Despite my love of superheroes, I’ve never been a comic book reader. Sure, I bought a trade paperback here or there, but until recently I had never bought a single issue. A big part of that comes down to disposable income - like me finally having it now. At four or five dollars a piece, comics can get expensive if you’re trying to keep up with more than a single series. Another part is that now it’s become a shared thing with my fiancée. She started reading Captain Marvel on my recommendation, which has led to Bitch Planet and Ms. Marvel. But the biggest reason why I’ve decided to subscribe to comics at this late date is… drumroll… Marvel’s recent diversification of it’s lineup!
The changes Marvel is making are absolutely incredible. And it’s not just the changes we see with Sam Wilson becoming Captain America or Jane Foster wielding Mjolnir. The creative teams behind these heroes are finally being diversified also. While there has always been some minority presence around Marvel, it’s now being made known even in their marketing materials: Marvel is diversifying its creators, its editors and its heroes to match the world we actually live in. This is a thing.1 And it’s incredibly personal for me. Until their recent announcements, I never had a hero I could look at and say “That could be me.” And seeing is the real issue here, race and gender.
For those unaware, I’m an adopted American. Ethnically, I’m Chinese-EuroAmerican but culturally I’m a pretty typical middle class American. I’ve had my favorite heroes, certainly ones I’ve identified with in some way like Iceman, Cyclops or Iron Man. But these identifications have always been with their personality or mental gifts, never the color of their skin. And over a lunch at DragonCon, this led to an interesting discussion.
Heroes like Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Logan (Wolverine) are treasured by their fans. Their stories, personality, costumes are integral to the character and those core principles are shifting. There’s a new new Cap and a new Wolvie. And look, I understand this: one of my favorite heroes, Iceman has been seen his own sea change, admitting that he is gay. So I feel that pang of change. But while I might lose some tiny shred of identification with Iceman, another character somewhere in the Marvel universe might change and I might gain some identification with that one. Which is wonderful. So my group talked through the entirety of lunch and I did my best to be understanding of the traditionalists - the ones who want to keep everything as is and see diversity come through in new characters - while also trying to present my point of view. Eventually my argument billed down to one critical question: How many male Asisn superheroes can you name?
Lots of others were offered, Silver Samurai (but he was a villain), Sunspot (Brazillian), Warpath (Native American), Amadeus Cho (isn’t actually powered up), Iron Fist (white). 2 There are plenty of women - Jubilee, Blink, Psylocke (though her racial issues are considerable). And there’s lots of Asian villains, most notably Mandarin and Silver Samurai. So, I didn’t really have anyone to look at and say “Look that could be me.”
Let’s take a moment to talk about mantles and titles. I would love for there to be a new character with a new name that represented me really well. Unfortunately, these old superhero names hold a lot of cache. It’s much easier to still use the same superhero name for a new character than it is to build a new character from scratch. That new character just will not sell as well. Plus, mantles have been passed before. Sam Wilson is not the first non-Steve Captain America. Before him there was Bucky. Just how many Robin’s have there been in Bat-verse? Or Green Lanterns? Or Flashes? Sure, it’s much more prevalent in DC but it’s not like it hasn’t happened in Marvel. Carol Danvers is now Captain Marvel. Kamala Khan is now Ms. Marvel. Miles Morales is Spider-man.
The day after the DragonConversation, Marvel announced that Amadeus Cho would be taking on the mantle of the Hulk. And that the new book would be written and drawn by two Korean-Americans. That is incredible… or, in their parlance, totally awesome! Prior to this, I had been lukewarm about picking up reading comics. Despite crafting a foam armor of Superior Iron Man for DragonCon 2014, I didn’t end up reading the series. But now I have. My interest in comics, specifically Marvel Comics, has spiked to the point where I went to my local comic shop and setup a pull list.
I’ve read more comics in the past month than I had my entire life previously. I’ve finished the Superior Iron Man run. I’ve started Uncanny Inhumans and Armor Wars. I’ve picked up lots of single issues in case I find something I like. I’ve also added Totally Awesome Hulk and Spider-Man to my pull list, while strongly considering many more. And I can’t wait to read International Iron Man and follow Tony’s search for his biological parents.
So thanks Marvel. Thanks for making Sunfire not the only superhero that looks like me. Thanks for making Tony Stark adopted and showing his journey. I know there are a lot of upset people who hate what you’re doing and they’re really loud about it. But I’m not one of them. Your changes to the universe are good for me and thus good for you. My fiancée and I will be closely following several series. And I’ll try and be as loud as I can be to tell you that I support these changes.
Yes, I wish their cinematic universe would move faster in diversifying but creative processes take time and MCU is now a behemoth.↩
Editors Note: Charles would like to point out Shang Chi here, though he won’t hold it over James or anyone else for not knowing Shang Chi. Poor guy always gets overshadowed by the white kung fu guy, Danny Rand. Which further validates James’s point.↩