We’re all familiar with the faces of Marvel: Captain America, Spider-Man, and Iron Man, along with the new faces that have become household names like Kamala Khan, Miles Morales, and Sam Alexander. However, if you examine many of the Marvel titles over recent years you’ll notice they star many more obscure characters that used to be sidelined and are only recently becoming better known. The journey of old, long forgotten, slept-on characters from the void of limbo to becoming starting players isn’t an easy one and requires a unique creative tag-team to bring new life to those riding the pine.
The beautiful thing about creative control with a less familiar character is the suspension of disbelief hasn’t been set. The team is allowed to take them to new depths, making ’em more raw, gritty, or humorous in a way that isn’t as accessible with the more prominent characters of Marvel. This creative freedom is what makes watching the rise of these C-list heroes as they reach the S-class that much more enjoyable, as you are there with them from the ground floor. That being said, let’s highlight a few characters that escaped the void and are flourishing with a new lease on life, and most importantly, a newfound respect.
“Made enough money, I don’t fuck around /
I just felt they needed me so I stuck around”
Luke Cage was riding that bench for the longest until ya mans and dem Brian Michael Bendis drafted him from the D-league. Bendis had a long game plan for Cage, and you could tell from the depth poured into him that Bendis is a huge Luke fan. We saw Luke appear in Alias as supporting character (friends with 401k) then love interest to Jessica Jones, then the Pulse, and once Luke Cage got that call to join the New Avengers we saw him thrive amongst the team. Bendis was able to keep Luke one ‘hunned,
realer Black as fuck, and relatable.
Bendis laid the groundwork for the Luke Cage we know to come to fruition, and we’re seeing the fruits of his labor now as Cage appeared in a multitude of other titles and finally coming to live action not only in Jessica Jones, but his own series with Netflix as well. The Luke Cage we see today is far different from when he first hit the scene. Bendis brought years of overdue character development, with Luke Cage now being not only a hero, but a husband and a father through the evolution of great storytelling.
“Y’all too infatuated with the fucking numbers /
Which makes it easy for me to divide and conquer”
Hawkeye? The dude with the bow and arrow? The most useless Avenger? That’s how the majority of folk would speak ill of the gawd body Clint Barton for years on the come up. Clint was, to a degree, seen as the Avengers version of Aquaman since all he had to his credit was a single skill — being a very good archer. He’s had some solo series here and there, but it wasn’t until Matt Fraction and David Aja took this (arguably) B-string hero and showcased his life outside of the Avengers all on his lonesome that Hawkeye was seen in a totally new light. Fraction and Aja gave him his own portion of the Marvel universe to flourish in, and a great supporting cast member in Kate Bishop who at one point takes over the title for a good portion.
You could say that Matt was not only building up Clint Barton, but Kate Bishop as well. They both share the name of Hawkeye and we saw them both on missions abroad. On the home front, the Hawkeyes were waging war on a couple bro-happy tracksuits trying to commandeer a building in Brooklyn that Clint bought. Clint displayed maturity as he found out the tenants were having their rent raised and being harassed in order to leave. Clint then became the super of the building (forcefully and with a duffle bag of cash) and made it clear that the building and tenants were under his watch.
Hawkeye’s humanity and the fragility while facing universe-level disasters as well as street level are what make him such an interesting read. The majority of the time we see Clint he’s bandaged from injuries in previous issues, and much like Vegeta taking an ass whooping it’s his tenacity and wear and tear that keeps you invested in Hawkeye’s life.
Clint lost his hearing under Fraction’s watch and the beautiful transitions of him signing were displayed by Aja flawlessly. It’s this damn near OCD-level procedure of surgically adding depth to Clint that moved Hawkeye to being a fucking underrated powerhouse on Marvel’s roster. This is the team that gave Clint the much-needed gravitas of his own world outside of these heroes with fantastic abilities to showcase just how trill he is, not only with a bow and arrow but with making obscure objects into weapons that’ll turn the tide in his favor.
“With kids being murdered just for being black and tall outdoors /
They respond to demonstrations wearing Kevlar briefs /
When the main problem is nobody respects our grief”
We are now at the point where Sam is hitting the ground running with Rick Remender and Stuart Immonen being the force behind his tenure as Captain America. Remender delved deeper into Sam’s past so readers would discover more of who he was in his adolescent years, the teachings of his father, and his community upbringing. These flashbacks served as a great parallel reflecting the positions that Sam would find himself in as present-day America. Remender wasn’t afraid to bring America’s issue of a Black Captain America right to viewers. We often saw Sam disguised in his civilian clothes overhearing what was being said about him now being at the driver seat of the most heroic legacy of America.
Remender used the actual angst against Sam, Sam’s intermediate fighting prowess (that he’s still upping), as well as the pressure of living up to the mantle to better smooth out Sam’s development (in only 5 issues before Nick Spencer and Roman Rosanas started their run). A huge issue that Remender remedied from Sam’s past is his “Snap” Wilson persona. Snap was a gangster/pimp persona that Sam “became” in his youth when his parent’s were killed. Remender shut the caricature shit down as nothing more than a false memory implanted by the Red Skull.
Sam’s “Snap” persona was mentioned by other writers at points, but how Remender retconned it as Sam coming to terms with his false memory only adds more depth to Wilson’s character by helping him finally shed the weight of a stereotype that has plagued him in continuity.
“But naw baby you gon’ get this here vertical /
Every word murderful, surgical, painful, purposeful /
And I’m taking left off your fuck list personal”
Now when Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey hopped on the track? My. Fucking. Gawd. The entire hero game fucking CHANGED. Warren Ellis had Moon Knight straight up straighten out his act and become Mr. Knight, a police consultant offering help on superhero-related or paranormal cases, stepping on the crime scene in the freshest of all-white-everything suits and mask. Mr. Knight would then follow up on said case in his Moon Knight persona, and through the pen game of Shavley what unfolded was just pure genius on the page, man.
Ellis straight up gave a new direction to the Schizophrenia, Disassociate Identity Disorder, and Multiple Personality Disorders that Moon Knight struggled with, saying he was actually living with brain damage. Khonshu, the Egyptian Moon God that Moon Knight serves, had actually colonized Spector’s mind and Spector was channeling one of the personalities of Moon Knight. Disassociate Identity Disorder and Multiple Personality Disorder is how his mind was making sense of it… MY NERD, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? ALL THESE YEARS THAT’S WHAT IT’S BEEN ALL ALONG? Come the fuck on, you can’t tell me that’s not some creative-ass shit right there. This was one of the many things that made Ellis’ Moon Knight revival so much fun. Another aspect is how gritty it got.
Each was done with Spector channeling a different aspect of Khonshu’s personality — some being cool and collected, while others being way more visceral, psychotic, and savage. Ellis and Shavley revolutionized Moon Knight with this approach to his solo series. I see this character and I cannot envision him any other way aside from the fucking monster that this creative team made when Marvel told them to run with it.
“Tryin’ live forever like a Dilla record“
YO! Don’t even let me get in my zone and talk my shit on the blackest book Marvel done ever put in the game. Yes, I said it. This right here This book was soooooooooo Black, man. Al Ewing said, “Fuck the frail shit, gimme Power Man 2.0, White Tiger, Falcon, Luke Cage, She-Hulk… You think I’m done? Hell naw, I want Spectrum, Jessica Jones, Blade, and Adam Brashear, the Blue Marvel. Fuck it, throw Spider-Man in dat gumbo too, I don’t even give a fuck right now.” My Lord, it was fucking raining people of color in this book. Greg Land was rocking with him on this Mighty Avengers lineup as well. Now that roster may not seem like much, but this was such a great POC-filled book where everybody got some shine. Ewing is a master of crafting a story with multiple characters and making sure each one has a moment where they develop in the arcs.
There was backstory for the characters that needed it the most and the heavy focus during this series came down on Blue Marvel, Adam Brashear, and Spectrum, Monica Rambeau. Monica been in and out of multiple Marvel titles throughout the years (she led the Avengers at one point) and Ewing had her go Gawd mode in this series. We saw Monica’s powers elevating to a higher level than ever before. At the same time, there was so much history and depth added to The Blue Marvel. This was a character made back in 2008, yet written as having been a hero in the beginning of the 60’s who dominated the scene and was told to stand down once everyone found out he was Black (after saving them of course).
Ewing gives Adam so much history in this book through flashbacks, and we come to find out that while the Fantastic Four was saving the world from Galactus, Adam and his eldest son Kevin were saving the world from another threat. Ewing built Blue Marvel’s history into Marvel behind major events continuously and has him running with these superheroes and teams from other countries that we know nothing about. Blue Marvel has been made into a hero that doesn’t just operate in America, but globally.
Now jump into the Ultimates series that Ewing is working on with Kenneth Rockafort and we see a different lineup, but that atmosphere is still mad Black (and serves as a successor to Mighty Avengers). We got Black Panther, Spectrum, Captain Marvel, Blue Marvel, and AMERICA FREAKING CHAVEZ, who we haven’t seen since Young Avengers’ second installment. Chavez is a GREEAAAAAT character that’s been out of limbo for a bit, but as we’ve seen with what Ewing can do with team building we know she’s in the right hands and this team is going to fucking shine some’n savage.
Listen, I know you love the big-named heroes from Marvel, but trust me and venture out on some of these titles. I’m telling you, there is such a great feeling of watching a team behind a 2nd (or 3rd) string hero with new ideas to bring them back into the fold.