The great Marvel comics of the Silver Age broke ground not just in the kinds of stories they were telling but also the kinds of characters they included. While stuffy DC comics kept telling stories about white godlike characters, Marvel told tales of flawed, relateable heroes, some of whom weren't even white. The Black Panther was the first mainstream black superhero, and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were way ahead of the curve when they created him - not only is he black, but the Panther is an African king, not just some ghetto avenger.
Kevin Feige, President of Production at Marvel Studios, feels the weight of that heritage. When I spoke to him at the junket for Captain America: The Winter Soldier the very first question I asked him was about Marvel Studios and their plans for future diversity, and living up to the standards set in the Silver Age.
I think the responsibility is very big for anyone in a position of the ability to make product for the masses. We’re lucky in that we’re just making movies based on those [Silver Age] comics. Someone today said to me, “Winter Soldier has such great female characters and two great African-American characters,” and I said, “It’s in the books! They did it first.” You know all the history, better than most of the people I talked to today. You can even go back to Howling Commandos, with Gabe Jones. As far as I’m concerned it’s following the lead that Stan set and that Jack set from the late 30s through the Silver Age.
It's hard to deny that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is, for a superhero movie, fairly diverse. Black Widow, Maria Hill and Agent 13 all play active, vital roles in the film. Nick Fury finally gets an action scene that shows why he's a badass, and The Falcon is a terrific character, no matter the color of his skin. But the central figure is still the white male. I asked Feige when we might see some of these characters step up and be leads themselves.
I think [Black Widow] has a central leading role in this movie. What people are really saying is “When are you doing a standalone female superhero movie?” The answer is: I don’t know. We only do two a year, we know more or less what’s coming up through ‘16/’17. With Widow what’s great is the interaction with all the team members, and the question is whether we want to pluck her out of that.
I’m very proud of the way the Marvel movies handle the female characters who are in all the movies we are making, as opposed to feeling the pressure of ‘When are you doing a female movie?’ We’re exploring a lot of Widow, and that’s going to continue with Age of Ultron in a big way.
In fact, they're exploring so much of Black Widow that Feige wonders if it makes sense to even go with her as their first standalone female hero (despite lots of noise about a possible Black Widow solo movie):
Frankly if we do a Black Widow movie after Age of Ultron, when she’s been central in three or four movies I don’t think we’d get the quote unquote credit for it. People would say ‘She’s already a big giant superhero!’ But if we had a great idea, we’d do it.
So what would he like to do when it comes to female heroes?
I like the idea if we’re going to do a [female lead] do a new one. Do a wholly new character, do an origin story.
I brought up the most popular current Marvel comics female character, and Feige was very receptive:
We’ve talked a lot about [Captain Marvel]. I think that would be very cool.
It was an interesting answer, because my sources tell me that we will see an iteration of Captain Marvel onscreen by 2016 - either at the end of Phase Two or the beginning of Phase Three - in another Marvel movie. Captain Marvel offers lots of opportunities (and two names - she's also been called Ms. Marvel), as there have been three heroes who have that basic moniker. There's Carol Danvers, the original Ms./Captain Marvel, a service member who got powers from the alien Kree. There's Monica Rambeau, a black woman who could control - and change her body into - light, went by Captain Marvel and led the Avengers. And there's a new Ms. Marvel, a Muslim teenager named Kamala Khan, who has shape-shifting powers. (Technically there were two other Ms. Marvels, but they're minor)
If my sources are correct, and judging by what Feige said in this interview, I think we're in for a Captain Marvel (or Ms. Marvel - having two franchises starting with Captain may be a bit much) solo movie sometime around 2017 or 2018. And while Feige did say they only do two films a year, he had interesting things to say about the possibility of more than two Marvel movies in any given year. I'll run that in a future article. Could Phase Three bring us Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel?