Shaking Up the Universe


July 2014 was a busy month for Marvel Entertainment. The ridiculously lucrative company announced that the next Thor would be a woman, and that Sam Wilson would take over for Captain America – making him, as Steve Colbert noted, Captain African America. And this all came shortly after Marvel said they would be killing off Wolverine, 40 years after he first slashed his way into the comic books.

While all of the major media outlets – and the Twitterverse – have already reported on these changes, the Mysterious Mr. C and I keep talking about them, so I thought I would use this Monday post to share my musings on these particular announcements. 

(Lady) Thor

First of all, I must admit that I am still having some trouble wrapping my head around the idea of Thor as a woman, though apparently this will be the third time someone with XX chromosomes will be holding Mjölnir. As a girl, I kind of feel like I should be all for it, but I’ve only known Thor as a guy so the idea that the name could go to someone else, anyone else (even a frog as C has pointed out), just seems a bit strange. Yes, I know Thor’s power is derived from his hammer, but his name is still his, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not like Sam Wilson is becoming Steve Rogers to take over the Captain America mantle, right? So why can’t she, whoever she is, wield the power of Thor while keeping her own name? It may seem like a silly quibble, but it’s the thing I am most hung up on for some reason.

If you’re interested, the Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri wrote a really good reaction piece to the Marvel announcement, and while I think we are ambiguous about it for slightly different reasons, she makes a good argument for why this didn’t need to be a change to capture more female readers.

Sam Wilson as Cap

As with Thor, Captain America has not always been Steve Roger’s alter ego (again, this information came from C as I know nothing about the comic books) so the reaction hasn’t really been directed towards the change in person, but more the change in Cap’s race. While my reaction was more in the “It’s about time” category, I know there are a number of people out there who feel very differently.

The hostility I saw in the Comments sections of various articles talking about Marvel’s announcement reminded me of the reaction to the rumors and then confirmation that Michael B. Jordan would play Johnny Storm in the new Fantastic Four reboot. Again, I didn’t really see what the big deal was, but it did highlight the divide that exists between fans of the comic books and the movies. I count myself as a member of the latter category and am just looking for good stories from the Marvel Universe. Devotees of the comics, however, are concerned about the continuity of the story line, and the fact that Johnny is Sue Storm’s brother; Sue will be played by Kate Mara, who is Caucasian. As Sandy Schaefer noted for the Screen Rant site a year ago, “there’s nothing to prevent the characters from being the children of a biracial couple (welcome to the 21st century, folks),” so I don’t think the difference will be as big a shift in the story as some people think.

All that said, a commenter named scar1bg made a good point in the Comments section of the Marvel announcement, saying: “What is sad to me is that making these kinds of changes presents a lack of imaginations [sic] and the ability of the artists and writers today being able to come up with fresh new characters and heroes without messing with the old ones we as fans have come to know and love. I think the one of the other problems is the timelessness that they have created with some of the characters.”

I saw similar comments on other articles, which does beg the question, why can’t we just have a new kick-ass superhero who happens to be African American? Or for that matter, why can’t there be a female superhero who is powerful in her own right, without having to wield Thor’s hammer? True, the other franchises already have the name recognition and fan base, but would it really hurt the Marvel Universe to expand a bit more?

Death Comes to Logan

Now when it comes to killing off Wolverine (aka James “Logan” Howlett), C thinks that it will be like DC Comics’ “The Death of Superman” series in 1992, and that he will eventually come back in some form. This may be true – and everyone has said similar things about the other changes – but I have my doubts.

While Wolverine is admittedly the most popular of the X-Men – so killing the character doesn’t make a lot of sense – I can’t help thinking about Hugh Jackman, who has been playing the mutant for 14 years. Like the rest of us, he is getting older, so it seems natural to me that Marvel would phase out his story line. Then again, Jackman has talked about an “inevitable” recasting of the character, so maybe they will just use his demise to reboot the series. After all, soap operas regularly use fake deaths and plastic surgery to transition actors in and out of roles.

As Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Devin Leonard points out: “These days Marvel’s comic-book division functions primarily as a research-and-development arm of Marvel Studios in Hollywood, and the whole thing is a division of the Walt Disney Co. To spin out more movies and television shows, the parent company needs to appeal to a broader demographic than just the typical (i.e. white and male) comic book geek.” So ultimately, all of these changes are just for marketing purposes. But the announcements, how people reacted to them, and what they say about our modern popular and geek cultures are interesting to think about.

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