Age of the Geek

Diversity: A Limited Time Offer

 

     I'm all for diversity, especially in comic books.

     Comics were the medium that introduced me to social issues, particularly those that minorities face. Which is ironic since the comics themselves have such a hard time with the issue of representation.

     It's an ongoing problem for mainstream comics. It's hard to create a new character to keep up with the times because new characters don't sell. One, maybe two in a decade will reach the B-List. Popular enough to carry a book, but don't expect to see them on a T-shirt any time soon. The foundations of the Marvel Universe were laid out in the 1960s and that foundation is made up almost entirely of white guys.

     In fact, Marvel has actually made it harder for themselves to move away from those core characters. Hard as it is to believe today, it wasn't that long ago when the Marvel Universe didn't center around Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. Before Marvel Studios started making billion dollar movies, the Avengers lagged far behind the X-Men and Spider-Man as far as prominence was concerned.

     The X-Men in particular have been a longstanding beacon of diversity, but since Marvel doesn't own the movie rights to the incredibly diverse team of mutants, they have to depend on the Avengers to be their tent pole franchises.

     So how do you reflect a changing demographic while still clutching desperately to intellectual properties that were created 50 or more years ago?

     Marvel seems to think they have come up with an answer.

     If you watched "The Colbert Report" and "The View" last week, you'll know that big changes are in store for two of Marvel's most prominent properties. In "Captain America," Steve Rogers will no longer be the super-soldier. Forced into early (or, technically, very very late) retirement due to the loss of his steroids, Rogers will be passing his shield and name over to the industry's first African-American super hero, The Falcon.

     Meanwhile, over at "Thor," the God of Thunder will do something to make him unworthy of his magic hammer. While he goes off on a quest for redemption, the power of Thor will be held by an as of yet unknown woman.

     Seems like the perfect solution, right? If you can't make a title starring a minority hero popular, make a popular title star a minority. Diversity achieved!

     Almost.

     Once you get past the fuzzy warm feeling of seeing a team of ethnically diverse Avengers, things start looking pretty shallow.

     For starters, this is not a change that will last. The third Captain America movie will be released in May 2016 and it's all but guaranteed that Steve Rogers will have his shield back by then. Likewise, you can bet that Thor will reclaim his hammer by the time his third movie hits theaters.

     And even if we didn't have movie release dates to tell us exactly when the "exciting new status quo" would be reset, anybody with even a passing familiarity with comics knows these kind of changes don't last like the used to.

     So how can you say this is a legitimate improvement in diversity when it comes with an expiration date?

     And I don't even know how stripping away the identity of a black superhero with 45 years of history and putting him in a white guy's outfit even comes close to being considered a win for diversity. Thanks to the recent movie, The Falcon is more popular now than he has ever been. If Marvel can't figure out how to sell a Falcon solo title without putting him in Captain America's uniform, what chance does any other minority character have?

     Two years from now Marvel will be just as centered around 50-year-old white guys as they are now. The Falcon will go back to being a supporting character and Lady Thor will briefly get her own title before fading into obscurity.

     Hopefully by then the House of Ideas will come up with something better.

 

     Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and wishes Marvel would decide if they want to have their cake or eat it.