I’m going to go ahead and throw out a warning here that my opinions on this subject are probably going to be a bit contentious.
I also want to stress that I’m not an apologist for Marvel or DC, though I am a fan of both. I will still call both companies out when I think they make a bad move or are underperforming.
That being said, let’s talk new IPs, new characters, or “new heroes” as it were.
This is a criticism that comes up often by readers of the big two comic book companies. Often times they are accused of stagnation because they don’t put out enough new super heroes or titles about new super heroes. I’ve seen comic book writers on Twitter having to field questions about this quite often. Once upon a time, I would agree with this criticism wholeheartedly. The top sellers are pretty predictable: Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Spider-Man, X-Men, you know, your A-List titles.
Then I thought about it. What is a “new hero” really?
I can think of a lot of newer characters that have come out in recent years: Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, Simon Baz, Jessica Cruz, Sam Alexander, Victor Alvarez, and Cindy Moon. Like them or not, there is Marvel’s slate of “Nuhuman” characters like Inferno and Flint. There are also the new characters from the great but short-lived New Warriors series by Christopher Yost: Sun Girl, Haechi, and Water Snake.
Heck, in the past couple of months we’ve been introduced to a new Quasar and a new Wasp: Avril Kincaid and Nadia Pym respectively.
We’ll start with Kamala Khan’s success as an example. Take the recent success of the G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona’s Ms. Marvel title. Kamala Khan is a new character, and the series is very successful. Why is this not being celebrated as a fresh, new character and title? Why, along with the success of Miles Morales and Sam Alexander’s titles, is there not a celebration of a new era of new heroes? I have a few theories as to the reasoning, and I will go over each through the course of this article.
The first of the reasons is the Kamala’s title: Ms. Marvel.
She shares the name of Carol Danvers’ previous identity. That shouldn’t really matter, as Danvers and Khan are two wildly different characters with very different power sets. However, from an average comic book readers’ standpoint, it seems to matter, and it needs to stop mattering. A lot of people like to complain about how many different characters use the same super hero identity, and, yes, from a canon standpoint that can get kind of confusing. However, this is how new heroes have often been introduced since the Silver Age. The big two attach them to a pre-existing hero. John Stewart was a Green Lantern. Steel has the Superman logo on his chest. Sam Wilson was Captain America’s partner. Black Panther first guest-starred in Fantastic Four. Even Wolverine had to be introduced through the Hulk title.
Marvel and DC are big companies. That has its positives and a whole lot of negatives. Among these negatives is that they are going to be very risk-averse. They introduce these characters through pre-existing channels to test if they will actually be successful. Honestly, it’s pretty amazing that we get new characters at all.
This is how we get new life breathed into our comics. This is how we get those new characters we claim we’re craving. So, instead of complaining that there’s another Ms. Marvel, another Green Lantern, another Spider-Man, or another Nova, we should just be glad we get to read about new characters like Kamala Khan, Simon Baz, Miles Morales, and Sam Alexander.
The next point is where I’m going to get really controversial, but, honestly, I really don’t care. There’s a (positive) theme to the characters I’m talking about in addition to simply being new heroes. None of these characters are white males.
Before the majority of you immediately click away or write some angry comment, please, please here me out here. Yes, these characters are introducing diversity to comics, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. At some point, a lot of people became convinced that the introduction of diversity into American media, fiction, and general entertainment is somehow an attack on our way of life. It really, really, really isn’t. Many different kinds of people live in the United States. Why should they not get to believe that they too can be heroes? Why should we white dudes get to have a monopoly on heroism?
This knee-jerk reaction is often used to complain and inherently invalidate these new characters and thus perpetuate the myth that no new characters are being put out. Or, another common response, that these new characters are just “rip-offs” of older ones to be “politically correct.”
And again, that really isn’t the case. These characters, though they use the same super hero names as older characters, really do have distinct personalities from their predecessors. Plus, again, they allow for a heroic avatar for other types of people.
Kamala is a hero for little Muslim girls to look up to. Miles Morales is a hero for African American boys. Jaimie Reyes is a hero for Latin Americans. Sam Wilson (though he is not a new character) is a symbol that, dammit, anyone can be Captain America.
And these characters aren’t specifically enjoyable only by the demographics they represent. Kamala Khan is a great character and I’m personally a huge fan of Simon Baz, Jaimie Reyes, and Victor Alvarez. Captain America: Sam Wilson is one of my favorite comics currently on the shelves. Many of these characters are great, and they can be enjoyed by anyone. In addition, they show that heroism is a quality that can be found in anyone.
A common comeback is that why do “they” (just using that word in this way even as an example kind of makes me nauseous) need heroes that look like “them?” To which a common response and the one I’m going to use here is just imagine how alienating that feels, to want to read about these fantastical worlds of heroes and not see a single person who looks anything like you. As a white male, I can’t say I’ve ever experienced that, but I’ve tried my best to sympathize and put myself in that headspace. And, yeah, it would be pretty unnerving and uncomfortable.
Despite all this, there are still a whole lot of white male heroes active in comic books: Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Iron Man. They’re not going away any time soon. We should allow this influx of non-white male characters to come into our comics with open arms, because anyone should be able to enjoy our comics the way we do.
To finish this point, the older characters are still around for you to enjoy them. Steve Rogers is back in action. Peter Parker still has his own comic. Hal Jordan still has an awesome Green Lantern title to himself. These newer heroes just give another option for the people who want something different.
Another struggle that these newer characters face is that they don’t always get a lot of traction early on. Kamala Khan and Miles Morales have pretty successful comics, but many of these characters don’t get the same attention. Simon Baz and Victor Alvarez have had some pretty middling success. Neither Batwing is anywhere to be seen now. Those New Warriors I was talking about earlier haven’t appeared in a comic since theirs was cancelled.
A lot of the reason everyone thinks that there aren’t any new characters being created is because they simply aren’t paying close enough attention, and the new characters that are being created consequently fall by the wayside. A lot of new heroes just simply don’t succeed in getting sales. The companies don’t think anyone wants to read about them or don’t view them as financially viable, and they stop letting creators put them in comics.
This brings me to my last theory, and it’ll be another controversial one.
Is it possible that we, as comic book readers, don’t really want new heroes? Everyone says they want new characters, but it just sounds like a good thing to say. New heroes mean risks are being taken and creativity is thriving, and those are good things, right?
I’m not criticizing the idea. Heck, it’s one of the reasons I like comics so much. I like the idea that, when I’m old and gray (barring anything drastic happening) I can still read about the adventures of the Justice League and the Avengers. And, yes, if given a choice between a comic about the Winter Soldier and a new hero that I’ve never even heard of, I’m definitely going to go with the comic about the Winter Soldier.
Isn’t this one of the reasons we read mainstream comics over indie titles? We like the heroes we know. I talk to the guys who run the comic shop I frequent a lot (shout out to Randyland Gaming). One thing that has struck me is how many longtime comic-reading customers the store has who perpetually complain about the A-List titles they purchase and then proceed to continue to purchase that title.
Though I am willing to own up to my own tendencies to stick to what I know and love, I will say that it’s not inherently a creatively healthy idea. Because, well, new heroes mean that risks are being taken and creativity is thriving. It means new types of characters are coming out and there is more variety in our comics.
I suppose the final point of this long-winded and self-important argument about the semantics of how we perceive our comic books is to embrace change. Try new characters. They are out there if you look for them. Many of them are really cool. Sticking to what we know breeds creative and intellectual stagnation. If you do want to stick to your same characters, be honest with yourself. It doesn’t make you bad person. It just means you know what you like. However, if you choose to do this, don’t complain that there aren’t enough new characters being created, because this also means you’re not looking for them.
As an addendum to the question: “what is a new hero?” I would also like to point out the abundance of character retooling and reframing that has happened in recent years. Thunderbolt Ross as Red Hulk, Flash Thompson as Agent Venom/Venom: Space Knight, Jane Foster as Thor, Sam Wilson as Captain America, Bucky Barnes as the Winter Soldier and Captain America, Gwen Stacy as Spider-Gwen/Spider Woman, and Jason Todd as the Red Hood. There are a lot of new versions of older characters out there. The ones I’ve listed here are all really cool and interesting to read about. I personally count them as new characters in their own way. It creates an interesting character arc for these heroes, and it allows us to think of old ideas in new ways. I guess the point of this little add-on is that, the creative stagnation that people think is plaguing Marvel and DC isn’t remotely as pervasive as many people like to think.
Anyway, that’s that. These are my thoughts on the subject of “new heroes.” They are out there. Give them a chance if you can.
I’m sorry I’ve been a little slow on the reviews this past week. Honestly, I just didn’t read anything that seemed like it needed a review. Ultimates and Power Man and Iron Fist are still awesome. Aquaman, Green Lanterns, and Doctor Strange are still really solid reads. Flash and Green Arrow are turning out to be pretty mediocre. So I guess that’s a quick and dirty rundown on some of my recent reads.
Regardless, I promise to have more reviews up soon.
Until next time, keep reading comics!
*Cover is variant from New Warriors #2 by Jorge Molina