We are nearing the two year anniversary of the Marvel Now initiative, so we here at WOBH are taking a look at where it is now. The Marvel Now initiative was a company wide event that saw the relaunching of titles with #1 issues as well as the introduction of new titles and new stories, as well as shaking up the writer/artist line-ups on the books. This relaunching was the direct result of the events that happened in the AvX event, which was action-packed for sure, but the story line didn’t measure up to the hype. Its outcome was profound on the Marvel U in that the shakeup gave us several black heroes in the fallout. Following the AvX event Marvel kicked off the Infinity and Inhumans events, which introduced even more characters. Here is the roll call of heroes we have appearing in the new line up of comics. We have Prodigy (now bisexual) and Miss America with the Young Avengers, Nick Fury Jr. and Iron Patriot in the Secret Avengers (although the Iron Patriot has since left and struck out on his own), Misty Knight with the Fearless Defenders, Sunspot, Falcon, and Manifold with the Avengers, Storm with the X-Men, and the Black Panther leading a new version of the Illuminati in the New Avengers. Later on after the initial launched of the Initiative, we were treated to the Mighty Avengers, which boasted a diverse minority cast including both Luke Cage and the new Power Man, the Blue Marvel, Monica Rambeau, now called Spectrum, the White Tiger, the Falcon, who actually came and asked to join the team, and Blade. We were happy that we had some representation, but were still disappointed that Miles Morales, the Spider-man of the Ultimate universe, remained the only book which a person of color had solo series. The Ultimate universe also saw the reintroduction of Cloak and Falcon. We were elated to see the re-emergence of Monet St Croix in the pages of the X-Men, and were pleased with the introduction of Sun Girl in the pages of the New Warriors. We also were introduced to new characters from Wakanda which emerged from the Infinity event. These characters are Bull, Block, and Asha, and from the pages of the New X-Men we have new characters Kymera, Naze Munroe, and Orora Munroe. What we really wanted to see though, were more Blacks in their own books. The adventures of the Black Panther and the Illuminati have been top notch, but a Black Panther solo titled would be so much better. Then when we consider how black heroes such as Storm, or Misty Knight, or the Falcon have a tendency to disappear or fade into the background when placed on the big teams. One theme that had been stressed was a move toward diversity in the new Marvel U. The powers-that-be over at Marvel (Disney) were making this move in order to appear more fan friendly and attract more minorities. The new Ms. Marvel; a Pakistani American teenaged girl of Islamic faith; is an example of Marvel’s commitment to its diversity plan. For me, I’m not sure which part of her diversity is new. The announcement of the Iron Patriot solo title occurred to little fanfare, with a younger looking version of Jim Rhodes at the helm, and unbeknownst to us, signaled the coming of something long awaited. At last we would get solo titles for two of the most unexpected characters in the Marvel Black Hero universe. A new Deathlok comes out of the pages of the current Marvel event called Original Sin, and finally we get Storm in a long awaited ongoing solo series. It also pulled the ultimate shocker on us with the announcement of the next person to carry the shield for Captain America, which is none other than his onetime partner the Falcon. It became clear to us that the move Marvel was pulling was indeed crafty, and maybe just enough to regain some of the much waning interest in its books. The reason for that waning of interest was due to how much it looked more and more like the whole of its comic book line were Avengers related titles, with the remainder filled with various X-teams or Spiderman.
One of fan favorite books; the Mighty Avengers series; is still going strong. From the time of its establishment during the Infinity event, each month Al Ewing is giving us interesting story arcs, and has renewed interest in characters that may or may not have gone by the wayside. Indeed, Ewing has managed to fill in big gaps with not only the Blue Marvel, but Blade and Luke Cage as well. This book has also been the subject of much heated debate between my partner-in-comics Ryn Fraser and me about the new continuity that has come out of the storylines. Now I’m not saying this new continuity is a bad thing; as a matter of fact, as Ryn loves to say, “it is just impossible to believe the Blue Marvel just sat on his butt and did nothing all that time. He had to be up to something!” Well, I think Al Ewing talked to Ryn and said to himself that he had to be right! Ewing has added new continuity to the Blue Marvel that has garnered him some much needed respect, compared to the dissatisfied taste fans got from thinking that he was told to sit down and he did; without protest or any other type of disapproving demonstration. It made him exciting, and the inclusion of his sons in the new continuity propelled his family into the spotlight for story arcs to come. To see the possibility of a black hero family dynamic is something that is untested, and can only serve to draw more readers. I can really get with the new continuity, mainly because it fills in an existing gap, but I am still warming up to the addition to the Blade continuity, because it seems just jammed in, and doesn’t fit as smoothly. Blade’s continuity had been established, and as badass as he is, can’t be everywhere at once! This aside, giving us a backstory that includes not only Blade, but the Blue Marvel, and now add in James Lucas, and you have fans attention. The retcon of James Lucas helps explain a lot of the present incarnation of Luke Cage’s persona, and actually fits smoothly into the already established continuity of James Lucas. During the on-going event at Marvel called “Original Sin”, we find out that there was a previous version of the Mighty Avengers that not only included the aforementioned three, but Kaluu, Constance Molina, and The Bear. This group was in action in the early 70’s, and goes a long way to solidify the hero cop/tough father image that we held of Luke’s father. It even explains why he ddidn’tlike Luke being in the superhero business. All good stuff! We have to believe that under Al Ewing’s pen, we may see some new or added retcon on all the members of the team. On the other hand, let’s revisit the Iron Patriot’s continuity. He somehow gained a new father named Terrance, and a niece named Lila. Who the hell are these people? If I’m not mistaken, Iron Patriot is Jim Rhodes who used to be War Machine, right? We knew he had a sister, but there was never any mention of her having a child, and even if she had a child, why not send the child to his mother instead of to his father? Even if you believe the child scenario, what really throws a monkey wrench into the plans is that the Marvel Universe Wiki list Rhodes father as David Rhodes, and has him as being deceased long before Rhodes becomes Iron Patriot. WTW? Do you see the problem? I mean, you can’t go adding stuff all willy-nilly! There has to be some rule that you must at least make the new continuity fit in with the old. Call me old school. In the new series, the “new” father was killed off by issue 3, which happened to coincide with when my interest in the series died. This issue is the type that we are looking not to happen in the Storm ongoing solo series. I have to add a disclaimer here; ‘If the writers of the Storm series do anything to mess with the established continuity that for some has become canonical (Mr. Ryn Fraser) you will be severely tongue-lashed!” That is all on that for now. Meanwhile, I am going to ride the Mighty Avengers out until they become “Captain America and the Mighty Avengers”. Guess who’s leading the team?
The commitment to Diversity had been strongly laid out from the beginning with the introduction of a duo of all-female teams; The X-Men and the Fearless Defenders. These teams not only signaled a change in the team structures, but also made way for Marvel to unleash its female movement. Joining the new Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel, in solo titles, are She Hulk, Elektra, Black Widow, and the most anticipated of all, Storm. As happy as we are about diversity, seeing Storm getting an ongoing series is something happily welcomed and long overdue. We know the importance of having identifiable role models, and even though at times it seems that Storm is depicted unflatteringly, she is still one of the most recognized black heroines, and the success of her series can open the door for other black heroines. Even the re-introduction of a character like M, can go a long way with our female fans who can’t identify with the white female characters they are offering. The argument persists that even giving an iconic character like Storm is just a pacifying move in order to hide the dissension that exists due to a lack of proper representation of women of color. Let’s be clear; a Storm ongoing series is a good start, but we need to see more black female characters showing up in the pages of the books that are being produced. Not just in the background, but in the forefront. And not just ones who look like dark skinned Europeans, but true representations of the diversity that lies within the group as a whole. Man that would be diversity in my eyes! It is a good thing that we see the addition of more black female characters; that alone is noteworthy; but can we get a variety and maybe someone else in a solo series? I know the “Klaws of the Panther” attempt with Shuri was woefully bad, but how about giving Spectrum a shot. It would go a long way in garnering the characters more a stronger fan base. Misty Knight seems to be not able to escape the second tier, so why not take her off the big team where she gets lost and recreate the partner dynamic with someone new, or maybe bring her to the Mighty Avengers where she would really fit in? The introduction of more black female characters has to be followed up with some kind of strong statement showing their commitment, other than going with the “old faithful” fan favorite. I have to make note that at this present time in the Marvel Now, we have more Black Heroes operating than there has been for a long time. It would be nice to see another predominately black team form; wishful thinking for sure. Who would comprise the team? I know where there is a list of former black Avengers who could be recruited! Maybe it is a waste of time to seek out the type of diversity we are looking for. We are not trying to discourage the efforts that have been presented, but at the same time we don’t want to seem like we are happy with the new status quo. We as a people are becoming more diverse within our own group, and we would like to see that diversity represented as well. We would also like to see accurately depicted representations of this diversity, not just adding a person of color in to fill the group.
One of the biggest things to be noticed in the Marvel Now is the rebranding of some of its heroes. This represents a bold move on their part, considering the increased importance of the concept. The brand is something to vigorously fight to defend and protect at all cost. The NBA kicked Donald Sterling out, banned him for life, and took his team away from him because not only did he smear their brand, but went as far as to slander one of the iconic representatives of their brand. Branding in comics is not new. A lot of the iconic emblems we see from the older comics have become the brand symbol for that comics’ whole franchise, and at times fans will lose their minds when there is any infringement on that brand. After all this time Miles Morales still gets complaints for being Spiderman in the ultimate universe. They want the return of Peter Parker, even though he is dead and not coming back. There were murmurs about the black Nick Fury, even though it was explained that he represented the Nick Fury of the ultimate universe, who is black. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe grows, fans want the films to resemble the comics. Imagine how many where pissed off about a black Heimdall! They thought it absurd that a black man resided in fabled Asgard. Well he probably got there at the same time the Asian Hogun the Grim did. And let’s not forget about the big change planned for the upcoming Fantastic Four. It was bad enough they went a made Dr. Storm a black man, but now even Johnny “The Human Torch” Storm will be black! Blasphemy of blasphemies they say. It is no secret that with the success of the movies and the television show, aptly named, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D”, the comic book universe is now directed to resemble its look to solidify its brand. This brings me back to the Iron Patriot. Although there has been no color change here, it is an example of how they are tying the comics and movies together, and how some brands are more valuable to them than others. We have come to love and respect Jim Rhodes as War Machine. He had an attitude about him that really differentiated him from just another black character. War Machine was the brand that Rhodey represented. Now, he has been taken out of the War Machine armor and given the Iron Patriot armor, which actually originated with Norman Osborn. Now Rhodes brand is diluted (twice actually; first came Iron Man 2.0), and now you have the blending of the comic and the movie which is the new brand in the Marvel Now. Probably the biggest shocker was the changing of the guard (or shield) in the Captain America brand. We have had others to pick up the mantle for various reasons, but we always have the shadow of Steve Rogers lurking over that person. Now we have Steve Rogers unable to carry on due to the loss of the super soldier serum, and his longtime sidekick taking his place. The Falcon is the first black man to don the uniform, and this isn’t his first time wearing it. This however is different in that for all intents and purposes Falcon is the new brand representing the sentinel of liberty. How does that sit? I am still on the fence about it. I envisioned the Patriot replacing Steve Rogers one day and carrying on the legacy of his grandfather, but once again that is wishful thinking. They could have at least given Lamar Hoskins the shot. Having endured the insult of being a black sidekick nicknamed “Buck”, he deserved to have first consideration.
So where do we stand on the new incarnation of the Marvel Now? I have to give it 3.5 stars. The push for diversity has made it possible for non-white males and more female characters into major roles in the new Marvel U. the company’s commitment to the diversity initiative is so strong that they even de-powered the male Thor and now have a female version running around. They get that rating because they are at least trying to fool us into believing that they care enough to sate our desire to see more black heroes in action. One definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Are we crazy to think that after all these years of comic book publication they are all of a sudden going to decide to have an imprint devoted strictly to the creation of black heroes, written and drawn by black writers and artist, with stories that are aimed at empowering not only black youth, but blacks as a whole, or with black characters that are depicted in a manner which is relatable. Maybe there is a little more craziness in there than we care to admit. We still do our part to support the characters that are still in the game. We would be remiss in our duties if we did not highlight the books in which black characters are the main protagonist, but also the books containing black characters that play a major role supporting cast. We do this understanding that even if this is the best effort that a company like Marvel could put out, it is a better effort than they have shown in recent years. And even if the solo series of Iron Patriot maybe suspect, we are still nonetheless elated about the most iconic black female heroine in the Marvel U finally getting her own ongoing series. We are still hyped about Black Panther and the Illuminati, and are pleasantly surprised at how much we are enjoying the Mighty Avengers. With the New Captain America primed to take the lead of the team, the Marvel U is wide open for it. The other titles that are out now even get our approval so far, but it still falls short on what we want to see. That is where the insanity comes in. There is however a cure for this craziness. That cure lies in expanding our comic book repertoire to include books coming out of the Independent Comic Creators scene. We are finding more and more books out there that aren’t coming from the mainstream companies, but can compete with them as far as writing and art are concern. These comics lack the exposure that one of the mainstream companies can provide, so they rely heavily on word of mouth from their fan base; and that fan base is talking and growing. The quicker we shed our insane expectation of companies like Marvel, the quicker we can broaden our comic book horizons and find those creators and companies out there who are creating comics with us truly in mind.