When Pandering Goes Wrong

For some reason, Marvel Comics allowed writer Brian Michael Bendis to remove Tony Stark as Iron Man. This is quite an odd move considering that amount of effort Marvel and Disney put into making Iron Man a household name. He is arguably the best known and most popular Avenger outside of Captain America, particularly due to the films. To strip Stark of the Iron Man mantle makes as much sense as stripping Thor of his hammer and name.

Granted, the latter happened, so why not with Iron Man.

Bendis’s plan is simple: in Civil War II (the comic storyline, not the film), Stark will give up the Iron Man mantle. He will be replaced by Riri Williams, a 15-year-old black girl who Bendis describes as:

Her brain is maybe a little better than his. She looks at things from a different perspective that makes the armor unique. He can’t help but go maybe I should buy her out.

Bendis explained his logic for creating the character to Time:

One of the things that stuck with me when I was working in Chicago a couple of years ago on a TV show that didn’t end up airing was the amount of chaos and violence. And this story of this brilliant, young woman whose life was marred by tragedy that could have easily ended her life — just random street violence — and went off to college was very inspiring to me. I thought that was the most modern version of a superhero or superheroine story I had ever heard. And I sat with it for awhile until I had the right character and the right place.

As we’ve been slowly and hopefully very organically adding all these new characters to the Marvel Universe, it just seemed that sort of violence inspiring a young hero to rise up and act, and using her science acumen, her natural-born abilities that are still raw but so ahead of where even Tony Stark was at that age, was very exciting to me.

Bendis cites Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, and feminist Thor in the article. We could add to that Sam Wilson becoming Captain America. With the exception of Khan, none of the characters were added in “organically”. All of them gained their mantles by replacing characters who were either killed off or stripped of their mantles. In the case of Thor, not only does he lose his power, but also his given name.

In each instance, these characters were created to fulfill a progressive desire for “diversity” and “representation”. There were not fans clamoring for a black Spider-man or Captain America or a feminist Thor or a Muslim Ms. Marvel. These were things done to appeal to an audience that does not buy comic books. Bendis admits this in the Time article:

I think what’s most important is that the character is created in an organic setting. We never had a meeting saying, “We need to create this character.” It’s inspired by the world around me and not seeing that represented enough in popular culture.

Again, that is not organic. It is deliberate mucking with the continuity for the sake of pandering to the progressive left. The irony is that numbers usually do not support the move as a smart business decision.

For example, Marvel moved Miles Morales from the Ultimate universe to the main Marvel universe in an effort to make the character more popular. While Morales does have a fan following, that character has never achieved the level of success Marvel hoped, which appears to be trumping Peter Parker. Despite all their efforts, Marvel cannot get people to stop buying Peter Parker comics. Spider-man, the comic that features Morales, last sold in May 49,167 units. Amazing Spider-man, which features Parker, sold 74,963.

Another example are the feminist-themed characters like Ms. Marvel, A-Force (all-female Avenger team), Silk, Spider-woman, Captain Marvel, and Spider-Gwen. Here is the list of the ranking:

  • Spider-Gwen – 49,681 units
  • Silk – 30,884 units
  • Ms. Marvel – 29,840 units
  • A-Force – 29,706 units
  • Spider-woman – 27,118 units
  • Captain Marvel – 23,812 units

None of that sounds that bad until it is placed in perspective. Scooby Apocalypse #1, a book in which the Scooby Gang must deal with the aftermath of the end of the world, debuted at 69,520 units. Even Batman Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #6 out-sold all these titles with 64,911 units.

To this point, Marvel made a big deal out of the new Black Panther comic written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The first issue debuted with 253,259 units and was the top-selling comic in April 2016. In May, issue two sat at number nine with 77,654 units. That is a 70% drop in audience in one month.

However, that is not the only problem with pandering to the progressive left. The more pressing problem is their response, namely that even when writers do what progressives demand, it is not good enough. This was the response to Bendis’s addition of Riri Williams as the new Iron Man:

“Some of the comments online, I don’t think people even realize how racist they sound,” [Bendis] told Time in the article unveiling the move, referring to past assaults on Marvel for replacing traditionally white characters with nonwhite ones. “All I can do is state my case for the character, and maybe they’ll realize over time that that’s not the most progressive thinking.” Ironically, progressive thinking is what fueled the most pointed backlash to the news. The new Iron Person was emblematic of Marvel’s efforts to become more representative of marginalized groups, but she also prompted a difficult question: What does progress really look like in superhero fiction?

The geek commentariat on Twitter swiftly and collectively reached two incriminating realizations about Riri. First, this black female character was created by and will be written by a white man. The contrast irked some on a creative level: “You can’t call these diverse stories without diverse voices,” tweeted writer Carly Lane. Others looked at the problem from a financial standpoint: As pseudonymous blogger theblerdgurl put it, “I am happy to c a girl who looks like me as a lead in a #Marvel comic. I just wish someone who looks like me cld profit from it. #IronMan.”

Read that paragraph again. Their complaint is that the creation of this character who they claim they want is bad because the person who created it is not black or female.

Keep in mind, Brian Michael Bendis is the same person who created Miles Morales, and he has repeatedly pushed Marvel to include more “diverse” characters in their world, resulting in classic characters being retconned, depowered, stripped of their mantle and name, or killed off because they were straight white men. He has done everything they claim they want, but now he is bad because he is not a black woman.

The argument continues:

That pecuniary line of criticism led to the second, more startling realization: Not only was this black female not being written by a black female, Marvel has no black female writers. Indeed, experts struggled to name a single black woman to have ever written a Marvel comic during the company’s 77-year history. “Still can’t think of a Sister who ever wrote for Marvel,” tweeted columnist Joseph P. Illidge. “Q for the superhero comics historians: has a black woman ever written an ongoing series for Marvel?” tweeted podcaster Al Kennedy, and when no one could come up with one, he followed up by saying, “Jeez. Feel like an prime idiot for not picking up on this before now. Easy to be in a cocoon as a white dude.”

While it is surprising that no black female writer has written for Marvel (and I have not checked, so I am not sure that is true), it is not a problem. Marvel has told numerous well-written, engaging stories with actual diverse characters and themes without a black female writer. This is not to say they should not hire black women, only that it does not appear to have damaged the company in any way.

Granted, this “diversity” push has never been about writing interesting stories or creating compelling drama. It is about pandering, about playing to specific ideological tropes and whistles to get the proper Pavlovian response from progressives. This is why the article continues with a rather bizarre line of reasoning:

Indeed. For much of the history of superhero fiction, the genre lived in that cocoon — white men paid other white men to write stories targeted at white men. As such, the most important characters were, themselves, white men: Batman, Superman, Captain America, Spider-Man, and the like. This is, of course, not unique to comics; it’s true of all entertainment. But in the past few years, superhero comics have been morphing into something more multifaceted and representative, and they’ve been doing it in a way that movies and television can’t.

Marvel has taken the lead on this front, using a fascinating tactic to get attention for their diversity pushes. Instead of trying to sell readers on new characters who aren’t lily-white dudes, they simply rebrand their intellectual property. There’s a long tradition of different people taking on the monikers of existing superheroes after the originals die or retire, so why not use that trope in a way that pushes the envelope on identity politics? You’re not going to get much mainstream media attention by pitching the idea of a black girl who uses a robot suit. But if you say she’s Iron Man — a name familiar to anyone who’s purchased a movie ticket in the past eight years — all of a sudden, you’ve got yourself a Time headline.

One could not find a better admission of what the “diversity” changes are really about. It is not about storytelling, but pushing politics. That explains why the numbers are not so great, why the audience dries up within months, and why the only thing you will find about any of these characters mentioned in articles about them are things associated to their identity. Even the author of the article admits this:

[Ms. Marvel and Captain Marvel], in their new incarnations, have repeatedly interrogated race and gender (and, in the case of Ms. Marvel, faith). The rest have touched on identity politics only lightly, though often memorably. Thor has struggled with the fact that no one seems to take her as seriously as her predecessor, the black Captain America has dealt with racist hate groups, the Korean-American Hulk has challenged Asian-nerd stereotypes, and Miles has wrung his hands over whether he feels comfortable with people talking about his ethnicity.

None of that has anything to do with being a superhero. Few of the original characters were created with the specific intent to appeal to the white male audience as white males. The characters were simply archetypes or general metaphors for certain circumstances.

Yet these new “diverse” characters are so geared to playing to identity politics that they ironically do the very thing they are supposed to undo: isolate fans. Instead of making the characters for everyone, these characters are only for their affiliated groups. Ms. Marvel is for Muslims, Captain Marvel is for feminists, feminist Thor for radical feminists, black Captain America is for black people, Asian Hulk is for Asians, and Miles Morales is for biracial, Hispanics, and black people.

It is little wonder why these characters have such a limited following, why their books never sell that well despite all the clamoring of their supposed popularity, and why the only thing one ever hears about the characters are about their identities and the politics behind them.

This is a bad business decision, and not because it is wrong to have non-white, non-male, non-straight characters. It is a bad business decision because when you pander to the progressive left, they will never be satisfied. They will not support you outside of retweets, reblogs, and numerous pretentious articles written by people who have never read and will never read a single comic book.

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7 thoughts on “When Pandering Goes Wrong

  1. Pingback: When Pandering Goes Wrong – Manosphere.org

  2. You didn’t even talk about the real gold mine in comic books – movies and merch. Who in the hell is going to see a movie about a black female, teenage, IronPOC? Beyond that it strikes me how much this is a metaphor for the whole affirmative action scam, of people who are incapable of creating or contributing much to an enterprise demanding their gibs anyway. They don’t create a new character they affirmative action them into the success of former white characters. The hard reality of low expectations.

  3. Hello, ToySoldier!
    I am a Brazilian student, and I have found your blog by searching about men’s issues on Internet. Here in Brazil we are not so much representated – but we have a big A Voice dor Men Brasil site 🙂

    To the point: can I use your blog as a source for my translations? It has a huge number of good articles, and I want to spread it for my Brazilian comrades.

    Many thanks in advance!

  4. These POC characters are just not believable. A black girl as a technical genius, when in reality, they can’t even draw comics? Give me a break.

  5. Sam Wilson, like Bucky, was Cap’s sidekick/partner for a long time, so nobody had any real problem with him as Cap. Not only was Thorina poorly written, they put criticism into the universe so she could beat a guy up for saying she only existed because of feminists.

  6. Pingback: Top Posts of 2016 | Toy Soldiers

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