Possible Spoilers Alert

Marvel Comics has always been a popular literature among all ages. The plethora of superheroes only makes it more appealing as the opportunities of escapism, adventure and justice seem limitless. Arguably, Marvel as received more popularity in the last six years due to the starting up of The Avengers (2012) with each #Film introducing four members who would make up the team. Even before this franchise, came the X-Men whose series apparently will live on endlessly as proved in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014). The sheer fact that Disney currently owns Marvel possibly makes for more cinematic success.

However, as the films continue to reach audiences worldwide, the comic side of Marvel is long from dead.

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Continuing on with dramatic plot twists involving certain characters in X-Men (though I shall not name specific events), these are the backbone of the Marvel Universe. As without the foundations, the house cannot stand. It has already been proven that Marvel enjoys their character creation, why wouldn't they? Creating web-slingers, laser-shooters and shape-shifting crime fighters sounds like a good job to me! However to give them more freedom with creation, alternate universes are created. Each of these are known as "Earth" with a unique number following.

For example, "Earth-172" is known is the place of Wolverine's origin. And "Earth-371" Is Gambit's home world. The alternate worlds seem to become stranger as they affect all characters. Such as "Earth-2010" in which all humans are vampires.

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In this particular universe, Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) creates a bomb to destroy the world as the vampires run out of prey and start to hunt each other. However he lacks the courage to do it. The surreal realities continue with "Earth-15797" in which no heroes exist. Marvel seem to enjoy exploring all the possibilities and limitations of creation. Not that we are complaining! It begins to get stranger and sense seems to have been lost and only the endearing comical spark of Marvel remains in "Earth-200500" where all of the Avengers have beards. Perhaps some felt left out, or perhaps it gave those superheroes an extra point on the masculinity scale.

So it is certainly true that all superheroes have lived another life in another world (not always a logical or sane one). However, characters have been changed directly to take on new personas in order to explore the female or male version of a hero, or to decrease limitations upon their powers.

Of course, there are female 'versions' of male characters that are not an embodiment of their persona but are merely associated with them. Such as Spider Woman and X-23.

Whilst X-23 is a closer embodiment of Wolverine, being essentially a clone of him; Spider Woman holds similar powers though holds no other relation. She became ill as a child and was injected with arachnid blood to help save her. Ultimately, over time, she developed powers similar to Spider-Man such as superhuman agility, speed and strength. However, she also developed an ability to project venom and also to fly.

Another popular character, who is slightly similar in her lack of association with the original character, is She-Hulk, a very popular and well known female character in Marvel. Though she is closer than Spider Woman is to Spider-Man, being Bruce Banner's (Hulk) cousin. Jennifer Walters, which is her original name, was shot and seriously wounded on a day when Banner was in town. Banner gave Walters a blood transfusion to save her live and ultimately passed on his powers to her. We move on from alike heroes of opposite genders, to heroes who take on the identity of an existing, or previously existing, character.

A strong example of this is Miles Morales, who takes on the alias of Spider-Man after Peter Parker's death during his effort to protect his family. Morales was bit by an Oz spider and discovered that he had the ability of camouflaging, stunning blast and web-crawling. At first he did not appreciate the powers that he had gained, but after Parker's death, felt inclined to take on the responsibility of protecting NYC. Morales is much younger than Parker, only being a young child. However he has a lot of personality and character and will hopefully fill the spandex shoes of his predecessor.

I particularly enjoyed how they continued the alliteration of the true identity of Spider-Man. However it seems that Marvel is rather fond of alliteration for characters. The most obvious ones are Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Doctor Doom and Peter Parker. However, there are many, many more who all have alliterative names. And all were created by Stan Lee in an attempt to make his characters more memorable:

  • Black Bolt
  • Betty Brant
  • Fin Fang Foom
  • Grey Gargoyle
  • Happy Hogan
  • J. Jonah Jameson
  • John Jameson
  • Junior Juniper
  • Living Laser
  • Madame Masque
  • Man Mountain Marko
  • Masked Marauder
  • Metal Master
  • Miracle Man

Another example of a person taking on the identity of an already existing superhero is the recent announcement of Falcon becoming Captain America. Steve Rogers was the original Captain America, now more popular than ever due to the Avengers franchise. However, the comic and film series are completely different and Rogers fate is not as sealed as it is on the big screen.

Although in Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier (2014) Rogers goes through an alarming discovery after finding out that Bucky Barnes, similar to him, has sustained life since the 1940's but has lost his memory and has become known as the assassin 'The Winter Soldier' he does survive to live another day. In the comics, his powers are drained by powerful Iron Nail. Due to this he cannot continue to carry his shield proudly into battle and so passes the responsibility onto his close friend and ally Sam Wilson (Falcon). Falcon was one of the first African American characters in Marvel and now has become one of the most iconic heroes the company has to offer.

So apart from the endless universes, limitless characters and countless powers and alter egos, what else does Marvel have to offer? Marvel has also been involved in 'gender bending' which is the act of taking a character and changing his or her gender. Not only do their genders change, but their appearance, weight, stance and they become a lot more 'feminine' or 'masculine' depending on the switch.

An example of this, is the character Natasha Stark, who exists in an alternate universe (Earth-3490) and is the female version of Tony Stark (Iron man). In this universe, Stark is born as a woman and is known instead as Iron Woman. It is assumed that Natasha Stark begins a relationship with Captain America. Natasha Stark seems to retain all feminine qualities, and has nothing masculine about her. Though this may seem like logic, recently, things have begun to change and have become less 'traditional'. An inspiration for creating this article was the news that a female Thor was to be released. Seeing as Thor is a very burly, masculine and arguably aggressive character, it made sense that the female version would follow these traits, despite her gender.

She appears to be more muscular and physically more dominant compared to other female versions of heroes. Apparently, though she does look feminine, she will act as a man, similarly to how Thor does.

For me this is a breakthrough. As women do have alternating personalities and some are more masculine than others, just as some men are more feminine than others. There shouldn't be any bad connotations around those two qualities. Gender is just a projection of oneself, isn't it? It is the way people want to be defined, differentiating from their physical sex. Marvel seems to have the right idea here, for women and men alike.

Of course Thor does have his own female ally, in the same way that Bruce Banner and Peter Parker have theirs. Thor Girl is a character who transformed herself into an Asgardian goddess and quickly became Thor's ally. Apparently her powers challenge that of Odin's. Though she may have similar gifts and roles compared to Thor, she is not the female embodiment of him. More importantly, she was not given the same personality that the female version of Thor apparently has.

However, these changes do not just happen overnight, they are relevant to the society that we live in. Comparatively, you will notice a change in how female characters behave in the Disney franchise in relation to the current period that the films were produced.

We can start with Snow White (1937) which centred around the 'fairest in all the land'. Though Snow was very cheery, filled with joy and hope, she lacked much independence. Her 'hobby' seemed to be domestic chores and constantly she was the damsel in distress, lacking any sort of bravery. She was ultimately saved by a prince, who revived her to life with a kiss and took her away.

Cinderella (1950) was not much different. She was the victim essentially of slavery to her step-sisters and step-mother. Arguably a story told about class rather than sexism, her rich and prosperous relatives were evil, cold-hearted, ugly and cruel. Whereas the lady in rags was good at heart, beautiful and softly spoken. Though she is saved from poverty by her future husband, not actually doing anything to further her own livelihood, she didn't seem as helpless as Snow White. What the two have in common, however, is the fact they were both married to men they hardly knew, due to 'love at first sight'. Due to the fact marriage was a rather swift and expected affair during the early to mid-20th century, this isn't surprising.

Sleeping Beauty (1959) followed Aurora, a character who was, obviously, asleep for most of the plot. She, again, is rescued by a knight in shining armour who revives her with a kiss and is married to him in a happy ever after tale. The thing that these three characters have in common is the fact that their oppressors were all jealous or bitter women. All seemed to be old, ugly and empty.

Exactly three decades later, The Little Mermaid (1989) was produced. Despite the fact that Ariel lost her voice and so could not communicate verbally, she had an actual personality unlike the previous three princesses. Ariel was ambitious, curious and a little foolish. She was not perfect, she was odd, naïve and gullible. However this made her more of a loveable character. In this film, she fought against her father's will and ventured into the unknown. Once again, Ariel's oppressor was a female, who was ugly, fat and eventually tried to steal her love. It is the first animated Disney Princess film for me that had character, colour and life.

Beauty and the Beast (1991), one of the most famous, well-loved films Disney has ever produced, had a female character that had never been seen before. Belle was an intellectual. She was the subject of admiration of Gaston but did not fall for his physical attributes due to the fact he was cruel, disgusting and rather mean. The three attractive women who swoon over Gaston are the subject of hyperbole, and instead of praising physical traits in women, almost make Belle seem like the better woman. Belle is smart, sometimes fiery and curious. In the end, instead of the man saving her from doom, Belle saves Beast from a curse and becomes his saviour.

So, we've established that Marvel has limitless potential when it comes to creation. We've also come to the conclusion that Marvel recognises gender, to an extent, as a subjective term. Not only has Marvel's partner, Disney, proved that they move with the times and portray strong, intelligent and brave women (as well as their first African American character in 2009 - The Princess and the Frog.) But Marvel has displayed time and time again, that superheroes are immortal, in some ways. For though the greats, such as Parker and Rogers may come to an end, there will always be others to carry on their legacy. #Television #Fiction