Legacy at Marvel: How the Publisher Is Challenging What Its Biggest Titles Stand For

portrait_thorMarvel used to be wary of the legacy game. Sure, the odd villain or minor hero would pass a mantle on here or there, but it’s never been a consistent move. The publisher was always more content to give characters new titles rather than give them established ones, unless it made narrative sense to do so like when Bucky Barnes became Cap or Kate Bishop earned the Hawkeye moniker.

Meanwhile, DC loves the idea of legacy. Not only are there constantly new Batmen, Green Lanterns and Flashes on a regular basis, there’s even a gang of Robins now (and they weren’t even taken in and trained by Bruce first!). You could even argue that some characters like Wally West were more popular than the ones they replaced. Now Marvel has joined the program and is passing over its largest legacies left and right to great effect and acclaim.

Laura Kinney is Wolverine. Sam Wilson is Captain America. Jane Foster is Thor. Amadeus Cho is (the totally awesome) Hulk. Kamala Khan is Ms. Marvel.

This editorial gambit opens up a world of storytelling possibilities and gives creators the chance to examine what these mantles mean, as well as what it’s like for these different characters to embody them. The danger is that stories could fall into the trap of new heroes struggling to live up to their predecessors. Fortunately, those haven’t appeared yet. Instead we have:

  • Sam falling out with Steve Rogers while arguing that Captain America should stand for freedom, not the government.
  • Laura reconciling her past with her heroic potential to become a different kind of Wolverine.
  • Kamala struggling with her image and place in Western culture before realizing she can inform the title she bears rather than the other way around.
  • Jane empowering herself as Thor and striving to be a just and strong hero, even as her body fails her.
  • Amadeus Cho being totally awesome.

The legacies mean a great deal both in the Marvel Universe and to audiences. Each title represents a very specific set of ideas, but those start to evaporate when they’re tied to specific characters for too long. Passing mantles on means that creative teams can reinvigorate those ideas and separate characters from code names. Tom Taylor does an excellent job of this in All-New Wolverine #1. In his review, our Logan Dalton notes, “[Laura] can emulate and even be a better Wolverine and be violent and have a bad attitude, but pull back from taking a life.”

That’s a marked difference from Logan. Even as he matured, Logan would always default to his rage and violence, portrait_uncannyseemingly never hesitant to take a life, or dozens of them. That’s why he was never truly a hero and always existed as an anti-hero. Laura recognizes that she was bred to be a weapon and becoming Wolverine could mean embracing that even further. Instead, Taylor pushes her to only accept the heroic aspects of her new title.

What’s most impressive about this direction is that Marvel lets these criticisms shine through. Captain America is a huge property, one that most companies would try to protect from editorial commentary in its stories. Same goes for Wolverine, Hulk, Thor, and Ms. Marvel.

New characters bearing these massive legacies and contrasting with their predecessors enriches both the titles and all the characters involved. Audiences are given a deeper look into what Steve thought of himself as Captain America, what Sam wants to be as Captain America, and decide for themselves what Captain America stands for. Jane is worthy of Thor and highlights why Odinson can’t wield that power. Kamala and Carol Danvers come from different backgrounds, but share heroic virtue in addition to a title.

Some day, Steve will be Captain American again. Odinson will be Thor. Bruce Banner will be Hulk. Logan (not Old Man Logan) will be Wolverine. But for now, audiences are treated to seeing different characters make their own marks on giant legacies. Their stories may not run forever, but they’ll bring better definition to these mantles than their predecessors ever could on their own.

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