Forget Barack Obama, the first black president of the US. The ultimate position of all-American power has not yet been held by a black man – until now.

Captain America – the red, white and blue comic-book super soldier – is to pass on his star-spangled shield to an African American, it was announced this week.

Marvel Comics, which produces the Captain America strips, has announced that Captain America’s alter ego, Steve Rogers, is to be replaced by Sam Wilson, an African American already known to superhero super fans as the character Falcon.

Rogers, who has been fighting his country’s enemies since 1941, will find that he has lost his super strength and agility, Marvel executives said. Exchanging his helmet and shield for a nice cup of tea and a hot-water bottle, he will pass on the baddie-fighting baton to his successor.

Unlike Rogers, Wilson “didn’t grow up in the 1930s. He’s a modern-day man, in touch with the problems of the 21st century,” said Marvel editor Tom Brevoort.

“For most of his professional life, Sam has worked as a social worker, so he’s seen the worst of urban society up close, and how crime, poverty, lack of social structure and opportunity can affect the community.”

He will, Brevoort added, also have retractable wings and a penchant for vanquishing his country’s sworn enemies.

And this is not the only announcement this week to suggest that comic books are catching up with the modern world.

Marvel also announced that Norse superhero god Thor is to become female. Thor’s super strength and ability to manipulate the weather are automatically conferred on anyone able to pick up his hammer, Mjölnir.

And, from now on, Mjölnir will be wielded by a woman. “This is not She-Thor,” said series writer Jason Aaron. “This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR.”

The aim, Marvel executives said, is to acknowledge the fact that almost 50 per cent of comic-book readers are female.

This decision, however, has not gone down well with the remaining 50 per cent, many of whom insist that straight white men are the only ones capable of saving the universe.

One Marvel executive tweeted: “Recent Thor-related hate tweets include one man imagining me touching myself; some f*** yous; childhood ruined messages…not bad!”

Questions for debate and discussion

  1. Comic books are popular all over the world. In your opinion, what is their appeal?
  2. Why do some people oppose changes of race or gender for well-known characters?
  3. Why do you think that Marvel has chosen to make these changes?
  4. With all of your answers to the above questions in mind, design your own comic book character. What will their personality be like? What would their superpower be?

Related resources

Teachers TV: Using comics in the classroom
This video is packed with ideas about using comics to promote literacy and reading. 

Superhero unit
This well-planned scheme of work is a great starting point for a series of lessons about superheroes.

Research the history of comics
Students must use the internet or the library to be able to answer the questions on this worksheet.

How to read a French comic
Comics can be used to teach big kids too! This tutorial shows students how to read a comic book in French.