Saturday, February 17, 2018
Home  >  Features  >  Meaningful Change: Comic Books, Race, and Gender Representation and Fans Freaking Out (A MightyVille Editorial)



It's time for another MightyVille editorial from B.J. Morgan. Earlier, he took the publishers to task. Now? He's got a small bone to pick with some fans who enjoy FREAKING OUT!


Much has been made about Marvel’s announcement last month that Thor would become a female and the new Captain America would be an African American. “Much has been made” is an understatement. "Cap is black and Thor is a woman?!" Cue the internet losing its mind. Let’s all murmur a collective sigh. Unfortunately, this happens frequently in the online comic book community. Comic company announcing changes to one of their beloved characters often leads to an internet mob lighting digital torches and grabbing their pixelated pitch forks. 

I assume many fans looked at these changes, felt no need to comment positively or negatively about them online, and went about their business. I know I did. Having no real vested interest in these characters, I did not feel the particular need to speak on the issue of having a female Thor or bringing in an African American as Captain America (though the Falcon becoming Captain America seems like a no-brainer). You know, it’s comics. This kind of stuff happens frequently. With San Diego Comic Con just in our rearview, we actively saw it happen several times.   


Remember when Cap was a werewolf?


However, some fans took this as their job to speak to speak out against what they saw as an overreach of political correctness and/or pandering. The results were unfortunately typical. Name calling. Chauvinism. Sexism. Entitlement. All the things that still make comic book fans look like petty, small creatures- undeserving of the lavish (and lucrative) attention being shown on their corner of popular culture- were laid out for the world to see. I’ve heard many fans proudly declare that “comic book geeks have won.” Looking at the current entertainment industry, it’s hard to argue with that logic. However, we have a long way to go to gaining respectability if we can’t keep our composure together better than we did last week.    

I do sympathize with some of these fans. Just try to utter the phrase “FrankenCastle” around me. Try it. 

I get that some fans do not like the change. I get it. I am, however, saddened at their behavior and acerbic language. The solution to tempering the flames of this particular issue are too vast for any one single answer. There are a few things comic companies and fans can consider to work on to help abate such issues in the future.  

Here are three things I believe can help...




1) Popularity Breeds Contempt

While the revolting misogyny and digital scorn thrown at Marvel was largely uncalled for, I don’t fault the skepticism of the changes that some fans displayed. As I pointed out in my first installment of This Changes Everything (which you should probably read), fans sometimes feel jerked around by temporary status quo changes that are often undone just as quickly as they were instituted. Character death, resurrections, and legacy replacements intermingle with time-bending, mind-altering changes in circumstances at a staggering rate.

These shifts in the state of affairs for some of fandoms most beloved characters and teams have led to some fans feeling jaded. There is no permanence to the changes we see in comics. The net result to any change will eventually be a return to normalcy. While I decry the inflammatory and sexist language, I do think the naysayers have a kernel of a point on this matter.

Most companies promise these changes to last, but we fans are all too familiar that Spider-Man will be Peter Parker. When Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso states that there is no “exit strategy for returning Wolverine to comics", fans immediately check the release schedule for the next Wolverine or X-Men film. Fans place hypothetical bets on the spread of when the real Thor returns to his own title. Fans have been trained to wait it out. The waves of change       

Joe Quesada talked several years ago about putting genies back in bottles. To his credit, that particular change (the decision to unmarry Peter and Mary Jane Watson, ushering in the popular Brand New Day) has lasted, a rare exception in the annals comic book fiction. The constant shifts in the status quo is one of those genies that needs to be put back in its bottle for a while. The constant state of flux that many comic books fans has worn out many longtime fans. Not everything in comic books has to be earth shattering. The big two, Marvel and DC Comics, have mistaken the need for telling a good story with telling something that is shocking which makes it superficially feel important.

What fans really want is meaningful change, not a finicky rotation of short term status quo shuffles. Having a medium such as comic books that always has a “to be continued” attached to the end of nearly every story does present a significant creative challenge for the companies. Fifty or seventy-five years of character development allows for some well plowed creative fields. Companies need to spice things up a bit. But the sad truth is that everything needs to be okay by the time the next creative team comes around. Companies have to insure the continued success of their intellectual property into the future. When change happens, it shouldn't just feel important, it should be important. Gwen Stacy died and that decision has had ripple effects even today. Change needs to matter and not be transient MacGuffin for convenient short term storytelling.  


Remember when The Punisher turned himself into a black dude?


2) Show (or Don’t Show) Marvel the Money

While abuse of inflating the value of their stories is a key component to fanning the fan outrage of  these types of changes, let there be no mistake that the comic companies are just trying to make money. Marvel is essentially trying to make hay while the sun shines. Marvel sees the demographics of comic book fans and realizes that there is an opportunity to make money. Comic companies are businesses. They exist to make money. If turning over Mjolnir to a female will accomplish that goal for x-amount of months, they will do just that.

There is diversity in the market. Comics are not just the providence of portly white males any more. Soccer moms down the hall from me at work are watching The Walking Dead. People at the gym are talking about taking their kids to see the latest Marvel movie. These people have money to spend. Though there has been no great migration to comic books shops because of the movies, television, or other media tie-ins, Marvel and DC are both coming around to the idea that perhaps their audience base is growing a bit beyond white guys like me.

Don’t worry, white guys. I think we’ll be fine!  

Especially of interest to these companies is the fact that there is a growing group of females in the readership. Many of the females have turned to the independent market for titles that are relevant to them. Books like Saga, Rachel Rising, and Fables have large female readerships because their focus is not exclusively on a world of men wearing tights hopped-up on testosterone and participating in wall-to-wall slug-fests. Books like Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel are attempting to reach beyond the WASP male mold, and to great critical and commercial success.

It can feel kind of cheap to see Marvel jump in this diversity direction because there’s money to be made, especially given that fans have been conditioned to not take these changes too seriously. It is cheap in a way, and certainly less risky on their end as a business. Marvel should be investing time in fostering new characters that appeals to people in the real world. It is cheaper for them to tuck an African American into the role of Captain America for a limited amount of time rather than gamble on promoting a new African American hero. People will buy Captain America. That’s not really a financial risk. People may not buy a Falcon solo book or a new character. That’s a huge financial risk.  

Is it pandering to have female leads or legacy replacements of differing racial background as their predecessors? Not exactly. Is it just business? You bet.


Remember when Superman died & Lois cried?


3) Finding Better Ways to React

Ugh. The reaction to this news was not pretty. Like so many online communities, the internet has allowed for fringe voices to have an equal footing when it comes to commenting online. It’s not just the comic book community that has a problem with this. Take a moment to swing by any online news article or website that allows user comments. The amount of bile being spewed by the misinformed is massive.

Yet, the comic book fan community is plagued by the evil stereotype of the typical bitchy fan. This convention predates the internet itself. When it comes to communities, comic book fans are seen as being even more despicable than all others with the exception of pedophiles or Klingons. Shelving the image of being trolls has been extremely hard. Reactions such as we saw over the last week or so provide a “one step forward, two steps back” proposition. Yes, we've won the cultural wars, but our poor actions quickly make us tumble in the estimation of everyone else.

I don’t think going online and being sexists jerks has made any corporation change their mind in the modern internet age. Certainly, there are numerous examples out there of companies who have rolled back corporate policies or sales decisions. I can’t honestly think of single time angry mobs have changed a single creative decision in entertainment. After all, Ben Affleck is still going to be Batman. Name calling, sexist comments, and bullying just don’t work t change corporate decisions.

Far be it from me to suggest rational discourse over the internet, but there has to be a way to approach this situation. Throwing around wild accusations of pandering or threatening violence against someone is much more sexy than what I’m going to propose, but hear me out: Vote with your dollar. Don’t like the change in a character? Don’t buy it. Period.


Remember when Batman looked like this?


I know this doesn't give the worst among us the opportunity to drop the c-bomb on anyone, but money is the best language to use with corporations. Hate-buying a book isn't the answer. Despite my love of reading some devoted fan proclaiming that they will never read another Marvel comic book again, we all know that just isn't true. It is okay to be upset that something is changing about your favorite character(s). I give you permission to be upset! I've been there before. "Curse you, FrankenCastle! Curse you!"

Fans do have the economic power in these decisions, though. Write a letter explaining your dislike if you need to, but just stop buying the book. It will make you happier, keep the internet at least somewhat clean, and speak volumes to the comic companies that you will “never read again.”


B.J. certainly tells it like he sees it! Where do you guys stand on the ever-changing landscape of your favorite comics? Let us know... 


More from B.J. on MightyVille: 

This Changes Everything, Part 1 - The Origin Story (A MightyVille Editorial)

Get Your $#!% Together: A MightyVille Editorial

UNITY #1: A MightyVille Advance Review


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