Marc Alan Fishman: Captain America, Thor, Changes, Stunts…

Black Captain AmericaMarc tips back on his heels, juts his chin out well beyond his neck and claps his hands together with a swagger like no other…

So have you seen the news lately? Seems like no one at Marvel can keep their race, gender, or sexual preference the same. It’s like Dormammu and the Living Tribunal decided to challenge Galactus and Eco The Living Planet to beer pong! I kid, I kid.

But yes, it seems that Marvel is making the dirt sheets and giving early Christmas gifts to fanboys who like to bitch online by shifting some major tentpoles of a few of their bigger brand-names. Of course, any comic book fan worth their salt saw the announcements of Captain America’s new epidermis tonal-shift, or Thor’s gender-swap as staying-the-course for modern comic bookery. Changing the face under a mantle is Sales-Spike 101 in Marketing for Muggles.

If I were to only discuss the House of Mouse with these shocking plot twist redirects, I’d still be buried deep in the publishing cycle. In the past decade we’ve seen a mind-swapped Spider-Man take to Manhattan, Bucky Cap, Professor X’s death / rebirth / paralysis / re-death, Ghost Rider choosing to inhabit a Latino street racer, Pepper Potts Iron Man, a Red Hulk, Rick Jones as the Abomination, and in Hickman’s Avengers books a brand new Smasher, Starbrand, and a few others I’ve long since forgotten about.

With all those cases, the comic-buying world looked over the rumors on Bleeding Cool, bitched about the atrocity of it all on CBR, and then posted a few selfies of them eventually reading the damned books when they came out. And given enough time, Peter Parker came back to the mantle, so did Steve Rogers, as did Tony Stark (though I guess he never really truly left the mantle… but you get my drift).

In short, a change of race, creed, gender, or underwear preference only shuffles the deck long enough to make some noise. And while creators will carry their changes as long as they hold the attention of the masses (the masses being the niche market of comic book readers), these shifts exist solely for the opportunity to tell a new story. And in my humble opinion, that’s absolutely why I think all these obvious sales ploys are great ideas.

As I noted last week: in the economics of pulp-and-paper, idea generation is the true value of the end product. As such, the clamor I’ve long heard (mostly from old farts and the old-at-heart) about how comics should just tell good stories about the core characters – never succumbing to epic events, or tawdry flights of fancy. Well, the epic event crossover thing… I get that. But if we chain the hands of our creative teams and force them to work within the confines of a limited universe, we’re removing the possibility of those teams then creating something truly memorable.

Of the aforementioned stunts, I personally was enthralled by the Superior Spider-Man. And while I knew that there’d be no way that Peter Parker would truly be forever removed from the 616, I was amazed (natch) at the balls Dan Slott showed by keeping Otto under the skin for as long as he did. He introduced us to a not-so-friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, who decided that proactive crime fighting beats the typical responsive nature of super heroism. Because of it, we were treated to month upon month of smart heroes outsmarting villainy instead of relying on dumb luck, pithy speachifying, and mindless punching. And sure, there were tropes (the manic-pixie girlfriend who sees through the cock-sure attitude, the hubris of the hero eventually being his downfall), but more-so there were stories I had not read. And that, kiddos, is worth its weight in mouse-approved gold.

So let having Falcon take a turn with the most recognizable shield in comics. Let Thor enjoy earning only 80% of the wages an equally powerful male version of herself would. Heck, let Dr. Strange turn into an asthmatic asexual narcoleptic quadriplegic Aboriginal with crippling psoriasis!  If it shakes up the character, and allows the creative team to tell a story we’ve never heard before, then it keeps the ball rolling.

It’s only when we let our prose live in the predictable status quo that we stand the most chance to lose any momentum we gain in the era of the comic book blockbuster.