When Marvel Got Diversity and Character Changes Right! (Mania.com)
Date: Monday, August 04, 2014
Recently Marvel Comics announced a new Thor and new Captain America in a sham of a marketing stunt thinly disguised as enriching their titles with diversity. But as I mentioned in my recent editorial (read it here), Marvel has done a much better job of adding diversity and dealing with social issues in their universe in the past without the pretentious fanfare. If you are viewing the new Cap and Thor with trepidation then we have some alternative reading for you culled from Marvel’s past. All of these stories are easily found on digital, collected Marvel Essentials, or from the discount box at any comic show.
The Defenders # 22 – 25, (1975). In one of the best story arcs of the first Defenders series, the team faced off against The Sons of the Serpent. The Sons of the Serpent are a subversive organization of costumed American racist super-patriots who oppose all racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. They sought to subvert America through hate crimes and organized protests.
The Son's go on TV to blame minorities and immigrants for the problems plaguing the United States and declare war against these groups. They are initially defeated by the Defenders. However later the Sons use high tech weaponry to defeat and capture Dr. Strange, Valkyrie, Yellowjacket and Nighthawk. Bruce Banner seeks the help of Clea to help the captured Defenders. Clea summons prior Defenders members Power Man, Son of Satan, and Daredevil to help rescue the team.
X-Men #57 – 59, (1969). Perhaps no one has ever hated the X-Men as much as Larry Trask. Trask blamed the death of his father, the original creator of the Sentinel robots, on The X-Men. Trask created an even more powerful version of the Sentinels and unleashed them on the X-Men in one of the most famous X-men storylines ever. Writer Roy Thomas and artist Neal Adams created a tale that has since been reprinted numerous times. They introduced Alex Summers as the Sentinels easily defeat the X-Men. The Sentinels are finally defeated when they are convinced the way to destroy mutants is to destroy the source that creates them…the sun. The Sentinels blast off to the sun in a suicide mission which will destroy them.
Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975). It’s probably hard for a lot of younger comic book fans to believe but there was a time when Marvel couldn’t give away X-Men comics. In fact from 1970 to 1975 Marvel had such little faith in the series that it was strictly running reprints from the 1960s. That all changed in August 1975 when writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum introduced a brand new team of X-Men and the world has never been the same. Want to talk racial and ethnic diversity? The new X-Men featured characters from every corner of the world including Wolverine (Canada), Sunfire (Japan), Banshee (Ireland), Storm (Africa), Nightcrawler (Germany), Colossus (Russia), and Thunderbird (Native American). This story led into X-Men #94 which began featuring the first new stories in five years. The X-Men would soon go on to become Marvel’s most popular title.
Master of Kung-Fu #22 – 50 (1974 – 1977). In the mid-1970s, martial arts were all the rage. Bruce Lee had become the first martial arts film star and on TV, David Carradine play the lead in the hit show “Kung Fu”. Comics got into the act as well and none were ever as successful as Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. The series took off when writer Doug Moench teamed with artist Paul Gulacy beginning with issue #22 and running through issue #50.
Shang-Chi was the son of sinister mastermind Fu Manchu. He rebelled against his father’s evil ways by becoming an agent with MI-6 and battling his father’s forces all over the world. The Master of Kung Fu was a brilliant thriller/espionage comic at a time when there wasn’t a whole lot of assortment in comics. Gulacy was influenced by the legendary artist Jim Steranko and his cinematic style of panel design was a perfect fit for the title.
Avengers # 83 (1970). The feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s was carried over into comic books as well. One of the earliest takes on the feminist movement came within the pages of Avengers #83 from writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema. It features one of the most famous covers in Marvel history with a group of female superheroes standing over the unconscious bodies of several “male chauvinist pig” superheroes. In the story, new hero Valkyrie leads a new, all-female group of heroes called The Liberators, consisting of Scarlet Witch, Black Widow, Medusa, and The Wasp who band together to fight male oppression. They defeat the Avengers (Goliath, Black Panther, Quicksilver, and The Vision) but soon learn that they have been duped. Valkyrie is actually The Enchantress who has used her magic to create the disguise. Below is the original cover as well as a modern re-take on this iconic issue.
Fantastic Four 151 – 153 (1974). Yet another, albeit silly take on the feminist movement and the battle between the sexes came within this 3 issue story arc by writers Gerry Conway and Tony Isabella and artist Rich Buckler. A powerful female named Thundra comes to Earth from a world where females (called Femizons) are the dominant gender and men are slaves. Their world is on a collision course with another world called Machus led by Mahkizmo (get it?) which is dominated by males. Thundra arrives on with the goal of finding and defeating the most powerful males on the planet which leads her into a fight with The Thing. The Fantastic Four eventually find themselves caught up in a war between the two worlds.
Thor #303 (1981). Even today religion is a subject that is dealt with rarely in comics and that makes this Thor tale from 1981 stand out even more. Written by Jim Shooter with art by Rick Leonardi, “The Miracle of Storms” find Thor coming to the age of a Catholic priest whose church is under siege from a mobster. When the church is set on fire, the stunned priest sees Thor hold up a wall to rescue him…using a large crucifix to brace the wall. The priest suffers a weakness of his faith but in a powerful moment Thor tells him, “There be many gods worshipped on this earth, Father Coza, throughout this universe... They are given truth by the strength of faith and thus, through belief and prayer, all are made true...all spring from the same universal higher force. Your faith is not misplaced. Go -- save yourself and the woman! You can! You have the faith! You have the strength! Go! Do it!”
Iron Man # 169 – 200 (1983 – 1985). Thirty years before Marvel decided to make Sam Wilson the new Captain America, they elevated another African American character to the big stage and did so without all of the phony hoopla. Denny O’Neil, known primarily for his work at DC Comics, handled the writing chores on this 30 issue epic run with a variety of artists.
When Tony Stark relapses into alcoholism, and his company is taken over by Obadiah Stane, James Rhodes dons the armor as the new Iron Man with Stark’s blessing. Rhodes battled many classic Iron Man villains including The Mandarin, Zodiac, and The Radioactive Man and wore the armor during the Secret Wars storyline. Because the armor was not designed for his brainwave patterns, Rhodes began to experience headaches becoming irrational. Stark finally returned as Iron Man after 30 issues and Rhodes would soon get his own suit of armor and become known as War Machine.
Captain America # 176 – 184 (1974 – 1975). In a story arc born out of the ashes of the Watergate scandal, Steve Rogers becomes disillusion with the corruption of the American government and quits as Captain America. The Falcon, who was Cap’s co-star at the time, is forced to fight on his own against several villains. Rogers cannot resist the sure of tights and dons a new costume calling himself “Nomad.”
Meanwhile, an athletic but inexperienced man named Roscoe becomes the new Captain America. He battles the Red Skull and when the Skull discovers that he is not the real Captain America he goes into a rage, brutally killing Roscoe. This resulted in one of the more memorable covers of the 1970s. A distraught Steve Rogers once again takes up the Shield in the following issue.
Follow Mania on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest genre news and reviews.