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Marvel recently announced that Thor will now be a female and Captain America an African American.

I am going to start this by stating that I’m aware my thoughts on this subject are likely the least relevant.  I am a Caucasian male in my thirties who hasn’t done the research he should before voicing an opinion. I appreciate anyone reading this, but it would admittedly be more insightful to hear how a female fan of the current Thor title reacted to the change then my thoughts on the subject.

Further to that point, I can only imagine what it is like to grow up in a world where the superheroes I see in comics (or lets just say on screen for current audiences) aren’t necessarily relatable, and I mean that in the literal sense. I drew a lot of my early ideas of what a hero was from reading Spider-Man. I see no devil’s advocate argument hiding around the corner in stating that there is obviously a need for more diversity in the genre, if for nothing more than that I believe any story becomes better to the reader the more they can can relate to the main character.

A lot of questions started coming to mind the moment I read this news:

  • Was this decision completely marketing based?
  • Was there a public demand for this? If so, are these changes actually what that demand hoped for?
  • Why change what already is? Why not something new and awesome?
  • Do these changes do more harm then good?

Well, its no secret that the number of comic titles out there are dominated by white male protagonists.  I haven’t been a serious comic book collector since I hit high school, so my knowledge of what has come and gone since the early nineties is fragmented at best.  Yet it seems to me, from observation alone, that the one thing that has resulted in the most return at the box office has been commitment to the source material.

If the observation is accurate, I wonder about how this pans out as a marketing scheme.  Do the numbers indicate that these changes will result in more readers?  Seems like it might cause a spike initially, as people will want to see what these changes actually look like once they hit the page, but once that phase is over, will the change be economically viable in the long term?  I don’t know, but common sense tells me that it will all depend on two things:

  • Story Telling
  • Fan Commitment

Story Telling:  It sounds obvious, but is it? There are plenty of great stories out there that never reached mainstream popularity by no shortcoming other than a lack of proper marketing, lack of appropriate sized demographic, or a lack of initial appeal. Which of course begs the question, is this just taking a story that people are already committed to and forcing material into it that might not have been viable on its own?  My vocabulary is failing me on this one, but if that is the truth behind these changes, it doesn’t sit well.  It feels like cheap pandering, or underhanded, or cowardly, yet depending on the real motives behind Marvel’s decision, it could also be progressive, awesome, and risky.  So I guess I’m just going to say it makes me highly skeptical at this point.

Fan Commitment: If you change who the character is, so much that they literally aren’t even the same person, but a completely new individual wearing the same costume, will the long term fans stick around?

My first thought on this didn’t come from comic books but from Fantasy literature.  I recently finished the Sword of Truth Series.  Some of the books toward the middle-end of the series just weren’t good reads, they were tough to get through because the writing wasn’t as exciting as the first few books.

So I ask myself: if they had killed the protagonists, Richard or Kalhan, somewhere in the middle of that bad patch, would I of cared to finish the series?

If I’m being honest, probably not.

I was emotionally invested in those individuals, that is what kept me reading.  Killing Richard off and handing the sword of truth to someone else, or likewise killing Kahlan and throwing in some new confessor, would have been ending their arc, making the continued story about someone else I don’t yet care about.

Which of course bring us back to the question of story telling.  If the introduction to that new carrier of the Sword of Truth was emotionally engaging, and not just a face lift for the sake of diversity, then there is a chance at keeping me reading.  Yet, if you write a carbon copy of the character with different genitalia, I’d probably feel cheated. Well, if note cheated then disinterested.

All that said, if the character’s story has reached its end, and it was time to hand off the mantle to the next generation, would I be interested in reading? Well, only if the next generation brought something new to the table that hadn’t previously been explored, I mean I don’t want to watch a new character re-discover everything the previous character already knew.

Looking back on it now, I can see that I lost interested in Spider-Man around the time of the clone saga. In which case there was a swapping out (kinda-sorta)of Peter Parker with his own clone Ben Reilly.  I certainly liked reading The Scarlett Spider, but only as a stand alone new character, not replacing the Spider-Man I’d followed month-to-month for years.

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I’ll just get to my point.

When I read this news, the first thought that came to mind was, “come on Marvel, that is just lazy.”

I can see that if you wanted your universe to show more diversity, you don’t want to take a hit in the pocket book to get there.  Yet, changing established characters, and forcing their fans to accept the new more politically correct version just seems as uncreative as Hollywood with their unending output of reboots. I wanted to go further and say it was cowardly, but in reality its anything but, its actually really bold.  Of course, that only proves one can be bold without being creative or committed to new endeavors.

It would probably be a lot of work to create a new story line with a new character that fit the mold of whatever diversity shortcoming you’re hoping to hurdle. There might be a delay in establishing readership, and it might take awhile before there would be a return on the investment, but don’t skip the step and just replace established characters.

Also interesting is the decision to make such a change in the middle of such a golden era of the Avengers on the big screen, but that would take an entire different entry to start exploring.

2 thoughts

  1. I wouldn’t consider it lazy to change someone’s gender or ethnicity ‘just’ to change it. Diversity is important, and changing things about outwards appearances can be key to tune in to the true character of the actual character.

    Calling it lazy is easy when it’s a change away from whatever one self identifies as, but not necessarily correct.

    One great example is the stellar series Elementary, where Lucy Liu plays one of, if not THE best version of Watson ever committed to film.

    1. Yeah, blog post is a bit dated given my current outlook. I still believe that in the long run, new original characters is the better way to go. However, my current opinion: if altering the established characters can help culture evolve, then it is worth a shot.

      That said, still feel my inner voice calling it lazy, but with the footnote that it would depend on the original creator of said character’s wishes. All I mean by that is, I would be super annoyed if [yes I realize this is personal and therefore anecdotal] I woke up tomorrow and found someone took something I had made, replaced a character with a new ethnicity/gender/orientation on it, then kept the rest of the story (the part that is much harder to come up with) and made money off of it. I hope you can see that it has nothing to do with the change of character identity.

      For me, writing Jonathan Tibbs as a straight white guy was just the easiest thing for me to get right, because I have 35 years of experience living in that identity. But, I literally put in thousands of hours of thought and work creating the sci-fi elements of the story around him.

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