When (Super) Strength Isn’t Enough: An Examination of Strong Female Protagonist

What if you were both invincible and had super-strength—yet you still couldn’t save the world?

That’s the problem confronting Alison Green, the twenty-year-old protagonist of Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag’s webcomic, aptly titled Strong Female Protagonist. Running since 2012 and updating every Tuesday and Friday, the comic is set on an Earth familiar to the reader, save for one detail: in the aftermath of “an unprecedented meteorological event”, “biodynamic” individuals—essentially humans with superpowers—have suddenly cropped up all over the globe. Alison is one such person, acquiring what amounts to invincibility and super-strength when she is only fourteen years old.

As she and other American teens with newfound powers are shipped off to a camp “for their protection”, and supervillains commence wreaking havoc in the country, Alison finds herself roped into a makeshift superhero team formed by a Superman fan and a fellow biodynamic. Reluctantly donning the mask of Mega-Girl, she fights supervillains with the other Guardians until she realizes that what they do won’t have any real, systemic effect on the world. This is where Strong Female Protagonist really shines as a speculative work in the superhero genre. Complicating the hero-villain dichotomy occurs in many comics, but Mulligan’s writing also tackles the consequences of superpowers in our current sociopolitical context. Alison decides to attend college in the hopes of finding a better way to help people. She comes to realize the destructive potential of her abilities, evinced by her emotional outburst on national television when she says: “My name is Alison Green, I’m 19 years old, I’m invincible, I’m stronger than any human being that has ever lived, and I don’t know what the [f***] I’m doing!”

The trope is upended, for although she is a physically strong female protagonist, this isn’t what renders Alison a compelling character. The comic focuses not on Mega-Girl’s heroic exploits, but rather “follows the adventures of a young middle-class American with super-strength, invincibility and a crippling sense of social injustice” after she becomes an ex-super hero. It is disappointing to find that the comic, which often deals with social justice issues, such as rape culture and income inequality, overlooks the ableist language in its self-summary. However, in many ways Alison’s growth as a character comes about in the same uncomfortable way, because as she comes to understand the many complicated factors that contribute to unhappiness and oppression in the world, she learns that there is often no clear or easy solution. Meanwhile, she witnesses the diverse cast of heroes around her try to find their own ways of helping as they come to similar realizations. Surrounded by people with biodynamic powers that range from mindreading to photokinesis, and from having a bat’s head to a superhuman ability to learn robotics, Alison is pitted against the reality that her brand of idealism may be doing more harm than good. She is not a perfect hero or a perfect person—Alison often seems to approach situations with more force and less tact than is appropriate, and she rarely thinks about the consequences of her actions on those around her. In this way, the comic is as much about what it means to be a human wanting to help others in the world as it is about the implications of gaining sudden superpowers.

Aside from story arcs that deal directly with particular social justice issues, the comic also does a nice job in representing the diversity present in New York City. With a strong supporting cast alongside its “strong female protagonist”, the webcomic portrays characters who are believable in their depth while refraining from invoking too many tired stereotypes. Diversity is displayed through characters from different economic backgrounds, people of colour, disabled characters, and queer characters who inhabit Alison’s immediate community as a reflection of the real world—and they occupy positions ranging from prominent secondary characters, to panels depicting passers-by on the street. Neither are they reduced to one aspect of their identities; in fact, many of them, like Alison, are trying to find their place in a setting where none of the superpowered people seem to have the ability to save the world. This alludes to darker powers at play, ones that remain mostly a mystery to readers thus far, but provide an undercurrent of tension to the comic’s overarching plot. Ostertag’s art has matured quickly throughout the series, so it will be exciting to see the plot unfold in the full colour that has been adopted since the latest issue.

Strong Female Protagonist stands out as a superhero webcomic in its subversion of common genre tropes and its nuanced depiction of complex characters confronting equally complex systemic issues. Truly speculating on a world where both more help and more harm can be accomplished through superpowers, Mulligan and Ostertag’s comic explores the ways in which these powers are sufficient, but also where they fall short in tackling the problems of our time.

-Contributed by Victoria Liao


Your Daily Dose of Comics: an Interview With Dakota McFadzean

If you’ve been to a comic arts festival in Toronto you can bet you’ve seen Dakota McFadzean there, selling his books and sketches. This Canadian cartoonist is well-versed in the strange and the imaginative. He also has a talent for making people relate to comics about things like ghost rabbits and cave-dwelling monsters. His comics range from depictions of mesmerizingly weird scenarios to witty commentary on familiar ideas. In this interview I asked Dakota to give The Spectatorial’s audience an idea of what his work is like and how he approaches cartooning.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Many people find you through “The Dailies”, the daily comic strip you’ve been putting out for 5 years now. You also have longer narratives, like the ones collected in your book Other Stories and the Horse You Rode in On. How do you decide whether an idea gets turned into a ‘Daily’ or a longer piece?

Dakota 1
“Voices” by Dakota McFadzean

I’ve tried to view “The Dailies” as an exercise from the beginning. Part of the reason I started doing daily comics was because I was working full time and I was unhappy with my cartooning output. Back then, whenever I did have time to draw comics, I was way too precious about it. “The Dailies” were an attempt to force myself to put something onto paper every day, with no regard for perfection, no room for preciousness.

“The Dailies” have become a way for me to digest ideas and stumble on to new ones. If an idea keeps showing up in “The Dailies” over and over again, or I accidentally come up with something that I wouldn’t mind spending endless hours with, then I’ll try to explore it in a longer form.

I’ve never thought of myself as one of those cartoonists who has a bunch of graphic novel ideas sitting in their back pocket, although I think drawing a daily strip has helped me to better recognize ideas with potential.


Where would you say a lot of those ideas come from in the first place? Is there some treasure trove of creativity you have stashed away?

Maybe everything and nothing. Drawing a daily strip has made me realize that ideas are pretty much endless, but how they come to be is still a mysterious alchemy to me. Sometimes the lines flow out as easy as breathing, and other days I stare at a blank page for an hour while complaining that I have no ideas, and that I’ve peaked, and it’s all over so why do I even have to do this anymore?

I certainly don’t have a treasure trove, but cartooning is the kind of thing that usually leaves one alone with nothing but thoughts and memories. If I find that I’m thinking about something over and over, like the way bus drivers wave to one another or the way a three-legged dog walks, it will find its way into a comic.


A lot of your work deals with unusual representations of faces and masks. Is there a reason you frequently come back to this motif?

I like drawing faces. I like drawing grotesque things too. … Part of it likely comes from this idea that Scott McCloud articulates in Understanding Comics—that as humans, we see faces in everything. We’re hardwired to see ourselves. We can see a face in an electrical outlet, in wood grain, the moon, three dashes on a page. It’s a fundamental part of being human, and it’s a big part of why cartooning even works.

Beyond that, I’ve always loved (and feared) masks. I remember buying a werewolf mask at a garage sale as a kid, and putting it on at night and running around my grandmother’s back yard like an animal. It was play, but I was also spooking myself a little. When a face is slightly off, or unclear, or obscured, it can be deeply, irrationally unsettling, and I find that fascinating. I enjoy making things that are somehow disconcerting, and one way to do that is to make something that is simultaneously familiar and yet unfamiliar.

Dakota 2
Page from “Hollow in the Hallows” by Dakota McFadzean


You’re part of a collective of cartoonists who continually produce an anthology of comics, called Irene. What is the selection process for those cartoons and comics?

Irene is a funny project that I think me and my co-editors, Andy Warner and d.w., are only gradually beginning to understand. We initially discussed the idea of starting an anthology near the end of our MFA program at The Center for Cartoon Studies. We hoped to find a way to maintain our creative momentum after graduation.

Our process for each issue is to approach artists we admire, and see if they’d be interested in doing a few pages. Beyond that, they get free reign. We’re there for editorial assistance if they want it, but few ask for it or need it. … We get a lot of enjoyment out of trying to arrange each book in a way that feels like a complete whole despite being made of disparate parts.


To make a ‘Daily’ you have to use any and every idea—so, a lot of it is pretty weird and surreal. What would you say to someone exploring that side for the first time?

It’s funny—weirdness and surrealism have been part of cartooning since forever, but audience tastes shift and change so much over time. Part of the maturation and acceptance of the comics medium has meant that more cartoonists are able to tell stories rooted in reality.

One of the most common comments I get on my online comics is “What.” (Or “wat.” Or some variation thereof.) Further, one of my most shared strips simply depicts a floating human skull eating out of a bird feeder. I don’t understand why that strip resonated with the masses, but they just can’t seem to get over how weird it is. Of course, if you imagine a world where floating skulls exist, the fact that they might eat is a pretty likely thing to happen.

For those trying to explore the strange side of things, I think it’s partially a matter of refining and recognizing those impulses through repetition like anything else. Exposure to art that does what you wish you could do helps too.


Dakota 3
24/05/2013 by Dakota McFadzean

Anyway, I guess if you find your work gravitating towards the unusual, embrace it but don’t expect people to always love it.


What’s your opinion of speculative fiction?

I love speculative fiction, or as I called it as a kid: “anything that’s not just boring grown-ups talking.” The great thing about fiction is that anything can happen, even if it couldn’t happen in real life. The right cartoonist can show us something we’ve never seen before. It’s full of incredible possibilities.

You can follow Dakota’s work at http://dakotamcfadzean.com

 – contributed by Jonathan Ramoutar


Without Fear: The Devil in Depression

just put this one first cause it looks neat, daredevil by david mack
Art by Dave Mack

Superheroes have struggles and conflict. Their stories need this. Without conflict, they wouldn’t have any reason to wear spandex and go jumping off rooftops. But not all conflicts have to be outlandishly dressed villains. The Marvel character Matt Murdock/Daredevil has his share of foes (mostly ninjas). Matt’s crusade against Wilson Fisk, the criminal Kingpin of New York, and the other villains who invade his ninja-filled home in Hell’s Kitchen is fantastic, and his representation of disability as a blind superhero (albeit with some fun powers) makes for some fun adventures. But this is not all of what makes this character so great.

Daredevil struggles with depression. This is a comic book character who has openly confessed to struggling with clinical depression; this is a comic book that has treated depression as a mental illness and has portrayed it realistically.

It didn’t start out that way. In his early stories, Daredevil was a grinning, swashbuckling acrobat, whose quips and stories were just as silly as any other (he once pretended to be his own twin brother for some reason). But as time went on, Daredevil took on a much more adult edge. He became a darker character that inhabited a grimmer world, a world where most of the people around him died—sometimes repeatedly. Throughout the 80s, Daredevil stories were lead in an increasingly bleak direction with the introduction of grief and depression.

But the story that really introduced depression as a foe was the 1986 story Born Again (Daredevil Vol.1 #232-233) by Frank Miller. In this story Kingpin’s discovers Daredevil’s real identity, and proceeds to ruin the hero’s life. He bankrupts Matt and burns down his building. This is the point in the story where the hero always feels like they can’t win, before they are reminded of how cool they are and then going back out to kick some butt.

But that’s not what happens. Instead, Matt feels crushed, hopeless, and alone. Matt feels like his life is over. But this isn’t done with melodramatic tears and cheesy monologues.

screen cap volume 1 227, 228, 229
Art by David Mazucchelli


He reaches for the phone, but is incapable of calling his friends for help. Matt finds himself lying in bed, and he can’t get up. When Matt finally does get help, it’s because those who care about him go and find him. In the end, of course, Matt puts his Daredevil horns back on and goes to save the day, but this is an important turning point for his character. This is a rare example of depression being portrayed as depression.

Then, jump forward more than a decade and come to the Daredevil run of Brian Michael Bendis that stretched from 2001-2006 (Daredevil Vol.2 #26-50, 56-81). This five year saga has Daredevil’s identity publicly revealed by the press (because Matt can’t keep his mask on); has the character get married; and, most notably, violently claim control over New York’s mafia himself, threatening all crime with gruesome retribution. The saga shows the character acting increasingly violently and erratically as he loses more control over his life.

But when this comes to a head, it isn’t really with a fight. It isn’t with bloody knuckles or a dramatic car chase. The true climax of this story is when Matt’s friend Ben Urich comes to him while Matt is lying hurt and asks if he is okay. It turns out that Matt’s increasingly erratic and dangerous behavior was part of depression and a nervous breakdown. This is the turning point of Bendis’s saga for Daredevil: his friends noticing he needs help.

Now let’s jump forward just a few more years, to the current run of Daredevil, written by Mark Waid. Never before has depression been such an ever-present foe. In Waid’s run, Matt openly acknowledges his struggles with mental illness, and makes a commitment to being a healthier, happier version of himself. This run has Matt, and his friends, consciously acknowledge depression as an obstacle, and several of the story arcs involve Matt’s struggle to continue to rise above the darkness in his life and in himself.

Now Daredevil is about a constant struggle against the darkness of depression, which grows ever more apparent with each issue. This culminates perfectly in the tenth issue, in which writer Mark Waid pens a story where not only is the hero fighting his illness, but he even allows Matt to describe what his experience is like. This is a moving, insightful, and informative piece, allowing us a window into both what it is like to struggle with mental illness and what it is like to be around those who do.

Superheroes’ lives usually suck. So on one hand, it is a little surprising that there aren’t more costumed characters that struggle like Matt. But the point is that it doesn’t matter how good or bad Daredevil’s life might be—he would struggle regardless. The story of Daredevil is deep, and is a decade’s long, insightful look into the mind of someone fighting the good fight against both mental and physical handicaps. Daredevil is a rare character in that his creators are willing to take him to extremes; they are willing to take him right to the edge, to break him down, and to try to find their own ending for the man without fear. But, as is the nature of comic books, nothing ever really ends. So every time he gets knocked over, Daredevil still gets back up and fights without fear.

Daredevil is great. Go pick up an issue. I promise you won’t be disappointed. (He also fights ninjas, guys—so many ninjas. I’m not even sure where all those ninjas come from.)

-contributed by Ben Ghan

Truth, Justice and the Kryptonian Way

Image from rogerebert.com
Image from rogerebert.com

“If Superman doesn’t kill, why would Zac k Snyder allow him to snap the neck of General Zod at the end of his film Man of Steel?” I asked myself at the end of the movie. What does it mean for Superman now that he will forever have the stain of death on his heart? He’s supposed to be a hero, not a murderer. However, this isn’t the first time Superman has gotten his hands dirty. Angry at Snyder’s ending, I went on a quest to find evidence supporting my argument that Superman doesn’t kill and that Snyder’s departure from the true Superman was detrimental to his development. But what I found was ComicBookMovie.com’s list of instances when Superman either indirectly or directly killed another. And it’s not a short list.

Internal conflict replaced my confusion. If Superman has killed in the past, why is his deadly act at the end of Man of Steel so shocking? He did it to protect innocent people from a villain after all.

As much as I wish I could ask Zack Snyder what his reasoning was, I’m left with my warring thoughts, trying to sort out if Superman really has a no-killing policy. The thought of our superhero killing others in the name of justice like military soldiers is slightly unfathomable. It would make him too…human.

The superhero that has dominated the DC Universe throughout the 21st century has been Batman, an ordinary human being who becomes a vigilante without powers. He’s got some really awesome toys, insane fighting abilities, and super smarts that make him a triple threat, but many admire him most for his relatability. Figuratively speaking, with an insane amount of money, intelligence, and intense combat skills, anyone can be Batman. Is anyone here able to become a Kryptonian with super speed, super strength, super flight, and other super abilities? No one?  Didn’t think so.

For the longest time, Superman has been seen as too perfect. The Man of Steel was at a level of perfection unattainable for regular people. Audiences were hungry for a hero they could relate with, and Batman became that hero. Superman didn’t understand the pain of humans because he always made the perfect, clean choice. Regular people hardly ever make a perfect, clean choice. He was a god , and we were subjects scrambling to match his impossible standard. Not many people look up to someone they see as looking down on them all the time.

So maybe Snyder’s fresh take on Superman was a marketing strategy to make him as popular as his darker contemporary. Many people thought he would turn into a Batman-esque figure with Christopher Nolan producing the film. However, Snyder explained in multiple interviews that he wanted his Superman to be relatable. He wanted this unattainable, god-like figure to become a man with extraordinary abilities. Killing Zod at the end of the movie was one way to accomplish this.

To fit into the world today, to be the relatable character Snyder wanted him to be, Superman needed to be lowered from his spotless godly throne. So, he violently killed Zod with his bare hands. Though it had to be done to save innocent lives, it most definitely wasn’t the perfect, clean choice we’ve grown so accustomed to with Superman. To be perfect is to be boring. To be broken because of a choice made for the common good of others is inspiring.

I’m not saying in any way that Superman is going to become like Batman, throwing people out of windows and yelling at criminals in a raspy voice. He still needs to be the hope that the “S” on his chest stands for, and he does that better without a dark costume and without a black mask. However, what Snyder has done is put Superman in a situation he couldn’t super speed, super strength or super whatever his way out of, making him a man who must kill to save others. He had to make a choice that took him off his throne and put him in the grey area, a color America is quite familiar with when it comes to ideas of national security and government protection.

The American way isn’t what it used to be, and as a reflection of America and her ideals, Superman must change. Zack Snyder has removed Superman’s god-like status and created a man-who-happens-to-be-made-out-of-steel (or Kryptonian DNA). However, Snyder’s Superman isn’t relatable to every individual citizen because not every individual citizen is murdering villains who attack innocent lives. Instead, Snyder made the man of Steel relatable to the nation he grew up in as a whole. Superman is the ultimate superhero, and America wants to be the ultimate super nation ready to come to the aid of oppressed countries and to fight the forces of evil from others. To do so, America and her heroic symbol have stepped into the grey, and accepted their duty to carry out the unthinkable to fight for Truth, Justice, and the American way.

God Bless America.

 -contributed by Camila Quinones

The One Nerd to Rule Them All : Why The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is Definitely Worth Your Time

Too rarely do we find a story that so unabashedly loves the speculative genres as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. As a jaded English Major about to enter the real world where one’s in-depth, twenty-page thesis on James Joyce’s Ulysses is only slightly less valuable than toilet paper, this book revives a tiny fragment of my cold, dead optimism. Why such high praise? Junot Diaz’s masterfully crafted novel about the trials and tribulations of an awkward, overweight GhettoNerd trying desperately to find love is so much more than a story about isolation. It spans lifetimes filled with tragedy and entire universes through its invocation of the great works of fiction: Lord of the Rings, Akira, Watchmen… I could go on. This is a story that could only be pulled off by the nerdliest of nerds.

So what, you ask, is the story about? Oscar Wao, née Oscar de Leon, is fat, black, and despised by everyone around him for his use of words like “orchidaceous” and “[wearing] his nerdliness like a jedi [wears] his lightsaber”. As a Dominican immigrant living on the worst streets of New Jersey in the seventies, he was hated by the white kids for his blackness and the Dominicans for being unable to get a girl if his life depended on it. By the time he was seven, he had exhausted all the game he was ever going to have, and his love life faded so completely into non-existence it was almost a superpower. Despite all odds, and the fukú americanus (the curse that has haunted his family for generations), Oscar is determined to become the Dominican Tolkien, and find the one woman who will make everything worthwhile.

The true genius of this novel lies in the blending of multiple narratives, perspectives, and timelines. See, this is not just Oscar’s story. His sister Lola, his mother Beli, and his best (read: only) friend Yunior are just some of the voices and stories that are heard. Diaz’s manic way of jumping from one voice or timeline to another allows the reader to view these lives from multiple perspectives, allowing for a deep sympathy with each incredible character. The narrative wit is razor sharp, and Diaz’s unique humor shines through each and every facet of the novel, from the footnotes to the jumps in perspective and narrative voice. For no additional charge, we also get the sassiest history lesson ever printed about the rise and fall of the Dominican dictator Trujillo, punctuated with references galore to comics, sci-fi and fantasy.

It’s a profoundly personal story, yet it also feels universal; as we follow Oscar stumbling through his awkward existence we get flashes of other lifetimes: his mother as a fierce adolescent finding love in the most disastrous of places; his sister’s punk-rock feminist rebellion; the fall of their ancestral house to the tyrannical Trujillos.

The blending of fiction and history is what is truly remarkable about this novel. Oscar’s devotion to the heroes in speculative fiction ultimately allows him to discover his own resolve and fight for love in the face of great injustice. This is also a book about the importance of reading and writing fiction, and how stories can carry the weight of a lifetime and a legacy. Oscar’s journey to find meaning in his lame, lonely existence is deeply beautiful. This novel shows us the power of love and let’s us recognize our own history in this incredibly resonant story as we witness the outbreak of nerd culture in our modern times.

For those of you who have not yet read this incredible novel, GO NOW. It’s a story that will restore your belief in the power of stories.

-contributed by Amy Wang

A Marvelous Ms. Marvel

When one stumbles upon an issue of a Ms. Marvel comic book, it’s not common to find a modestly attired brown teenage girl looking back at them  from the front covers. The archetypal image that a reader of Ms. Marvel comics expects is more often than not of a tall, blonde, Caucasian woman decked out in a shiny leather leotard. The new Ms. Marvel, however, succeeds in breaking though said pre-set confines of superhero convention. The protagonist is a sixteen-year-old Muslim teenager and the daughter of Pakistani immigrant parents living in Jersey City. Her name is Kamala Khan and appropriately so, for the word Kamala means ‘perfection’ in Arabic. This is Marvel’s contribution towards emulating the thriving diversity existent in their vast readership while keeping true to their contemporary bearing.

What is significant about the new Ms. Marvel is not her unique circumstances, but in fact how relatable she is. Despite being a Muslim-American girl of Pakistani heritage with a challenging name, Kamala exudes familiarity. She is a high school student who wants to go to parties and hang out with all the popular kids, has constant disagreements and confrontations with her family, and (not unlike some of us here) is borderline obsessed with the Avengers. She is portrayed as a typically alienated teenager, pushed to remoteness by her family’s expectations of her.

Even though she is introduced as a member of a practicing Muslim family, Kamala herself does not seem very comfortable with the restrictions imposed upon her. She asks ethnically relevant questions like, “Why am I the only one who gets signed out of health class?” and “Why am I stuck with the weird holidays?” In fact, the comic book opens with a scene where Kamala is illustrated bending over a shelf of bacon, gratifying herself by sniffing the food due to the dietary constraints imposed upon her by her Muslim family. Caught between two distinct realities, we are witnesses to her struggle of fitting in as a ‘normal’ American teenager. The story opens with a focus on her relationship to her faith, and we readers are quickly transformed from spectators to comrades of her dynamic and relatable character.

The comic ceases to be a novel-esque drama focusing on cultural struggles soon enough with a cloud of blue smoke: Kamala’s transformation. She awakens to find herself in an impromptu assembly of the Avengers, which is attended by three iconic superheroes that we all know and love: Captain America, Iron Man, and Captain Marvel. What follows is a haunting exchange with Captain Marvel bursting into an Urdu folk song about “sakal bun” (yellow mustard flowers) and “umbva phutay” (mango buds). Driven by humiliation, she demands to be transformed into Ms. Marvel with a “classic, politically correct costume.” She regrets this decision as soon as her transformation—complete with porcelain skin, bleached blond tresses, and thigh-high stockings—is over. In her moment of much sought-after metamorphosis, she has an epiphany about her self-worth.

We are now enlightened with the most universally accurate message of all: that being a superhero has less to do with your physical appearance and more with who you are on the inside. Kamala is an out of place, unpopular kid—an issue that plagues most teenagers—who is granted powers and given a place amongst her biggest personal heroes. The story, thus, is about empowerment and self-acceptance.

In conclusion, if you want to enjoy a unique comic book experience that is relevant to today, the new Ms. Marvel is sure to quench your thirst. Kamala Khan believes in acquiring independence and acceptance and wearing giant wedge heels. She is an advocate for freedom and for going to parties and acting out her imagination. Kamala is like you, she is like me, and more importantly she is the superhero that exists not merely on the pages of a comic book but also inside all of us.

 -contributed by Tooba Quidwai

Reimagined Race: Superheroes for a More Enlightened Age

MSMARVEL001Last November, news broke of Marvel relaunching their Ms. Marvel title with a new protagonist: Kamala Khan, a young Muslim teen from New Jersey. Kamala inherits her persona from the original (white) Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers. This is a pretty hefty departure for the series; Carol debuted as Ms. Marvel in 1977, and only in the last year took on the mantle of the original (male) Captain Marvel, leaving a vacant post for the introduction of Kamala.

In the comic, Kamala discovers she has the powers of a polymorph (a being who can change their size and appearance), which she naturally uses to fight crime and intergallactic evil. Much like other teen superheroes, however, she has to balance her newfound powers with the responsibilities of being a teen. In this case, her teen life is a balancing act between her conservative Muslim family, her American school friends, and her desire to keep her superhero identity a secret from both her parents and her peers.

Marvel’s investment in the franchise has been impressive; they’ve hired an all-star team and dropped a fair amount of marketing moolah. As a result Ms. Marvel #1 has been performing very well both financially and critically. Suffice to say, Ms. Marvel’s new identity has been quite a success.

CUltimateComicsSpiderMan_1_MilesVariantoincidentally, in the lead up to Ms. Marvel #1’s release, Marvel’s Editor in Chief was quoted as saying, “Kamala is not unlike Peter Parker,” in reference to her dual life as both teen and super hero. Kamala, however, could more easily be compared to Miles Morales, the half-Hispanic, half-African-American teen who replaced the original (white) Spider-Man, Peter Parker in 2012. While Morales only exists in Ultimate Spider-Man (an offshoot from the primary Marvel universe), he is another recent example of Marvel moving (or killing off) an established classic (white) character to allow the entry of a character that better represents the diversity of their market share.

Marvel has not been alone in doing this, nor is it a recent strategy. For instance, DC Comics, Marvel’s largest competitor, did the same with their original (white) Green Lantern character, Hal Jordan, when they introduced John Stewart as the Green Lantern’s “back-up” in 1971.  In recent years, however, this movement has created a number of divisions within the fanbase. Some believe that these decisions have led to long-needed diversity within the Marvel and DC comic canons. Others believe that while more diversity within the two universes is needed, the steps taken thus far have not been large or radical enough. And unfortunately, there are  retrogrades who think that comics canon should be left sacrosanct in all its white, pasty glory.

The financial success of these titles is an indicator that we’ll likely be seeing more franchises reimagined with more diverse casts in the near future. Judging by the reaction to this year’s Superbowl Coca Cola ad, there eventually may be some outcry if a popular hero like Captain America is replaced, but such a change certainly would make a great deal of sense, all things considered.

-Contributed by Dan Seljak