It’s got to be an interesting week for you, if you’re into comic books. In one week, I found out that three major characters in the Marvel lineup are undergoing major changes (though I’d bet they’re all temporary): The mantle of Thor will be taken up by a woman, Tony (Iron Man) Stark would unleash his ego uncontrolled upon San Francisco, and Sam (The Falcon) Wilson will become the new Captain America.
This, after a year of Peter (Spider-Man) Parker’s mind being taken over by his nemesis Dr. Octopus, and the recent revelation that Captain Marvel would now be a young Muslim girl. And we’re not even including the alternate universe Spider-Man who was a young Black man. What’s next… Luke Cage turns gay? Squirrel Girl turns out to be a Skrull?
Personally, I’m all for an updated comic book industry: The early-20th century dynamic that began the era of comic book heroes has pretty much fizzled out, and we need a mythos for the 21st century. I thought Marvel’s Ultimates lineup would be that 21st century rebooting of the Marvel heroes, and initially, I loved it. But it sort of faded away, and now elements of the Ultimates heroes have been melded with elements of the 20th century heroes, leaving things… let’s say, a bit muddled.
It seems the industry is afraid of leaving its legacies behind. The Marvel movies largely reflect this, as they all seem to mix elements of the 20th and 21st century heroes… but leaning mostly on the 20th century elements that larger audiences are more familiar with.
The industry is also fond of making changes that seem major, but never last. Characters die, only to come back a year or so later. Heroes undergo bizarre transformations, only to be restored to normal later, and it’s back on patrol as if nothing happened. Heroes themselves never age, but keep on going at the same age for decade after decade.
Now, I realize that these are just comic books. They only exist for one reason: To be a revenue stream. And the people who own and run it, run it for exactly that reason. Comic characters have been changed before, and they’ll be changed again, usually at the whim of executives who don’t even read the books, nor care if their actions break consistency wide open.
But I guess I have to wonder: If a property can be run so inconsistently, making crazy cosmetic changes and reversing them immediately if sales aren’t any good, don’t you risk becoming a complete laughing stock… a media joke? Do comic books want to be less respected than soap operas?
And considering that comic books have managed a feat most people would have assumed 50 years ago to be impossible… namely, to garner a significant adult following… don’t you risk alienating this more discerning adult audience by all this nuttiness?
I suspect most of this is simply Marvel’s way of distracting the public away from DC Comics’ upcoming movies featuring Batman, Superman and other members of the Justice League… not to mention TV properties like Arrow, The Flash and Constantine… until their own next movies and TV shows come out. A year or two of arc, and Steve Rogers will miraculously return as Captain America, Thor will be made a man again, Iron Man will rediscover his humility, etc, etc.
But I’m not sure that all of this is good for the industry. It’s just coming off as silly, really. And for a comic book… that’s saying something.