Second Act Character Changes in Comics

Marvel Comics recently announced that a female character will become Thor in an upcoming storyline, and that African-American Sam Wilson will take over as Captain America. Both stories got a bit of mainstream press, prompting an interesting discussion on The Incomparable podcast about the recasting of comic book characters. Something that didn’t get mentioned during the discussion, and something Marvel doesn’t say in its press events, is that while these might be good jumping-on points for the books, both of these developments are actually parts of larger stories the writers have been telling for several years.

A few numbers:

  • The new Thor story, featuring an as-yet-unidentified female taking over the role of Thor, will be Jason Aaron’s 31st (or so) issue writing about Asgardian heroes (25ish issues of Thor: God of Thunder and five of Original Sin tie-in “The Tenth Realm” featuring Thor and Loki).
  • The new Captain America story, in which Sam Wilson becomes Cap after Steve Rogers loses his powers, will be something like Rick Remender’s 25th issue of Captain America volume seven.

Naturally “Thor is a Woman Now!” is a more enticing headline than “Read Part 31 of Jason Aaron’s Ongoing Thor Epic!”

Going back a bit:

  • Batman (seemingly) died in the 43rd issue of Grant Morrison’s 91-issue run (counting crossovers and mini-series).
  • Steve Rogers (seemingly) died in the 27th issue of Ed Brubaker’s 134-issue Captain America run. (Counting the Brubaker-written Winter Soldier series.)
  • Johnny Storm died in the 25th issue of Jonathan Hickman’s 61-issue run of Fantastic Four (Counting Dark Reign: Fantastic Four and FF.)
  • Peter Parker’s mind was inside Doctor Octopus’s body when it died 58 issues into Dan Slott’s run as full-time writer of Amazing Spider-Man, and he’d written 28 issues before that in the “Brand New Day” era. His run is still going with over 120 issues and counting.

I keep writing and re-writing this post but can’t figure out why this point is important to me. Is it that:

  1. Comics companies should promote stories based on their creative quality, not convenient story developments?
  2. People should have been reading good books all along and not be encouraged to jump in when there’s a big attention-grabbing headline, which incentivizes companies to force big attention-grabing headline type stuff into their stories?
  3. Some sort of implication that you’re a poser if you only like Cap when a black guy carries the shield, even though it’s written by the same guy whose book you’d been not buying for two years?
  4. A personal fastidiousness that forces me to secure a creator’s complete run on a book and makes me unable to just jump in with part 31?
  5. A realization that as a white male who can identify with almost any character on the stands, the matter of whether I can identify with a given character is thus much less important to me as a criterion with which to evaluate my interest in a book?

Probably some parts of all of the above. I certainly have jumped onto books because of big events, usually then realizing, “oh, that’s why everyone’s been talking about this book for years!” I’ve also gotten to be a more discerning reader who knows his own tastes, so I’m more often in on the ground floor than I used to be.

Oh, do go read David Brothers’s fantastic piece about these two Marvel announcements and “diversity marketing.”