Earlier this week at the mall I watched as a Disney Store Merchandiser set up the shop’s Halloween Costume window display. There were the Frozen Girls, the Classic Princesses, Star Wars Characters, Buzz, Woody, and a slew of Marvel Heroes. With Mulan, Tiana, Esmerelda, War Machine, Pocahontas, and Jasmine on display there was a decent ethnic mix in the merchandising, in fact my only personal disappointment was the obvious absence of Captain Jack Sparrow.
I went on my way to the mall’s Barnes & Noble and the first book I noticed on the New Release shelf was newly announced MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, Ta-Nahesi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Earlier that day I had read a press release about Marvel Comic’s commissioning Coates to write the upcoming 2016 Black Panther series A Nation Under Our Feet. The announcement pointed out that Ta-Nehesi Coates often wrote about the positive impact Marvel’s ethnic characters had on him as a young Black reader. Just last spring Ta-Nahesi interviewed Marvel’s editor Sana Amanat on diversity among Superheroes. I was happy for his appointment.
If their recent character overhauls are any indication, Marvel has been paying attention to voices like Ta-Nahesi’s for a while. Now a days, Sam Wilson better known as The Falcon has earned the Captain America mantle from Steve Rogers, the company’s flagship female hero Ms. Marvel has been reinvented as a teenage American Muslima by day and Miles Morales, the Afro Latino teen who was Marvel’s Ultimates series resident Spider-Man for the past 4 years will now be absorbed into the main Marvel Universe headlining the upcoming Spider-Man comic book series and as a member of the All New, All Different Avengers. Contrary to what urban legend or folks who only read the click bait headlines would have you believe, Miles’ Spider-Man is neither new nor was he going to replace Peter Parker in print or on the screen.
Wait a minute, that’s only partially true. Remember last year’s explosive Sony email hack and subsequent leak? Sony owns the cinematic rights to Spider-Man and one of the leaked emails revealed that Sony was exploring introducing Miles Morales in the next reboot and possibly having him take over the franchise. But that was Sony’s idea not Marvel’s or it’s parent company Disney’s, both of which are poised to bring the first major Black Super Hero franchise to the screen in 2018 with The Black Panther. To make a long story short the leaks gave Marvel and Disney the leverage to dictate the reboot of Spider-Man franchise via a multi-studio effort that protects their ground breaking positioning of The Black Panther film.
In context, I began to see the wide spread announcement of Coates appointment serving a similar purpose. Coates will be introducing The Black Panther to a greater audience just ahead of and in tandem with the character’s cinematic debut in next year’s Captain America: Civil War. I mean I don’t recall Marvel issuing press releases when other Black writers Reginald Huldin or Christopher Priest helmed the title but I digress.
I revisited that Disney store with a slightly more critical view of the Marvel merchandise. The War Machine mask was only available as a 2 for 1 purchase with Iron Man’s Mark V mask, but of course the Mark V mask was available for solo purchase as well. Steve Roger’s Captain America, most of the Avengers, and Ant-Man costumes where available yet there was not one item let alone costume of either Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson/The Falcon who co-starred in each of the three franchises or Sam Jackson’s ubiquitous Nick Fury.
As far as the Spider-Verse merchandise there was Peter Parker’s Spider-Man, Venom, Carnage, and even Spider-Gwen on a T-Shirt along with Ms Marvel, Spider-Woman, and Silk but Miles Morales merchandise was not to be found anywhere. I wasn’t mad on the contrary I was amused at the very real likelihood that come September 2018 that same Disney Store window will probably be decked out with some Jungle Action straight out of Wakanda, a highly advanced albeit fictional African Utopia.