Marvel comics are not afraid of what most of the mainstream american audience would see as controversy. In 1992 Marvel announced their first openly gay superhero, Northstar, a Canadian superhero from a series called Alpha Flight who briefly appeared in The X-Men. In 2012 Northstar married his long term partner Kyle. Whilst Marvel were never going to reveal that Wolverine was homosexual, writing this minor character that basically no one had heard of as gay was fantastic PR for Marvel. It was in all the headlines.
Gay superheroes? What next? Female superheroes who look like normal women? Without their heaving bosoms getting in the way?
In 2007 Marvel killed Captain America. This was a shock and once again made big news. What isn’t mentioned that Captain America dies all the time. He dies about as often as Kenny in South Park. Recently Johnny Storm and Wolverine have been killed off too, big news and headlines, but they always come back. Marvels PR stunts are like soap opera cliff hangers, exciting at the time but in the next episode it was all a big hype over nothing.
This week we learnt that Samuel Wilson otherwise known as Falcon will be the new Captain America. This was big press as Captain America is now black. Black superheroes are not unusual, but however highly misrepresented and underrepresented in comic books. Luke Cage, Black Panther, Bishop, Storm, War Machine are the first names to come to mind, but one important fact is being overlooked in Marvels new announcement: Captain America has been played by an African-American before. Isaiah Bradley was a victim of the Super Soldier serum used in the Marvel universe in World War 2 and is considered to be the black Captain America. In the comics, Storm and Black Panther even go and visit him to say thank you for being the first black superhero.
Marvels other big announcement this week was that Thor was now a woman. First of all Thor has been a woman before in the What If series penned by Don Glut. Thor has also been a frog. Yes a frog. However the frog thing never seemed to bother anyone, Thor being a woman has all the die-hard fans into a fucking uproar. Thor is now one of Marvel's most popular franchises, and as Marvel have found a new audience, they have found new ways to make money. All kids want to be the one that knows what happens in the movie adaptations - which are currently many years behind the comics - so front page press is king. And latching onto movements and minorities unfortunately seems to be the companies ace in the hole here.
Thor as a frog. Throg. He was literally called 'Throg'. (image via)
Most superheroes have female counterparts, mostly due to Marvel’s interest in cornering the market of female readers in the early 2000’s. Spiderman has several Spiderwomen clones now, The Hulk now has 3 different She Hulks. There is even a series of comics where Tony Stark was born Natasha Stark, created Ironwoman and married Captain America. To go into the complexities of different Marvel Universes is an unnecessary annoyance for anyone who isn’t a massive fan of the comics, but with them you can already find the role models Marvel are trying to force feed you. They already exist.
Two things are guaranteed after this week's news, Thor will be a man again within twelve months, and Steve Rogers will be Captain America again with 6. A black Captain America will never make it to the silver screen. However with rumours of Black Panther film we may finally see our first African-American lead superhero in the next 5 years. And with other rumours of a Black Widow solo movie (depending on the release of Scarlett Johansson's action film Lucy), Gal Gadot's future as Wonder Woman and Elizabeth Olsen's portrayal as the Scarlett Witch there could be a whole host of interesting, thought-provoking blockbusters.
Are audiences really ready for an African-American lead superhero? YES. We had Blade in 1998 prove that. Are audiences really ready for a female lead superhero? YES. If we base our expectations of female-driven superhero flicks on Domino and Elecktra then how can we ever expect a Dark Knight Rises-style film with a female lead?
Marvel have a formula, it includes good looking white men, with good looking women in the background, defeating ridiculous villains. As society becomes so diverse, this needs to be reflected as a normality - not as a PR stunt to get a new audience.
In my eyes, a Black Widow film (rated 18 and with Hawkeye as a supporting character) and a Black Panther film to take place in Marvels Phase 3 would be some of the best cinema to come from the company's new found cinematic fame.
Diversity doesn’t need to be shoved in the audience’s faces anymore, put the characters there, write them well, hire good directors and the money will flow.