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Marvel & Diversity: Don’t Piss on My Head and Tell Me It’s Raining

Originally posted at BadAzz MoFo

Let me start by saying a few things. First, I’m trying to write less about companies like Marvel (Disney) and DC (Warner Brothers), because I’m not paid to do publicity for them. Second, although we are not close friends, I have known Rick Remender for more than a decade, and where I’m about to go is not meant to be an attack on him personally. Finally, it is no secret that if Marvel (or DC for that matter) called me tomorrow, I’d jump at the opportunity to work for them — which might make some of you view me as a hypocrite, and that’s fine with me.

All of that said, my undying childhood desire to write comics, my acquaintance with anyone who works for Marvel or DC, and my belief that both of these corporate-owned companies don’t need another bit of free publicity, does not change what I need to get off my chest.

avengers-now_1000x791-1This has been a busy week for Marvel, as they have kicked what could easily be called their Diversity & Representation 2014 campaign into high gear. First, they announced that Thor was becoming a woman, which was then followed by the announcement that Sam Wilson, a black man better known as Falcon, would be taking over as the new Captain America. There was also the unveiling of a new Avengers team, which includes the new Black Captain America, Female Thor, and a line up of characters that features more women and people of color than it does white guys (see above).

All of these announcements have created the requisite stir within the world of pop culture, and in the days leading up to San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel/Disney has gotten a good amount of press. And given the fact that the more than half of the 100,000-plus people attending SDCC are women and people of color, Diversity & Representation 2014 certainly feels like a gesture to cater to the needs of a larger cross-section of readers.

Now, at the risk of sounding cynical, I can’t help but feel that Marvel is pissing on my head, and telling me that it is raining. Everything they’ve done this week is a gimmick to increase sales, and none of these changes are meant to last. Female Thor will be a woman for probably a shorter time than Dr. Octopus took over Spider-Man’s body. Black Captain America will hold that title for a while, just until Steve Rogers gets his powers back, and until some other writer gets the idea to have Falcon take over for Cap, ten to twenty years from now. How do I know this? Because all of this crap has happened before.

black cap 1
Sam Wilson becomes Captain America in Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #9.

Back in 1999, writer Mark Waid had Falcon don the Captain America suit and identity, after it appeared Steve Rogers had been killed in Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #8 and #9. And though I can’t be sure — because I’m too lazy to go through my comics — I’m pretty sure Sam Wilson pulled duty as Captain America at least one or two other times over the past forty-something years. Nor is this the first time someone else has wielded the hammer of Thor.

The point I’m getting at is that this is not the first time Marvel (or DC) has shaken things up, all with the hope of getting some press and attracting new readers. I understand that. It makes sense from a business standpoint. But what Marvel is doing right now — whether or not it is the intention of the creative teams on these books — is turning Diversity & Representation into a commodity, when for some of us it is a matter of life and death.

Time and time again, Marvel and DC have proven that when push comes to shove, they care about their existing audience/market, but really don’t care about the bigger audience out there. Sure, Female Thor and Black Captain America may bring in some new readers — and these new readers may even be women and people of color — but 18 months from now (if not sooner), the original Thor and Captain America will be back in action. This kind-hearted gesture of inclusion that Marvel has initiated is temporary, and will only last until sales taper off. But that is only part of the bigger problem with this latest publicity stunt.

I don’t want to be too quick to judge the work of any of the creative teams working on these newly announced projects, because the work they do may be good, given the limitations of what they are doing. What they are doing, however, is not that original — as I’ve pointed out — nor is it nearly as forward-thinking as it needs to be if Diversity & Representation 2014 is to be anything of merit.

black cap 2
The ultimate success of a black man is to do what a white man does, as seen in Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #8.

I’m not trying to pick on Rick Remender for having Sam Wilson become Captain America, but some things need to be said. I don’t want to go so far as to say that only a white writer would think to have Sam Wilson become Captain America, because that’s not the case. I do, however, think that only a writer who isn’t trying hard enough would come up with that already-been-done story. More important, I think only a writer caught up in existing racial ideologies would think it is a good idea that a black man assumes the identity of a white man, as if that is the pinnacle of identity.

Let me be clear so there is no misunderstanding, any writer working in comics could have come up with the idea of Falcon taking over for Captain America. It is a no-brainer. What is troubling to me — and is something that I’ve talked about before — is that in his forty-plus year history, Falcon has no truly defining story. Even the best Falcon stories are either mediocre or forgettable, and now, after all this time, the character gets to do something memorable by taking over the job of a white guy.

This is the real reason why Marvel’s Diversity & Representation 2014 initiative is such a joke. It is all superficial (not to mention temporary), and it only perpetuates the notion that in order for people of color and women to achieve greatness, they must literally fill the shoes of a white man. Gimme a break.

17 thoughts on “Marvel & Diversity: Don’t Piss on My Head and Tell Me It’s Raining”

  1. You make some really solid points in this article. Your right when you say this is all superficial and temporary. I like the idea of trying to infuse more diversity into comic books, but I’m not sure that this is the best way to do it.

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    1. I’m figuring the iconoclasts at Marvel, with their sneering contempt for tradition, know that the generations who grew up reading their comics are now concerned with raising their kids or saving for retirement. Still, it is galling. It screams, “We don’t have the talent to create new characters, so we’re going to ‘re-imagine’ the existing ones and curry favor with the PC crowd at the same time.” And it would be just as galling if they decided to re-imagine the Black Panther as a white guy.

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  2. “…it only perpetuates the notion that in order for people of color and women to achieve greatness, they must literally fill the shoes of a white man. Gimme a break.” This is exactly what I thought as Marvel’s 2014 diversity plan rolled out last week. Great post.

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  3. This isn’t the first time Marvel has had a Black Captain America nor presented diverse characters. They created one back in 2003 and his name was Isiah Bradley. The issues/volume also alluded to the Tuskegee experiments that were being done on Black people back in the 40’s. Dig a little deeper next time…

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    1. And Isiah Bradley’s grandson, Elijah Bradley, led the Young Avengers as Patriot, i.e. taking the Captain America role in a team with a female Hawkeye (Kate Bishop) and female Antman (Stature/Cassie Lang). Not to mention Billy Kaplan and Teddy Altman being gay and dating.

      (Not that the situation doesn’t seem like a publicity stunt, but I came into comics fandom via the MCU and then the Young Avengers comics, so Marvel being somewhat diverse is, for me, actually the norm.)

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  4. Nice post. I totally agree. Rather than developing Falcon into a force to be reckoned with, Sam Wilson gets the “privilege” of becoming someone else.

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  5. Right on. What they should be doing is coming up with more diverse characters that we actually care about by putting real effort into developing the character. Thor has always been one of my top 5 favorite heroes, and I will probably read the female Thor story line, but like you said, its a temporary gimmick. Give us something real, that we can all appreciate instead.

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  6. Diverse, my ass. Where are the other PoC in Marvel??? But then again, Marvel like the real world only exists in the white/black race binary.

    But way to go on calling out Marvel’s BS.

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    1. Where are the other PoC in Marvel???

      Off the top of my head, without looking anything up… In the MCU: Fury, Heimdall, Rhodey, Falcon, the casting for the Storms in the new Fantastic Four. In comics: Isiah Bradley, Elijah Bradley, Miles Morales, America Chavez, David Alleyne, Kamala Khan, Storm, Anya Corazon, Luke Cage, T’Challa, Monica Rambeau, Cloak…

      And while he’s not a PoC, Billy Kaplan is Jewish, which I don’t think I’ve seen elsewhere in comics.

      I’ve been in comics fandom maybe two years, tops. I don’t really follow anything but Young Avengers and Captain Marvel. I can name a dozen PoC characters off the top of my head. I’m not saying Marvel’s perfect, but they have some pretty fuckin’ awesome PoC characters already, and I hate to see them ignored.

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  7. Thank you. I recently tried to explain to a friend why, as a huge fan of both the Falcon and Captain America, i wasn’t more excited about all this. You said exactly what I tried (in vain) to communicate to him. I sent him a link to your post and am waiting to hear back from him, hoping desperately that he will finally “get it.” Twenty-odd years ago, I cobbled together a proposal for a new Falcon that obviously never got off the ground. The quality of said proposal notwithstanding (I’ve been a comics pro for three decades, but as an artist, not a writer), my reasons were twofold: It’s not that I had some kind of burning desire to rid the world of Sam Wilson or anything. He’s been one of my faves since childhood. BUT! First, I thought that the Falcon deserved a shot at being an A-Lister, but couldn’t imagine that EVER happening to a character best known as a sidekick; perhaps a Falcon who had NEVER been ANYone’s sidekick might have a better chance. Second but just as important: I couldn’t help but notice that out of Marvel’s four most visible Black superheroes at the time, —in no particular order, Storm, Black Panther, Luke Cage and the Falcon—THREE of them were former criminals! I wanted to try to do something about that number. Alas….

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