The Marvel Universe is ending; so, what about all that much-hyped diversity?


(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.

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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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