UPDATE: Learn about the New Thor, Captain America & SUPERIOR Iron Man!

About two years ago, Marvel Comics made a major shift in approach with their Marvel NOW! reboot. While alterations to teams like The Avengers and The X-Men were officially cited as being done to offer new readers an easy jumping-on point for the Marvel comic book universe, unofficially it was clear that roster changes and the re-positioning of certain characters (see: Rocket Raccoon) was meant to better align the comics with what fans experience through the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Well, two years is a long time in the entertainment business. Now, as Marvel Studios gears up for films like Avengers: Age of Ultron and the subsequent Phase 3 initiative (which is expected to launch some wildly different superhero properties), it seems another comic book shift is in order to once again help the Marvel Universe (from comic page to movie screen) better fit with the times and market. As Marvel NOW! approaches its two-year anniversary, and Phase 2 of the MCU enters the final stretch, the biggest discussion amongst the fanbase has become diversity – or lack thereof. Superhero movies continue to earn bank, yet minority or female or gay characters are not the ones standing in the spotlight. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Hulk, Hawkeye… Take away Black Widow and The Avengers team quickly looks like a white guy frat party.

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The All-New Female Thor(CLICK FOR FULL SIZE)

Even DC Comics is trying to overcome a diversity problem; for months it’s been speculated that the unexpected casting choices for Batman V Superman could have something to do with adding more international flavor to that lily-white team of heroes. Exotic-looking Jason Mamoa as Aquaman, Israeli Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, black stage actor Ray Fisher as Cyborg – clearly Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment are angling for a Justice League that is more suited to the realities of earning box office profits in a global market. …But back to Marvel.

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All-New Captain America Sam Wilson/Falcon (CLICK FOR FULL SIZE)

In an article by EW, we learn the full span of the changes that The Avengers roster is going through as part of the Avengers NOW! relaunch; big changes that Marvel has been slowly unveiling in big, attention-grabbing media stunts. First we learned that a new female Thor will be introduced; then last night on The Colbert Report Marvel announced that Sam Wilson (a.k.a. Falcon) is the new Captain America – or as Colbert joked, “Captain African-America.” Completing the transformation of “The Big Three” will be Iron Man, who will get a new Apple-style armored suit, while Tony Stark takes on a new (and maybe not so wholesome) role in the Marvel Universe.

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The Superior Iron Man (CLICK FOR FULL SIZE)

But that’s not all: some other changes are in store – changes that could have far-reaching effects on the Marvel Cinematic Universe…

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“The Big Three” (Thor, Cap and Iron Man) will also get solo comic relaunches in fall 2014; Thor #1 arrives in October, with All-New Captain America #1 and Superior Iron Man #1 arriving in November. Here’s a quick synopsis of each title, with quotes from Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso (via EW):

  • Thor (written by Jason Aaron, art by Russell Dauterman) – “For reasons that will be revealed in Original Sin, Thor won’t be able to pick up the hammer… Someone has to pick up the hammer. And someone does. And they become Thor.” That someone is a lady—who precise identity won’t be revealed immediately. “There are several women in Thor’s life, and one of them is going to be the new Thor. You aren’t going to find out who it is for some time. This is a slowly unfolding mystery.”
  • Superior Iron Man (written by Tom Taylor, art by Yildiray Cinar) – “The Genius Bar costume is there for a reason… The newly-transformed Superior Iron Man has very ambitious plans for the city that some of its residents embrace, but not all… Like the Superior Spider-Man, Superior Iron Man is a character that’s hard to root for. UPDATE: Yes, this is Tony…What you’re seeing in Superior Iron Man is a Tony Stark who’s seen both his worst and best impulses all let loose. It is Tony, but he’s going to be in a zone now where he’s never been. He’s more ambitious, cunning, egotistical … all of those quantities are unharnessed. He has a vision for the world. I like to think his position is defensible — controversial, but defensible.”
  • All-New Captain America (written by Rick Remender, art by Stuart Immonen) – Alonso says the Wilson Cap will have the power of flight, and the book will be “very much a jumping-on point [for people] who both like the Captain America and really enjoyed the second Captain America movie.”

Outside of the Big Three, if you take a second look at the image below, you’ll notice a few other not-so-subtle hints as to where Marvel is taking this new Avengers NOW! team (and why):

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Here are the items of note, from left to right:

  • Winter Soldier appears AS Winter Soldier (not Captain America II).
  • Medusa (purple outfit, long red hair) and Inferno (guy on fire) are both part of The Inhumans – a property we expect to see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe during Phase 3.
  • Scarlet Witch is featured just in time for her Avengers: Age of Ultron debut to the mainstream.
  • Angela (the character from Todd McFarlane’s Spawn who was brought to Marvel) is featured. In modern comics, it’s revealed she is Odin’s daughter, long thought dead. She’s also been previously rumored to make an MCU appearance.
  • Doctor Strange and Ant-Man are two of the unorthodox characters we know will get their own Marvel movies in Phase 3.
  • Finally, we see a version of Deathlok closer to the one introduced on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

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If that breakdown doesn’t spell it out for you, here’s some educated guess-work about where this is all heading:

  1. While the  Ant-Man movie is already underway, this image all but confirms that Doctor Strange and Inhumans are coming in Phase 3. Marvel’s Comic-Con 2014 panel should confirm as much.
  2. Unlike what many fans expected, the movie version of Winter Soldier may not inherit the mantle of Cap; Anthony Mackie’s Falcon could be a prime candidate for that, going forward.
  3. Female Thor won’t be a solo act; like the Thor/Loki buddy-cop dynamic that carried Thor: The Dark World, an Angela/Thor buddy dynamic could be the plan.
  4. Scarlett Witch won’t be a one-off character in Avengers 2 like some people thought early on (what with all the complications of her powers).
  5. The AoS continuity is being taken seriously (see: Deathlok).
  6. Tony Stark could become more villain than hero (in the films as well as the comics).
  7. “The Big Three” are being revamped now, as the actors playing them on the movie side enter the tedious period of Marvel movie fatigue. By making these switches, Marvel seems to be thinking ahead to a more diverse (read: wider demographic) reach with its principal characters. Is that smart strategy? Or PC pandering? You decide.

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There are some other guesses we could throw out (specifically regarding Tony Stark’s Avengers NOW! development, as related to the films), but we’ll wait until we know more about these projects. As stated, the expectation was that Comic-Con 2014 would provide us with answers but it sadly did not.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 17, 2015, Captain America 3 on May 6 2016, and unannounced films for July 8 2016 and May 5 2017.

Sources: EW, Marvel, Mashable