Let me start by saying a few things. First, I’m trying to write less about companies like Marvel (Disney) and DC (Warner Brothers), because I’m not paid to do publicity for them. Second, although we are not close friends, I have known Rick Remender for more than a decade, and where I’m about to go is not meant to be an attack on him personally. Finally, it is no secret that if Marvel (or DC for that matter) called me tomorrow, I’d jump at the opportunity to work for them—which might make some of you view me as a hypocrite, and that’s fine with me. All of that said, my undying childhood desire to write comics, my acquaintance with anyone who works for Marvel or DC, and my belief that both of these corporate-owned companies don’t need another bit of free publicity, does not change what I need to get off my chest.
This has been a busy week for Marvel, as they have kicked what could easily be called their Diversity & Representation 2014 campaign into high gear. First, they announced that Thor was becoming a woman, which was then followed by the announcement that Sam Wilson, a black man better known as Falcon, would be taking over as the new Captain America. There was also the unveiling of a new Avengers team, which includes the new Black Captain America, Female Thor, and a line up of characters that features more women and people of color than it does white guys (see above). All of these announcements have created the requisite stir within the world of pop culture, and in the days leading up to San Diego Comic Con, Marvel/Disney has gotten a good amount of press. And given the fact that the more than half of the 100,000-plus people attending SDCC are women and people of color, Diversity & Representation 2014 certainly feels like a gesture to cater to the needs of a larger cross-section of readers.
Now, at the risk of sounding cynical, I can’t help but feel that Marvel is pissing on my head, and telling me that it is raining. Everything they’ve done this week is a gimmick to increase sales, and none of these changes are meant to last. Female Thor will be a woman for probably a shorter time than Dr. Octopus took over Spider-Man’s body. Black Captain America will hold that title for a while, just until Steve Rogers gets his powers back, and until some other writer gets the idea to have Falcon take over for Cap, ten to twenty years from now. How do I know this? Because all of this crap has happened before.
Sam Wilson becomes Captain America in Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #9.
Back in 1999, writer Mark Waid had Falcon don the Captain America suit and identity, after it appeared Steve Rogers had been killed in Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #8 and 9. And though I can’t be sure—because I’m too lazy to go through my comics—I’m pretty sure Sam Wilson pulled duty as Captain America at least one or two other times over the past forty-something years. Nor is this the first time someone else has wielded the hammer of Thor.
The point I’m getting at is that this is not the first time Marvel (or DC) has shaken things up, all with the hope of getting some press and attracting new readers. I understand that. It makes sense from a business standpoint. But what Marvel is doing right now—whether or not it is the intention of the creative teams on these books—is turning Diversity & Representation into a commodity, when for some of us it is a matter of life and death.
Time and time again, Marvel and DC have proven that when push comes to shove, they care about their existing audience/market, but really don’t care about the bigger audience out there. Sure, Female Thor and Black Captain America may bring in some new readers—and these new readers may even be women and people of color—but 18 months from now (if not sooner), the original Thor and Captain America will be back in action. This kind-hearted gesture of inclusion that Marvel has initiated is temporary, and will only last until sales taper off. But that is only part of the bigger problem with this latest publicity stunt.
I don’t want to be too quick to judge the work of any of the creative teams working on these newly announced projects, because the work they do may be good, given the limitations of what they are doing. What they are doing, however, is not that original—as I’ve pointed out—nor is it nearly as forward-thinking as it needs to be if Diversity & Representation 2014 is to be anything of merit.
The ultimate success of a black man is to do what a white man does, as seen in Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #8.
I’m not trying to pick on Rick Remender for having Sam Wilson become Captain America, but some things need to be said. I don’t want to go so far as to say that only a white writer would think to have Sam Wilson become Captain America, because that’s not the case. I do, however, think that only a writer who isn’t trying hard enough would come up with that already-been-done story. More important, I think only a writer caught up in existing racial ideologies would think it is a good idea that a black man assumes the identity of a white man, as if that is the pinnacle of identity.
Let me be clear, so there is no misunderstanding, any writer working in comics could have come up with the idea of Falcon taking over for Captain America. It is a no-brainer. What is troubling to me—and is something that I’ve talked about before—is that in his forty-plus year history, Falcon has no truly defining story. Even the best Falcon stories are either mediocre or forgettable, and now, after all this time, the character gets to do something memorable by taking over the job of a white guy. This is the real reason why Marvel’s Diversity & Representation 2014 initiative is such a joke. It is all superficial (not to mention temporary), and it only perpetuates the notion that in order for people of color and women to achieve greatness, they must literally fill the shoes of a white man. Gimme a break.