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The Mantle Theory

Banes at 6:47AM, April 25, 2024

The Reggie Mantle theory is different. It involves chasing other guys' girlfriends and still expecting to be loved and admired by all. That's another article…

If anyone was following the behind-the-scenes drama at Marvel Studios in the past year or so, you may have heard about the idea from some top executives who championed “the mantle theory” for their heroes.

It goes like this - it's not the actual identity of the character at the center of the story: the hero or heroine, but it's about the powers, abilities, maybe the superhero name and some other qualifiers. That stuff is the ‘mantle’ that can be given to anyone. So, batman is not Bruce Wayne. Wolverine is not that guy Logan. Spider Man is not Peter Parker. Those superhero titles, costumes and abilities can go to other people.

Comics have had some big successes with this kind of approach - Batgirl, Supergirl, Wolverine…girl…no, there's not a Wolverine girl, but I know there's a female character with his abilities. I don't know her name offhand, or anything else about her.

…which might be a hint of the INEFFECTIVENESS of this approach…

Actually, those examples are somewhat in line with the Mantle theory, but not exactly. Those ‘female versions’ (and the once popular ‘kid versions’) of heroes are not REPLACING the original characters (though they may have great popularity and get their own series, and this has often happened).

This is more like permanently replacing Captain America with someone who's not Steve Rogers, for example.

So actually, the Mantle Theory is pretty different.

It was done in the comics (temporarily, like most things in comics). It was done in Batman and Superman comics in a way (again, temporarily). In the movies, to use the biggest superhero example, several mantles were passed on to other characters at the end of Avengers: Endgame (spoiler alert).

The Marvel Cinematic “Mantle Theory” was that it would work out for them to replace Steve Rogers permanently with Sam Wilson, the Falcon, replace Tony Stark's Iron Man with Riri Williams as “Ironheart” (I keep hearing whispers of that movie, not sure where it's at now). And more: Hawkeye's daughter was to replace Clint as Hawkeye the Archer, and there were replacements on deck for Black Widow I think, and She Hulk was clearly being positioned to take the Hulk's place.

PaulEberhardt raised a great point in the comments of the last Quackcast about Star Trek mantles, with Jean Luc Picard becoming the new Captain of the Enterprise in The Next Generation after it was James Kirk in the original series. That move was met with great resistance from a lot of fandom, and even some doubt or derision from previous Star Trek stars. Understandable!

I suppose as in many things, it's about HOW you do it.

And Reggie Mantle should pull back on chasing Archie and Moose's girlfriends - it's just not happening, bud!

Nah, I'm kidding. Keep at it, pal; you're doin' great.

See you next time!

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mks_monsters at 7:28PM, April 25, 2024

I think it's a two way street. It has to be done right, but also, fans get very attached to the hero they know so accepting the new guy can take time. I remember that Terry McGinnis was met with a lot of resistance initially, but now, he's an icon. Plus, I was there when Rodimus Prime made the scene and it was... ugly. However, in the fans defense, Rodimus was not written very well initially, but now, he's much better and much more liked. The other thing people need to accept is that it is not about replacing. It's about continuing. People forget that especially when the mantle gets passed down to someone who is very different from the original.

Gunwallace at 6:26PM, April 25, 2024

Part of the problem for the MCU is who do you replace and actor like Robert Downey Jr. with? Anyone is likely to be a downgrade. The Captain American 'mantle' handover was done well, I thought, with Falcon and The Winter Soldier having a great reluctant buddy movie feel. Of course, they appear to be mucking that up by splitting up the duo for forthcoming movies (why?). The problems with the other attempts at mantle passing is that the stories and actors have not compelling. She-Hulk was scripted without any tension or consequences. Was it even a mantle-passing? Or just a new character added in? The Hawkeye series did better at creating a new Black Widow than it did a new 'Hawkeye'.

KAM at 1:55PM, April 25, 2024

Of course the more current Mantle passings seem to be motivated by more idiotic reasons. "Oh, if we give [fill in the blank] the title used by this popular character they'll become popular too!" Uh, no, it doesn't work that way. If your character isn't popular under their own identity giving them another character's identity won't work either.

KAM at 1:50PM, April 25, 2024

Trademarks probably created the whole Mantle thing since it's not really a natural way of doing things. I mean John Adams wasn't told to change his name to George Washington when he became the second president. ;-) It can work temporarily as part of a story: Hal Jordan quits as Green Lantern and John Stewart becomes the new Green Lantern in the book; Tony Stark gets drunk and Rhodey takes over as Iron Man; Batman breaks his back and hands the bat costume & name to Azrael; the government fires Steve Rogers as Captain America and gets a replacement; etc. However those were short term storylines where the author had a purpose for doing it. Not 'we need to protect the trademark' situations.

KAM at 1:39PM, April 25, 2024

Probably the oldest use of Mantle theory was The Phantom (who appeared before superhero comic books) the title is passed down from father to son, but usually the story follows one version with occasional stories going back in time to other versions. In comic books the first successful use of the Mantle was probably the Silver Age Flash, but it wasn't used the way it's used today. The Golden Age Flash had been cancelled several years before, his adventures were said to have been a comic book the new guy read as a child, and later they established the first guy lived on a different Earth, so they could have team-ups. Probably the best way to do a Mantle switch.

KAM at 1:32PM, April 25, 2024

Replacement theory... errr, 'Mantle theory' is such a stupid idea that only works under limited uses. To trademark lawyers it makes perfect sense since names and costumes can be protected by giving them to another disposable character. To readers on the other hand, names, costumes, powers, might be cool, but it's the character they connect with, so while they might give Character B a chance as replacement, but if they don't like the character, they'll always think of Character A as the Real version.

sleeping_gorilla at 12:43PM, April 25, 2024

Marvel was successful because, finally, the characters looked the way the did in the comics, and the special effects could emulate their powers. Bumblebee was critically the best Transformers movie, because there was finally respect given to the characters appearances and personalities. I was so excited about the She-Hulk show, I love the character and Tatiana Maslyani. But She-Hulk loves her powers and going toe to toe with other superheroes. She continues being a lawyer because that is her "great" responsibility. What we got was a terrible looking CGI character. She hated and resented men who she could easily slap around like children. She mostly sat around and complained about her dating life.

PaulEberhardt at 11:52AM, April 25, 2024

Every now and then I've toyed with the idea of a batman-like superhero who'd run his crime-fighting business as a franchise. He and a couple others would work in shifts so as to give each other a day off. Of course, the villains eventually notice and turn to committing their crimes on Wednesdays around four... Possibly a good thing it vanished in my desk drawer long ago.

marcorossi at 9:14AM, April 25, 2024

With superheroes, the problem is that much of the success is due to name recognition, so the mantle theory works, but as a marketing trick, not really at a storytelling level IMHO.

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