Full disclosure, I’m a white man who reads comic books.
If that’s all you know about me, you’ll probably jump to a few conclusions about me, some will be correct, some won’t. I suppose that’s the nature of stereotypes though.
One unfortunate stereotype about comic book nerds is that as a group we are opposed, often vehemently so, to change and diversity.
It saddens me to realize this is still mostly accurate. What makes me optimistic though is that I think with just a little reflection and self awareness, as a group we can move past it.
Recently, in a Facebook group I’m a member of, someone posted the cover of the upcoming issue number 1 of Marvel’s All New Wolverine, which features a new, female Wolverine, with the caption, “Marvel’s next big crossover should be called Social Justice Wars.” Now, many many worse things have been written on the Internet, but this comment sparked something inside me that had been long brewing.
For those who are not as familiar with comics, there is a very long history of replacement heroes. Essentially whenever a mainstay superhero like Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man stop operating for a while (be it due to temporary retirement or temporary death) a new character will take up the mantle of that hero.
There have been at least 5 Captain Americas, 4 Batmen, 3 Thors, and 2 Iron Men.
That’s just off the top of my head. In fact, when Superman died in the 90’s, there were 4 replacement Supermen all at the same time.
To give you some specific information on who this new female Wolverine is, her name is Laura Kinney. She is ostensibly Wolverine’s daughter, though technically she is a teenaged female clone of him. Comic books! The short story is that the Weapon X program, which gave Wolverine his metal skeleton and claws, saved samples of his DNA and attempted to clone him, so they could raise their own Wolverine from birth. The Y chromosome was damaged so they doubled the X and just made a female clone. Laura, code named X-23, was raised to be an assassin, but was eventually discovered and rescued by Wolverine. She joined the X-Men and has been a regular for years now.
X-23 also happens to be a fantastic character, she is violent and flawed, but also deeply loyal and thoughtful. Just like her dad!
Marvel, to their great credit, has been doing a great job trying to fix the lack of diversity in their comics in a very ingenious way. As A-list heroes give up their mantles for whatever reason, Marvel has been replacing them with people from underrepresented groups. The current Captain America is Sam Wilson (aka The Falcon) who is black, and Jane Foster is currently Thor. For some reason this attempt to bring a variety of different faces to comics is striking the wrong chord with fan boys. With this long established history of replacement heroes, why is there suddenly a backlash?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a great answer here. It could have something to do with an issue that is a little more inherent to comics than other mediums. Most A-list superheroes are relics of a bygone era. Many were products of 50’s and 60’s, while some, including Superman and Batman were actually created prior to World War 2. These are iconic characters that have stood the test time of and fans are protective of any attempt to change or modernize them.
Except of course for the fact that it’s all bullshit.
As I’ve already established, these are dynamic characters who are constantly being revamped, rebooted, and replaced. Any argument that resistance to change is about “protecting the characters” or “honoring tradition” rings completely hollow. I can only suspect then that these negative reactions come from a different place, somewhere having nothing to do with the comics themselves. And it’s that idea that makes me sad.
I hope that as comic books fans we can move past this. I hope we can recognize that reinvention and modernization is actually a vital and integral part of the medium. Superheroes should reflect our society, but they should also inspire us to be better people. They should represent lofty ideals, and in our modern society, I can’t think of an ideal more important than inclusion.