Marvel’s Private Military Mishap: The Northrop/Marvel Partnership

By Carter Glace, Staff Writer

As I hinted a few weeks ago in my Comic-Con discussion, I mentioned that Marvel had gotten itself into hot water with a collaboration they were planning. A few days before the convention, the company announced that  they would be having a panel with Northrop Grumman,  one of the world’s large defense contractors, with a tie in comic that presented employees of the company as a superhero team. After fans on social media reacted viciously to the idea of Marvel selling the fun of the industrial military complex to children and their fans, they decided to cancel the panel and ultimately end the partnership. I thought I could leave my thoughts at ‘What were they thinking??’ but after sitting on the matter a little bit, I do think there is some interesting discussion to be have from this baffling choice.

To begin, I really do have to wonder who this was for. They described the comic as for ‘readers of all ages,’  but at what age does something like this work. The pages we have been able to see painted it very much like other ‘promotion’ comics, where the subject is treated like some kind of extraordinary force (here, employees of the company flying a advanced jet akin to the Power Rangers), saving the day in the way Marvel’s actual heroes can’t. But who would want to read that for an entire mini-series? Watching the banter of a bunch of characters fans wouldn’t know about, flying around in a jet and flying crime? I can’t see that being a winnable premise for younger readers, who would probably want to see something a little more exciting from there heroes and older readers would rather just see their established heroes saving the day. But obviously, who is this for is second to whatever deal was made to promote its creation. Which leads to Northrop.

Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to find too much about the company in my quick research other than that they specialize in aerial defense and drones, they have gained favor as one of the more ‘green’ corporations, and yes, they lobby. I personally have yet to find anything that makes them especially egregious to other PMC’s, but at the same time I understand and empathize with the sentiment that any company that makes its industry out of selling war is inherently bad and should not be lauded or given a platform (especially when they lobby to Washington, creating an implicit conflict of interest when it comes to who is profiting from war and who can declare it). Social media points out that in Ironman, the origin for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, features Ironman fighting a war profiteer. I don’t think that’s a moral or sentiment that holds throughout the entire franchise. While Tony Stark’s need to manufacture a solution to global conflict continually makes him as a ‘bad guy’ of sorts, The Avengers are still an independent paramilitary force with their own base and high tech transportation to airdrop themselves into conflicts and enforce justice (until Civil War, when they do the exact same thing, just for the UN). I’ve never been a fan of the reductionist “Super heroes are fascists” angle – save for a few select creators’ work—but despite its best efforts, the language of The Avengers is that of an unstoppable military force having free reign.

Despite this, it’s Marvel’s defense of this crossover that interests me. In their statement following the cancellation, they explained that they intended their partnership with Northrop “was meant to focus on aerospace technology and exploration in a positive way.” This raised the obvious question as to why not partner up with a more humanitarian group, such as NASA. But that set me off a train of thought lamenting that NASA continues to have its wings clipped from a lack of funding and general public interest . Then I thought, “Is there any mainstream, non-private entity that is pushing these fields forward?” And that’s where my big hurdle comes. It’s easy to be mad at Marvel over this, taking money from a private military corporation to sell the nobility of war technology to children,  but when the American government has struggled to invest in meaningful and humanitarian STEM for years and now has to contend with an administration militant in its disinterest in science and technology as a societal improvement, who else is making advancements outside of the public sphere? The STEM field is now dominated by private corporations and eclectic millionaires and billionaires, so while these fields are still advancing, they are being done under the murky specter of the private sphere, where creators do not have any obligation to work in ‘the public good.’  

This is probably overthinking it—I have to imagine the ultimate deciding factor for Marvel was that NM could pay a lot more than NASA could at this point, or maybe this is my bitter brooding about how I’m resigned to some other nation reaching Mars or becoming completely Green before us because we are stuck with anti-science and progress politicians—but that still underlines the issue. We face a world where Northrop is making some of the most impressive and interesting advancements in aerospace tech, because we lack a body or force who can promise to deliver those things without moral compromise. We can be mad at Marvel for trying to make heroes out of a private military corporation, but shouldn’t we be even madder at the lack of those heroes in places of power?

(Though, I must confess, a panel with the NM facilities and Stark Tower labeled as “Reality” and “Dream” is pretty damn gross in any context. Not cool Marvel).

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