Diversity Through Replacement …

So, according to Time, Tony Stark is going to be replaced as Iron Man, in the comics, by a black woman. Essentially, she’s some kind of genius who builds an armoured suit in her dorm room, which impresses Tony, which leads, eventually, to her replacing him after Civil War II. And as I read that, it came to me that there have been a number of moves to attempt to add diversity to the admittedly not particularly diverse — but not completely non-diverse either — Marvel Universe by replacing existing characters with diverse replacements rather than building new characters or giving more prominence to existing characters. And I think this is a big mistake.

Let’s take one of the earlier examples, where Thor was replaced by a female Thor, despite the fact that Odin had to essentially retcon all of history by calling “Thor” a title and not a proper name, and ignored all of the other previous characters who had held the title of “God of Thunder” who were not Thor. No, they went with a female Thor, essentially replacing the existing Thor with a female version. And since the fact that this character was female and so added diversity was played up by many, that this added diversity does seem to be a major reason for the move. Except … if they wanted to focus on a female Asgardian with special abilities doing … whatever it is that the female Thor was doing, why not elevate Sif and give her her own book and series, or at least temporarily replace Thor’s book with a book for her? Or put her in some of the Avengers teams instead of Thor? After all, in the Thor movies, the character filled a warrior role quite well and was, it seems to me, rather well-liked, so trying to play on that to both increase the popularity of the books and the character should have been a slam-dunk. And it worked well for Phil Coulson. So, then, why wouldn’t they take an already well-established character and let her be herself and see if that could float? Why not try to add diversity, if they wanted that, by adding instead of subtracting?

Replacing Captain America with Falcon makes even less sense, in my opinion. At least in this case they were leveraging the success of Falcon as a character in the movies … but Falcon, as Falcon, was a long-running, well-established character, even as an Avenger himself. He might have been Cap’s sidekick in the movies, but in the comics he really was his own character, semi-distinct from Captain America. To strip away his unique identity to shoe-horn him in as Captain America should have been seen as a grave insult to any of his fans. And especially since there were always characters who were more tightly tied to the Captain America mythos — Nomad, for example — that could have taken over and whom it was more logical for them to take up the shield, as again Falcon had no real need to take it up. Now, since I haven’t read how that came about, you could argue that it all makes sense in context … but taken as an overall idea it seems to make more sense to highlight Falcon as Falcon and, if you have to replace Captain America, do it in a way that allows you to establish a completely new identity for the character.

The same thing can be said for this new replacement of Iron Man, which is ironic because Iron Man has actually had a successful replacement that promoted diversity, as right around the time of the “Secret Wars” Tony Stark was replaced by James Rhodes, who was a) not in any way a scientific or engineering genius and b) also happened to be black. But he also happened to be a long-time friend and confidante of Tony, and someone Tony could clearly trust. And he was popular enough that even when Tony Stark returned, he ended up getting his own suit of armour, the War Machine, and becoming a stable enough character to play an important role in both the Iron Man movies and the Avengers movies.

If they wanted to diversify the line-up while replacing Tony Stark, why not someone like Pepper Potts? Which they already did in the movies and I think even in the comics at some points. She’s trusted by Stark and could provide an interesting new perspective on the whole thing. Instead, they’re going with someone with a similar background to The Beetle, although presumably she won’t try to take on heroes to prove herself first. Hopefully.

Even the new Ms. Marvel reflects this odd thinking. Sure, Carol Danvers got promoted to Captain Marvel, and so wasn’t really replaced … but why invent a new character and then stuff them into a specific existing role, especially one that you then had to build a relationship to Captain Marvel to? Heck, replacing Wolverine with X-23 and having rename herself Wolverine seems odd … and was a reason why when Wolverine died off and I was considering actually, you know, switching to a book with X-23 in it I didn’t, because X-23 as X-23 was interesting, but X-23 as Wolverine was not. Yes, the stories might be different, but it’s still true that at that point the X-23 identity was subordinated to the Wolverine one. Sure, as a tribute to him it made sense … which is more than I can say about the other ones, I guess.

It strikes me that the people pushing for diversity seem to want to be able to piggy-back on the name recognition of existing characters, and are afraid to try to sell their diverse characters strictly on their own merits. That’s why they want to see Miles Morales replace Peter Parker in various media instead of simply getting his own books/movies under a different name, and why they want the movies to make Peter Parker gay instead of introducing a gay character. This, at a minimum, sells those characters short. She-Hulk, for example, finally managed to get some popularity not by replacing the Hulk, but by being very different from him. Deadpool’s success comes from him being unique, not from being a rip-off of Deathstroke. Emma Frost at least used to be one of my favourite characters because who she is, not because of who she’s emulating (and I’m still bitter about the cancellation of her solo series, which I really enjoyed). Magik is another one of my favourite characters because I like her as a character, not because she gets shoe-horned in as the new Doctor Strange or some other such nonsense.

If you want diversity, you need to have more confidence that diversity can work on its own. If you don’t have that confidence, then “cheating” by fooling people by playing on name recognition is not the way to gain diversity, because more than anything else it shows that even you don’t think these characters can work on their own. And if even you don’t believe that, why should anyone else?

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2 Responses to “Diversity Through Replacement …”

  1. natewinchester Says:

    It’s the zeroeth law of SJWs – “Marxism of Social Capital.”

    • verbosestoic Says:

      I read the post, and found it interesting, but I’m not sure if that’s the underlying conscious or even unconscious motivation for that. The EFFECT is that they want to see diverse characters with equal Social Capital, but I’m not sure that the replacement angle is aimed at making it even, as there are a number of other things to consider. For example, the idea that it isn’t fair for existing characters to rely on that much Social Capital when they only got that during times when diverse characters COULDN’T get into the market due to racism/sexism, and so thinking, at least, that that history isn’t an argument against replacement. Also, competition is an issue, since if you create a character that is too similar but is diverse the existing character will tend to be preferred and so that new character will fail, but if you make it too different then it won’t appeal to the audience (which, admittedly, most SJWs will blame on racism and sexism anyway). There’s also the issue of their own philosophy getting in the way, because the easiest way to bleed off of the existing Social Capital of an established character is create an associated character that is like them but is, say, a woman, like Supergirl, for example. But this becomes “Ms. Male Character”, which is bad, and since the only criteria for that is “is like the male character only looks female” ANY attempt to do that will be bashed, even if the character is interesting and interestingly different.

      Ultimately, though, I’d posit that the underlying thoughts that drive this are that they really, really need these diverse characters and works to succeed, and they’re desperately afraid that they’ll fail. Replacement, then, seems the safest way to do that, and hence the puzzlement when they get a WORSE reaction to that than simply introducing new characters and new works generally does. And the sad thing is that we ALREADY know how to create new and interesting diverse characters. Think of X-Men, where we ended up with iconic diverse characters like Storm, Psylocke, Rogue, Forge, Bishop, Kitty Pryde and others, characters that we currently can’t imagine the X-Men without and yet were all introduced later, and aren’t original X-Men at all.

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