Originally published at UnleashTheFanboy.
Usually when a team of teenage superheroes is created, they are either made the “secondary” B-Team to the adult superhero team or the team is made up of characters who are tied to adult counterparts. Let’s take DC’s Teen Titans, for example, in their formative years they were a team of “sidekicks” who hung out together and were trained by their adult mentors. Then there is Marvel’s Young Avengers where they didn’t even bother to give them a different name – this team was made up of younger counterparts to Captain America, Iron Man and Thor. (Iron Lad? Hulkling? Marvel, are you serious? That’s worse than Kid Flash.) Finally, there’s the Young Justice animated series that had the teenage sidekicks be forbidden from joining the adults in their Justice League adult playhouse for adults only. The Justice League didn’t even let them form their own super-team without adults supervising them.
You can see where I’m going with this, right? This a plot from an episode of Kids Next Door. Conspiracy theories aside, though, in this case I really think that young people are getting the short end of the stick. We are talking about decades of being sidelined and typecast as “sidekicks” and spin-offs of the “real” adult superheroes. Most of them eventually grow out of that role and become their own characters separate from their adult mentors like Nightwing did, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are almost always portrayed as sidekicks first, and full heroes years later.
Enter All-New Ultimates, a new superhero team being introduced in Ultimate MARVEL NOW! as the successors to The Ultimates. And their team name doesn’t even have the words “young” or “teen” in it. Their team is actually just an “all-new” version of the big league superhero team. These characters aren’t being sidelined; they are being put on equal footing with the more seasoned superheroes and that is certainly a rare thing in comics.
The team’s roster is made up of Miles Morales, a half-Latino, half-African American who has been Spider-Man for almost two years now; Kitty Pryde, a Jewish woman who goes by the name Shadowcat; Bombshell, another female mutant character; Cloak and Dagger, the superduo who have been fighting crime together for a year now; and finally there is Jessica Drew, who used to go by Spider-Woman but will now go by Black Widow. Oh, and she’s also Peter Parker’s clone.
Let’s do a roll call. In this team there are 2/6 non-white characters, 4/6 women characters, 2/6 mutant characters, 2/6 mutates and a clone. If that isn’t a diverse team, then I don’t know what is. More importantly, I think this is most definitely a step in the right direction for comics – not only do we get a team of young people that isn’t advertised like “COMING SOON: THAT TEAM OF SIDEKICKS THAT YOU PROBABLY NEVER PAID MUCH ATTENTION TO BEFORE BECAUSE THEY WERE ALWAYS PORTRAYED AS SOMEONE ELSE’S SIDEKICK” but we also get some much needed representation in the team’s roster to boot.
When it comes to creating a more realistic and diverse fictional world, the first step that has to be taken is that characters have to be portrayed as their own individual persons instead of just spin-offs or younger version of other characters. The trend of creating characters like this is usually discussed in the context of women characters in comics, but the truth is, the trend is much deeper than that. It goes beyond just a gender or ethnic context and into an age-based context. In addition to questioning why there are so many female versions of male characters instead of more independent women characters, we also have to question why there are so many “kid” or “young” versions of adult characters. Kid Flash, Aqualad, Wonder Girl, Hulking, Iron Lad. In order for us to become better readers, writers and creators then we must find new ways of giving these characters their own personal identities instead of just focusing on how old they are and putting that in their names.
If any of this sounds like a cool thing to you then be sure to catch the All-New Ultimates in April 2014 as they try to make sense of a world ravaged by Galactus’s planet-sized eating disorder.