So last week Marvel made two big announcements on national television: The next Thor will be a female and that Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon, will take up the role of Captain America. The news “shocked the world“…….except that it really didn’t because comic fans and fans of pop culture in general should be used to shake ups of the status quo. New creative teams bring new ideas which results in longevity for some of our favourite superhero franchises. But seeing as how there is an internet where people can broadcast their feelings about things they don’t like instantly and often, there have been folks out there bashing the House of Ideas’ recent decisions. To those of you who are freaked out becuase a woman and a black man are taking up the fight as two of Marvel’s top two Avengers, I’m not even going to waste my time. You obviously have issues with race and sex and characters that are not white males. There’s no point in talking with you. For the rest of you that fear change and feel that these moves are being done for changes sake, wake up kids! This is comics. We’ve seen this done a hundred times before. Every big hero (with the exception of Wolverine, but his days are numbered) has had a replacement for a period. Others have lifted Thor’s hammer an thrown Cap’s shield. There’ve also been replacements for Iron Man, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, Flash, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Superman and yes, even Batman. Were all of these “fill in” heroes interesting characters that produced great stories? No, some of them down right sucked. There is a group of us that still haven’t gotten the horrors of Ben Riley and Azrael out of our brains…….I occasionally still have nightmares. But on the flipsided, we’ve gotten great tales staring Miles Morales as Spidey, Dick Grayson as Bats, and so and so forth. The key here isn’t “who’s under the mask?”, it’s “is this a good story?” If there’s a solid story reason to change the character, then we should trust the creative team to bring us an exciting and interesting tale and give them the benefit of the doubt. They were hired to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and they’re all out of bubble gum.
A number of interesting stories have arisen from changing the player in the game. Case in point, James “Rhodey” Rhodes as Iron Man. Here’s a character that was foreced to put on the Iron Man armour becuase his employer, Tony Stark, had fallen off the wagon again. Rhodey stepped up and ended up being a part of one of the biggest Marvel “Event” books of the 80s – The Secret Wars. He also fought Iron Man Baddies like The Mandarin and the Radioactive Man and was even a charter member of the West Coast Avengers. His time as Iron Man wasn’t forever and Stark returned to the suit after a number of story driven circumstances arose. The result was a shot in the arm to the Iron Man franchise and set Rhodey on the path to getting the War Machine Armour. These days, thanks to Iron Man 3, we now know him as Iron Patriot. Regardless, a new hero was produced out of giving someone new a try.
There have also been instances when a change-up brings relevence back to a long standing character. The best example of this would be James “Bucky” Barnes getting his shot as Captain America. In the mid 2000s, Captain America’s world was in upheaval as he was leading the resistance in a superhero Civil War against Iron Man and his supporters of the superhero registration act. Seeing no good result in the continued battle, Steve Rogers surrendered and agreed to stand trial. This lead to his own assassination on the courthouse steps. Bucky, now operating as The Winter Soldier, blamed Tony Stark for Cap’s death and set out to kill him. But the real villains responsible for Captain America’s death get in the way of that plan and The Winter Soldier ended up getting captured by S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s there that Tony reads him the letter that Steve left stating that his wish is for Buckey to become the new Captain America. After some coaxing from Iron Man and Barnes’ former lover, The Black Widow, he agrees to pick up the shield and fight the good fight. Even when Steve returned from his “death” at the hands of “time bullets” (not as stupid as they sound when you read the story), he did not return to being Captain America right away, feeling that Bucky was doing a great job. Of course, it was just a matter of time before Steve did in fact return, but now The Winter Soldier has more “street cred” as it were.
On a much smaller scale, another great character reinvigoration happened in the pages of Green Lantern in the late 90s when Kyle Raynor gave Jade a Green Lantern ring. This former Infinity Inc. member had fallen on hard times as she had recently lost her powers. She was in a relationship with Kyle just as he was about to head off to the stars in an attempt to restart the Green Lantern Corps. While off world, he left Jade in charge as Earth’s protector. Although her time with the ring was short (Kyle returned to earth just a few issues later and shortly after that, restored Jade’s original powers while he was the god-like entity known as Ion), she is still known as Earth’s first female Lantern and her character took a bump up in crediblity.
There have even been times that a hero has taken the place of an existing one while the original character still remained a main player out of costume, like during Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark’s run on Daredevil. Matt Murdock was in jail and was trying to find his way out. Meanwhile, Daredevil was still out on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen keeping the people safe. But how? The answer was Danny Rand, aka Iron Fist. The martial arts master filled in for the blind lawyer as he took care of business first in prison and then overseas. Rand even covered for Matt during the superhero Civil War and fought alongside Cap and Luke Cage as part of the hero resistence. The success of Danny’s appearances in Daredevil lead to Brubaker getting the green light on an Iron Fist series that redefined the character for the modern era.
So fear not, friends. As long as good storytelling is the basis for change in our favourite comics, we will not be disappointed. Thor’s not worth to lift the hammer and Steve Rogers is an old fogey, so why not make way for the new blood? And hey, history shows that the originals always return before the next big movie, so hang in there change haters.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!