Two years ago, I wrote what remains one of this blog’s most viewed entries, Don’t Get Excited About the New Thor. In it, I made my case for why I didn’t trust Marvel to do right by the new female Thor and actually keep the change in place. Two years later, we’re getting a new Iron Man, and I’m willing to say I’m more optimistic based on what we’ve seen happen with the Jane Foster version of Thor, but I’m also hoping Marvel doesn’t pull a Spider-Man/Captain Marvel on us. Stick with me, because I’ll explain what that means.
Earlier today, Marvel announced the events of Civil War II will result in Tony Stark no longer being Iron Man. In his place, Riri Williams, a 15-year-old black girl, will take over the mantle. As you might expect, we’re seeing the same collective freak-out that’s followed any major, long-running Marvel character being replaced in the name of diversity.
First, let’s talk about the good. Marvel Comics is proving their committed to bringing in new characters, and making their universe reflect the diversity of our universe. It should. We don’t live in a caucasian world. America used to bill itself as a melting pot, and these days, that philosophy looks abandoned by far too many. Marvel has actually kept Jane Foster as Thor far longer than I expected without making it all about the old Thor, now known simply as Odinson.
Now, let’s get to some of the bad. While Thor remains a case where the change has stayed in place and the old Thor hasn’t regained the title, we’ve seen a lot of other diversified revisions of heroes (Spider-Man and Captain America) end in a “let’s have both” solution. Around the time Jane Foster became the new Thor, Marvel also retired Steve Rogers as Captain America and turned the mantle over to Sam Wilson (better known to many previously as Falcon). Recently, Marvel brought back Steve Rogers as Captain America, but instead of making it where Sam Wilson is no longer Cap, both men are Captain America. Marvel basically said, “Why can’t we have both?” After all, Marvel has basically done that with Spider-Man. We have both our white male, Peter Parker Spider-Man and our African-American, Puerto Rican, Miles Morales Spider-Man. In both cases, these duos exist (now) within the same universe at the same time. On the surface, this looks fine. Only, I think it’s not taking things far enough. What Marvel is doing comes across as a “separate-but-equal” approach.
The point I’m getting at is that we need to truly retire some of these older heroes. Think about this a moment. Steve Rogers was revived as Captain American in the early issues of the Avengers in the mid-1960s. Let that sink in a moment. I’m 43, and Avengers #4 was almost a full decade before I was born. Physically, he should at least be in his seventies by this point. At least with Cap, you can argue that he has the super-soldier serum thing to keep him going, but then what’s Tony Stark’s excuse? Seriously, without the suit, what is he? Yes, he’s a “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” but he’s also still just human.
One of the things I loved about Chris Claremont’s original run on The Uncanny X-Men, which spanned almost 16 years, was his philosophy towards evolving the roster. He believed characters would grow out of being superheroes, opening the way for new characters. Unfortunately, the executives and many long-running fans balk at this philosophy, which has resulted in most of our modern comics being reduced to a convoluted mess. Marvel and DC both keep reaching for ways to reboot their universes as a way to bring order to their messy timelines. The solution is a lot simpler: let the world of imagination evolve with the world we live in. The time has come to let some of our legends finish strong and bring in a new generation of superheroes who embody the world we live in and not the past.