What Avengers NOW Means for Marvel and Diversity

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few days, you’re probably aware that the folks at the House of Ideas have taken two huge steps in diversifying their roster of heroes. The publisher who famously put a black/Latino teen in the (Ultimate) Spider-Man tights and recast Ms. Marvel as a Pakistani American has taken to national TV to announce its latest foray in ensuring that superheroes actually look like the America they represent.

So faithful watchers of the daytime talker The View were treated to the announcement of a female Thor, and fans of the late night Colbert Report got tipped to Sam Wilson replacing Steve Rogers as Captain America. We might have our own thoughts on these developments later. In the meantime, our friend at ComicsAlliance Andrew Wheeler touches on a lot of things that came to mind for me.

First of all, while Marvel is — rightly — receiving praise for its decision to diversify its most famous heroes, the fact that having a superhero who isn’t white or male needs a highly publicized announcement in the first place is a little disheartening. As Andrew writes at ComicsAlliance:

These changes suggest an agenda. I’d call it a progressive agenda, but it’s not. Putting women and people of color in key positions isn’t progressive, it’s just evidence that superhero comics are slowly catching up to the present day. It just happens that there’s a strong regressive agenda in our culture that’s resistant to that kind of change.

The other thing about making such high profile race- and gender-swaps is the realization that such changes are rarely permanent. It’s already been pointed out that — despite the mainstream media attention — a female Thor and a black Captain America are actually not new ideas.

And if history is any indication, there’s a high likelihood that Mjölnir and Cap’s Shield will eventually be wielded by blonde white dudes again.

Every substitute hero in an iconic role carries an expiry date. At a certain point, Thor will be a man again. At a certain point, Captain America will be white again. In the short term these characters send the welcome message that women and people of color can be the equal of the white dudes that dominate superhero fiction.

And in the long term, they suggest that they can’t be, because in the long term they don’t get to be. Female Thor and black Captain America are great inspirations as long as they’re around, but when they inevitably leave and the primacy of white men reasserts itself, the after-taste will be bitter.

A black or female hero in a temporary role will never be as powerful a symbol as a black or female hero with their own indelible, permanent identity.

Really, you should just head over to ComicsAlliance and read Andrew’s whole piece. And while I may seem a little skeptical about the permanence of these changes, at least Marvel is willing to make these changes in its mainline continuity (since Ultimate Spider-Man has been criticized for being an “alternate universe”). Also, I hope the extra attention means these books sell well enough to convince retailers that readers will actually buy comics that feature women and people of color.

Now if we could only convince the publishers to let women and people of color actually create those same comics….

19 thoughts on “What Avengers NOW Means for Marvel and Diversity

  1. Marvel is always lazy when it comes to black and female characters….In a sense this new female Thor is just a She-Thor. They just made Thor a woman. My thing is just create new characters, hire some female writers if it’s so hard….With black characters they’ve done the same thing, making characters like Spider-Man and Nick Fury black…..to me shows no creativity or imagination, what it does show me is Marvel wants to cash in on other demographics…..it’s purely a corporate move….why else announce a new female Thor on a show mostly viewed by women “The View”. The black and female characters being temporary should prove Marvel just wants to bring in new readers. F*** bashing though check out the indes like me

    1. Thank you for putting this far more eloquently than I could. I don’t want a female Thor. I want a female character that is awesome on her own merit.

      1. This doesn’t surprise me, Marvel has always been pretty bad when it comes to diversity, but ever since the Disney aquistion…The corporate moves Marvel is making are even more lame and obvious….It’s all about maximizing profit now. First they did the Avengers vs. X-Men story to establish the Avengers as the superior super-hero team after the movie made a wazoo amount of money (I snuck in the movie and fell asleep from boredom). Now Disney is trying to bring in female (Female Thor), black (Black Captain America…with Marvel’s lamest sidekick hero of all-time the Falcon), and hispanic readers (puerto rican Spider-Man). And then it’s all coming from a white male’s perspective so…it’s just a diversity illusion…I think people should abandon Marvel completely and go for inde comics that aren’t corporate dominated.

      2. Do you have suggestions for indie comics? I have issue one of Nutmeg which I love and can’t wait for the next one. But beyond that, I haven’t looked around too much.

      3. Dark Horse Comics has some cool titles….the comic Concrete, a sci fi title called Concrete park, the image comic “Saga”, and I have one called Work-Force that you can preview on my wordpress. And Vertigo Comics always has pretty good titles, they have DC comic distribution but the creators still own the titles…which (Marvel doesn’t do…the dude that created Ghost Rider is broke).

  2. I agree. I touched on this in my own post from yesterday. It’s a lazy, sexist money grab. And now with the revelation that Sam Wilson will be Captain America, you can add slightly racist to the list of adjectives. To make Sam Wilson more important, he has to take up the mantle of a white superhero? If Marvel wanted Falcon to be more important, then just write his character better. Give him some type of leadership without having to change who he is. It’s really not that difficult.

  3. I think I’d prefer to see new superheroes who are not white and male given larger roles, with interesting backstories. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that this change won’t be permanent, though. It would give Marvel (and DC) incentive to create new superheroes who are not the standard, instead of making a traditionally white or male superhero a different ethnicity/sex for a short while for the brief progressive appeal.

  4. If they really gave a F*** they would do like DC Comics and give distribution to a great black comic company and give them creative control….changing white characters black is meaningless to me….it’s not a step for diversity what so ever.

  5. In this case, they didn’t even bother to create a new character, they just took an existing black character and gave him a new alter ego. It didn’t make Marvel more diverse at all. I’m not claiming to be a champion for diversity, but don’t pull crap like this and claim that you are.

  6. Maybe it will work. I haven’t collected anything from Marvel lately besides Capt. Marvel and Ms. Marvel. But it’s still just a gimmick, much like how they try to reform some supervillains. But in the end they always revert back to being baddies or die. We need new heroes, diverse heroes who have something new to offer in superhero comics.

  7. I agree, having a black Captain America or female Thor, is just a temporary – money spinning – idea. As mentioned in the article, these characters will be nothing more than temporary placeholders; a sideline from the actual superhero stories. For-instance, a black Captain America, will just be left ‘holding the shield’ while the actual white Captain America is taken out of the story for a while. Upon the return of our white Captain America, our black Captain America will probably (happily) relinquish his role, and disappear for another few decades.
    What is needed, is not for Marvel to occasionally put a equality spin on it’s characters. But, for it to create more ORIGINAL characters that are female/ of color. This way, these roles can be solidified and developed over time.

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