Thursday, January 15, 2015

Is It Wrong That I Don't Like the New Captain America and Thor?

Look, it's a pretty clear fact by now that I like diversity. Diversity in media and life makes me happy because I think that when we all mix together a bit we can tell much better stories. Diverse stories are, by and large, better stories, because they draw from a wider base of human experience than just the tried and expected "white guy with commitment issues" base.

That having been said, however, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having been gifted with some wonderful new diverse media that I kind of don't like. At all. Because I think it's not very good. And I feel really bad about that.

The media in question is, as you might have guess from above, the new comics about Captain America and Thor, where the old usual white guys have been replaced by a black guy and a white woman respectively. In Captain America, Steve Rogers has given up the title to finally go off and enjoy his much needed retirement (he is in his nineties, after all), and the mantle of Captain America has passed to his good friend and colleague, Sam Wilson. You may remember Sam as being the super awesome guy played by Anthony Mackie in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Yeah. That guy. He's Captain America now, and it's great.

As for Thor, the actual crown prince of Asguard is no longer worthy of wielding Mjolnir and so the hammer and the title of "Thor"* have gone to an unknown white woman. We have yet to see her face, but so far we know that she is probably American and a little surprised to be gifted with cosmic powers. So, again, a potentially awesome storyline.

The problem I have with these two comics, which are both in their very early stages, it should be noted, is that they're not very good. As in, while the concepts are super cool and I'm all for them, the actual comics themselves are confusing, badly written, and so embedded in Marvel lore as to be virtually unreadable to me, and I consider myself pretty well versed.

They're not good. It's hard for me to admit this, but it's pretty clear. These issues of the comics are really difficult to get through, and I, at least, am having a lot of trouble giving a crap about the storylines. Which is a problem, since both stories are dealing with apocalypse level events. Captain America has Sam and Nomad (Steve's son Ian) investigating a kidnapping that slowly reveals that HYDRA has infiltrated literally every level of power in the world and if they don't stop it the world will just end like tomorrow. And Thor gives us our new Thor facing off against an invasion of Frost Giants who have partnered with the Dark Elves to invade Earth and have destroyed all the other great heroes of the world.

Clearly the stakes are high in both of those stories. But for whatever reason, I just could not care less about them. I tried. I tried real hard, and I got nowhere.

So what should I do? I want to support diversity in comics, and I think that the nominal idea of having Captain America and Thor be represented by new and different characters is super cool, but I do not like these storylines and I don't really want to keep reading them. Should I keep buying them just for the sake of supporting them? Should I support them when I think they're badly written and kind of terrible?


Now, a big part of my frustration comes from the fact that the storylines in these comics are dense and hard to get into if you haven't been steeping in the larger Marvel-verse for a few decades. Compare them to something like Captain Marvel, which has very intentionally gone out and is creating new worlds, or Elektra, which is developing the old characters along new lines, or even Hawkeye, which has the same villains as usual but also a smattering of just life stuff and character development and Clint and Kate being terrible at adulthood, and Captain America and Thor both come off as if they're trying too hard.

Which I think they probably are. Marvel is a company that has always been very aware of diversity and aware of the positive values of aligning themselves with diverse groups, because that's where the money is. It's without a doubt in my mind that their decision to make Captain America black and Thor a woman was done with an increased audience and therefore increased sales in mind. And I'm okay with that. That's business.

But because they are focused on the business side of things so carefully, I think they got too caught up in the idea that "we have to treat these properties specially. The battles that the new Captain America and new Thor fight must be bigger and better and stronger battles." They don't want anyone to claim that because Thor is a woman they're giving her weaker enemies, or that they're implying that a black Captain America can't fight the same villains as white Cap. They don't want to say that, so they're making the stories as big and bold as possible.

Unfortunately, as I stated above, that doesn't work when I'm not invested in the characters yet. I don't really care, because they're both so new that I have yet to develop strong feelings about them as characters. I love Sam Wilson, but I don't know who he is as Captain America, and he's being thrown into this crazy intense storyline that I have trouble following, and it's hard not to just check out.

It's this intense focus on making sure that the stakes are suitably high that takes away from us learning about the characters as people. Contrast this with the new first issue of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, which follows a superhero I was only tangentially aware of fighting against a supervillain I'm not super familiar with and I loved it. It was amazing and full of character and a perfect first issue to get me invested in the story. Yeah, the stakes were really low, but that's okay, because now I know a lot more about Doreen and what being Squirrel Girl means to her.

Sam Wilson, on the other hand, really hasn't had much to do that isn't just fighting so far. It's been all action for three issues, and while that's good, I guess, it's not making me at all interested in him as a character. It doesn't feel like the story is about what he can bring to the idea of Captain America, it's just some supervillains and a lot of fights. It's meh. Very meh.

And while I like the idea of a slow reveal on who the new Thor is, in practice it's kind of a problem because if I have no idea who this chick is, it's pretty hard to give a crap about her. I have no emotional investment in this character because so far she has not a single shred of personality.

I honestly don't know if this means I'm giving up on the new Captain America and Thor, or if I'll wait another few issues and see. Right now I'm feeling pretty discouraged. Yes, there are other comics out there that are doing fantastic and have amazing representation, but these are two of Marvel's flagships. I mean, it's Captain freaking America and Thor, for crying out loud. It is so wonderful to have them be these new, different characters. And it sucks so hard that the stories just aren't very good.

*Since anyone who wields Mjolnir is Thor. It's a little screwy but just go with it because comics don't really get any less screwy.


  1. No one's obligated to like something, even if they like the fact that it exists. Two more specific observations:

    It doesn't feel like the story is about what he can bring to the idea of Captain America, it's just some supervillains and a lot of fights.

    One thing, for me, it has a hard time getting past, because I only know Sam from the films, is that Sam getting to be Captain America also means him not being Falcon. And implies at least the Falcon identity being less important somehow. But the Falcon I know carried out rescues with a jet-pack in a war zone - without supertech armour or superpowers to help him. Falcon was a hero long before most of the Marvel films take place. Is that less important than being Captain America? I know how Steve Rogers would answer that. :) (But I also know how Steve Rogers would answer "would Sam make an awesome Captain America" - so I accept the quandry).

    And while I like the idea of a slow reveal on who the new Thor is, in practice it's kind of a problem because if I have no idea who this chick is, it's pretty hard to give a crap about her.

    While "we have a new Thor, and she's a woman" is important news for comics, it shouldn't be the most important thing - or at least the only thing - about *her*. Indeed, that's one of the problems with female comic characters we've been going on about all this time.

    1. Thank you. I know that intellectually, but it super stinks when I run into it myself.

      Good point. I dislike the idea that they're devaluing the identity of Falcon, but at the same time, we all know that Sam Wilson makes a great Captain America (in theory). How to balance the two? I really don't know.

      Oh my gosh yes. Thor's entire personality right now is that she's a woman, and I would very much like that to be more fleshed out like right now because it's super annoying as is. Hmmph. Gender is not a particularly compelling personality trait. Especially not when it's the only one written in there.

    2. How to balance the two? I really don't know.

      Does the lower picture of him imply he's using his Falcon kit along with his Captain kit? That's something, if so. But, to echo something I said about the Hobbit, if you can't get away from an issue, use it: have Sam think about it, or people who looked up to him long before he took up the shield. Have Captain America Sam working with someone who was inspired to become a hero by Falcon Sam, and have it hard for them to get used to calling him Cap not because they have trouble thinking of him as the real Cap, but because they'd formed their idea of heroism around Falcon. Let him be both, and let anyone who thinks that demeans Steve's legacy get to hear exactly what Steve thinks about that.

      Gender is not a particularly compelling personality trait.

      And in parallel to Falcon vs Cap, it means whoever she is is subsumed into the idea of Thor. And since that idea was formed by her predecessor, until we see more of her herself, her being the real Thor now is always going to be a somewhat informed attribute.

      (Off topic, but can I ask when and how Black Widow got to lift Mjolnir? I've been in a few debates about who'll get to in the films, and I'd like to be able to throw Nat having done it into a few people's faces).

    3. Yes! He does wear his Falcon wings alongside the Cap costume, which is cool, and they do still establish that he can talk to birds and do all his normal Falcon stuff. But the effect that gives is to unfortunately make it so no one else can take on the Falcon mantel because it's become *just* a Sam Wilson thing, and that blows.

      And that would be a really interesting twist on the usual story, and I would love to meet someone who was deeply affected by Falcon. We just don't know enough about his identity as that superhero, and meeting someone he saved would be rad.

      Natalia Romanova (of Earth-23223) lifts the hammer during an invasion of Frost Giants. So, technically it's not our Natasha, but it's still the same character, just in an alternate universe. Still the assassin with a shady past. She actually keeps hold of the hammer and by all accounts still has it. The first issue of this is What If? Age of Ultron #3. Throw it in all the faces!

  2. It's perfectly acceptable to not like a story, even if you'd like it in theory. For example, I don't like the new Star Wars movies/Rebels/the new books (because I'm a huge Expanded Universe fan, and what Disney did to Star Wars is something I'll always be mad about), even though they do have quite a lot of diversity(especially the new movies; but then, the EU had some awesome diversity as well, so there's that). Just because something is diverse, doesn't mean it is always well written(one reason why I'm a writer- I want to put out good, diverse stories; that way, there will be more of them).

    1. Thank you! I know all of this in theory, but it's so hard to run into it in my own life! And I'm glad that you're using your passion for diverse stories to go out and make some more. Seriously. Thank you for that.