San Diego (AFP) - Captain America is now black, Thor becomes a woman, and comic character Archie Andrews is shot and killed while saving his gay friend.
The annual pop-culture carnival that is the Comic-Con Festival got under way in San Diego on Thursday with fans welcoming the world of change facing so many beloved characters.
An estimated 150,000 devotees of comics, video games, fantasy and action movies are expected to throng the four-day extravaganza in southern California, many opting to don costumes of their favorite characters.
The streets surrounding the festival resemble a surreal bazaar: a miniature Darth Vader asleep on the shoulders of his father, dressed as Bart Simpson, or Princess Elsa from "Frozen" posing with "Avengers" heroine Black Widow.
Blonde-haired blue-eyed Eric Jensen came dressed as Captain America, accompanied by his seven-year-old son, a hammer-wielding mini Thor.
"I relate a lot with Captain America," Jensen explained. "He was in the Navy and so was I, he is patriotic, me too. He keeps strong values in the face of adversity," the insurance agent added.
But Jensen was surprised to learn of the seismic shift in direction that Captain America's creators at Marvel announced last week, namely that the iconic superhero would become black.
In another tilt away from white, male archetypes, Thor is being reimagined as a female Norse goddess.
"I wonder what context this is, why are they doing that," Jensen said.
Marvel has explained that the change will come when Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, becomes weakened and passes his shield and duties to trusty black sidekick Sam Wilson, previously known as "The Falcon."
"It's fantastic, I like that," Jensen told AFP.
A short distance away, 21-year-old graphic designer Daniela Applegate caused a sensation with her pyramid-shaped warrior costume inspired by a video game.
- 'Sexist archetypes' -
She also welcomed the changes facing so many iconic characters from the world of pop culture.
"It is about time this world gets rid of its sexist archetypes," she said.
While Thor's metamorphosis into a Norse goddess may have raised eyebrows, strong female characters are legion at Comic-Con such as Lux, from the game "League of Legends."
Shannon Sorensen, a student dressed as purple-haired cartoon character Pyrrha Nikos, echoed Applegate's views.
"It is time the superheroes stop reflecting archetypes and an ethnicity of the past," she said.
Sorensen was sceptical, however, about the "honesty" of Marvel, owned by Disney.
"Disney sells princesses to little girls and they bought Marvel and its characters for boys," she said, even allowing for the fact that the heroine of Disney's "Frozen" has captivated both boys and girls on its way to becoming the most successful animated movie of all time.
Brian Jordan, who organises an alternative comic and film festival specialising in homosexual and transgender characters, is also tired of stories about "a boy that falls in love with a girl who gets in trouble and he rescues her."
But the 47-year-old welcomed Marvel's decision to turn Thor into a woman.
He was also impressed by the decision of the creators of Archie Andrews to kill off the character, heroically taking a bullet to save the life of his gay friend.
"It's a start," said Jordan, citing other gay characters in shows such as "The Venture Bros" and "Superjail!"
Sorensen cited a recent gay marriage in "Green Lantern" and a kiss between Superman and Batman.
Dina Mills, dressed as a character from "Mysterious Ways," came to Comic-Con with her son. She reveled in the escapism of the event.
"I'm a stay at home mom. It gives me an escape and let me become somebody else," she said.
But she was less certain about the gender shift for "Thor."
"I'm a big fan of Thor as it is but you know how it goes, people complain and then they get used to it," she said.