Comic Book Mondays: Cap, Thor, and representation

thor_captain_america

I’m really excited about the new Thor, and about seeing Sam Wilson as Cap – these changes are actually serving as encouragement for me to pick up two titles I had no idea where to start with. But sometimes I think we have a tendency to pat ourselves on the back for things that either should be no-brainers, or for changes which seem to be more important than they are. Below are a few of my thoughts on the matter, much less organised than I would usually have them. This is one of those situations where I think I know what I’m talking about, but I’m not really convinced, you know?

Thor and Cap are high profile characters, so it’s amazing that Marvel are getting their diversity on with those two. Interest in them is BIG, what with the success of the movies and, one would presume, follow-on of fans from movie to comics. The distinction about Thor, particularly, was really cool – Thor the title, not Thor the name. But aside from the obvious logistical questions (what name will Thor go by if the new Goddess of Thunder is using his?), I’ve hardly seen anything addressing the elephant in the room – what happens when Steve Rogers and the Prince of Asgard want to reclaim their previous mantles?

Captain America is a mantle that has been held by many people. Steve Rogers, obviously, but also Bucky Barnes, Clint Barton (briefly), and now Sam Wilson*. But what happens when Steve gets back from doing whatever he’s doing – questioning his faith in America, being dead, retiring, whatever – and wants to take up the mantle again?

That’s right – Captain America goes back to being a white American male, and Sam Wilson goes back to being the sidekick. Tough gig.
Same goes with Thor. Many people have been deemed worthy of wielding Mjolnir in its (her?) long and storied comic book history. So what’d the difference between wielding the power of Thor, and getting to bear his name?

Here’s the thing: I’m all for diversity in comics. People need to be represented – who knows what the world would look like if a young Oprah Winfrey hadn’t seen Nichelle Nicholls play Lieutenant Nyota Uhura on Star Trek and figured that if Nicholls could do that, she could do anything?

But I’m not sure that rewriting popular characters to incorporate diversity is the way to go. These characters are riding on the popularity of decades of being white males, and to me it smacks a bit of laziness. It’s the same with the movies. DC has released it’s six-year plan, and it looks a lot more diverse than Marvel’s. DC’s plan through to 2020 includes Cyborg, Aquaman (played by Jason Momoa), Wonder Woman, and the Suicide Squad, the current iteration of which is far more diverse than any Avengers lineup I’ve come into contact with. I don’t know, maybe DC has been waiting for Marvel to make comic book movies popular, but with Marvel planning Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, and a whole bunch of sequels, it’s easy to get a bit less excited than I once was.

Marvel has a bunch of fantastic characters who aren’t white American males. Characters like Miss Marvel, Falcon, Black Panther, the Wasp, Mockingbird – I’m new to comics and I can name these six off the top of my head! – are experiencing a resurgence and even being exposed to popular media readers simply through being speculated about. Why couldn’t you push those comics, those characters, in order to promote the diversity you supposedly want/think you need/think will probably deliver on the bottom line, now that comics are cool. Why would you make Sam Wilson Cap when he’s just been in a hugely successful film as his original character? One would think that you would launch a brand-new Falcon title to coincide with renewed interest from the film, rather than recreating him as Cap. Or does he get to do both for the time being?

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