My wife bought me the first volume of Essential Avengers for my birthday, featuring the first 24 issues of the series from the 1960s. Among the book’s supporting cast then was a club of ham radio enthusiasts called the Teen Brigade, led by Rick Jones, who would warn the Avengers of trouble and occasionally get kidnapped.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’m reading these issues in black and white, but these kids all look exactly alike: all male, all white, all clean-cut. There wasn’t even a fat kid or a beard guy or a dude who wore a remarkable hat. Hell, I don’t even think any of them had names apart from Rick Jones, and Stan Lee couldn’t even get his name right – every couple issues a narration box or word balloon would refer to him as Rick Brown.
Flash forward to 2015. Promos for what Marvel will look like after Secret Wars wraps later this year show a Muslim Ms. Marvel, a mixed-race Spider-Man, a female Thor, a black Captain America, Old Man Steve Rogers AND Old Man Logan, a female Wolverine, and a native American character with whom I am unfamiliar. On top of that, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso has promised us a “controversial” new Hulk who is not Bruce Banner.
Granted, many of these were pre-existing characters and character-role changes. But it shows the company is wholly uninterested in snapping back to a status quo in which all its major characters are the same ones from the early 1960s.
Thank God. Most of those early Avengers and X-Men stories were terrible.
A few years ago, during its promotional push for Secret Invasion, Marvel told us to “embrace change.” While the campaign went away with the crossover, the message never really did. There are no new readers without change. There are also no new readers if Marvel spends all its efforts appealing to the old ones.
Frankly, I’m all about comics working to expand the market. In the days before the Internet, when I was 13 and had just started spending my allowance on X-Men books every week, I had one other person I could talk to about this thing I was really into (you may recognize him as the proprietor of this blog/godfather of my child). I would have loved to have been able to talk to other people about that kind of stuff, especially, you know, GIRLS.
Heck, my wife didn’t start reading comics until last year, after 12 years of being with me, and her first book was Ms. Marvel. Kamala, not Carol. She didn’t think it was pandering to women or a minority. She didn’t care about “that name already exists, why don’t they make their own superheroes?” She just genuinely enjoyed the book, and it led her to seek out collections of the old Ms. Marvel (Carol, not Kamala), She-Hulk, and Spider-Woman stories. That, dear reader, is what comics are supposed to do: Let more people in da club.
Marvel’s not the only company embracing change this year. Look at the Distinguished Competition’s DCYou campaign, in which the company abandons the New 52 thinking of the past four years to focus on creating a wider range of titles. Characters like Cyborg, Starfire and Black Canary are getting their own books. There’s new all-ages series like Bat-Mite and Bizarro, for the kids who may have been introduced to those characters through the most recent Lego Batman specials. Even Batman’s changing: The new Dark Knight is Jim Gordon in a mostly badass (I’m not crazy about those antennae) Bat-battlesuit!
God, even Archie’s got a new look, starting from scratch this summer in a brand-new series by Mark Waid (Daredevil, Flash) and Fiona Staples (Saga). And lemme tell ya, if you don’t want to see the gang from Riverdale as drawn by Fiona Staples, as opposed to that collection of mayonnaise jars that have been haunting supermarket checkout racks for decades, then I just feel sorry for you.
Not everything’s becoming All-New, All-Different, though. On Saturday, Marvel announced a new Invincible Iron Man series written by Brian Michael Bendis with art by David Marquez. Not only is Iron Man, who has been front and center in the latest Marvel promos, back in the red-and-gold armor, but Bendis is returning to a character he’s already quite familiar with, having written him in various and sundry Avengers series over the past decade.
And Peter Parker’s still Spider-Man. He’s just got a coterie of similarly spider-powered amazing friends to pal around with, such as Miles Morales, Silk and an alternate-reality version of his long-dead ex-girlfriend.
So go ahead, make Cap black. Make Thor a woman. Make the Hulk controversial, whatever the hell that means. Put Hank Pym in a wheelchair … no, really, do that, because another thing I’ve learned reading old Avengers comics is that Hank Pym was never not the worst.
I just have one question based on these All-New, All-Different promos: WHERE’S DEADPOOL?! Come on Marvel, you know he ain’t gonna stay dead with a movie coming out next year!
In addition to writing for The Matt Signal, Dan Grote is now the official comics blogger for The Press of Atlantic City. New posts appear Wednesday mornings at PressofAC.com/Life. His new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He and Matt have been friends since the days when Onslaught was just a glimmer in Charles Xavier's eye. Follow @danielpgrote on Twitter.