Names So Nice They Use Them Twice

Posted January 22, 2016 by Jason Adams in Comic Books

The announcement by Marvel this week that Captain America Classic, Steve Rogers, would be returning to the mantle this April in time for his movie release doesn’t come as too big of a surprise. The accompanying news, however, that the Captain America of the last year, Sam Wilson (formerly known as the Falcon), would still be keeping the same title is a bit more peculiar, and is another of the increasingly more common examples of Marvel doing this in recent memory.

It’s not an entirely new concept to have multiple people with the same superhero name active in the same universe at once. Even though characters are usually forced out of the name after the return of an original hero, like with Bucky Barnes’ stint as Captain America, or James Rhodes’ time as Iron Man, Marvel has had instances where the names just stick and the newer hero holds on to the identity as well. There have been two Hawkeyes for a time now, and both have notably appeared alongside each other in the Hawkeye series. Even though the robotic original Human Torch didn’t have a huge presence after the introduction of the Fantastic Four, he has appeared in a couple of team books over the last decade while the actually-a-human Human Torch was still off adventuring with the Fantastic Four. T’Challa continued to be referred to as the Black Panther, even after the title had officially been passed down to his sister Shuri. Near the end of the last incarnation of the Marvel universe, there were two unrelated Ghost Riders cruising around, one in a solo series and one on the Thunderbolts roster. I’m not even going to get into the period where the Dark Avengers and Normal Avengers coexisted, giving us a couple Spider-Men, Wolverines, Hawkeyes, and Ms. Marvels.

Over the last year or two though, this seems to be happening much more frequently, and with bigger-name heroes. A female Thor was introduced just over a year ago, and although he lost the use of his hammer and much of his power, the original Thor (the “Thor is on his birth certificate” Thor) continued to be a character in the eponymous series. In the current post-Secret-Wars Marvel universe, there are now two proper Spider-Men swinging around, and if you include the Web Warriors team book, there are some more, as well as a couple Spider-Women. And even though the original Wolverine is dead, his female clone and his reality-displaced potential-future self are both taking on his role simultaneously (and that’s the most comic-book-y sentence I’ve ever typed).

With most of these recent cases, the new heroes are minority or female characters, two groups of characters whose series historically don’t bring in as many sales (through no fault of the characters themselves). Attaching a big well-known name to a non-white-male character can give them the extra notoriety they need to really stick a landing with the general comic-purchasing public. Marvel has been doing this with many of their displaced heroes for years, but what’s brought on the bout of similarly-named heroes concurrently equally sharing the spotlight of late?

It might be that Marvel comics (and certainly comics as a whole) encompass a much larger range of tones, art styles, and subject matter now. Back when “Superhero” was a genre all on its own, having two Spider-Man series probably would have meant having two very similar types of books with a lot of overlap, but we have such a variety of hero archetypes and superhero subgenres available to us now that having two people that happen to go by the same name and wear the same colours with their own series doesn’t guarantee that liking one means you’ll like the other.

The Marvel Universe has also been steadily expanding for the last 50-plus years. We’ve reached a peak of saturation with the population of heroes that maybe having another Captain America or another Thor is just a drop in the already massive ocean of costumed characters in this universe. Hell, we’ve probably had close to 150 X-Men over the years, is it really that big of a deal if two of them are named Wolverine at once?

Nick Spencer, who’ll be penning both Captain Americas’ stories, has said that Steve Rogers will be up to his classic anti-Hydra beat-em-up shenanigans, while Sam Wilson will still be dealing with more contemporary political issues. There’s more than enough room for both heroes to hold the shield at once, and it seems like a win-win situation, so I for one am looking forward to Spencer’s different takes on Cap.

About the Author

Jason Adams