coloring pencils I’m not “white”, I’m peach) but I want to see everybody treated fairly ,just like everybody else. Unless that someone is a white Christian Conservative, in which case they aren’t treated like caring human beings for the crime of not joining the groupthink, but now I’m getting off topic.
So what’s going on? Well, it’s the same thing that was going on with DC in the nineties and early two-thousands. DC didn’t want to be thought of a being culturally insensitive, so they brought in racial diverse replacements. Hal Jordan was replaced with Kyle Rayner, Ted Kord was replaced with Jamie Reyez, and Ray Palmer was replaced with Ryan Choi, and so on. Then someone who grew up with the classic characters forced them back, but I wrote about that years ago.
And now it’s the same at Marvel. And no, unlike Bob I don’t count Captain Marvel. That’s just Marvel Comics continuing to deny DC Billy Batson’s proper superhero name, and they finally found a character that doesn’t suck because they’ve had years to develop her. It may also be why Kamala Khan is Ms. Marvel, to hold on to the name, but again they created a good character. Riri William is now Iron Man…or rather Ironheart with the AI personality of Tony Stark…it’s complicated. Because comics. And from what I hear she could be a good character if she didn’t risk Mary Sue territory in how she’s written. Moon Boy was thrown aside (literally) for Moon Girl, a young black girl who may be an Inhuman, Marvel’s attempt to replace the mutants because 20th Century Fox refuses to let them go. Or make them right most of the time. Jane Foster and Captain America I’ve written about before, but now there’s apparently a girl using the name. I don’t know the details there, but at least Captain America is a title and not a name. Like Thor.
But there’s a good reason that Marvel fans aren’t warming up to most of these replacement characters. Captain Marvel followed a tradition of characters that never caught on while she had a long development time. Ms. Marvel was then an open name. There was obvious evolution of Carol Danvers that left an opening for Kamala Khan to squeeze in just as Carol did for Mar-Vell. The rest, however, are haphazard replacements in the same way that Kyle and Ryan were, and were given time to win people over. The Marvel replacements haven’t had time for that, and their defenders, who want more diverse heroes and don’t care about the originals in the name of diversity, have not. And yet they’re asking for immediate acceptance for characters who haven’t earned their replacement status. (You could argue Sam has, but it meant giving up his own identity to join the list of also-ran Captains America.)
The problem fans are having aren’t necessarily hatred of the newbies. People love Kamala and Riri could be good if written better, and Miles (who took over for a dead Peter Parker in the Ultimate universe before Marvel dropped that imprint and dropped him in the main one) has had that time. But that was an alternate reality, even if I still think it was to make the calls for a black Spider-Man a little more likely to get their movie, not with Peter Parker changing skin colors but a new guy. And Miles Morales is a good character as well. I think the changes are just the creators wanting the long overdue diversity of lineup but have no trust in these new characters to catch on, or at least catch on immediately. My usual go-to, Static, took years to get popular outside of the comics, and that’s when he got his own cartoon show.
But really, any attempt to create a new generation meeting with anger is Marvel’s fault, and DC’s as well when you get down to it. They have resisted even organic changes. Tony Stark was in Vietnam when he was caught in the explosion that damaged his heart. He should be pushing 70 by now. Peter Parker was in high school in 1962. He should be older than me, since I wasn’t even born until 1973, but he’s a bit younger right now. Marvel has a sliding timeline to keep characters at their marketable age. I suppose in-story you could follow the blame of Franklin Richards being the cause since he wanted to keep his family young with his reality-warping powers and whatnot, and that with him being gone reality can finally evolve. But by now longtime fans are so used to the same character being Spider-Man, or Captain America that accepting a change for change sake is hard to do.
And even when characters do change, someone inevitably changes them back. There have been three or four other Iron Men in the past, the aforementioned list of Captains America, and even Thor has someone lost his name to others, including a woman at some point prior to Jane taking up the “mantle” (which would have worked had Donald Blake not been retconed to be the actual son of Odin), but it’s always gone back. Someone wants to write that character they grew up with, the new movie or TV show wants to use the original instead of the current and they don’t want to confuse audiences. And with a movie, TV, and internet shared universe going on with a large fanbase they want to capitalize on that, even if history shows that doesn’t work, because comics can only be found in comic stores, book stores that have a magazine rack or carry graphic novel collections, or the occasional Stop And Shop (the only grocery store where I see a spinner rack of comics like the pre-comic store days).
What’s wrong with introducing Ironheart in the pages of Iron Man not as Tony’s replacement, but as a pilot for the character, possibly starting out as a gifted teen who somehow gets a job as Tony’s assistant or protege, and then spin Ironheart into her own comic? Have Jane get her own powers, fight alongside Thor rather than instead of Thor, and maybe spin that off. Kamala may be a fluke but she doesn’t have to be an exception. Build out your universe, since you have room killing off unused characters during your bouts of Eventitis that you feel needs a shock death or five. Don’t replace; expand. You don’t have to alter (straight characters suddenly being gay after years instead of creating LGBT characters more interesting than Northstar) or replace characters, when you can use the current characters to introduce new characters and let us fall in love with them.
That’s how some of these Marvel heroes started out once they stopped making anthology titles. Or make a new anthology title: The Next Marvels or something, and introduce new heroes the same way Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Thor were. Then you make the old AND new fans happy, finally build out your roster past white men and the occasional white woman, and solve all your problems. Well, you still have other issues, but at least you’d solve this one.