Marvel and Diversity: Complicated Problem, Simple Solution
Marvel has been getting a lot of flack lately for being heavy handed with their attempts to diversify their comics. Both sides have some validity to their opinions. Not the stupid, “Black Panther is an attempt to pander” opinions and not the also stupid, “let’s do away with all the white cis males” opinions. I’ve heard both and seen both and most of those are from people who don’t actually read comic books so they should be taken with every grain of salt you have available. But there is a real problem that should be addressed, how do you bring greater representation and diversity to comics while keeping the sales up and not losing core fanbase? The easy way to bring diversity is to take a major character and then replace him with a minority character who’s basically the same. It’s like saying “hey look, we care!” That’s ok from time to time and it can make sense but Marvel went to the well one too many times and almost all at once.
Sam Wilson as Cap makes sense. They have a prior relationship, a deep history and they’re friends. RiRi Williams as Ironheart? Not so much. What about Cho as Hulk? Probably not the BEST choice even though they have a history. Jane Thor? I have no problem with. Miles as Spider-man caused a storm of anger before but now he’s pretty much accepted. What about Nova and Ms. Marvel, are they accepted or do fans feel like they make no sense? Some of those have developed into great characters with great stories, but even those that make sense are damaged by the stigma that accompanies doing it, seemingly, all at once. It’s not the first time it’s happened of course, Marvel has occasionally taken away a major character and replaced them with someone else before. Cap, Thor, Hulk, Tony, and others have been replaced before by other characters. Most of them were white men and they didn’t all happen at the same time. DC isn’t innocent of this, they just do it in the background and they don’t just take away major characters. Batman has been out before sure, but Wonder Woman and Superman have always been themselves for the most part. They’ve tried Batwing, Power girl was replaced with a young African American woman when she went back to her home earth recently, and then you have Val Zod and New 52 Black Wally West. So it’s not unique. However, this often feels cheap to people. It may generate a short term boost in sales or at the very least buzz for a new book or character, but it fails to address the problems. In fact, it only creates more.
When you take a long time beloved character and replace them with some unknown, it can leave many fans feeling cheated. Hardcore comic book fans might instantly be turned off because, let’s face it, comic book fans are often resistant to change. Additionally, those who actually want to see themselves represented in comics may feel cheated that they don’t get a truly new character to attach themselves to. Marvel and DC both know that minority characters don’t traditionally sell well, so they’re hesitant to just give characters their own series and create new characters. However, at the end of the day…this is the best option. Marvel already has a strong slate of minority and female characters that could represent the diversity and inclusiveness they want to push. America Chavez Aka Ms. America finally has her own solo comic book. The Black Panther returned to the forefront in Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers and then in his own Maxi series and also appears in the current Ultimates. Yet there are so many that have fallen by the wayside or who just lurk in the shadows. Where the hell is Blade for example? He’s never been a big seller, but he’s always been limited in scope.
So should they give up on diversity? Of course not. Should Marvel double down on what they’ve been doing? Probably not, but they should narrow the focus on diversity. Let Black Panther continue to lead the way as a mainstay in the Marvel universe. With his movie coming up after his recent appearance in Civil War he just makes sense. Marvel should continue to use Miles, Sam Wilson, Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Collen Wing, bring back Blade in some important way, and keep going with the Ms. America solo. Ultimates by Al Ewing is consistently one of the best books going since they launched their All New and All different line up, and it’d be a shame to end that. There are plenty of other characters who would make a great addition to other teams. But Marvel’s under use of Blue Marvel is probably the biggest disappointment to me. This is a fairly new character created by Kevin Grevioux that has potential to be pretty big. To their credit Marvel has been using him more, he played a small role in Civil War II and he’s a regular in Ultimates, but he’s a character that should have his own series or at least his own mini-series right now. Hell, try giving Spectrum, AKA Monica Rambeau a mini-series and just see how it plays out.
In a nutshell, there are a lot of good existing characters to work with that could strengthen Marvel’s diversity efforts. There are some that can carry their own books like a few I mentioned above. I’ve focused on primarily African American characters but that’s not meant to exclude others of course. There’s room for plenty more from all different backgrounds and there are always new stories to tell.
I guess the too long, didn’t read version of this is Marvel (and DC) should do 3 things:
1. Use the characters you already have better.
2. Create new characters instead of swapping titles.
3. Tell good stories.
DC isn’t innocent and Marvel has always been more willing to take risks when it came to diversity. It’s a noble goal and they shouldn’t give up, just readjust.