A Break from Our Regularly Scheduled Programming
By Aaron Bumgarner
When I was a kid, I watched the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons of the ‘90s as often as I could. I loved many shows (luh ya Wishbone), but these two cartoons were probably my favorites. I spent many hours pretending I had superpowers of my own, inserting my own superhero into the stories of Peter Parker and of Professor X’s supergroup. Many of my ideals were shaped by these shows.
But I’m white and a guy, so it was easy to look up to Spider-Man or Cyclops or Wolverine or Gambit. These were people who I could imagine myself being someday; if they wouldn’t let me have the superpowers, I could at least see myself standing up for my ideals and taking care of the less fortunate, the way Peter Parker did in the more mild-mannered version of his life. Pop culture always provided me with a role model. I never lacked for examples to fashion myself after.
There has been excitement about the new developments at Marvel Comics, and there has been backlash. I sit firmly in the excitement camp. This post is a celebration. There’s time later for airing out any concerns about how long these changes will last, whether or not they will amount to anything more than a publicity stunt, and if they ever plan on making such bold moves in their cinematic universe. For now, let’s appreciate the gold that they’re spinning instead of sifting through it looking for the stray strand of straw.
Consider the facts:
- The new Thor is a woman. She is not transgender; she is not Lady Thor. The old Thor has been deemed unworthy to wield his hammer, Mjolnir, so the new Thor will wield it. And she will be a woman. That’s all we know so far.
- The new Captain America is black. It’s all but totally and completely certain that Steve Rogers will be Captain America again someday. But for now, after being a sidekick for the majority of his superhero career, Sam Wilson (aka Falcon) will be Captain America. Our Captain America is black.
- Marvel has, for some time now, outpaced DC in its treatment of its women characters. While there is still over-sexualization of women in Marvel comics, recent titles such as Captain Marvel, the new Storm, She-Hulk, and the recent all-women X-Men have done a good job of depicting their heroines in practical outfits and as the equal of their male counterparts. DC, to the say the least, is far behind.
- One of Marvel’s most successful new series, Ms. Marvel, has handed that well-used moniker over to a Pakistani-American teenage girl named Kamala Khan. She’s Muslim.
If you were to see a woman, a black man, and a Muslim walking in a group toward you on the sidewalk, you may not think twice about it. America is a melting pot, after all. But the world of comic books is absurdly behind. If the world we lived in reflected the Marvel or DC Universes, you’d seldom see black people, and if you did, there would only be one and he would be in a group of white people. If you saw a Muslim, they probably wouldn’t know English, or they’d be the villain in your story. And if you saw a woman, chances are they would have back problems from their surreal anatomy.
I don’t know what Marvel’s endgame is. Will their female-centric series start seeing more support from the main office and from marketing? Will Falcon get his own series when Steve Rogers comes back? How long will any of these changes last? I don’t know. I do know that for the foreseeable future, white boys won’t be the only children with heroes to model themselves after in the pages of Marvel comics. That’s something to celebrate.
Aaron Bumgarner is a speech-language pathologist for Oklahoma City Public Schools.