January is almost at its end, and we’re finally starting to walk into the new year proper people. I’m sure many of you made drunken promises to bring drastic changes in your lives as the calendar changed from 2015 to 2016 that you’ll end up “forgetting.” Unlike you, though, the good folks at Marvel Comics had pressed down and dedicated to change themselves long before the new year rolled around. As of this month, their “All New All Different” universe is in full swing. For those of you who don’t know, “All New All Different” is the title given to the new universe Marvel has created in the wake of their monumental “Secret Wars” event that has extended all the way from early May 2015 to last week. (With initial buildup going over a year before that.) The ANAD universe provides an excellent jumping on point for new readers and those who were interested in getting into comic books but scared away by complicated plots involving previous stories and high issue numbers, similarly to Marvel’s “Marvel NOW” issue soft issue number/story reset but on a larger, more definitive scale.
In full swing…WITH 11 SPIDER RELATED TITLES. Smh.
But the main selling point of this new universe is the changes it promises to bring to the face of the company, and the efforts to more represent their reader-base and the public in general. These include significant adjustments to iconic characters like Captain America, Hulk, Thor, and Spider-Man among others. While the vast majority of these changes took place well before ANAD began, but the new universe brings these changes front and center with a promise to encourage and focus on them from now to the future. Many people have accused Marvel of using these as a cheap means to attract new fans or media attention. With good reason as such tactics aren’t uncommon nowadays with “diversity” becoming even less of a desire to represent the public, and more a selling point to many forms of entertainment media.
*sigh* Need I say more?
Others, such as myself previously, have built on that. Declaring that if Marvel truly cared, they’d just create new, more diverse characters instead of trying to replace existing ones forcefully. And they should, still. I agree that more characters, in general, can be introduced, and that a fair number of them should be more than straight white men, and that an equitable number of them can still be straight white men. One of the main allures of a world full of superheroes like marvel paints is that any person can spontaneously develop extraordinary abilities. So naturally, you’re going to come across any number of people of different genders, ethnicities, sexualities, ages, religions, heights, weights, hairstyles, and all that. You could put any number of categories in any number of jars, pull one of each, and then point someone walking along the street in Manhattan (superhero capital of the world) that would match that description.
But nope. While they have introduced a few new characters; the thing drawing people’s attention, and continues to do so, is Marvel’s seemingly incessant movement to replace existing superheroes with new counterparts that seem to fit that “diversity” bill quite conveniently. It started primarily with the introduction of Miles Morales (Formerly the Ultimate Spider-Man, now just Spider-Man) in 2011. I don’t think they were planning the extensive roster they have now, but Miles was undeniably the proverbial pebble into the lake, and the waves he created have spawned characters such as Sam Alexander (Nova,) Robbie Reyes (Ghost Rider,) Kamala Khan (Ms.Marvel,) and Jane Foster as Thor, Sam Wilson as Captain America, Amadeus Cho as Hulk, and probably more that I’m missing.
“Why make Thor a woman?” “Why take Falcon, someone who’s already a superhero, and make him Captain America?” “Why make Cho Hulk?” “Why make a kid Nova?” “Why make a new Ms Marvel when Carol Danvers is Captain Marvel now anyways?” “Why kill off Spider-Man and make him black?” “Why make /another/ ghost rider, and make him Hispanic, (not the first Hispanic ghost rider though) with an origin with barely any connection to the previous ones?” “Why all these changes?” “We have our characters already and we all love and adore them so why change?”
But wait: hold with me for a moment, and consider these characters and what they’ve grown to represent over the years. Captain America- quite literally the epitome of ideal American values, and everything this country saw in itself at WW2 and pretty much every point since then pushed into one person. Thor: the manliest of men. The powerhouse. A literal god. But also a paragon of nobility, with a large portion of his power dependent on the premise that at all times he remains worthy enough to wield it. (he isn’t helpless without Mjolnir by far, and if you think so Jarnbjorn would have words with thee) Hulk, “the strongest there is,” the incarnation of all the pent up rage within a previously meek scientist. Ms.Marvel, especially in her newer Captain Marvel run, a symbol of female empowerment and capability. And of course, Spider-Man. One of the most relatable superheroes (arguably, the most relatable) of all time. The most popular, and more importantly, profitable superhero in existence. Marvel’s golden child. Taking all the glamours of superpowers and relating them to real life struggles such as money, family, love, school, work, and keeping a secret so heavy from everyone you care about…If you ignore how many times he’s revealed his secret identity.
All of these characters, as characters, have grown beyond just who they are. They’ve become equatable to what they represent, to the point where any attempt to separate them from these ideas would result in destroying the character itself. These superheroes have ascended from stories to moral and social concepts, and flat out social ideals. They paint vivid pictures of what they represent without even mentioning particular story tied to them, because of their history.
And Marvel has acknowledged that, and all these names represent. They know who their characters are, and what they mean to people. and changed those very values by moving the masks onto new faces, passing the torches or shields or dwarven forged hammers or gamma irradiated blood or whatever. By changing who these ideals are presented by, they’ve changed what they are in extremely important ways. And in some ways, they’ve taken and updated the values these characters were created in mind with and truly reflected what they would look like in this day and age.
Take for instance, Amadeus Cho, Korean American boy genius. The 8th smartest person in the marvel universe. We know too well the stereotypes of the intelligent, physically unimposing, submissive Asian male. And while Amadeus is indeed good at math, and while he isn’t exactly Atlas in terms of strength, he’s now the Hulk. The exact opposite of unimposing and submissive.
Marvel, in one tact switch, has effectively shattered the typical stereotypes that would be associated with Cho. (He’s still just as smart though, but I don’t think I’d want to give that up anyway.) This is a near constant theme with Marvel’s diversification efforts. What on the surface can seem as a tactless and even offensive grab for attention, in reality, has significant meaning and has turned into a bold challenge conventional associative patterns.
We see this again in Jane Foster as Thor. The name of whom has forever been equated to the manliest of men. Mead drinking, giant slaying, and the mounting of countless women. What could be manlier? But above that Thor is just a noble dude. And it’s that nobility of character that lets him wield his magical lightning hammer of smashing things: Mjolnir. So when he loses his worthiness due to Nick Fury sensually whispering into his ear (long story, don’t ask because they STILL haven’t explained it) and some random female just picks it up and flies off it’s understandable to feel a bit thrown off. I mean, why? Why go through the trouble of making Thor unworthy just to make some woman replace him? Even people INSIDE Marvel’s comic universe are upset. Yet once again, marvel is destroying the association of Thor, his great power and greater worthiness of said power with his manliness and his viking charm. While this isn’t the first time Mjolnir has been picked up by a woman, (Black Widow, Storm, and Rogue have all lifted it prior, not all in canon) is by far the most lasting time, and the first time the name “Thor” has been handed down as a title instead of it just being the Odinson’s first name.
Jane herself has lifted it too, in a “What If?” but Natasha, Ororo, and Anna Marie look cooler.
And of course, we have Spidey. Long accepted as the absolute king of superheroes that could relate to the common man. New York’s very own friendly web-slinging neighbor. And he only got an update and a refresher on his roots as the hero teens could empathize with once the Ultimate Universe launched, with his solo series being one of the anchors that kept the entirety of Marvel comics going. Then he died (kinda) and was replaced by the Black-Hispanic Miles Morales. All of a sudden, the superhero idol of hundreds of millions was black, be it in an alternate universe, and he was relatable for entirely different reasons. Miles didn’t want to be a superhero and was shaken by the acquisition of his powers. Despite being a gifted student and a hard worker, his family couldn’t afford the private school that would place him in the intellectual environment he needed to be in, Miles instead lucking out and winning a lottery admission. His admission of his secret identity to his girlfriend, unlike Peters, goes HORRIBLY. (Like the revelation of many big secrets to significant others) He suffers many common man problems, just like Peter before him, but the differences between the two make every bit of a difference.
This can be seen over and over in the vast majority of the passed down mantles in Marvel. In addition, to the unique personalities, perspective and stories these new characters bring to the table with their books, the change they bring to the traditional ideas these characters represented to not only make them fresh; but, more importantly, to allow them to represent the world we live in more accurately. I didn’t even cover all the changes present; I willingly omitted prominent ones such as Sam Wilson as Captain America and Robbie Reyes as Ghost Rider to allow room for you, the reader, to draw your conclusions, and formulate your views. (Plus, this article is getting hella long.) But ultimately, isn’t this the goal of comics? To present a parallel to the world we live in, filled with fantastic stories featuring heroes that could be any one of us? Filled with ideas and ideals that point us to the world we should strive towards? In truth, the comic industry (like many entertainment industries) has struggled with adapting to the times and truly beginning to reflect the diversity of the world it seeks to recreate. And while change can come slowly, with communities stuck on nostalgia rather than improvement resistance to both minor and significant changes can be exceptional. But Marvel has shattered preconceptions and broken down conventions regardless of backlash, and in doing so has shown us that even the best of us might not be as open to change as we think we may be. After all, we were so focused on the change of the characters themselves that we couldn’t see the meaning behind it.
^ Some of my favorite reads ever on the history of the ultimate universe. If you ever have the time give it a look.