How Heroes of Color Could Win in “Avengers: Endgame”


Promotional poster for “Avengers: Endgame” (2019)

I know that Captain Marvel (2019) is supposed to be THE next Marvel film to watch for a lot of reasons, but there’s no escaping the sequel to last year’s Avengers: Infinity War which I had meant to review, but apparently neglected. Avengers: Endgame is due to be out in late April and is expected to answer a lot of questions, not the least of which is who stays dead and who comes back to life.

However, there’s been a lot of concern about how specifically, King T’Challa, the Black Panther, and a large number of notable heroes of color and female heroes were exterminated, suspiciously leaving only the core, white male Avengers alive.

African-American screenwriter and author Steven Barnes has discussed at length, the history of black film characters dying for the sake of making white characters more heroic, and the impact of this, not only on his own childhood, but on his teenage son Jason.

Author G. Scott Huggins also weighed in on this last January, specifically about how, while we expect T’Challa, the Wakandans, and other African-American heroes to be revived, the fact that they died in the first place diminishes them as heroes. He said:

Secondly, it really doesn’t matter that T’Challa et al. are coming back. Because now, they can never really be the ultimate heroes. They will always be the ones who had to be rescued by the real heroes. And it doesn’t matter that it was random, or that it was unfair. It’s unfair in sports when, say, a wide receiver misses a catch in the end-zone under double coverage that would have been almost impossible to catch, and then a kicker who makes a 25-yard field goal is hailed as the hero for winning the game. The kicker’s job was MUCH easier. But in sports and war that’s just the kind of unforgiving valorization of results that we have to have. In the end, victory is all that really matters, and anyone who’s ever played a game knows that this is so.

In other words, no matter who comes back, they’ll always play “second fiddle” to the heroes who didn’t die in the first place.

So who didn’t die? According to Screenrant:

  • Steve Rogers/Captain America
  • Tony Stark/Iron Man
  • Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow
  • Thor
  • James Rhodes/War Machine
  • Bruce Banner/Hulk
  • Rocket
  • Nebula
  • Scott Lang/Ant-Man
  • Okoye
  • M’Baku
  • Valkyrie
  • Clint Barton/Hawkeye

Actor Don Cheadle as James Rhodes / War Machine

Okay, let’s eliminate some more from this list. According to Barnes, although Rhodes survived, his spinal injury renders him (in all likelihood) unable to reproduce. I know that may seem a strange thing to point out, but according to Barnes, in the history of film making, not only are African-Americans much less likely to survive in a film compared to their white counterparts, but if there are a group of men who are all white with one black man, AND in an apocalyptic setting, they encounter a single white female, the black man is almost certain to die rather than be part of the “competition” for reproduction.

Whether you agree with that viewpoint relative to Rhodes, going along with Barnes’ perceptions, that takes Rhody off the list.

In the trailers, we see Cap, Tony, Natasha, Thor, Banner, Rocket, Ant-Man, and Hawkeye as a group. Although they may appear in the film, as far as we can tell, Rhody (who is already off the list of heroes), Nebula, Okoye, M’Baku, and Valkyrie, that is, all of the surviving heroes of color/female heroes, won’t be a part of the “rescue team” (Rocket’s not human, so I’m not sure how that figures in to this sort of “economy”).

Was all of this arranged to be specifically racist? Probably not, but it does follow a decades long pattern in American film making. True, Captain Marvel, played by Brie Larson, will also appear, and is touted to be the most powerful hero in the Marvel universe, so the film makers have that going for them, but still, the outlook appears grim in terms of who is a “real” hero and who needs to be rescued.

The reason I’m writing this is that I got into a conversation with my son about these themes and he proposed an interesting idea. What if, in order to save everyone else, everyone on the list I just made has to die?

Think about it.

  • Steve Rogers/Captain America
  • Tony Stark/Iron Man
  • Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow
  • Thor
  • Bruce Banner/Hulk
  • Scott Lang/Ant-Man
  • Clint Barton/Hawkeye

Except for Scott Lang/Ant-Man, all of the characters on the list are part of the first wave of marvel superhero films, and none of them are getting any younger.

black widow

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow

It’s true that there will likely be more Ant-Man films made, so you can make a case for Lang surviving. There are rumors that there will be at least one Black Widow movie coming out, but that could be a prequel, much like the upcoming Captain Marvel movie, so we could see Natasha as she was before the Avengers and SHIELD, letting her still die in “Endgame.”

So really, we have the reverse of the traditional trope. In this case, the white superheroes valiantly sacrifice their own lives to save countless others, including all of the superheroes who were exterminated by Thanos. We’d end up with a whole new era of Avengers. It makes sense and it’s appropriately tragic.

I know we’ve all been hoping for Loki to have not really died at the beginning of “Infinity War,” but let’s say he did. Odin’s dead, Asgard’s destroyed, and no one cares about Jane Foster. Once Thor is gone, that whole part of the Marvel universe ceases to exist. The end.

At the conclusion of Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), it was strongly suggested that Tony asked Pepper to marry him. We don’t know if they have tied the knot yet (probably not), so she becomes the grieving would-be widow and the CEO of Stark Industries. Moving on (or who knows, maybe Iron-Woman?).

Natasha really was her work, so once she’s gone, she’s gone, and Okoye (along with Captain Marvel, of course) becomes the new female badass in the Marvel universe.

Bruce Banner and the Hulk both finally get to end their struggle with “the monster,” although this wasn’t highlighted nearly as much as in the 1970s The Incredible Hulk TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. True, Hulk and Thor were great together in Thor: Ragnorak (2017), but neither character really was able to carry a film on their own, especially the Hulk.

It would really break my heart to watch Hawkeye go, not because he was anything other than a minor character, but because he was the only hero who really had a family, wife, several children, a home. In some ways, his passing would be the most tragic because of that. His wife a widow, his children growing up without a father, it would be horrible. Of course, in terms of the film industry’s racial economics, it might also be considered a balancing of the scales, but being married, with children and grandchildren, that is, a family man myself, it still is hard to take.

Oh sure, Scott is a Dad, but he’s also more likely to survive, not being part of the first wave of Marvel hero films.

Well, that’s the list. No, not all of the old school male white superheroes bite the dust, but the most iconic ones do, and doing so, they leave room for their particular niche to be filled by others, or more specifically, by more female heroes and heroes of color.

In the comic books, there have been a lot of Avengers (probably just about every Marvel superhero has been an Avenger at one time or another). I could make an argument for either the Black Panther or Captain Marvel being the new leader of the group (although it might be hard for T’Challa to run a nation and a superhero group at the same time). I could make an argument for Sam Wilson/Falcon becoming the new Captain America, although that role could also go to Bucky Barnes/White Wolf. In the comic books, Valkyrie was once part of the Avengers, so that’s not out of the question.

There are a lot of possibilities, and many of them would speak to a more progressive view of the Marvel superhero universe.

However, everything I’ve just written is pure speculation, and I have no idea how “Endgame” will really play out.

I think my version would make a lot of people feel happy, though…maybe except for the really old school Marvel fans who grew up with those original heroes. And if I’m right, then so long, gang. It’s been fun. I’ll always have my memories.


Promotional poster for the 2019 film “Avengers: Endgame”

6 thoughts on “How Heroes of Color Could Win in “Avengers: Endgame”

  1. I’m kind’a’ out of the loop for quite some years regarding these comic-book heroes, but if your analysis is correct about these “minority” heroes who were killed off being thereby devalued even if later resurrected by the surviving “white guys”, wouldn’t it also be true that a group of female/minority heroes would be similarly devalued if the only reason they weren’t killed off is a kind of racist/sexist affirmative-action socio-political paradigm? Whatever happened to the paradigm where the good guys and gals — who support the positive humanitarian values of life, liberty, and individual well-being (not to neglect being defenders of personal property and protectors of those who are themselves defenseless or otherwise vulnerable to harm) — are the winners; and the bad guys and gals are the losers who either blow themselves up or are incarcerated? You seem to be describing a world in which the only way for women and minorities to play major roles is to dismiss or eliminate the aging white guys. That doesn’t seem to allow much room for self-esteem, since apparently these women and minorities have insufficient intrinsic worth to stand on their own merits if any of the older heroes are still around or still honored for their prior or possibly ongoing contributions. In such a devalued world, who could possibly value any of these heroes?


    • My personal opinion is that there is room at the table for everyone, and that heroes of color and female heroes are just as relevant and powerful as what some might consider the more old school white male characters. That said, the popular and enduring franchises are based on characters who are 50 to 80 years old, when most superheroes were white male characters, so one thought is that the more recent characters might not be able to really “shine” while in the “shadow” of their historic predecessors. This is being demonstrated in Brie Larson’s press tour for the “Captain Marvel” film (she plays the title character) where she has been replacing the traditional white male press tour for the movie with women of color and writers with disabilities, such as Marie Claire who is a woman of color who suffers from cerebral palsy. You can read more about that HERE.

      All that said, this issue is a lot more nuanced than I’m making it, and in the end, I believe most people, no matter who they are, don’t believe you have to, metaphorically speaking, throw the baby (old heroes) out with the bathwater (real and perceived lack of inclusiveness). However, those who do get a lot of press.


  2. They were not devalued. Those who got mulched will return. The next movie with Capt Marvel is crucial. She, I’m betting, escapes from the loop where Ant Man was stuck. She’s the end game changer Dr. Strange discovered in his ruminating. I’m absolutely excited about End Game. There are so many bits to resolve. And, remember what Thor was told. Asgard is everywhere, it’s not just people or a place. It’s in the heart. Just as Thor is a name, anyone can become Thor. As long as he or she can wield the hammer. I don’t think Loki is alive, he might be. He’s been dead before, but I’m fairly sure Thanos was done with my favorite trickster. I’m also sure Hawkeye will need redeeming, his family was more than likely part of the group that was mulched. (Dust is just mulch. It will encourage growth) It’s almost a circle, this endgame. Which is why it’s working the way it is. Brilliant.


  3. Update, May 4, 2019: I still haven’t seen Endgame, but thanks to one of my sons who has, I’ve got tons and tons of spoilers. I won’t mention any of them here except to say a few of my predictions actually came true, or more to the point, it really is the end of an era.


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