That late-summer heatwave you’ve been feeling is only partly due to the actual weather; the rest is caused by the steam that started emanating from my ears all too soon after I began reading Eliana Dockterman’s “Everyone’s a Superhero [sic]” in the current (Sept. 7/Sept. 14, 2015) double issue of TIME, about how “Marvel is winning new fans by bringing diversity to comic books.” Despite its decades-long devolution (e.g., unattractive redesigns, excerpts from books I don’t wish to read and—most damningly—failure to cover notable stories, seemingly under the assumption that I would already have read about them elsewhere, in which case why do I need them?), TIME remains one of my primary sources of news, especially since the IT guys where I work proved unequal to the task of restoring MSNBC.com as my homepage. Yet this time, they ran an article on a subject that I not only am passionate, but also know a little something, about…
Mind you, I’m quite sure that Marvel’s diversity du jour (not limited to, but focused primarily by Dockterman on, the gender variety) is indeed popular. And I am well aware, having volunteered to take the lead on covering several of them for the Marvel University blog, that most of their Bronze-Age efforts to launch distaff super-heroes were what my newlywed daughter would call “epic fails,” but I was wary of the implication that this was a brilliant new idea, and it only took until paragraph three. “The arrival of a female Thor—and a series of other diversity moves that include…the installation of a woman in the role of the crusader known as Captain Marvel—is the work of a team at Marvel Comics led by a former journalist named Axel Alonso,” we are told, conveniently sidestepping the fact that a female Captain Marvel was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #16 (1982), presumably before 2013 Yale graduate Dockterman yet existed.
A popular t-shirt, noting the difference between “Let’s eat Grandma” and “Let’s eat, Grandma,” concludes that “Commas save lives!” They certainly might have salvaged the sentence that, as published, reads: “One of the most significant moves was transferring the mantle of Captain Marvel, a hero who first appeared in 1967 to the Carol Danvers character, who had been toiling in the understudy role of Ms. Marvel.” Without that vital comma after “1967,” it incorrectly means that Mar-Vell (the first Marvel super-hero to bear that august rank) initially manifested himself in her presence, and that she was already “toiling” at that time. As for her “understudy” status, I haven’t followed the machinations since finally rejecting new comics c. 1985, but when I last saw her, she had—in X-Men #164—been changed by nobly failed Ms. Marvel scribe Chris Claremont into Binary, who as I recall was one of the most powerful characters of either gender.
The highest concentration of problematic “facts” is in the “Then” and “Now” sidebars devoted to specific characters, like the one calling the Falcon “Marvel’s first African-American superhero.” That may be true if you take “African-American” literally, but since—for better or worse—it’s often used as a synonym for “black,” that honor would go to the purely African Black Panther. More troubling is the assertion that “Ms. Marvel first appeared in 1967 as an Air Force pilot,” for once again, if taken literally, that is incorrect, MM per se having debuted in the premiere of her eponymous mag a full decade later. Carol, however, was introduced in Mar-Vell’s second issue, Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (cover-dated March 1968, although I suppose it might have been on sale before New Year’s), as the head of security at a missile base, and without digging through my collection again, I believe the Air Force pilot stuff was retconned in later, maybe much later.
Those interested can read all about Ms. Marvel #1 in our Marvel University post for January 1977, Part 2, which I believe is currently scheduled for October 7.