Is this a disturbing trend or just the natural, social evolution of popular culture? I’m guessing it depends on who you ask and, to a greater extent, how old they are.
There is an ongoing wave of changes for some of the comic book and movie superheros you know and love, and some of them are really big changes. Yes, the Social Justice Warriors have been slowly but surely breaking into the fantasy action world, with quaint ideas such as the gender, race and sexual orientation of traditional characters being tossed into the dustbin of history. Heat Street runs down a few of the notable transitions.
Thor was replaced by a woman, stripped of his name and powers. Iron Man was replaced by teenage African American girl. Iceman is now gay. And let’s not forget how Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man’s love interest known for her dark red hair, has been cast as an African American in the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming movie.
And now Wonder Woman is officially bisexual, according to the series’ current writer, Greg Rucka. The character, who’s celebrating its 75th year in print, was confirmed to be queer by Rucka in a recent interview with Comicosity.
“Are we saying Diana has been in love and had relationships with other women? As Nicola and I approach it, the answer is obviously yes,” said Rucka, who explained that the mythical island of Themyscira from which Wonder Woman hails has a “queer culture” by his standards.
You might be asking why anyone would need to rebuild the old standards in this fashion when they already have iconic personas. Wouldn’t it be easier to simply create some new superheros and fit them into a more diverse cultural profile? I think it’s already been tried and the possibility exists, but it’s tough to get a new superhero off the ground. One of the first attempts was with Hancock. He had the virtue of being black (which was rather lacking in the traditional genre) and I thought it was a great movie. In fact, I have it on DVD. But it wasn’t exactly well received at the box office and I don’t think Superman has to worry about the competition in the decades to come.
That’s part of the problem here. It’s tough to just whip up a new superhero and expect them to attract the kind of following that can challenge the likes of Batman, the Flash and Green Lantern. From what I’ve heard, Daredevil is doing pretty well (and he’s blind) but not many others are getting far beyond niche popularity in what appears to be a sustainable way.
So getting back to the old standards, is it wrong to morph the traditional heroes in these ways? Technically no… at least not if you’re the owner of the franchise. You can do whatever you want with them. The only question is if people will keep buying the comics, paying for the movie tickets and ordering the merch. But some are clearly a bit more high risk than others. So you want to make Wonder Woman bisexual? I don’t recall her having a husband or much of a dating history (not that I’m an expert) so why not? I’m not sure how that adds to her superpowers, but it doesn’t seem to be a big break in the character. But you’re going to make Iron Man a teenage black girl? Er… not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s not really Iron Man anymore, now is it? That’s a different character. And Thor is a woman? That character dates back a few thousand years. You might want to check with the Odin Brotherhood about that.
But in the end, these are just fictional characters which are the property of the copyright holders. They can do what they want and the market will decide whether the character survives. Be thrilled or outraged if you like, but it’s really beyond our control. I just know I’m not going to be going to see a move where Thor’s a girl. That’s a Rainbow Bridge too far.