‘All-New Captain America’ lands at Marvel’s diversity front line

Nov. 12, 2014 | 6:00 a.m.
allnewcap0203 copy All New Captain America lands at Marvels diversity front line

A look inside "All-New Captain America" No. 1 shows the new Cap, Sam Wilson, conferring over his headset with his longtime friend, Steve Rogers, the former Cap who's been robbed of the super soldier serum that had kept him young. (Marvel)

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Sam Wilson, long known as the Falcon, stars in "All-New Captain America" No. 1, out Wednesday and written by Rick Remender with art by Stuart Immonen. (Marvel)

all new captain america 1 alex ross variant All New Captain America lands at Marvels diversity front line

Sam Wilson is seen in his new role in Alex Ross' variant cover for "All-New Captain America" No. 1, out Wednesday. (Marvel)

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The new Thor is seen on Russell Dauterman's cover for her debut issue, which was released in October. (Marvel)

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Miles Morales, who's been Spider-Man in the Ultimate universe since 2011, is seen at the front of his new team in "All-New Ultimates." (David Marquez / Marvel)

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Kyle Jinadu, left, and Northstar wed in 2012's "Astonishing X-Men" No. 51, written by Marjorie Liu. (Dustin Weaver / Marvel)

msmarvel1cover All New Captain America lands at Marvels diversity front line

"Ms. Marvel," written by G. Willow Wilson, debuted in February with Pakistani American Muslim teen Kamala Khan taking on the name that first belonged to Carol Danvers. The first issue went to six printings, and the first collected volume was the bestselling graphic novel of October. (Sara Pichelli / Marvel)

she hulk 1 cover All New Captain America lands at Marvels diversity front line

"She-Hulk" No.1, which started in February, is among a recent wave of acclaimed female-fronted titles from Marvel. The Charles Soule-written, Javier Pulido-drawn series is ending in January, but more superheroines are getting their own series, including another green gal: Gamora of Guardians of the Galaxy. (Kevin Wada / Marvel)

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The Kelly Sue DeConnick-written "Captain Marvel" has been a leader in Marvel's growing number of female-fronted titles, which are written and drawn in distinctly different styles. And now Carol Danvers has a date with a big-screen destiny. (David Lopez / Marvel)

When Marvel took to ABC’s “The View” and Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” in July to announce that a woman would become Thor and a black man would become Captain America in its comics, debate ignited over what in Asgard’s name the House of Ideas was thinking.

Such dramatic changes coming simultaneously to two of the publisher’s classic marquee brands – names that front blockbuster film franchises at its sister company Marvel Studios – were celebrated by many people as positive progress, but others decried the decisions: “This is political correctness run amok,” “Affirmative Action Man” and “PC Avengers, Assemble!” read parts of some readers’ reactions posted on Hero Complex stories about the announcements.

Whether they’re meeting fans or foes, the new Captain America and Thor represent two ongoing concerns for Marvel and the comics industry’s growth: minorities and women.

As Marvel celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is working to take its growing catalog of characters into a future with a more diverse audience – and to use talent and staffing that better reflect the increasingly female and ethnically varied crowd at comic conventions.

Sam Wilson, long known as the Falcon, stars in "All-New Captain America" No. 1, out Wednesday and written by Rick Remender with art by Stuart Immonen. (Marvel)

Sam Wilson, long known as the Falcon, stars in “All-New Captain America” No. 1, out Wednesday and written by Rick Remender with art by Stuart Immonen. (Marvel)

“Marvel comic books are always at their best when they reflect what’s going on in the world right now,” editor in chief Axel Alonso said in an interview with Hero Complex. “That’s been our traditional strength, dating back to Stan Lee – our ability, either through metaphor or through straight-on confrontation, to deal with social issues and the zeitgeist of the day.”

In recent years, Marvel, which has long had a number of female and minority heroes, has made high-profile strides to make its characters look even more like the world they’re constantly saving: It has spun webs about a black and Hispanic teen wall crawler in “Ultimate Spider-Man,” hosted mainstream comics’ first same-sex wedding in “Astonishing X-Men” and introduced a Pakistani American Muslim girl as the new Ms. Marvel.

The new stories seem to be connecting with readers: The first volume of “Ms. Marvel” was the bestselling graphic novel for October, the debut issue of the new “Thor” sold out, the recent “Young Avengers” was a Tumblr titan and won a GLAAD Media Award, and the success of female-led titles has led to additional ones – soon, a historic high of more than a dozen of the roughly 75 comics Marvel publishes each month will star solo heroines (and many other titles are team books with diverse casts).

More changes appear to be on the way, both on and off the page.

“Young fans inspired by these books will grow up to become the next generation of comics creators,” said Rob Salkowitz, author of “Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture” and books on digital strategy and the millennial generation. “As badly as we need more diversity in the pantheon of fictional characters, we really need greater diversity in the ranks of professional creators.”

Interviews with Marvel employees indicate that the company agrees. But change still comes slowly in an industry that has long been the province of white men. The publisher faces both the perception problem that these character changes are gimmicks and the challenge of diversifying its staffing demographics.

The next moment of truth arrives Wednesday with “All-New Captain America” No. 1, written by Rick Remender, who generated the idea of having Sam Wilson, a.k.a. the Falcon, pick up the red, white and blue shield wielded since World War II by Steve Rogers (though it’s not the first time someone else has been Cap).

The writer said that having the Falcon, who debuted in a 1969 “Captain America” issue as the first African American superhero in mainstream comics, become Cap in the wake of Steve Rogers’ sudden advancement to old age grew from working with the two characters and seeing more new storytelling possibilities and room for interpretation in Sam.

James Rhodes is seen putting on the Iron Man armor on the cover of a 1983 issue, replacing Tony Stark as the latter struggled with alcoholism. Rhodes would be Iron Man for about two and a half years. (Marvel)

James Rhodes is seen putting on the Iron Man armor on the cover of a 1983 issue, replacing Tony Stark as the latter struggled with alcoholism. Rhodes would be Iron Man for about two and a half years. (Marvel)

To the hubbub over having a black man as Captain America, he replied: “As a left-leaning punk rocker, this doesn’t feel that progressive to me,” adding that as a young comics reader in the 1980s he knew Iron Man as an African American character – James Rhodes – and was “bummed out” when Tony Stark stepped back into the armor.

It’s not that he’s unaware of the messages having Sam as Captain America can send – recalling his childhood best friend’s enthusiasm about a fellow African American being Iron Man and seeing pictures teachers sent of kids holding the shield after the July announcement, he noted that if the new series leads to “one less disenfranchised human being,” that’s a positive effect.

He also understands the doubters.

“It’s difficult being a former strident indie punker who saw that in all of the corporate machine,” Remender said, “but having been the person who generated this idea and knowing the place it came from and then seeing the reaction Marvel had to it, I can honestly say that you also have to look at the other side, which is that there wasn’t a cynical instinct in this whole thing.”

One skeptic is Christopher Priest, a former Marvel staffer who in the 1980s became the publisher’s first black editor (under his former name, Jim Owsley) and has written a “Falcon” miniseries and “Captain America and the Falcon” series.

“It feels like a stunt,” he told Hero Complex in an email interview. “It would have felt like a stunt had I done it.” He added that Wilson, as he understands him, wouldn’t become Captain America – and that for the story to work it needs to feel different from Rhodes’ stints as Iron Man.

“Putting the black sidekick in the suit, when everyone knows sooner or later you’re going to switch things back to normal, comes off as patently offensive,” Priest said.

Adding that he’d be “delighted” to be wrong about the Cap change being a stunt, Priest laid out what his former employer is facing: “Marvel’s challenge is to deliver something so affirming and positive that the work overcomes that cynicism. I assure you, Black America will be watching: Does this have real depth, or is it just surfacey costume-switching?”

And he had some other advice for Marvel: “Hire some actual black people.”

"Ms. Marvel," written by G. Willow Wilson, debuted in February with Pakistani American Muslim teen Kamala Khan taking on the name that first belonged to Carol Danvers. The first issue went to six printings, and the first collected volume was the bestselling graphic novel of October. (Sara Pichelli / Marvel)

“Ms. Marvel,” written by G. Willow Wilson, debuted in February with Pakistani American Muslim teen Kamala Khan taking on the name that first belonged to Carol Danvers. The first issue went to six printings, and the first collected volume was the bestselling graphic novel of October. (Sara Pichelli / Marvel)

Though diversity within the company’s staff and freelance ranks has lagged like the industry as a whole, that is poised to change, outside observers and Marvel leaders agree.

Tim Hanley, who wrote “Wonder Woman Unbound” and keeps statistics on female and minority workers at Marvel and DC in a column at Bleeding Cool, counts the House of Ideas’ percentage of women working on its comics as varying between 8% and 15% in the three-plus years since he began keeping track, with ethnic minority numbers lower.

“I don’t think Marvel’s done well diversifying its creators yet, but there are people inside the company who are very committed to doing so,” Hanley wrote in an email. “I’m optimistic about Marvel in 2015; I wouldn’t be surprised to see their numbers for women and people of color grow significantly.”

Salkowitz pointed out that most comics professionals start as fans, and that many of today’s creators started reading in the medium during the 1980s and ’90s, when its tales were almost exclusively targeted at males. He added that changes have started in the last 15 years or so – though the years-long journey from young reader to adult creator means they’re “not happening fast enough to keep up with changes in the culture.”

Louise Simonson, a writer and editor at Marvel in the ’80s and ’90s who co-created the big screen-bound mutant supervillain Apocalypse, saw the X-Men franchise’s diverse characters propel it in sales. “I think there’s a kind of feedback loop at work – good stories that feature women tend to interest women. This increases female readership, which increases the presence of women in comics.”

Marvel’s Jeanine Schaefer, who is on the front lines of finding new writers and artists, agrees.

The talent coordinator and scout, who as an editor shepherded the creation of the recent all-female-character “X-Men” series, said the goal is to tell the best stories the company can, and to do that it needs multiple points of view: “You have to bring in fresh voices and new eyes to push us to the next level.”

The Kelly Sue DeConnick-written "Captain Marvel" has been a leader in Marvel's growing number of female-fronted titles, which are written and drawn in distinctly different styles. And now Carol Danvers has a date with a big-screen destiny. (David Lopez / Marvel)

The Kelly Sue DeConnick-written “Captain Marvel” has been a leader in Marvel’s growing number of female-fronted titles, which are written and drawn in distinctly different styles. (David Lopez / Marvel)

“If we’re going to get more women and minorities working … in the industry, we have to have women and minorities working in the industry,” said Schaefer, who is spearheading an all-female-artist Women’s History Month variant cover program for March.

The question is how best to do that.

Hanley recommends that the industry adopt something like the National Football League’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview minority candidates for head-coaching positions.

Alonso, who sees his company as nudging progress along, also invokes the NFL when talking about hiring women and minorities, comparing it to the complex process of grooming a new quarterback to succeed.

“That quarterback has to land in the right organization with the right offensive coordinator and the right talent around him to build his confidence and learn and grow and … not lose his confidence in his first few games,” Alonso said.

Marvel has its eyes open, he said, and its internal demographics will change “without a doubt.”

“[W]e need to scour the indie comics, any type of relative media, and then we need to make smart decisions about where the talent is deployed,” he said, adding, “I think over the next few months we’re going to be making announcements that are really going to open some minds and make people excited.”

Blake Hennon | Google+ | @LATHeroComplex

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Comments


19 Responses to ‘All-New Captain America’ lands at Marvel’s diversity front line

  1. Lamont Goings says:

    I’m a lifelong comic book fan especially of Marvel. If this turns out to be just a gimmick I’m not going to be upset merely as an African American but I’m going to be doubly upset as a fan. We’ve come to expect better from Marvel.

    • Chicken says:

      Lol dude no offense but it's beyond obvious that this is a gimmick so either enjoy it while it lasts or don't.

    • Bob says:

      No offense dude but no way the Government would've done a costly scientific experiment on a black dude during WWII.

      • DJ says:

        Does the phrase “Tuskeegee Experiment” ring a bell?

        Moreover, the Marvel Mini-Series “Truth” spelled out how African-American soldiers were used as guinea pigs for preliminary versions of the Super Soldier formula. Which does lead to the point you make.

        Ultimately, Christopher Priest is correct: sooner or later, Steve Rogers will become Captain America again.

      • Donald Thomas says:

        Aloha,
        But Steve coming back would be done regardless of who took over for a while. Definitely the comic industry needs more women and people of color. I have noticed that since Joe Q took over there were more Hispanic surnames involved in Marvel. Even Miles Morales is Black/Hispanic(Puerto Rican).With so many women into CosplayI think we'll see more females in the comic book industry. Quincy Jones was on Marvel Board of Directors in the 1990's but he was one of the FEW Black faces. John Semper was the man behind Spider-Man the Animated series.I need Amazing Spider-Man #1 to own the complete 616 Spider-Man so I'm always looking to see when Marvel gets it's act together as far as diversity.

      • Mark says:

        Man are you ignorant. Just all up on the Internet with your chest puffed out like you have the world figured out. Not only were scientific experiments on Blacks done in reality, this history is also incorporated into the Marvel universe. The first successful test subject was Isaiah Bradley, the actual first Captain America. And this history hasn't been buried. Patriot, grandson of Isaiah, set the record straight with Rogers in Young Avengers.

        LEARN something. All this information available to you at the click of a button and you chose to be ignorant? This world is crazy.

    • Claus Talon says:

      I'd rather they create an entirely new character than to have another one "piggy-back off of another pre-established hero as has been already done with Stark and Rhodes. Sam Wilson(aka The Falcon) should REMAIN the FALCON. That is who he is. His OWN MAN/HERO. It's sort of like Dick Grayson becoming Batman during the "KnightFall/Knightquest" story arc. In the end, he had become his own MAN/HERO. Leave the stars and stripes to someone else. Now if Marvel really wants to put an African-American into that role, then they should just bring in someone new. Hey-they could even make him a mutant, with basically the same type of physiology that the SS serum produced in Rogers. East enough to do without doing the "Piggyback" thing AGAIN. Just my $2.22

  2. James Hudgeon says:

    I never understood why it had to be such a long-process to make an African American a popular hero on the levels like the original Captain America, or Iron man. It's the same in video games. It seem like the real cool hot games always featured a Caucasion male or female but very rarely you will have a game with the African American as the main character and usually it always based on thug-like games. I think about how the movie Spawn and Blade could have been so much better written not only in movie scripts but also in video games. Why is it so hard for African Americans to be the main character and feature them in movies and games on the levels like Iron man or the Incredible Hulk. I hope they put in as much time in the Black Panther story/movie as well as the video game for it.

  3. Tali Adina says:

    Reblogged this on Uncanny Pop and commented:
    Via Hero Complex-movie

  4. rwhit says:

    Comics have always been more real world and diverse. Its Hollywood that whitewashes the characters when it comes to film.

    • John says:

      Yes, because there are no actors of color starring in any movies these days, right rhwit? That's what is wrong with these comment sections: the hysterical generalizations that are almost always entirely pure fantasy.

  5. Bobo says:

    Of course it's a stunt, that's all they (name a publisher) is capable of doing these days…

  6. abdallasyam87 says:

    great

  7. Tom says:

    Companies make things based on what people by. Unfortunately black males aren't huge comic book buyers and white kids just happen to be. You make things based on the gender and color buying the product. Plus white people own the company, why should they have "White Guilt" and go out and put all colors of people in their stuff if they don't want to. They are basing the heroes on what they look like, and nothing is wrong with that, #commonsense

    • Claus Talon says:

      "black males aren't huge comic book buyers"? That statement may or MAY NOT be accurate. What would probably be more factual is that because African-American males make up a smaller percentage of the overall national population it would SEEM as if there is little interest. But then again, what you say may be true with the last few generations-I don't know for sure, BUT back in my day, the ONLY reason most weren't huge collectors was the lack of consistent distribution to the vendors in the neighborhoods. It IS as you say though, that production is based on sales-and I dare say MOST White collectors are probably not going to be collecting something thay don't connect or identify with. Having said all of this-I don't think they show replace Steve with Sam for any reason. Wilson should be recognized as his own man/hero. Plus-If he isn't a recipient of the super-soldier serum, he would not be able to perform to the level of his predessor, thus detracting from the character. Just my $2.22

  8. Lavon Deroche says:

    I look forward to the day when all comics characters have been replaced by minorities, women and gay characters. The straight white male has been dominant for far too long. It is time for him to step down and let the comics world reflect the true demography of the country. Diversity, for its own sake, should be paramount.

  9. @sproketz says:

    I personally won't be happy until we have a male wonder woman.

  10. J-Bone says:

    Sam taking over as Capt. America seems perfectly logical. There's a history and connection, so I don't find that jarring at all. It's like Robin replacing Batman or Kid Flash replacing The Flash. Female Thor, on the other hand, they'll have to convince me. Not saying "no", just…convince me.

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