Marvel has gotten a lot of praise in recent years for stepping into a new age of diversity and representation. Some of the most recognizable characters in comic book history were going through drastic changes that seemed to be for the improvement of comic books, as a whole.
Of those many changes, one of my personal favorites was watching Sam Wilson taking on the mantle of Captain America after Steve Rogers was put out of commission. In more than a year Sam has grown into his new title, even with a large number of people in two worlds – both the fictional Marvel universe and the world we live in – expressing their discomfort with the switch. Some claim to just not like change and some plain don’t like the idea of Captain America being a Black man.
As you probably know, Marvel has already undone a lot of those changes that once earned them a collective pat on the back. Peter Parker came back from the dead, Captain Marvel just started her own solo series and, most recently, it was announced that Steve Rogers will become Captain America again, and there will now be two.
To be fair, no one knows exactly how Steve will get his powers and title back except for those in a very small inner circle at Marvel. No one outside of that circle even knows what’s going to happen afterwards. But if this situation plays out the way it looks like it will, I’m very cautious, along with many, many comic book fans.
Watching Sam Wilson fill the role of Captain America has been one of my most enjoyable experiences as a reader. While it’s an interesting plot and I’m a sucker for origin stories and new beginnings, it’s been great just to watch a man that looks like me fill some of the biggest shoes in the history of comics. I’ve said multiple times that I’m going to save these Sam Wilson issues to give to my kids one day.
Axel Alonso, the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, and Nick Spencer, the writer that’s been doing great things with the character so far, both say that reintroducing Steve Rogers as Cap won’t diminish Sam’s role. They caution us to wait and see what happens before jumping to conclusions. That’s understandable. But there’s also little reason for fans to be so trusting.
There have been more instances than I’d like to count of diversity and inclusion being introduced into an art form to serve as a shot in the arm just to be undone as soon as it lost the smell of newness. Why should we think this is any different?
Peter Parker died in a very memorable moment and was replaced by Miles Morales. Miles, just a kid at the time, was struggling to come into his own as the new Spider-Man but was able to do so with the help of his friends, the late Peter’s loved ones and even the occasional Spider-Man villain that required him to rise to the occasion. When Peter came back, it was shocking but made sense. No one could better teach Miles how to be Spider-Man than Spider-Man.
Now we have two Spider-Men, one in the Avengers and the other traveling the globe, working for S.H.I.E.L.D. and managing a multi-billion dollar global corporation. The lines aren’t often blurred and Peter’s there to offer guidance to his protege. Everybody wins.
But Sam Wilson being Captain America is a completely different situation. For one, Steve Rogers isn’t [believed to be] dead. He’s just old. When he and Sam are on good terms he’s just one phone call away. If there’s anything left for him to learn, which there always is, Steve can surely teach it without throwing on the red, white and blue. But even if Steve were completely out of the picture, Sam has spent years following him as Falcon to learn first-hand. Sam’s a grown ass man that’s already proven himself.
With two Captain Americas walking around, those that have been hesitant to give Sam Wilson their approval got bailed out. It’s looking as if Marvel folded to the pressure of “traditionalists” that can’t accept change. Instead of making readers take things as they are and move on, they’re giving everybody what they want – or so they think.
In an interview with Comic Book Resources, Nick Spencer said that it wouldn’t have been fair to go into Captain America’s 75th year with Steve Rogers sitting on the sideline. Cool, I get that. So let’s give him a miniseries to go down memory lane and celebrate his achievements. Maybe even have him and Sam get back on good terms and go on a mission for old time’s sake, only with Steve riding shotgun for once.
Unless Steve and Sam are carefully separated in a way that doesn’t undermine one, there’s really only one way this could go.
Sending Steve to space to defend the entire planet or back/forward in time to do what he does could work because no toes are stepped on. But if things go the Spider-Man route where one goes to fight the big threats and the other fights the medium-sized ones, there’s only one top dog. Chances are it’s going to be the seasoned veteran. After that, it could just be a matter of time before Sam’s knocked back down a few pegs and things are reset to the status quo as it nothing ever happened. That, in itself, is kind of the status quo.
No one should suddenly turn on Marvel, Spencer, or Alonso for this decision. For all we know things really are going to turn out fine and Sam Wilson will be the Captain America long-term. But no one can blame you for being hesitant and preparing for the rug to be pulled out from under your comfortably planted feed. All of the signs of the same thing that always happens happening one more time are there. Let’s just hope that we’re all wrong.