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Did you hear? The new Iron Man is Riri Williams, a black teenage girl. Among a bunch of positive comments there exploded the usual reactionary glut of comments as with nearly every character change. If you’re at all familiar with this type of change, then you’ll pretty much know what I’m talking about without any examples.
And so on and so on. I’m more surprised that people are surprised about this. Are they all new to comics? This change is such a non-issue. I know, I can hear the rebuttals now. In fact, here they are:
I agree! I’ve been saying this for years. We need to rotate in some fresh blood, we’ve had the same big names for 70 or so years. So why don’t we? BECAUSE THEY DON’T SELL. What was the last title introducing a new character that sold well? Gwenpool? Spider-Gwen (does that count? She was in Spider-Verse first). These aren’t really new characters, they’re riffs off of existing properties. Gone are the days of Journey Into Mystery and Amazing Fantasy, books where you could introduce new characters in small arcs and expand those that caught on. It’s just not financially feasible.
So Marvel’s in a really weird spot. They want to inject new material, they have creators who want to make new characters, but they can’t seem to get unknown titles off the ground. So what do they do? They test the waters by swapping out well-known characters with new ones. Every time they do, there’s a controversy, and every time the book sells well.
I’m not happy about it either, but that’s the world we live in it. It’s also almost always temporary. Pretty much all of the “replaced” characters return and — a lot of the time — their replacements spin off into their own little world. The process could be better, more conducive to the creative process, but in the end I suppose we end up in the same spot.
In short, they aren’t. I mean, if you’ve even been paying half attention to Marvel you’d know how silly a statement this is. The classic examples that they like to trot out are Sam Wilson Captain America replacing Steve, Jane Foster’s Thor replacing Thor Odinson, and Miles Morales’ Spider-Man replacing Pete’s.
They haven’t! This is the very nature of comics! Steve Rogers became an old man, gave his mantle to his best friend Falcon, headed SHIELD, got returned to his young super-self by a living Cosmic Cube, and now is Cap again. Miles replaced a killed-off Pete in the Ultimate Universe, was pulled into the main Marvel universe after the multiverse was destroyed and reincorporated, and now fights alongside mainstream Peter Parker. There is an entire ongoing arc about Thor losing his hammer, Jane taking it up, and Thor Odinson searching for “worthiness” again. They even acknowledge he’ll get the Hammer back. They’re all still around! No one has been replaced.
Which is so strange that people are throwing out the same complaints again. Do you know who’s worn the Iron Man suit? Friggin’ everyone. Rhodey, Pepper, Mary Jane Watson, even NORMAN OSBORN! Each time, Tony comes back. Kill him off, send him off-world, throw him in another dimension. He’ll always come back. That’s how comics work.
Marvel is a gigantic corporation owned by an even bigger corporation. The last thing their decisions come down to is culture or making statements. It’s about money. It’s always about money. A lot of people are excited about this change, a lot of people are heralding it as some sort of triumph, but at the end of the day — as cynical as it is — this was a financial choice.
With the success of the MCU movies, Marvel’s audience is growing. Hell, even comic book sales in general are on the rise. They now have to appeal to a wider, maybe the widest, group of people and — as we’ve said above — they have limited avenues to do that. So yes, we’re seeing a bunch of new diverse characters entering the mainstream. It was unavoidable.
Now, to be fair, the corporate side of things hasn’t really caught up. If you’re trying to appeal to a bunch of different people, it’s usually a pretty good idea to use a bunch of different voices. Writers and editors, for the most part, are still pretty much the same kind of people.
I do have issues with Riri Williams’ take over. The build up was short, in a world rife with child geniuses she doesn’t have too interesting of a hook yet, and they haven’t done a whole lot to distinguish her tenure as Iron Man from Tony’s (I mean, the suit is almost exactly the same). All that aside, I don’t see this as the latest in some nefarious culture war plot. Just another coy business decision to cash into their new-found audience. As always.
What do you think? Disagree? Am I missing anything? Let me know in the comments below!