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Marvel’s Diversification of Classic Characters Opens Doors for a Brighter Future in Comics

Marvel’s Diversification of Classic Characters Opens Doors for a Brighter Future in Comics

Female Thor 1

When talented writers and artists sit around and discuss new comic book characters they can create, how often in their conversations is it automatically assumed that the characters they’re thinking up are automatically white males unless stated otherwise? I am not a comic book creator, so I don’t have an answer to this question. I am just genuinely curious. It seems far too often that white male characters are the “default setting” in today’s Western media (from comics and video games, to television and movies). That’s a problem.

A defense one can make in regards to our overly-white media is that writers (for example) are often told to “write what you know”. In the American comic book industry, white males are the large majority of those creating the comics. That’s also a problem.

Over the span of a couple days this week, Marvel Comics made several huge announcements regarding the future of their comics universe. The first was that come October, the beloved character Thor will be a woman. No, he’s not doing a gender swap like his brother Loki did in the past. For reasons we’ll see unfold in the next couple months, Thor will no longer be deemed worthy of holding Mjolnir, the giant hammer of awesome power. In Asgardian mythology, whoever is deemed worthy of holding Mjolnir, is to be the one who posses the power of Thor. Unsurprisingly, the original inscription on the hammer itself says “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” . Thankfully Marvel will be retconning that pronoun.

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Thor Odinson will still be present in the Marvel universe, so fans need not even worry about missing one of their favourite characters. He’ll even be undergoing an exciting new character development. And his shoes will be filled by a now-unnamed woman Asgardian, contributing its bit to evening out the largely-one-sided but moving-in-the-right-direction male:female ratio of Marvel superheroes starring in comics right now. There are already awesome and powerful Asgardian heroines such as Sif and Valkyrie, but for Marvel to show that worthiness of possessing Mjolnir is not affected by gender is a positive statement, and giving a new female character the honour of carrying the torch of an iconic title like Thor shows a lot of confidence in the company in – what they hope to be – this eventual success.

One of the most beautiful things about the female Thor news is from Marvel’s own press release, where it states:

“The inscription on Thor’s hammer reads ‘Whosoever holds this hammer, if HE be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.’ Well it’s time to update that inscription,” says Marvel editor Wil Moss. “The new Thor continues Marvel’s proud tradition of strong female characters like Captain Marvel, Storm, Black Widow and more. And this new Thor isn’t a temporary female substitute – she’s now the one and only Thor, and she is worthy!”

Series writer Jason Aaron emphasizes, “This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe. But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.”

THOR is the latest in the ever-growing and long list of female-centric titles that continues to invite new readers into the Marvel Universe. THOR will be the 8th title to feature a lead female protagonist and aims to speak directly to an audience that long was not the target for super hero comic books in America: women and girls.”

Female Thor 2That last sentence is powerful. It seems like a small thing, to highlight potential female readers for female-centric comics. That’s gotta be common sense, right? What’s surprising is how rarely it’s actually done on a company level. Marvel coming right out and directly saying they’re targeting female readers is a smart move on their part, in an industry where publishers have long held a male-targeted bias, alienating existing and potential female comic book fans.

The second big announcement relates to another character switch: Steve Rogers will be Captain America no longer. His replacement: Sam Wilson (better known as Falcon). This isn’t shocking news, as it had been previously hinted in the comic and in solicitations, and the character recently got a massive push by being included in Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, but it’s still great to see Marvel commit to the idea. There have actually been several people to succeed Steve Rogers as Captain America, and Wilson isn’t even the first black person to do so (Isaiah Bradley held the mantle in 2003).

Introducing a female Thor and a black Captain American are potentially awesome moves, and it’s a definite step in the right direction. It’s not about being progressive, or pandering. It’s about depicting a world that isn’t entirely comprised of white males. It’s about showcasing the under-represented and the minority groups and the frequently marginalized.

I hope these new character switches stay in effect for as long as possible, because the comics world needs it. It’s going to be a sad day when Marvel hits the reset button and Thor is a man again, and Captain America white. It’s going to be particularly sad for female comic fans and black comic fans, respectively. Diversifying is important, so whenever diversity is stripped away, it leaves a nasty wound. That’s the problem with these announcements. Thor and Captain America are such untouchable classic characters that I really don’t see Marvel keeping these new characters in place forever. It’d be pretty amazing if they did, but I just can’t see that happening. Yeah, it looks like Miles Morales is going to be Ultimate Spider-Man forever, but the Ultimate universe has little stakes for Marvel; if anything, it’s just a side project for them. In the regular universe, it looks like Carol Danvers is going to be Captain Marvel permanently (it is very important that she is), but the original Captain Marvel was never nearly as big as Thor or Captain America.

Don’t get me wrong, Marvel doing this is better than Marvel not doing this, but it would be more comforting if they could implement pro-diversity changes that could actually stay in effect forever. Or even better, succeed these characters with characters that are even less represented in comics. Keep female Thor and black Captain America for the next ten years, and then replace them with a transgender Thor and a Native American female Captain America. Because, let’s be honest: white females and black males are sort of the go-to in creating non-white-male characters. Yes, they’re represented in media far less than white males, but there are countless other groups of people who are represented significantly less than even white females and black males. They deserve to be seen and heard, too.

Black Captain America

At the beginning, I brought up two problems surrounding comic books, and spent the majority discussing the first: the need for more non-white-male characters. Let’s not forget that second point: the need for more non-white-male creators. The truth is, most of the female characters and black men characters in comics are actually being written and drawn by white dudes. The industry that creates these comics is even less diverse than the fictional universes within them. Next time Marvel announces a new series starring a woman or a black man, it would be so much more satisfying if they actually brought on women or black men to create that comic. Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, is one of the breakout characters and books of 2014. She is a Muslim Pakistani American. G. Willow Wilson, the comic’s writer, is herself a Muslim. She has been writing her own uniquely non-white-male experiences into the series and wow, does her background show. This series has one of the most honest, open minded, endearing depictions of Muslim culture I have ever seen in a piece of American media. It’s fantastic.

Marvel’s Thor and Captain America announcements do come with their problems but this is more of a good thing than a bad thing. No contest. And the comics industry is getting better at depicting our world as a home of many skin colours, genders and cultural backgrounds – albeit very slowly. And yes, it is also getting better at hiring non-white-male creators – albeit at an even slower pace. I wish it would hurry up; in the meantime, however, the best thing we can do is go out and support the very good non-white-male comics being made. Give them your money and attention, and show these companies we want a lot more of where that came from. And maybe someday, in the distant future, I’ll be able to enjoy my transgender Thor comic.

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