(with intellectual contribution from Snoopy Jenkins)
How long does Cowl Rental last for non-White, non-male superheroes in the Marvel Universe? Apparently, less than a year.
Marvel’s earlier diversity efforts — the introductions of the Ultimate Universe’s Miles Morales (Spiderman) and the 616 Universe’s Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) — have been well-received by fans. Last October, Marvel again made headlines — and even the Colbert Report — for its announcement of new diversity initiatives that would replace many of the Marvel Universe’s classic superheroes with non-White or non-male successors. Filling the void left behind when Steve Rogers was depowered, Sam Wilson would give up his mantle as the Falcon to be the “first” Black Captain America (although he wasn’t the first). Thor Odinson would lose the ability to wield Mjolnir, the source of his power, making way for a new, female Thor whose identity, after three issues, remains a mystery.
But, as I speculated in October of last year, diversity via Cowl Rental is always fraught, particularly for the minority character involved. Not only does it typically end poorly for the minority inheritor of a high-profile cowl, but, as artist Denys Cowan reiterated in an interview with the Washington Post yesterday (wherein the Post reported that he, Reggie Hudlin and Derek Dingle are interested in resurrecting Milestone Media), the entire tactic is also politically troublesome.
[The] trend now, is [to] have characters that are, not blackface, but they’re the black versions of the already established white characters — as if it gives legitimacy to these black characters in some kind of way — [that] these characters are legitimate because now there’s a black Captain America.
As I discussed back in October, Cowl Rental is also inherently temporary since fans will always clamour for the return of the cowl’s original owners. Alas, this appears to once again hold true for Marvel Comics, tarnishing some of the sheen on last year’s self-congratulatory diversity announcements.
Earlier this week, Marvel shook the nerdom to its core with the announcement of the pending universe-ending Secret Wars crossover event, which would involve three separate mini-events; the first mini-event will be the demise of the current 616 Marvel Universe which has encompassed a single continuity since 1961. Subsequent events will involve the formation of a Marvel-616/Ultimate Universe hybrid world (called “Battleworld”), followed by a full Marvel Universe reboot.
For non-comic book afficionados, that means that some time after May of this year, the current Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, female Thor and Sam Wilson’s Captain America will simply cease to exist.
Of course, none of this means that we won’t see some of our favourite POC superheroes reappear in the new post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe. In fact, given both Miles Morales’ and Kamala Khan’s popularity among young comic readers, this pending reboot is likely to give both characters a chance to be integrated into a unified Marvel Universe mainstream (which is particularly relevant for Miles Morales, whom Marvel has long struggled to move from their Ultimate Universe to their 616 Universe).
But, it’s also likely that most of the much-celebrated new diversity over at Marvel is going to be muted after Secret Wars. It’s almost certain that the post-Secret Wars Nick Fury will look like Samuel Jackson, and it’s possible that a post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe will make room for a new Carol Danvers origin story that begins with her assuming the role of Captain Marvel (thereby making room for the original post-Secret Wars Ms. Marvel to be Kamala Khan). But there is absolutely no way that Miles Morales will be the original post-Secret Wars Spiderman. Peter Parker will be your post-Secret Wars Spiderman. Miles Morales fans should make their peace with that now.
And what about the fates of Sam Wilson and female Thor (whose identity needs to be revealed if only so we can stop calling her the more-than-a-little regressive name, “female Thor”)? What about that all-female X-men team?
Marvel has never undergone a universe-wide, universe-ending crossover event. However, DC Comics has a Crisis event like this every Tuesday, so comic fans have a good sense of both why universe reboots exist, and what we can expect to emerge on the other end. Universe reboots take place whenever a comics universe has become so convoluted with its continuity that new readers have a hard time “jumping in”. A Crisis event solves this problem by building some reason to start over by erasing some of the more oddball things that writers have done to classic characters over the years. It’s a chance to erase all the wacky things Grant Morrison did to the X-men, and bring Wolverine back from the dead, and cure Jubilee of her dumb vampirism, and let Cyclops no longer be an evil, genocidal jerk.
The point? Universe reboots don’t ever give you something hugely different. They basically give you a lot of the exact same thing, just repackaged and updated for a contemporary reader. A comic universe reboot is a vehicle to restore the same characters to their same original superhero identities, while mining the same popular origin stories all over again, because we all know that pictures of a rocket flying away from an exploding Krypton sells, again and again and again.
Sure, there will be some differences around the edges — maybe Peter Parker will be a high school student with an iPad and an Instagram addiction, instead of a college-aged photojournalist — but you won’t see all that much that’s radically different. Professor X will still lead the X-men, which will include many of the same familiar mutant faces. Steve Rogers will still be the universe’s Captain America. Peter Parker will still be Spiderman. Uncle Ben will still die. It’s basically like formatting your hard drive and restoring the factory install of Windows; you’re not going to emerge from that process with a Macbook Air.
So, what does this mean? It means that Marvel announced last year that a bunch of its White male superheroes would be replaced with new, non-White or female superheroes. And now, they’re about to render all of those efforts moot and irrelevant, because the universe is about to end.
Way to go, Marvel. Apparently diversity in comics is only possible when everyone is going to die anyways.
Read more: My pal Will has a really great take on what this all means for both the Marvel 616 and Ultimate universes in his latest edition of his West Week Ever feature.