There’s a problem with diversity in comics. It stems from the fact that the majority of comic book heroes were created by heterosexual, cis, white men for an audience of heterosexual, cis, white men.
The myth that only teenage boys read comics is dead. Comics are for everyone. Marvel are stepping up and showing that they want to appeal beyond their core audience to the wider public, and that’s pretty awesome.
Sam Wilson, The Falcon, is taking over as Captain America and an unknown female character is taking over the mantle of Thor. Both things are pretty great but it seems like the Thor news is proving the most controversial. This is something that I kind of understand to an extent, but I don’t see why some consider it such an issue. Here’s a list of 5 reasons why I’m celebrating the news.
Note: These 5 reasons are important to me. They may be completely irrelevant to you. That’s fine.
1. Comics Need Exposure
For a moment, let’s look at it from a detached point of view and leave emotions at the door. This is something that no matter where you stand, you can’t deny it’s a problem.
Comics don’t sell very well. That’s a fact. Compare the sales of a top selling comic to a top selling book, movie or TV show and comics look laughable. Which is miserably tragic considering how awesome they are but it’s the way things are right now.
But take a moment to think about how many mainstream outlets reported about Female Thor. The BBC, The Guardian, TIME, Business Week, Wired etc. The fact all those places are talking about a new comic book series seems incredulous. Intentional or not they just put out a huge advert for comics. If you like comic books and you want them to stick around then this is something for us to celebrate.
Pumping out the same old stuff means comics continue to be invisible in the mainstream and that’s not good for anyone. It’s not good for readers, who have to depend on an ass backwards distribution model and it’s not good for creators, whose work is rarely respected or even acknowledged because of the medium it’s in.
It sounds silly to us comic book fans but there are those who enjoy comic book movies that don’t even realise that the comics are still being released on a regular basis. Well, if they didn’t know before they do now.
2. It Appeals To New Readers, Beyond The Core Audience
The main reason I’m championing this change is because of its potential to bring in new fans. Yes, the exposure gets their attention, but it’s the subject that’s going to get them in the shop.
Super hero comics rely on continuity and rarely let readers get in on the ground floor with a new character, or at least one that has a high level of interest around it. If comics are going to continue then they need new fans. What we’ve got at the moment isn’t working; we need to appeal to a wider market. A teenage girl who’s never had any interest in reading about super heroes, but likes fantasy and mythology, might go into the comic book shop for the first time to try out the new female Thor series. Thanks to the wide media coverage and the change in status quo, she knows the series exists and stands as a fresh jumping on point, one that looks to be more than the stereotypical masculine superhero. Hypothetical teenage girl has then just become a new comic book reader and will support the medium into adulthood. High-five hypothetical teenage girl!
That’s just one example but if you think there isn’t a market for people, especially women, who are waiting for a clear way into comics then you obviously haven’t seen the evidence. Just spend a few minutes on Tumblr looking at reactions to the new Batgirl costume, alternatively look up how many people picked up Captain Marvel or Ms. Marvel as their first comic. Not only does this new Thor series welcome new readers it appeals beyond the normal audience to those who’ve always been interested in comics but haven’t made the jump.
Marvel are sending a message that they want new readers and this is an easy way in. Comics are notoriously hard to get into regardless, it’s a lot more tempting to make the jump when you’ve just been invited.
3. It’s Great For The Kids, Or It Will Be
Moving beyond the teenage and adult crowd I couldn’t help but think about how this was a great move for kids too.
To elaborate, let me backtrack first. I remember when I was a kid and we’d run around playing Star Wars. The boys would be Luke, Han, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan, Lando, Wedge, Chewie etc. Meanwhile the girls would Leia or… erm, well that’s about it. Let’s say some kids today wanted to play at being Avengers, the boys will likely want to be Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Falcon, Hulk, Loki, Hawkeye etc. While the girls can be Black Widow or… Hmm. So basically there’s one female character and she’s tied for the physically weakest member of the whole team. I think that’s pretty damn lame.
It’s early days, but if this diversity in the comics can bleed into the movies (or even the cartoons) then that’s a generation of girls who can call themselves Goddesses of Thunder. Equally as awesome it encourages boys to see female characters as equals. The new female Thor could go toe-to-toe with Hulk and give Iron Man a run for this money.
You could say that lots of girls wouldn’t care about playing boy characters and that’s totally true, but it’s missing the point. The point is that these kids deserve to see diversity reflected in their favourite franchises. They shouldn’t need to look beyond their own gender to see a flying, weapon wielding, super powered badass. That stuff can be incredibly influential on a kid.
4. Comics Are Starting To Reflect Real Life, Finally
As I said at the opening of this article, comics have a diversity problem. They do not reflect the diversity of real life, at all. This is a step, albeit a small one, towards rectifying that problem. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a hell of a long way to go, but at least this is progress.
I’ve heard those who are annoyed by the change say that the solution is not to change older characters, but to just invent new ones instead. I understand where this reasoning is coming from but it ignores the main problem. The main characters, the ones who dominate the stories, the merchandise and the movies are all predominately white men. Do you really want to send a message that everyone else is a lesser character? That the protagonist is always a white dude? Replacing those characters with more diverse heroes reflects our diverse reality and reinforces that anyone can be a hero.
Thor isn’t just a character, Thor is an ideal and a representation of strength in the Marvel universe. It’s a very positive message that a woman is going to step up and represent the role of one of the most physically powerful heroes around.
When I read comic books I want the characters to be as diverse and interesting as people are in the real world. The Avengers are “Earth’s mightiest heroes” so I’m ready for the team to look like it actually represents the planet and not just the original limited target audience from 1963.
5. We’re About To Get Twice The Thor
Finally, if you’re still not convinced and you’re just too incredibly attached to good ol’ Man Thor, then you have no reason to fret as he’s not going anywhere.
A fact often lost in the hysteria is that classic Man Thor isn’t dropping dead. He’s not the one transforming into a woman either. Sure, he’s no longer worthy of wielding Mjolnir but that doesn’t mean he’s going to settle down and write that novel he’s always putting off.
Thor is still going to be rocking his own ongoing comic series, still written by Jason Aaron (who is nailing it). If you really don’t like the new Lady Thor series then you can just ignore it and read about the new unworthy Thor. He’ll still be there, doing Thor-ish things. He’s also going to be wielding Jarnbjorn, an axe with the power to slice up gods. Thor wouldn’t be walking around with Jarnbjorn unless he was planning to use it for some serious ass kicking. It’s not like he’s going to be harvesting crops with that thing.
In conclusion, I am really looking forward to this new chapter in Marvel history. I really hope that this, and Falcon becoming Captain America, represents the new direction towards a more diverse comic book market. It’s good for us current readers but I’m honestly more excited at the possibility of gaining new fans. Comics are absolutely awesome, it’s about time more people got to enjoy them.