Over the past two years the national conversation in the U.S. about diversity and social justice has been taking place at home, the workplace, politics and entertainment, and even influencing the Comic Book industry. We as a nation are confronting those social norms head on after recent events that have challenged the status quo and forced these raw feelings to the surface to ask the hard truths of everyone living in our society today.
That conversation is also being held in public regarding our heroes in capes and cowls. My question, is mainstream comics, like Marvel and DC, attempting to honestly address the issue of diversity? Or is the industry just reacting to this issue from fans while only paying lip service and therefore creating a new more complex problem? It's no secret that for a long time comic books have been very slow to bring these issues to the forefront.
You have had characters like Luke Cage, Black Panther, The Falcon, Cyborg, Wonder Woman and Black Widow for quite a long time now and they are unique with their own titles. The problem is many of them have struggled to make it to what one would say A list characters. Why? I think Luke Cage, Falcon and Black Panther have been getting the Renaissance they deserve lately due in part to Netflix and the Marvel films and because they are also great characters and I think people want to see more of them. Luke Cage, a black man from Harlem, who was falsely accused of a crime and sent to prison, was experimented on and developed unbreakable skin. If there is anyone in comic books at the moment that embodies the Black Lives Matter movement it is Luke Cage. This is exactly where comic books succeed in telling a narrative that reflects the time and allows readers to find empathy in the struggles of others who they may not initially identify with. Over at DC Wonder Woman is also attempting to shed her sexist past by trying to find a balance between her iconic yet ridiculous bathing suit armor to a more 21st Century battle design. It's still a work in progress but Wonder Woman is finally getting her own movie and is standing strong next to Superman and Batman in the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice next month.
Now I'm mostly focusing on Marvel comics because they have been a bit more controversial in their current slate after the past few Earth shaking events like Fear Itself, Avengers vs. X-Men and now the new Secret Wars that have rocked the Marvel U. Marvel is appearing to approach diversity as a rallying cry, as a way to address past sins. On a few occasions in the past I believe they have been successful, Iron Man and War Machine, Miles Morales and Peter Parker but I'm going to use a newer example, Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel. Originally Captain Mar-vell an alien from the Kree empire became a champion for Earth and accidentally gave some of his powers to an Air Force pilot named Carol Danvers. Carol became Ms. Marvel in 1977, which sparked a bit of a revolution as one of Carol's primary storylines was equal pay for women, which I guess puts Ms. Marvel on the map for her Feminist history. Recently Marvel made the wise decision to make Carol Captain Marvel and this has allowed her character to grow to a solid A list character. Where she is now pitted against Tony Stark in the upcoming Civil War 2 event. Marvel then made another important change by creating a new character, with new powers, a Pakistani American teen named Kamala Khan to be the new Ms. Marvel. This is an important point of growth for Marvel as Carol will never need to be Ms. Marvel again which allows Kamala to own the character and create a new path of her own.
Which brings me to the mis-steps in Marvel's strategy. Let's start with Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon, created in 1969 by Stan Lee and Gene Colan has been a vital member of the Avengers and a rock of loyalty for his best friend Steve Rogers, Captain America. Recently due to certain events Captain America is now aging normally which puts him in his 90s and he's forced to hang up the shield. Falcon is now given a new identity as Captain America with the addition of his flying wings. Normally this shouldn't be too much of a problem, in fact it could be similar to what happened with Carol the only problem is Captain America is a much bigger deal than Mar-vel. Which is why, earlier this year it was announced that the original Star Spangled man Steve Rogers will be returning to the mantle later this year and Falcon will remain as Captain America. Two Captain America's will now exist. So how exactly is Sam Wilson expected to hold up with the original Captain America now that they are both fighting crime with the same name at the same time? What was wrong with the Falcon and why couldn't he have remained the Falcon maybe just with Cap's Shield? Sam Wilson, like Luke Cage, has a very relevant history that takes him down various paths. After his parents are murdered at different stages of his life he becomes bitter and angry. His character has been on both sides of the law and through his hardship and adversity he learns to fight from Captain America and Black Panther and finds an expert skill in training birds. He was a member of the Defenders and later a member of the Avengers. It seems unfair to have boxed him in this corner just so Marvel could keep a brand name going until they could figure out what to do with the original character.
Another character whom I feel has also taken an unnecessary path is Thor. Recently Thor has found himself unworthy of his hammer, Mjolnir, yet again. Meanwhile a mysterious woman picks it up and is now calling herself Thor. We discover later that this mystery woman is Jane Foster former lover of original Thor. Now original Thor has not as of yet made himself worthy of his hammer again but, like Captain America before him I'm sure it's coming soon. Does he just take the hammer back then? What happens to Jane? Thor is not a brand name, he's not the Green Lantern Corps. His name is Thor so why couldn't Jane Foster pick up the hammer and have a new super hero name? Other heroes in the Marvel Universe have held the hammer at one time or another but they didn't think to call themselves Thor. This is not something I think that helps Jane Foster who like many others is co-opted to a signature character because the parent company doesn't want to have a break in circulation for the title but they want to show that they are diverse in making such a decision. So they do something like this rather than allow Jane Foster to make up her own super hero identity with her own name.
In conclusion I think it wise for Marvel and DC to take a step back and examine the field. I think it's important to have characters to catch up with the times which means more African American characters, LGBT, Asian, Latino, Muslim, the list goes on. With that said it's time for a new group of Stan Lee's, Steve Ditko's and Jack Kirby's. They should be tasked with creating a whole new batch of characters. I mean let's face it we haven't had very many since the 60s and 70s, so think outside the box. It would also help to continue to push diversity on the other side of the page. Some of these artists and writers have been in the industry already for over 20 years, people like Gail Simone, Dwayne McDuffie, Joe Quionnes, Reginald Hudlin, Frank Cho, Sara Pichelli, Khoi Pham, Ryan Benjamin, Jim Lee and Amanda Connor and new comer Alex Yi. What I'm saying is Brian Bendis & Geoff Johns can't do it all and frankly they shouldn't. So as fans let's keep encouraging the guys at the top of the chain to create new mythologies, with new diverse creators and new adventures that project our future in order to preserve the art of comic storytelling for generations to come.