Thor, Blaptain America, and the Perils of Cowl Rental

The new Thor is a girl.
The new Thor is a girl.

Last week, Marvel blew the lid off the Internet when they announced two major changes to beloved Avengers heroes, both of them clearly a nod to fans demanding increased comic book diversity.

Just over eight days ago, Marvel allowed The View, a day-time talk-show with an overwhelmingly female audience, to break the news that Thor — the Asgardian Thunder God played by Chris Hemsworth in the Marvel Studios movie franchise — will now be a woman. Although the details of the storyline is unclear, in an upcoming arc, Thor will presumably no longer be able to wield Mjolnir (the hammer that serves as the symbol of his power); instead, a female peer will take up Mjolnir and adopt the name of Thor. Although fan reception was largely positive, many fans were perplexed at the news since — as my friend Will pointed out — Thor is not a title like “Superman” or “Batman”, but the character’s actual name.

Then, just a few days later, Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada appeared on Colbert Report to announce a major storyline shift involving the launch of a new title All-New Captain America: long-time sidekick Sam Wilson (aka The Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie in the most recent Winter Soldier installment of the Captain America movie franchise) will become the new Captain America, making him a contemporary African American Captain America, and the second African American Captain America in history.

Response to Blaptain America (credit to Will for that name) has been largely mixed, possibly because the timing of the announcement immediately after the announcement over Thor, along with the clear “where’s our pat on the back for our diversity initiative?” tone coming out of Marvel, has led many to conclude it’s all gimmick and publicity stunt. Like Snoopy Jenkins and Will (who podcasted about it over the weekend — go watch!), I have no particular love for superficial diversity that fails to challenge the inherent failings of the superhero genre; last week’s announcements seem like yet another skin-deep comic book diversity initiative that focuses on the appearance of diversity for its own sake.

But beyond that, I have some specific issues with the tactic here. I have specific issues with what I’m dubbing “Cowl Rental”.

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