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on ThorCaptain America and FeminismMulticulturalism™ for Fun and Profit

cap17n-1-webSo really, I could more or less just global search and replace a few key terms on my post about Lady Thor in order to give you my thoughts on Black Captain America, and for the most part, it would actually be pretty accurate. But there are a few other thoughts I have on it complicate this even more.

So if you read the news this morning and saw “Captain America is Black now” and your first thought was “Wow, I bet Mav thinks that’s really fucking stupid.” then congratulations, you win the prize for “knows how to pay attention 2014!”

One: I guess the optimistic way of looking at this is supposed to be “wow, a female Thor and an African-American Cap! Marvel really is serious about this whole diversity thing! good for them!” And umm… yeah sure… that’s great and very optimistic of you person who either hasn’t read a comic book in the last fifty years or so, or at least clearly wasn’t paying very much attention. Because, as I pointed out in the Thor post, this isn’t going to stick. Marvel replaces Captain America LITERALLY all the time. Most recently they did it in 2007 (which again, I alluded to in the Thor article). That time it lasted all the way until August of 2011, which coincidentally was a month after the Captain America: The First Avenger premiered. And if by some miracle Marvel doesn’t want to reverse this after Avengers 2 premieres on May 1,  2015, you can be damn sure they’ll want to do it by the time Captain America 3 comes out on May 6, 2016. They schedule these things for a reason.

Two: This actually underscores my point from before about it not really being a commitment to diversity so much as Diversity™. If this were being done organically over time, as the replacement of Hal Jordan (the Green Lantern) with John Stewart in DC Comics in the 70s or the replacement of Tony Stark (Iron Man) with Jim Rhodes in the 80s (both of which have since been reversed, by the way) then I’d actually be a lot more optimistic. But instead this is Marvel in the space of 36 hours, announcing these changes to their characters on two different non-comics related, but far more popular media outlets (The View and The Colbert Report). They’re even rebranding with a catchy phrase: “Avengers NOW!” They might as well have well said “Marvel: Not just white guys anymore!” of course then they’d have to follow it up with “at least for now.”

Making these announcements back to back, like this, in mainstream media is basically like saying “look, at us! We’re awesome! We’re diverse and shit! Love us! Give us money!” Again, like before. I certainly hope good stories come out of this. I always hope for that. But you get that by work, not by “slapping some black and some tits on it” and calling it a day.

falcon-mego-picThree: This one really pertains to Black Cap more than Lady Thor (or at least as far as we know, since we don’t know who Lady Thor is under the mask yet). I said in the Thor article that if you wanted a strong female character then invent one rather than just repurposing a male character. Well, the stickler here, and what really really really bugs me, and what I find extremely racially offensive about Black Cap is that they ALREADY FUCKING HAD A STRONG BLACK CHARACTER. His name was Falcon. In his very good and extremely informative history of Black comic book heroes, Super Black, (which should be required reading for anyone who is into comics as literature or culture, particularly as it relates to minorities) Adilifu Nama relates a story from his childhood that is almost exactly like mine. He talks about going out to buy Mego action figures as boy and trying to decide which two he wanted… Falcon and someone else. Why definitely Falcon? “He was a black man that could fly.”1

And that was kind of the point. Falcon wasn’t really a sidekick. He was Cap’s partner. Unlike Robin to Batman or even Bucky to Cap, Falcon didn’t have some watered down version of Cap’s powers. He was his own man. They were equals. Falcon could do stuff that Captain America couldn’t. And that’s been fine since his introduction in 1969. Nama devotes a whole chapter of his book to Falcon and his relevance not only as a comic book character, but as a cultural icon for young black men, particularly those of us who grew up in the 70s or 80s. But now, in 2014, after Falcon gets to “graduate” to being Captain America. This isn’t inspiring. It means “by the way, for the last 45 years, you weren’t really that important. Now you can be important by taking over for the white guy, because your identity really wasn’t that important in the first place.”

That does not show diversity. If anything, they’ve watered down the product and made it less diverse, by reducing a character with 45 years of individual autonomy to the level of backup quarterback. Basically, there MUST be a Captain America, but there doesn’t HAVE to be a Falcon, so don’t worry, once the real Captain America comes back, you can totally go back to your second-rate identity. It will be waiting for you… no one else wants it.

3678206-luke+cageMuch like I said with Thor, I’m not opposed to Marvel diversifying their line. I pointed to some of their more successful female characters in that article and in this one I have to mention that Marvel does have successful black characters, notably Falcon himself (at least up until now), Storm (again, since she was also mentioned in the Thor article), Black Panther, Misty Knight, and War Machine/Iron Patriot (the black Iron Man). And most importantly of all, right now, there is Luke Cage, who while invented as blaxploitation character in 1972, has been one of the most prominent characters in the Avengers, and Marvel’s line in general for the last decade or so. And when they decided to make Cage a first string character they didn’t have a press release or go on a media blitz. Brian Michael Bendis simply started writing about him all the time and it caught on. Bendis takes a lot of flack from comic fans, some deserved, some not, but THAT is commitment to diversity.

truth-red-white-and-black-1Even inside of the Captain America mythos, there is room for African-American characters. It’s not currently in print (and HOVA-dammit, it should be) but Truth: Red, White and Black is one of the best Captain America stories ever written. The premise is that when they were working on the Super Soldier Serum (the formula that gives Captain America his powers) in the 1940s they decided that it was too dangerous to test on white soldiers, so they injected it into 300 black men, because basically… well, no one cares about the darkies. 299 of them die. One, Isaiah Bradley survives and is therefore chronologically “the first Captain America.” His grandson, Eli, under the name Patriot is a member of the Young Avengers. Though he isn’t being used currently (he last appeared in 2010).

If you really wanted a black superhero, you certainly could give any of these characters a book, there’s currently only one for Iron Patriot, though several black characters (especially Storm and Luke Cage) feature prominently in the X-men and Avengers team books, and Misty Knight leads the Defenders. They could have just given Falcon his own book and if it had been good, maybe people would have read it. Much like I said with Thor, if Marvel really wanted to show diversity, then the solution is to write good stories featuring characters of diverse races, genders, religions, etc. Sticking a predefined costume and name out there is stunt booking. It’s not showing me a commitment to diverse characters. It’s asking me to care about a character just because s/he is female/black. They aren’t selling us a story with diversity. They’re not even attempting to market towards our diversity. And they’re certainly not showing their diversity. They’re asking us to prove our diversity. It’s insulting. And doing it twice in two days is not just doubly so, but exponentially so. My blackness is not for sale… well, and if it is, it certainly isn’t that cheap.


Footnotes
1. Adilifu Nama. Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes (Kindle Location 29). Kindle Edition.

 

39 comments for “on ThorCaptain America and FeminismMulticulturalism™ for Fun and Profit

  1. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 7:07 am

    So, if Thor is female is Jane Foster a lesbian or is she just fired ? And is Cris hemsworth going to lose the only decent role he has ever had ?

  2. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 8:39 am

    Stupid marketing ploys that increase representation are still offering super hero obsessed kids a hero that looks like them. The intent may be mercenary, but the effects can still be a net good. (Both Thor and old Cap.)

    • avatar
      mav
      July 17, 2014 at 10:15 am

      Lizz: It *could* be, but I don’t have any faith that it will be. The problem is, as I said, the movies are orders of magnitude more popular. Avengers did $1.5 billion in ticket sales, so that means a conservative estimate of 150million viewers. (probably more like $200million) at the box office. The most popular comics sale 100,000 copies, and most are more like 40,000. So the comics HAVE to match the movies as opposed to the other way around. This is why they’ve made the Nick Fury that’s appearing in comics black.

      I’m all for diversity, but as I said, this is more stunt-booking. There is nothing that would have stopped them from doing a GOOD Falcon book or a GOOD Sif book, but it wouldn’t have made headlines.

  3. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 8:49 am

    There is no reason to modify a character in this manner other than marketing BS. Spiderman IS Peter Parker a nerdy white teenage. Luke Skywalker, is a white farm boy from a desert planet. They don’t need to change the backgrounds of these characters, they need to stop being lazy and create new ones.

    • avatar
      mav
      July 17, 2014 at 10:19 am

      Vic: There is totally a reason to modify characters. Organic long form storytelling. Peter Parker grew up, got married, got a real job. Those made for really good stories and saw character change and development over time. That, I’m perfectly OK with (and in fact, I hate when they try to undo it, which is what they’ve done with Parker… they retconned out his marriage because they wanted him to seem younger… it hasn’t worked).

      Luke Cage has developed a LOT since his inception in 1972 to be the cornerstone of the the Marvel Universe that he is today. Of course a non-comic fan doesn’t know that because they have no idea who the fuck Luke Cage is since he’s never been in a movie or TV show (yet, he’s getting a Netflix series next year).

      This I don’t like because it’s not “development” its temporary glitz to make headlines.

  4. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 8:53 am

    It’s all about revenue and name recognition, the same way we get crap remake films that are little relation to the original TV show or film, simply because they want less monetary risk. It’s how we got the first Mission Impossible without the elite team elements that made the series so awesome. They figure the name alone will have some draw.

    • avatar
      mav
      July 17, 2014 at 10:36 am

      Jenn: yes. The thing is, I’d be the first person in line for a new Falcon book. Obviously, I’m a fan. I’m also a big Sif fan. I LOVED that they put her on the Agents of SHIELD. But that’s just the point, actually developing a character and writing good stories is hard and doesn’t gene are press buzz. Luke Cage led the Avengers and no one in mainstream media has ever heard of him. But, as I said in the Thor article (http://www.chrismaverick.com/wp/2014/07/15/on-thor-and-feminism-for-fun-and-profit/), doing this makes the media advertise for you for free.

  5. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 9:26 am

    It is definitely a marketing ploy. And kind of racist. What about the black panther, falcon? These moves are insulting to anyone, but if I were black, or a woman, especially so. I would introduce new heroes.

  6. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 9:28 am

    I just read your post. I agree. I think this is terrible. I loved Cage, and Storm. I think this is really a cheap ploy.

  7. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 10:15 am

    I really enjoyed your essay. One thing I’d add to that is this is another ploy to reboot the books back to #1 to get a couple months boost on sales from the renumbering.

  8. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 10:15 am

    I really enjoyed your essay. One thing I’d add to that is this is another ploy to reboot the books back to #1 to get a couple months boost on sales from the renumbering.

    • avatar
      mav
      July 17, 2014 at 10:52 am

      Andy: Yeah, but that’s always true. I’ve given up on caring about rebooting the numbers. Bendis had a really good point about that. You’re not supposed to care, but since you do, they’re going to capitalize on it. And he’s right, other magazines reboot their numbers every January. No one notices.

      I mean, I would have loved seeing an issue #1000 some day, but that’s not gong to happen and I have accepted that.

  9. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Next up: Black Widow becomes an Asian male drag queen. With a slight lisp!

    • avatar
      mav
      July 17, 2014 at 10:53 am

      Rod: And you KNOW you would read that!

  10. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Next up: Black Widow becomes an Asian male drag queen. With a slight lisp!

  11. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 10:23 am

    And it never works. Are there any memorable stories of when Bucky was Cap? Are there any memorable stories of the Fantastic Four without the core characters? The only time it did work was with Superior Spiderman but Dan Slott had a definite worked out storyline from beginning to end. I’ve yet to read any of the creative teams talk about what grea stories they have planned.

    • avatar
      mav
      July 17, 2014 at 10:54 am

      That’s not the ONLY time it’s worked. The most notable would be Wally West as the Flash. Wally has still technically been the Flash longer than Barry or Jay ever was.

  12. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 10:23 am

    And it never works. Are there any memorable stories of when Bucky was Cap? Are there any memorable stories of the Fantastic Four without the core characters? The only time it did work was with Superior Spiderman but Dan Slott had a definite worked out storyline from beginning to end. I’ve yet to read any of the creative teams talk about what grea stories they have planned.

  13. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 10:31 am

    while i agree it is for marketing and will never work in the long run; it does feel like a natural next step for falcon; just as it was for nightwing to become batman; or cyclops to lead all the x-men

    • avatar
      mav
      July 17, 2014 at 10:58 am

      Baird: It’s not a “natural” step for the Falcon. It only seems like that from a standpoint of white privilege. The article I wrote explains why. Falcon was never a sidekick the way Bucky or Robin/Nightwing was. He didn’t “grow up” to be Captain America. He was already an adult. This sends the message that Cap and Falcon were never *really partners… Cap was always more important and that was not what was happening in the original run of Captain America and Falcon. Again, Namu’s book does a really good job talking about this.

  14. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 10:33 am

    I just want to know if Vic loves to bitch and complain, gets his rocks off eliciting responses, or is legitimately just this unbelievably miserable.

  15. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 11:01 am

    Chris with the Wally West Flash, the writer was Mike Barron who had a clear idea of how the Flash’s power would work, the relationships he would have, etc. And there was a precedent at the time since they went from Jay Garrick to Barry Allen to Wally West. It just went to shit when they brought Barry back and ignored Wally.

  16. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 11:03 am

    And by that I meant when Morrison brought him back in Final Crisis. When he came back in Infinity Crisis (running out of the speed force to catch Superboy) that was one of the best stories.

  17. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 11:11 am

    I don’t really understand the marketing rationale either – you’ve just introduced the Falcon to the movie watching public in Winter Soldier, why would you suddenly flip the character’s look & concept? It seems unnecessarily confusing to casual readers. I was enjoying the Falcon AS the Falcon in Mighty Avengers.

    • avatar
      mav
      July 17, 2014 at 11:30 am

      John: Falcon isn’t booked for Avengers 2, as far as I know. And the Cap2 movie bump was already 4 months ago. The bank here is that “New Captain America is Black! New Thor is a woman” is bigger mainstream press than “Oh, we also have a comic book about that black dude from the movie.” And they’re right, it totally is. And even if it doesn’t translate into sales (which it will) it already has translated into good mainstream PR of “Marvel Comics is trying to bring diversity to their readers.”

  18. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 11:39 am

    don’t forget the new one today is iron man turns evil

  19. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Which in my opinion is actually right on the mark to where the characters story should be going out of all of them being introduced http://www.newsarama.com/21598-superior-iron-man-to-unleash-tony-starks-inner-darkness.html

  20. avatar
    July 17, 2014 at 11:47 am

    i concede to your point chris, but i still feel that falcon taking over the role is one i can agree with. i just wish it wasn’t a publicity stunt.

  21. avatar
    July 18, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    +1 on Truth: Red, White and Black. I loved that story and wish they would make it into a movie, with the tiny cameo by Chris Evans at the end.

  22. avatar
    July 18, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Christopher: Fantasy Cast it! Go!

  23. avatar
    July 18, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    (or should I make a new post?)

  24. avatar
    July 18, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    Hell, I’ll make a new post…. one second.

  25. avatar
    July 21, 2014 at 10:42 am

    Chris Maverick wrote:

    Falcon was never a sidekick the way Bucky or Robin/Nightwing was. He didn’t “grow up” to be Captain America. He was already an adult. This sends the message that Cap and Falcon were never *really partners… Cap was always more important and that was not what was happening in the original run of Captain America and Falcon.

    You get it, Mav.

  26. avatar
    July 21, 2014 at 11:08 am

    James: I try! 🙂

  27. avatar
    July 21, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    i have to admit, when i was told about lady thor, i was excited (i also admit that i still haven’t picked up a comic book despite wanting to for a very long time). at the same time, i suspected it was all just a marketing ploy. the news about black captain america confirms this. very informative posts, mav.

    • avatar
      mav
      July 21, 2014 at 2:27 pm

      Theresa: Yeah, I think that’s another drawback of doing them back to back like that. It screams “yeah, we don’t really care… we just want you to think we do.”

      And my offer to take you with me to the comic store any given Wednesday still stands.

  28. avatar
    July 21, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    any given wednesday lol. i’ll let you know if i have a free one. do you think marvel considered this at all, like “guys, maybe we should space this out a little………nah!”?

  29. avatar
    July 21, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    Theresa: Yeah, that’s new comic book day. I usually go around lunch time. Though I’m teaching 12-1 next semester, so it’ll probably be a little earlier or a little later.

    Anyway, yes, I think they exactly considered it. That’s exactly the marketing mentality. They decided that rather than space them out it would make a bigger “splash” if they did both at the same time because “that will show people how serious we are!”

    They even came up with the tag line “Avengers NOW!” because someone thought that would look great in headlines. Of course, to me, that looks like “Avengers NOW are female and black. But Avengers NEXT YEAR are going to be old white guys again.”

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