Thoughtful & Abstract: Changes at Marvel Comics Fail to Impress

In which Shawn and Kim consider the news about changes coing to a couple Marvel Comics characters:

Shawn: This past week brought the announcement of a few changes coming to the Marvel Universe this fall. It’s funny what changes in the comic industry make the mainstream news and which ones go unnoticed. First, we’re talking about fictional characters. Second, over the past 75 years, comic companies have proven that no change is permanent.

I think the current changes caught the attention of social media because of a confluence of events. The week around San Diego Comic-Con always brings the comic culture to popular attention. And you’ve got a solid run of Marvel Universe films this ummer featuring Captain America, Spider-Man, and the X-Men along with the upcoming buzz about the Guardians of the Galaxy.

A reboot of the core Avengers characters makes sense as we get closer to the second Avengers film. There’s always a bump in sales for movie-related titles and giving readers a hopping on point makes sense. But do these changes? It’s all part of a bigger umbrella called “Avengers NOW!” Yep it’s so big that you have to capitalize “NOW” because it’s all happening “NOW.”

The biggest change comes to Thor in October when a woman will wield Mjolnir. In Captain America, Steve Rogers has lost his powers and picked Sam Wilson, the Falcon, to take over the mantle. Over in Iron Man, the title becomes Superior Iron Man with Tony Stark moving operations to San Francisco and changing costumes.

I’m left with a big – meh. Who is this working for? Are they trying to entice female readers with new female superheroes? If so they already have a fabulous stable of them. As the next Avengers movie approaches, how about finding more ink space for Scarlet Witch? Personally, I’m all about seeing more of Natasha Romanoff as the Black Widow. She’s a strong character that can exist comfortably in stories about the Avengers, Spider-Man, and S.H.I.E.L.D. I still think of her as depicted in George Perez’s art.

Are they hoping that new readers will be drawn to the books because they love watching the Marvel films and TV shows? If so, that’s clearly not what’s happening here. If you’re a fan of the films, I think you want more of what you’ve seen in films. More backstory and further explorations of the characters. A female Thor and the Falcon as Cap are not going to fill that void.

Lastly, are they hoping that these moves somehow mirror events happening socially and politically around the country? Once again, there are characters in place to address issues of feminism, equality, gay rights, and civil rights. She Hulk and Ms. Marvel currently have books that are much better set up to field current issues. I’m a big fan of the Carol Danvers’ character of Ms. Marvel from the ’70s. She was a leader in feminism issues then and now holds one of the important positions in the Marvel Universe as Captain Marvel.

Diversity is a terrible reason to make a creative decision. And I’m afraid that’s what has happened. Want more readers? Tell a fabulous story. Want more diversity? Use the characters you already have established. Does it make you more well rounded as a company? The only thing well rounded is the new Thor’s breastplate.

Kim: Change is inevitable in life. Remember New Coke? Three months from release before an announcement that the company would return to its old formula. Crystal Pepsi was also a short-lived fad, pulled off market within months. Battlestar Galactica redone where Starbuck was suddenly a woman; 21 Jump Street was rebooted; Red Dawn remade.

The reboot of the Avengers’ core characters, while not surprising, is disheartening. While I’m all for strong female characters, diversity among characters and the like, I’m left feeling like this is just another slap in the face in an industry intent with simply rebooting the old, instead of coming up with new, novel ideas.

I’ve read the argument that Thor as a woman will appeal to women and girls, draw them in as readers. But what the people behind this reboot fail to realize is why women and girls aren’t invested in the comics. I think the bigger issues that keep female readers at bay are how the female characters are portrayed, along with the fact that they don’t seem to suffer from menstrual cramps, boyfriends treating them like crap, and poor self-esteem due to body image issues perpetrated by the media.

Not to mention that the comic genre tends to sexualize the women in the comics. I’m waiting to see the female superhero who doesn’t have gigantic knockers and a tiny waist. Are we to infer that a woman with a little extra meat on her bones can’t properly dispose of a villain? Please see Xena: Warrior Princess if you believe only tiny women are competent. Or perhaps power rests in a woman’s breasts because we all know how distracting those can be, especially when barely covered and paired with perfect proportions elsewhere.

Now let’s discuss Falcon taking his place as the new Captain America. Why does he have to take Rogers’ place at the same time that a female is assuming the role of Thor? Why is it necessary to give him a name, such as “Captain America” in order to make him completely bad ass? Do we really think that the only way to be an outstanding superhero is to bear the name of one already in existence? Why not have Cap retire, and Falcon rise up and still be – get this – Falcon? Is Marvel saying that the public won’t embrace an African-American superhero unless he’s got the big-boy name? I’m pretty sure we all embraced Storm, who was not only African, but also a woman.

As for the Superior Iron Man, I guess this is saying that men are superior individuals when they’re narcissistic womanizers? That’s not a great message to send. Don’t get me started.

If you want to draw in new fans, find a way to do it without completely rewriting the core of what has been successful. Empower your Scarlet Witch, your Black Widow, or your Lady Sif, for crying out loud. Where’s Sersi? Where’s Thundra? From the female standpoint alone, the Marvel Universe is full of strong, independent women, donning skimpy outfits and using their T&A to get the job done.

I’m not against change. I realize it’s part of life. It will also not be the first time other people have wielded Thor’s hammer. I’m just not sure why her name needs to be “Thor”. Can she not have her own identity? The legend says if she can pick up the hammer, she’ll have the power of Thor, not the name.

Why can’t Thrúd, the daughter of Thor and Sif, pick up the hammer? Why can’t Falcon just be Falcon and elevated to the glory of Cap? Why can’t Tony Stark continue to have his playboy roots while not being a philanderer? Most importantly, why does it all have to happen at once?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go change my tampon, complain about my ex-husband, and play with my son. Why? Because I’m a goddamn superhero, that’s why.

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Shawn Bourdo

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