By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
Well, this one isn’t going to be fun to write. At the Marvel Retailers Summit late last March, Vice President of Sales David Gabriel made a comment that suggested that he — and by extension, the company — potentially saw the effort to mix up their lineup with new, diverse versions of popular characters as one of the reasons behind their recent sales dips.
“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.”
This negative publicity coincides with the recent announcement of “Marvel Legacy,” which looks to largely bring back the status quo and re-center the publisher’s signature heroes. It also marks the end of the “All New, All Different Marvel” run, which saw a groundswell of new and diverse heroes, such as Miles Morales, Kamala Kahn, Riri Williams, Amadeus Cho and Jane Foster, as well as a greater focus on Carol Danvers, Sam Wilson and T’Challa.
Obviously, this statement was met with mockery and vitriol, and Gabriel has since tried to qualify his statements, but the damage is already done. The headline “Marvel Abandons Diversity Initiative” will now plague their entire “Retro” event.
Make no mistake, “Marvel Legacy” has no doubt been in the cards long before any sales dip had occurred, and was probably being planned out at the same time as the “All New, All Different” arc. The lifeblood of the superhero comic industry is announcing a massive change to the status quo, let it stand for a few years, then return everything to normal with a few handpicked changes that became popular. DC pioneered this with their constant breaking and streamlining of the multi-verse.
There’s two problems with all this, though. Honestly, there have been plenty of great pieces tearing these comments to shreds. But I will join in the Festival of Dead Horse Beating, because frankly, it deserves repeating how bull these sentiments are.
Using diversity as a scapegoat for poor sales is, simply put, gross. It harkens to some of the most pathetic internet talking points about the “Invisible Hand” or “Letting the Market Decide,” completely devoid of the realities of marketing, public access, or public perception. It breaks under even the most causal scrutiny. Look at the sales of Ironman, Marvel’s biggest brand right now, one of two super heroes that can get one billion dollars at the box office. If you could count on one character selling, it is Tony Stark. His comic was 56th last month. Just above him: Steve Rogers. And Peter Parker is stuck at 13th. Sales aren’t plummeting because of who’s in the mask.
Blaming diversity is another means of avoid the actual reason super hero comics have been struggling since the Industry Crash: They’ve built a painfully insular base that is incredibly unwelcoming to outsiders with token efforts to reach out. Regular issues are only available in special comic stores, and even the most welcoming comic store can be overwhelming. Constant renumbering’s and restarts don’t welcome new readers while making the continuity more confusing. The most any comic receives in terms of marketing is a cover announcement and maybe an announcement of who’s writing it. Ads for comics only run in other comics. All major events take place over dozens of different series, making them impenetrable (see Civil War II for that lesson). And we’ve yet to properly appreciate that most people prefer to buy trade collections, because it makes more sense to collect entire stories as oppose to individual issues.
Problem number two is the more insidious one: that comments like this completely ignore modern context. The publisher thought this would be just another continuity shift, one of a hundred that have occurred between Marvel and DC. But this wasn’t the same. Instead of just making slightly different lore for the same heroes, this was making new, diverse heroes that will now be shoved out of the limelight.
We are currently in a climate with desperate need for diversity, where how we depict race and gender in media has become one of the talking points amid a vicious rise in xenophobia the likes of which we have almost never seen. If there were ever a time to stand behind diverse superheroes, paragons of virtue and inspiration for generations of kids, it would be now.
And yet, Marvel genuinely believed they could put their head down and continue with plans as usual, apparently no one stopping to think that maybe, just maybe, now wouldn’t be the optimal time to make this decision and let someone go around talking about how “diversity doesn’t sell.” It’s the same suicidal tone deafness that led the company to publish a story in which Captain America turns out to be a Nazi/Hydra sleeper agent as real life Nazi’s are vying for power instead of perhaps asking Nick Spencer to shelve whatever “epic” storyline he had in mind for a later date.
And while I’m in the neighborhood: I originally had no interest in commenting on the “Steve Roger was secretly a Nazi” controversy, because I just shrugged it off as at worst a cynical marketing ploy they would ret-con in about a month. But as actual, literal Nazos using him as a symbol and with Spencer becoming more and more cage-y over social media, any justification for this decision is drowned out by how ill-timed and tasteless it truly is. The last straw came this week, where a panel was leaked of Hydra-Steve holding up Mjolnir. The hammer that can only be wielded by someone worth. Meaning a Nazi is worthy. I’ve never wanted to use this small platform to call people out, but seeing this truly despicable, jaw dropingly stupid and offensive moment at a time when minority population across America are caught between violent citizens emboldened by a government that has made it a mission statement to target and harass them, I am simply enraged. Spencer, what the hell were you thinking? Were you even thinking? How could you live on this planet with access to the internet and not question if that image was the worst idea of your entire career?
I want to stress that Gabriel’s opinions are his own, and don’t necessarily represent the sentiment of Marvel Comics or any one else at the publisher. But his words have now placed an uncomfortable stain on Marvel’s decision making for the foreseeable future whether they like it or not. They clearly didn’t want any of this to be political. But everything is political. We are careening toward one of the most black and white political climates since the second World War, where the decisions one’s action are immediately cast as whose ‘side’ they are on.
I love Marvel. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be writing things like this weekly. I applied for a job at Marvel Comics. But because of one employees’ words, Marvel is at risk of being remember on a side of this debate they most certainly don’t want to be on.