Monday, April 10, 2017

Week of 04/10/2017

The Real Problem With Diversity In Comics
Sometimes we all have to wonder, in this tortured, demented, malicious world that we are stuck in, just how some people got the jobs that they have if not through nefarious means.
And, no, I’m really not talking about our orange-skin-wacky-man in the White House with his army of Meanwhiles and Never-weres.  Although one might say that he’s the symptom of the larger problem.
No, I’m talking about people working for another house built by a billionaire.
For the past few years, the Disney-owned Marvel Comics have been riding pretty high on the hog.  Not only have they been bringing in billions with their parade of superhero motion pictures and television shows, but the comic publishing branch itself has been out-selling their eternal rival, DC Comics, year after year.
But that was until recent months, when DC suddenly beat out the all-mighty Marvel in comic sales.  Sure, DC was getting an edge with direct-to-video animated movies and with their TV shows on the CW, and their live-action movies weren’t great but they were bringing in money.  But Marvel could always go back to their comic sales as proof of dominance... until now.
So the question in certain circles has been “Why is DC beating Marvel here?”
And here’s where the wrong person came in.
David Gabriel, Marvel’s Vice-President of Sales, said on March 31st that the answer to the question can be summed up with one word: diversity.

“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity.  They didn’t want female characters out there.  That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.  I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.

"We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against.”

As you can imagine, that touched a third-rail political subject that is just as toxic as abortion, social security, and gun control.

And the execs at the mouse-run all-mighty Marvel were quick to scramble to backtrack Mr. Gabriel’s statement.

Now, I’m going to preface this by saying that I am a self-published comic creator myself, and most of my comics focus on strong female characters.  I will also say that, as a longtime fan of comic books, my favorite comic book character second only to Superman is Power Girl, who is an alternate-universe version of Superman’s cousin, Supergirl.  So when Mr. Gabriel was saying “they didn’t want female characters out there”, I was saying “Says who?” 

But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that both Marvel and DC have been playing endless games of continual mega-crisis storylines, which I lampooned back in 2010, not to mention an endless parade of “radical departures” to supposedly “reach out to new readers”, which didn’t happen.  DC had their “New 52” reboot, and Marvel had “Secret Wars” (or actually it would be “Secret Wars III” because there were two others before it) and “Ultimate End”.  

So basically everything that we’ve come to know about the characters that we grew up with would be changed, and in a radical way.  For DC, that meant that Superman was no longer married to Lois Lane and is now wearing jeans and a T-shirt and is involved with Wonder Woman, who is now the God (not “Goddess”) of War, Cyborg is now a founding member of the Justice League, and a Muslim man and an agoraphobic woman are both Green Lanterns.  Bruce Wayne got his ass beat by the Joker so now Commissioner Gordon is Batman in a Bat-Mech suit.  Oh, and “Earth-2” is now “Earth 2”, where all of the World War II superheroes have been “modernized” so that world’s Green Lantern is gay, their Superman is a dark-skinned guy named Zod, Doctor Fate is a flake, there’s a Hawkgirl without a Hawkman, Batman’s daughter is Robin, Power Girl is Supergirl, and the original trinity of “wonders” that we would recognize as Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman died horrible and gruesome deaths.  For Marvel, it means that Captain America is now Sam Wilson, formerly known as The Falcon, Ms. Marvel is a teenage Muslim girl, an early-teen African American boy named Miles Morales is now Spider-Man, Logan’s daughter/clone is Wolverine, a super-genius named Amadeus Cho is now The Hulk, two people will be wearing the Iron Man armor (and neither of them is War Machine because he’s dead), and a terminally-ill Jane Foster is now a female Thor.

And then on top of that, you have the movies based on the comics that are coming out and they feature the original characters, and people are then looking back at the comics and are asking “Where is Bruce Banner?  Why isn’t he the Hulk anymore?  Why is Falcon pretending to be Captain America with wings?  What happened to Spider-Man?”

Then there was the decision by DC this past year to hit a soft-reset with something called “Rebirth”, basically erasing much of the “radical departure” stuff and going back to what they call “the basics”.  So now Superman is married again to Lois Lane and they have a son.  The ginger-haired Wally West is back, but there is still the young African-American Wally from “New 52” who is also now Kid Flash.  Wonder Woman is no longer the God of War.  Bruce Wayne is once again Batman and Commissioner Gordon has his mustache back.  And the original Justice Society of America will be coming back soon... or at least in a way that will hopefully honor what we remember about them.  Oh, and in case you were wondering, “Earth 2” was given a happy ending and put out of DC’s misery.  And on top of that, Power Girl came back, albeit briefly, to work with Harley Quinn.

So if you were wondering why DC suddenly took the lead in comic sales over the all-mighty Marvel, it’s because of that.  It’s because of “Rebirth” and the return to what worked before and what the regular readers want to see more of.

But there’s something that still needs to be said about all-mighty Marvel and Mr. Gabriel’s remark about “diversity”.

Let’s get brutally honest here... there is nothing wrong with diversity as long as it is not shoved down everyone’s collective gullet and replaces things that we’ve come to accept and appreciate.

Look at all-mighty Marvel’s character Ms. Marvel.  Originally, she was a blond and busty woman named Carol Danvers, wearing a one-piece bathing suit with a sash and a domino mask.  Now she’s wearing a full body-suit and calling herself Captain Marvel, and a young teenage girl named Kamala Khan with completely different powers and outfit is calling herself Ms. Marvel.  Carol Danvers didn’t go anywhere, other than into space.  She wasn’t written off or killed off or retconned out of existence.  She is still in the all-mighty Marvel universe and even mentors the new Ms. Marvel on how to live up to the name.  That character is succeeding and is doing pretty well for the company.

Another character that has been doing great and serves as a mainstay for all-mighty Marvel is Black Panther.  He’s an African king as well as a superhero, and he recently made his movie debut in “Captain America: Civil War” and will have his own self-titled motion picture release in 2018.  He’s been doing great for all-mighty Marvel.

And let’s not forget Luke Cage, formerly known as “Power Man”.  He’s a former member of the Avengers, he’s had his own successful Netflix series, and he will be in the upcoming Netflix series “The Defenders”, and he’s returned to the comics with his friend Iron Fist and will be in the upcoming comic series called “Black Panther and The Crew”.

But do you see what’s been happening?  These are not characters that replaced other mainstay or fan-favorite characters.  Black Panther and Luke Cage are original characters.  Carol Danvers wasn’t replaced by Kamala Khan.  These all succeed.  The others, with Amadeus Cho as the Hulk and Sam Wilson as Captain America fail because they are replacing people that we’ve come to accept. 

Even if there is a storyline that says that these are the replacements, we can’t really accept them as permanent because comic book reality dictates that we should expect the original characters to return.  How many times has the all-mighty Marvel tried to replace Steve Rogers as Captain America?  How many times can they kill off the X-Men?  Why do they keep coming back to these characters?  Because they work.  Because the readers that buy the comics recognize these as “the” characters.

Listen, I understand that all-mighty Marvel and DC both want to reach out to a larger demographic than their usual comic readers, which are closer to my age.  My demographic is old and will start to die off in a couple of decades.  I get it.  But the trick is to add to the readership, not trade a diehard one with an untested other.  DC figured that out, which is why “Rebirth” put them back on top.  Mr. Gabriel’s statement, by blaming their loss on “diversity”, proves that all-mighty Marvel hasn’t figured it out yet and that they really are not as “all-mighty” as they pretend to be.

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