Destroy All Monsters: Did Marvel Seriously Just Pivot To The Right?

Columnist; Toronto, Canada (@tederick)
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Destroy All Monsters: Did Marvel Seriously Just Pivot To The Right?

I have sympathy for anyone in a floundering, long-lead industry - whose desperation to improve matters is kept at actionable arm's length by the exigencies of the production cycle. But did Marvel Comics seriously look at the election of Donald Trump and think to itself, gee, I guess we'd better get his 46% reading our comics, too?

Marvel spent the better part of the last five years demonstrating in no uncertain terms that diversity and representation in comics could drive great storytelling and great sales. It added new characters to the pantheon (Ms. Marvel), refreshed old ones with blockbuster results (Black Panther), and transformed others into new incarnations that deserve to set the standard for those franchises going forward (Thor).

But the fiasco, last fall, of making Captain America a literal nazi (reinforced last week via the "Secret Empire" storyline, where it does indeed turn out that Cap was a nazi all along) seems now like a canary in a particularly inhospitable coal mine. Also in the last month:

Vice President of print sales David Gabriel's bonehead comments about the failures of diversity comics against older, white-centric titles;

Publicity initiatives where comic book stores are, like Captain America himself I guess, being asked by Marvel to consider whether nazism was really that bad, really;

And now, the news of the "Legacy" event across all Marvel titles this fall, which smacks suspiciously of - you guessed it - putting all the white men back in the lead, after five good years of daring to move the needle in other, more inclusive directions.

The "House of Ideas" sure seems to have a new idea about what kind of publisher they want to be. It's not one that I, or anyone, should want to support.

Let's leave aside the fundamental creative bankruptcy of the reality distortion field in which Marvel comics (and DC comics, certainly) exist, where no characters ever age, die, or change - an absolutely insupportable framework which allows for no stakes, growth, or creative purpose. That's a conversation for another time, but if Gabriel wants to chat about what's flattening sales (and doesn't, for some reason, want to consider whether making their flagship character a literal nazi might be involved), we can talk about how stories are actually meant to work.

In the meantime, let's consider how unbelievably insulting the core premise of the Legacy initiative is, and how cleanly it outlines basic, dyed-in-the-wool racism and misogyny: there's a "normal," which readers want to go "back to." It's a normal in which Thor is male, Captain America is white, and Iron Man is billionaire Tony Stark.

Where else have we heard this near-sighted, regressionist, pureblood philosophy articulated recently?

What's your next publicity initiative after the Hydra thing, Marvel? Gonna get everyone running around in red ballcaps proclaiming "Make Earth-616 Great Again?"

The colossal success machine that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and its television children) uncoupled itself from this madness a year ago, as though smelling the problem coming. Or maybe he just couldn't stand reporting to reclusive Trump supporter Ike Perlmutter, who continues to control the comics portion of Marvel.

The MCU will remain the face of Marvel that the public is most familiar with, and as gargantuan as their problems with representation have been (cough), at least they know a nazi when they see one. On Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., currently taking place in an alternate reality where Hydra won the fight in The Winter Soldier, the direct comparisons between a nazi totalitarian state and Trump's "MAGA" nonsense are part of the joke.

The Legacy event in the comics, though, peels back the lie across everything the publisher has been doing for the last half decade. Perhaps we should have seen the writing on the wall with the name of one of their last imprimaturs: "All New, All Different" Marvel. Right: Miles Morales and Kamala Khan and Riri Williams and Jane Foster are, by their very nature, different. Tony, Steve, and Thor are normal, and everybody since them is the B-team.

White male America is normal, and everyone else is different - and wouldn't it be nice if we went back to normal for a little while?

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck you, Marvel.

The only good news here doubles as the reason, if they were actually serious about sales, Marvel might want to reconsider. The generation of white men who want to see Steve Rogers hoisting the shield again are going to be dead a long time before the kids dressing as Kamala at this year's Comic Con. Like, decades before. With them go your readership numbers. Which audience should you really be trying to impress?


Destroy All Monsters is a weekly column on Hollywood and pop culture. Matt Brown is in Toronto and on Letterboxd.

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More about Destroy All Monsters (Matt Brown)

David SmithApril 25, 2017 1:00 PM

The heroes seem to be billionaires and super humans we should be jolly grateful for. Yes, they are right wing fantasies

sunpapushiApril 25, 2017 1:22 PM
bricriu .April 25, 2017 3:22 PM

Marvel is not an altruistic entity that is championing progressive justice. They are a company seeking to turn the highest profit. We need to stop looking to corporations whose sole ideal is the almighty dollar as the most important agents of social change.

The agenda to push for diversity in content is based on profit. The response to push back towards "traditional" content is based on profit. We should not trust companies to reflect our morals. Switching the races/genders/etc. of it's core heroes is a gimmick, like any other.

George HaydukeApril 25, 2017 3:29 PM

Leaving aside the ad hominin attack that any return to classic storylines is “dyed-in-the-wool racism and misogyny”.
Were Gabriels comments “boneheaded” because they were candid or because it undermined your claim of “great sales”? Marvel only had 2 comics in the top 10 for sales in February and those were both Star Wars titles and only 1 graphic novel
and that was filled with classic characters.

The agenda driven rather than character driven changes to story lines was built on a house of sand and it is crumbling. The ethnic/sexual/religious/disenfranchised/oppressed aspects of a character should just be another aspect of the story, not their raison d'etre for appearing in print. If they write good stories, people will buy them, if they don’t, people won’t. Marvel took a look at their bottom line and came to the conclusion that the pendulum swung too far to politically correct storylines and has decided on a course correction. And don’t even get me started on Ardian Syaf.

ManateeAdvocateApril 25, 2017 5:32 PM

Marvel and DC comics stopped impressing me back in the late nineties and early aughts. Well, if I'm honest, I enjoyed the hell out of the Punisher MAX series. Anyways, what both companies are doing now with their universes/properties ensures that I'll never return. Dark Horse is where it's at anyways.

Michael LangApril 25, 2017 6:20 PM

Given the left-wing drivel Hollywood endlessly vomits out, I hope Marvel has swung to the right...how refreshing that would be.

ToryKApril 25, 2017 10:55 PM

I'll echo this. Anyone who reads comics knows things always, ALWAYS go back to the status quo. It's the nature of the beast, and it's all about money. I'm not offended, and I don't blame them a bit. It can be lazy storytelling, but when you're trying to make a dollar or a million, what do you expect? The real issue at hand is the lack of new characters and fans' unwillingness to accept them. I don't want to see the Falcoln take on Cap's role or a female Thor. I wanna see new characters, and that's where I want to see diversity. But fans don't buy new characters, and so a company like Marvel has no real reason to make them.

ToryKApril 25, 2017 10:58 PM

It's not racism (and this is coming from a black dude), it's just capitalism.

Ron BruntyApril 26, 2017 12:41 AM

Children writers have no clue. You don't change Snoopy, Betty Boop, nor Casper. You cry about new young heroes and I have problem with that. However, why should fans older than teens have to watch our heroes be deconstructed? Maybe you know that your young ones may not survive on their own. Call them by any name other than the true heroes of Marvel. Until you have collected 15-25 years of comics at a great financial investment, you will never know how frustrated these past few years have been. Thor, Cap., Hulk, Spidery, and Ironman will always be the heroes of Stan Lee's Marvel Comics!

YojimboApril 26, 2017 6:58 AM

Go on then regale us with list of right-wing quality fiction.

ManateeAdvocateApril 26, 2017 12:00 PM

Bang on. I've been collecting for over 30 years. Marvel and DC are dead to me, which is fine as I have a glorious library I can revisit anytime I choose.

Brandon LayerApril 26, 2017 1:50 PM

Matt Brown, go cry me a river over a comic book. Cap is bad... waaaaaa... crybaby.

Brandon LayerApril 26, 2017 1:54 PM

Time to hit the "not interested in stories from ScreenAnarchy" tab. See you crybabies. Try not to drown in your tears.

Jake KaleApril 26, 2017 2:11 PM

This is dumb. Everyone grew up with the characters that they are bringing back. Marvel is dumb to think its diversity that is killing sales when they took everyone's favorite characters away. Also, this article is dumb to think that just because they are reverting back to characters that have been established for decades that it is because they are racist. I garuntee you that even if characters like Miles Morales and the new Thor were white males they would still revert back; these other characters are what made them famous, the same thing happened when Bucky Barnes and Ben Riley became Captain America and Spiderman respectively. Plus, being right minded isn't a cussword like you guys are using it, lol.

Jake KaleApril 26, 2017 2:21 PM

Literally all the classics from the 1900's. The Anthem, Harrison Bergeron, 1984 by George Orwell.

KurtApril 26, 2017 3:12 PM

Starship Troopers, the Heinlein Novel, not the Verhoeven film is super far to the Right.

YojimboApril 26, 2017 4:16 PM

Ha! yes but no Ayn Rand can be described as right wing but not George Orwell or Kurt Vonnegut.
Which is what I meant when I asked Michael lang and Rand's The Anthem is hardly feted there are literaly hundreds of better written dystopias.
Michael's contention is that it is the left that runs the entertainment industry.

YojimboApril 26, 2017 4:17 PM

True Heinlein did become increasingly right ward in his views as he aged.

Kevin WeinbergApril 26, 2017 10:26 PM

lol SJW articles. I read them for the lulz.

Joshua WilesApril 27, 2017 4:51 AM

From my understanding, the legacy characters (Miles Morales, Ms. Marvel, Moon Girl, etc.) aren't going anywhere. I, for one love the legacy characters as well as the classic characters. There's plenty of room for both. I hope they stick around and are treated as being equal to the characters that have been around for decades. I am a white gay guy, but I love reading books featuring characters from different backgrounds. I hope we'll see more diversity, including a comic headlined by a transgender character.

Marvel as a company has existed since 1939. While the early years of comics are nothing to write home about, Marvel has been very diverse for decades. The X-Men alone (always a metaphor for the struggles of minorities) has one of the most diverse line-ups in any comics. They've had members of every race, religion, sexuality, etc. As have the Avengers. And I hope Marvel will keep bringing in diverse perspectives.

You also have to consider that a lot of comic book stores are struggling because Marvel is the company that brings in readers. They pay for the comics up front and can't return unsold copies. Many stores only order a handful of Marvel comics because the other ones won't sell. Part of it is event fatigue and part of it is that comics are so expensive. People are more choosy in what they read.

I hope Marvel continues to be diverse and show all perspectives. Everyone should be able to identify with characters in their choice of entertainment media. But Marvel is struggling. Excluding Star Wars, their comics rarely sell more than 40,000 copies. A few years ago, most of Marvel's comics were selling in the 70,000-120,000 range. It's a huge difference. This doesn't include digital sales though. And Disney is not going to let a subsidiary lose money for too long before they take a bigger hand in running it. Marvel may have the upper hand in market share through some shady practices, but DC is the company making more money. Marvel is trying to find a way forward. Right now they're on shakier ground then when they filed for bankruptcy back in the day.

I don't think Marvel or DC are creatively bankrupt. A good creator can make excellent stories within the restrictions of a comic universe. Look at Marvel in the 80s. It was an amazing time and the creativity of the writers and artists was off the charts. That feeling of endless thrills is what Marvel needs to get back to. Where you never knew what the next issue would bring. Dealing with social issues in original and thought-provoking ways. Frank Miller's work has always been groundbreaking. Alan Moore. Neil Gaiman. Brian K Vaughn. And so on. Comics can be just as effective in dealing with metaphors and heavy themes as any other form of media. I try to read as many comics as I can get my hands on from many different companies. Marvel and DC may be the biggest, but Image, Archie, Boom, Avatar, Valiant, IDW, and Zenescope are worthy of looking into.

Kabukiman2337April 27, 2017 12:29 PM

"making Captain America a literal nazi"

Cap is not a literal nazi.