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We’re less than a week away from Comic-Con International, and that means announcements from major publishers are coming in early to jockey for position before the masses gather in sunny San Diego. Marvel struck hard with big changes debuting on major media outlets, leading to your grandma knowing what’s coming up in the pages of Thor.
It’s a weird world we live in these days.
On The View, Whoopi Goldberg announced there will be a woman taking over the mantle of Thor. Marvel’s Ryan Penagos (a far better source for Marvel news, no offense to Goldberg) clarified that this wouldn’t be a more traditional female counterpart, but the actual god of thunder title would pass to a female character. On The Colbert Report, actually a decent and known source for Captain America news, Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada informed Stephen Colbert that she shield will be passed to the Falcon, Cap’s longtime partner Sam Wilson. In fact, Colbert specifically said that the event was tied to the events of Captain America #21 and the rather complicated story line within, which I believe is the first time a recent back issue was ever advertised on a cable TV show.
Superior Iron Man was also announced, indicating a darker outlook and a lighter “Genius Bar”-looking set of armor for Tony Stark, which led everyone from the New York Daily News to MTV to carry stories about what it means.
In fact, a lot of news outlets are picking up the stories above and flipping their collective lids, which is a little like panicking because HBO‘s Game of Thrones killed off a character. Sorry, folks, it’s kind of what they do. Comics are full of changes and torch-passing, some long-term, others just story beats for a larger plot. It’s kind of like being shown a Magic Eye painting: While the mainstream media squint and try to make sense of all the different shapes and dots, comic readers know to just relax their eyes and, hey, it’s a sailboat. Cool.
The reason I couldn’t muster more of an outrage in either direction at the Avengers NOW! changes is that, really, it’s all been done before. Captain America has passed shield to others, and Isaiah Bradley wore the star-spangled costume before Sam Wilson did. Thor has not only been a woman in the pages of Earth X, but also a space horse (Beta Ray Bill) and a frog. Odin does this from time to time to teach Thor a little humility, and only he and Mjolnir itself really decide who is worthy, making Thor less of a proper name and more like a title, like doctor or chef (or Captain). As for Iron Man, well … let’s face it, he’s easy to hate. The idea that something new happens to make him more so seems almost overkill after the events of Civil War, “World War Hulk,” the reinstatement of the Illuminati, and planning to destroy entire worlds in the pages of New Avengers. Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso saying that, “Like the Superior Spider-Man, Superior Iron Man is a character that’s hard to root for” kind of describes Tony currently in the pages of the Invincible Iron Man. All of these upcoming changes are fairly logical progressions of their current storylines, and the jump from point A to B seems like interesting twists to keep readers on their toes.
On the other hand, the mainstream media don’tt read comics, nor do I think they really want to, but they still have a deep connection to the characters. Tons of people have opinions about Superman and who he should be, but most couldn’t really care less about what he’s doing in the pages of his own comics. Thanks in part to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, more people than ever know about Captain America, Thor and Iron Man, and when there’s news, they’re ready with their opinions.
Most of these reports will take the characters out of the comics where they originated and place them in grander and broader terms to make talking about them a lot easier than tracking down a copy of Captain America #21 to try to figure out why the Falcon is now the Sentinel of Liberty. Terms like diversity (or, on the flip side, “pandering to a liberal audience”) speak to more people than “Captain America is injured and a new hero needs to take his place to face an oncoming threat.” Plus, the Avengers are kind of known for an ever-changing lineup; one requires you to have read the comics and the other is something everyone has experienced at one point.
Broad topics pull more people into the discussion, which is great exposure but rarely leads to furthering the comic in question. As the conversation expands into larger social issues about race and gender and representation, we start talking more about ourselves and less about the comic Marvel hopes you’ll purchase.
People who don’t read comics will be coming out of the woodwork to tell you about Marvel’s announcements this week. Your grandma who watches The View will most likely have an opinion about Thor being a woman. The most important thing we can do is listen to these opinions and try to steer clear of any controversy that arises from people’s deep feelings about superheroes. Be kind with your truths (“Well, Grandma, I think Chris Hemsworth is going to be just fine in the movies …”), and remember that speculation is just that, “the forming of a theory or conjecture without firm evidence.” We can all try and guess what the motivation is behind these changes and ponder their greater significance, but we’re still going to be left with the truth that these are story beats and will most likely be changed as the plot moves on … into a new No. 1 issue.