Before the rant, I’d just like to say Weird Al continues to be awesome, and has rescued a very catchy melody from a very creepy/gross song with “Word Crimes.” Go see his videos. It’s Mandatory Fun!
Okay, on with the rant.
A famous general once said, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” This is true of comic book characters as well (generally speaking). For the long-established big two companies, one of the biggest problems with continuity is that popular characters don’t really die (at least not for long). This leads to rather crowded universes with a whole lot of main characters vying for top billing (hence, why Wolverine started appearing on the covers of comics he wasn’t, technically speaking, actually in). Attempting to change this status quo is very hard. After all, there is money to be made in marketing the biggest/most popular characters as much as possible. And as soon as anything changes, there is a huge backlash of, “It changed, now it sucks,” from the fanbase. Such is the burden of legacy.
DC Comics has been slightly more successful, I feel, at retiring older characters to make way for newer characters. In particular, the Flash and Green Lantern, and to a lesser extent, Batman and Green Arrow. While there are a lot of problems with teen sidekicks, in theory the idea of Batman and Green Arrow training their replacements makes a lot of sense (even if Ollie never actually did it). Pre-Nu52, the mantle of the Flash had gone through three separate characters (Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, and Wally West) and Impulse (Bart Allen) was probably going to be the Flash of the future. Green Lantern rings had gone to Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardener (who thought that was a good idea again), and John Stewart. Granted, while the most popular of those two mantles did not actually stay dead, the way was cleared for newer characters (and in the case of the Blue Beetle, Ted Kord stayed dead). I will also grant that Wally West and Kyle Rayner had a hard, uphill battle for the hearts of the fans, but they did eventually win. So, before the universe was rebooted, notable heroes such as the Flash, Green Lantern, Blue Beetle, Atom, and Batman, who all started out straight white guys, passed the torch to, well, more white guys, but also a black Green Lantern, a Hispanic Blue Beetle, and an Asian Atom. The universe was inching its way towards greater diversity and had a decent mechanism to do so.
Marvel Comics to me always had more problems passing the torch of the flagship characters to new characters. It’s odd too because the X-men in particular seems like a great vehicle for introducing new characters and passing on the legacy. But this seems to have been thwarted back in the ’70s when Chris Claremont made a sincere and almost successful attempt at writing the first class of X-men out of the book in favor of his own team. It’s not as though Marvel necessarily has more immortal characters. Sure, Thor is and Captain America virtually is so, but Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Henry Pym certainly are not. Nick Fury wasn’t supposed to be. Marvel did make an effort to shake things up a bit when they launched the Ultimate Universe. A lot of changes were generally confusing to me, but a couple worked out well. Nick Fury was introduced as a person of color (specifically Samuel L. Jackson) and eventually Spider-man, that flagship of flagships, passed from Peter Parker to Miles Morales, who was also a PoC. And yes, there was a lot of uproar over that. But Marvel has been trying to market some new characters a bit more than before (Ms. Marvel is a good example, Avengers Academy which culminated in “Avengers Arena” is a bad example). Marvel is also making an effort to place Carol Danvers (currently Captain Marvel) as their foremost female solo superhero but it has not been an easy road at all (poor Carol…).
And in this turbulent time of declining comic book sales (but for Marvel a very profitable movie machine), what is to be done? DC’s answer was to hit the reset button (as they do) and make everything fresh and new by going back to the dark and edgy ’90s. Seriously. Oh, sure all the Green Lanterns stayed around, but it’s clear Hal’s the main man, but Bruce Wayne is Batman again, and Wally West and Ryan Choi seemed to have disappeared into the ether. And Jaime Reyes as the Blue Beetle? Cancelled after what, six issues? Static Shock? Same deal. The Wildstorm characters? Never imported, gone, or unrecognizable (by and large). Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown? Joined Wally and Ryan in the abyss, apparently. Is DC allergic to money? Do the people who run DC comics know that women and people of color have money, and may be willing to spend it on comic books? Based on their numerous and ongoing poor decisions, I can’t help but wonder if they are actively trying to repulse anyone who doesn’t fit their target demographic.
So what is my point? Well, in other news Marvel is planning major shake-ups in the mainstream 616 universe that will result in more diversity of characters. For instance, the new Thor is going to be a woman and the new Captain America will be Sam Wilson (formerly Falcon). And I hear something’s going to happen to Tony Stark and Iron Man will get a new squishy human center. At first I thought, “What a blatant and contrived attempt to market to a wider audience.” And initially I didn’t like it (I too fall victim to that kneejerk, “they changed it; now it sucks,” mentality occasionally). But then I thought, “well, why not? If the company had made an effort to diversify sooner, then this move wouldn’t come across as so heavy-handed and cynical.” And given how DC has whitewashed its stable of characters, I can definitely see some marketing executive saying at a meeting, “Women and PoCs have money too; maybe we can make some characters they would relate to and buy the comics for.” Clearly this is revolutionary thought… Also, this may help expand some options in the movie-verse, so the opportunity for profit is pretty high.
Upon further reflection, I am okay with this blatant and profit-driven contrivance, assuming the stories are written well. A bad example would be the writer that decided Sam Wilson clearly had a secret past as a pimp because he’s black so of course. A good example would be the transition from Peter Parker to Miles Morales. I also hope the writers don’t fall back on laziness and make all the old characters villains thus freeing the torch to be passed. Basically, if the writers actually bother to write a story, then this could work. Is this an ideal way to diversify the universe? Hell, no. But better late than never, even if the reasons are almost surely purely profit-driven. So I will proceed with caution but I will hope for the best.