Diversity is the Marvel Comics' buzzword these days, but is the company's fan base buying it?
The scene: New York City
The situation: Monsters from another dimension are wreaking havoc
The resolution: Marvel’s The Avengers swoop in to save the day
But as Captain America, Thor, the Hulk and Iron Man knock out the baddies, even the casual reader will notice something is … different. The heroes have been replaced – not with the shape-shifting skrulls, but rather with new do-gooders.
Sam Wilson, formerly known as the Falcon, is now Cap; Thor is now a woman; so is the Hulk and Iron Man. Even Spider-Man got caught up in the act, bringing Miles Morales from the Ultimate Universe into the regular Marvel world to spin webs.
Marvel has made a concerted effort over the last few years to increase the racial diversity of its characters, Perhaps its most successful hero – critically, at least – is Ms. Marvel. She’s a young Muslim woman with bizarre stretching powers.
The list hardly ends there.
Marvel’s ranks are filled with a rainbow of various colors, genders, sexual orientations and nationalities.
It’s a diverse comics universe meant to serve the next generation of readers. While admirable, Marvel may be ignoring its core audience who grew up with Tony Stark as Iron Man and Steve Rogers as Cap.
Some early signs suggest that’s the case, along with a frustration over politically correct stories and dialogue.
FAST FACT: Robert Downey, Jr. earned $500,000 for playing the title hero in 2008’s “Iron Man.” He hauled in $50 million to play the same character in the ensemble film “The Avengers” four years later.
Even the casual reader who knows more about the heroes from the blockbuster movies won’t likely pick up an issue of Thor with Jane Foster wielding the uru hammer. In short, the most popular characters are no longer who they used to be.
That isn’t true on the big screen. The Marvel Cinematic Universe hues more closely to the classic Marvel lore. The results? Hit after hit after hit. And, so far, it doesn’t look as if the MCU franchises will be following the path forged by the print versions in the 21st century.
When you have Robert Downey, Jr. under contract as Iron Man, it’s unlikely you’ll swap him out for anyone else, diversity push or not.
Marvel Studios is attempting to broaden the superhero canvas all the same. Next year, we’ll see Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther in a standalone superhero adventure. The character is part of the existing Marvel universe, though, and dates back decades.
This isn’t a politically correct switcheroo. It’s just comics history.
Meanwhile, rival DC is moving in a different direction on the printed page, even while its film cycle suffers compared to Marvel’s might. After a five-year reboot of its entire universe, the publisher has started reintroducing some of its familiar story lines. The original Superman is back. So is Wally West, one of the Flashes. Green Lantern and Black Canary are a thing again.
It’s all familiar territory to the reader, and it’s paying off in local comic book shops, where DC is regularly eclipsing once-mighty Marvel.
There are hints that Marvel may revert to more traditional story lines. Bleeding Cool reports the comics giant expects to reverse course in the coming months.
“…expect a return to more of a status quo for titles such as Thor, Iron Man, Hulk and more. A more familiar looking Marvel Universe by the autumn – although, just as with Captain America, as classic-look-characters return, expect new characters to keep a number of their books.”
Marvel still will be pumping out its “event” books, each of which seems to promise major changes to the characters.
The question for the House of Ideas is: will the readers return when it does?