Changing The Story

It’s not often that comic books make headline news anymore.

The movies based on them are usually the top story of entertainment pages for much of the summer, especially the weeks leading up to San Diego Comic Con. Many of the trailers concerning them will soon be among the most watched on YouTube once they’re displayed for the first time in a stuffed-to-the-brim panel at the convention center. This is nerd season. The time of year people like me spend a weekend clamoring for the latest news from the west coast.

Comic books themselves, though, have not had quite a year like this going into SDCC in quite some time.

Marvel’s most recent announcements about changes were enough to warrant late-night-talk-show level attention (as well as some strange mid-afternoon-talk-show attention). By now, if you’re a fan of this blog, you’ve likely heard the big news.

Thor is going to be a woman. Marvel has insisted, emphatically, that this is not just some “She-Thor” or “Thor Girl” sub-character, this is the real-deal, Mjolnir-wielding, lightning-throwing, hammer-smashing, Loki-pummeling Thor.

There was some raucous over the canonical inscription on Thor’s ancient weapon that “Whosoever holds this hammer, if HE be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” Personally, I always thought of it as “…if THEY be worthy…” because, for one, there should have been no reason in the first place a woman wouldn’t be worthy of becoming one of the world’s greatest heroes and, two, Wonder Woman actually lifted the hammer once, though the probability of that being canon is sketchy at best what with all the “punching reality” and “Age of Ultron” level nonsense that’s gone on since that point in the 90s.

I love the change. Thor has a long tradition of being a staple and main cast member of The Avengers but suffers when it comes to solo stories. Asgardian drama, while appealing to some, has never really been the comic reader’s cup of tea. Thor isn’t typically solo-ing any super villains of note in the Marvel U aside from Loki and sometimes they put aside their differences and work together – so often that, when Thor gets all wrath-of-God on him, it makes Thor look like he’s got some serious bi-polar issues. In the end it winds up not being an interesting read. Even though Thor is a mega-badass and can (on most occasions) stand up to even the Hulk in a fist fight, based on his mode of speech he is relegated to near comic-relief status in the Avengers. I have had many chuckles at a well-placed “Verliy”, I won’t lie.

Nerd alert: the current story does allow for this to happen. Recently, original Thor inherited the Odinforce, essentially making him Odin. Also recently, it was revealed that Angela (a refugee from Spawn brought to Marvel by Neil Gaiman as the result of a lawsuit he won for rights to the character over Todd McFarlaine) is actually Odin’s daughter and Thor’s big sister. If they’re going to keep it in the family, it seems likely that this is how it’ll go down. Original Thor inherits Odin’s throne in Asgard and Angela steps up to claim her birthright (as the firstborn Odinsdottir) by wielding mighty Mjolnir. Seems like the smoothest way to do it and allows for more permanency than another “I got cursed by Loki” jaunt where Thor, suddenly a woman, must go on a quest to find his lost sausage while complaining about being one of the “fairer sex” the entire time as it feels has been done a million times before.

I am extremely interested in this and want to see which direction this will go. Thor was never one of my favorite characters but this change makes me want to read that book.

The other headline they made was announcing that Sam Wilson, aka, the Falcon (you might remember him as the dude with the wings from the Cap movie sequel) will be taking over duties as Captain America. This means that, for the first time, the mainstream current Captain America will be African-American.

They’ve toyed with this notion in the past by introducing Isaiah Bradley. After the original Cap was dosed with super-soldier serum and sent out to punch Hitler directly in his Nazi face during WWII, the government continued trials on the serum attempting to replicate the results that made Steve Rogers into a shield-throwing sentinel of liberty. The storyline was actually pretty dark and involved a Tuskeegee Syphillis Study-type situation where African-American soldiers were deemed “expendable” and thus used for experimentation. Isaiah Bradley was the only one deemed a success. He didn’t receive nearly as much recognition as Cap for his part in the war but was considered the “Black Captain America”.

This was all encapsulated within a 2003 mini-series and, really, had no major impact on the mainstream Marvel U except for the fact that Isaiah’s grandson, Elijah, wound up in the Young Avengers. That title didn’t last very long, unfortunately.

This type of change is nothing new to Cap fans who, at the end of the Superhero Civil War, saw Steve Rodgers “killed” which brought Bucky (the Winter Soldier) to pick up the shield and carry on the name. When Steve returned, the President appointed him Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and, though he still ran in the field a bit, allowed Bucky to retain the mantle. He returned to it after Bucky’s “death” and held onto it until now.

Nerd alert: the current story does allow for this to happen. In the recent Original Sin storyline it was revealed that Nick Fury is dying. Quickly. Seems to me that the only logical replacement for S.H.I.E.L.D. would once again be Captain Steven Rogers which leaves Cap’s actual shield on the shelf. Bucky (since resurrected) has returned to his dickish Winter Soldier ways (probably to fall in line with the movie) leaving the vacancy open for Sam Wilson to take over.

It won’t be as world-shattering a change as Thor but I still like it very much. I enjoyed the post-resurrection Steve Rogers, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff. It was nice to see someone with such authority and wide-ranging respect in the Marvel U take over. It was fun to see him as an actual commander rather than just a field team leader. If anyone deserves a cushier job it’s Steve. I think it will be fun to see how he handles it for real this time and how Sam reacts to his new mantle.

Comics need more changes like this. Both sides of the major-label war, DC and Marvel, need to remain flexible and realize that making changes like this within the main canon universe only make for more interesting stories. They should also learn that erasing things that someone didn’t like about a particular character (or erasing an entire character itself) via “reality punching” only shows weakness. You want someone gone from continuity? There’s nothing better than DEATH to solve that problem. You want someone back into continuity after they’re dead? Don’t punch reality. They’re dead. Leave them in the ground. If you want a particular mask back in play, have someone else pick up the mantle.

For years we’ve had more and more of the same unless there’s a major event. Just back there, I mentioned Cap dying. Yeah, he was dead. Shot point blank. Boom, done, end of story, right? That is, until you find out that the bullet that killed him actually took him outside of time and allowed for him to return. I like Steve and all, but if you’re going to kill him, let the man die. The books dealing with his loss were some of the best character stories I’ve seen in a while. Watching Tony Stark cry over the man he was directly opposed to during the Civil War – that was a moment. Bringing Cap back out of some random ether invalidated that entire scene. Change was awesome. They kept it pretty good by allowing Bucky to hang on to the shield for a little while longer. By the time Steve was back in the saddle, everyone forgot that he died in the first place. Such is the cyclical nature of comics.

I personally can’t wait until my characters in Unlucky Seven are recognizable enough that, when the hatchet comes down and the game changes, it will shock my audience and please them that in my book death is for real and is insurmountable. Mostly.

Permanency, though, would be preferable to resurrection or reconstruction. As long as there is money to be made, comic book companies won’t see it that way.

With the amount of publicity they’re generating, I can hope that these changes will be for the long term. It seems unlikely. Thor will be back to a man and Steve will be Cap again before the Avengers Sequel drops next summer because what’s the point of crossover marketing when your main movie characters don’t match up to what’s in the comic. Bet you a dollar. Any takers?

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

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