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Wednesday, November 12, 2014 

Vox sugarcoats Marvel's "diversity"

The Vox website interviewed Rick Remender and gave some of the latest superficial, uncritical coverage of Marvel's obsessive pursuit of diversity, which for them means replacing established heroes with minority protagonists instead of selling the minority members as their own agencies, and never emphasizes them as civilian co-stars:
Superheroes are meant to represent the best of us. And for a long period of time, "the best of us" were straight white guys. At Marvel, this norm is changing.
This glosses over any and all minority members introduced in years past, like Black Panther, who's mentioned in that other article about their movie plans. Since when wasn't he among the best? In fact, since when wasn't Monica Rambeau, the second Capt. Marvel after Mar-Vell of the Kree's demise, among the best? She was a notable member of the Avengers in the mid-80s. It's only failure by the staff to promote their minor cast members that's the fault.
On Wednesday, Sam Wilson, the African-American hero known as Falcon, will officially take on the title of Captain America in his own comic book.

"You're starting to see characters who can reflect other parts of our culture," Rick Remender, the writer of the series, told me. Remender is one of the comic book industry's biggest names, and has worked on titles like X-Men, Uncanny X-Force, and Punisher. "That reflection is important. It's important to feel like you live in a culture where you are a part of it, and that you can see yourself in your heroes."
Why the costumed heroes but not the plainclothes co-stars? Why not Mary Jane Watson, if any women reading comics are looking for a great Marvel co-star they can appreciate? In fact, what about Daily Bugle editor Robbie Robertson, and Glory Grant, who took up Betty Brant's role as chief secretary for the paper? Neither the reporter nor Remender seem to realize there have been plenty of minority group members as superheroes in years past, Falcon included, nor do they seem particularly interested in explaining why he has to be Captain America but can't be his own person as the Falcon?
Over the past few years, more and more people have been able to see themselves in Marvel's heroes. Captain Marvel and Thor are now women. Ms. Marvel, one of the company's best selling comics, is a Muslim, Pakistani-American teenage girl. Superhero teams like The Ultimates and the Mighty Avengers are featuring more women and non-white heroes. And Marvel Studios has followed suit, with Captain Marvel and Black Panther movies coming in a few years.
The part about the Muslim Ms. Marvel - delivered without criticism - is telling. They predictably gloss over Islam's dark corridors, including the dungeons set up in the verses for women. And they don't explain how making Thor into a woman alone makes the book any good, or why they can't sell a new character on her own.
Wilson becoming a character that's as iconic as Captain America is Marvel's biggest move toward inclusion. Wilson isn't perfect, and his story — a hero exposed to racism and violence — couldn't be more different than his predecessor.
So let's see if I have this right. Falcon isn't iconic...but Capt. America is, and that's why Sam Wilson must shift from one role to the other. This only perpetuates the modern emphasis that the costume - NOT the character wearing it - is important. And it only shows how confused the reporter is with his facts.
Alex Abad-Santos: Back in the 70s, we saw comic books try to include women and non-white characters but it sometimes felt like prescriptivism or tokenism — the result were hollow characters who felt more like a PSA than an actual hero. How important is it to you to avoid writing Sam as a "perfect" Captain America?

Rick Remender: In terms of avoiding tokenism, and treating characters like characters, I stomp around the Marvel Universe and I kill and maim and damage and I twist the characters, and I put them through hell whether they be man, woman, black or white — they all get to experience the same cruel hand of my writer's pen.

Sam's not going on a pedestal. He's getting his ass kicked. There's a huge test coming up here. He's also not neutered. There's an instinct to be fearful as a white man writing an African American character in such a prominent position. And you could talk yourself out of making bold decisions out of that fear. I have a responsibility to present Sam and the character that he is in a way that makes him feel three dimensional — that means all of his positive attributes as well as his negative attributes, and to allow myself to tell a big, super exciting story with him in it that doesn't approach him or what happens to him in a different way I would any other character.

I treat all my characters just as God does [laughs] — they all get to suffer the same wrath.
No, he doesn't treat them all as God does. He only treats them more or less the same way Marvel editorial decided was appropriate. Hence, the sickening ideas forced onto Steve Rogers, which don't come up here, although Remender does hint at it when he talks about twisting. Nobody's saying Steve, Sam or anyone else has to be "perfect" but making Steve look like he's keeping nazi memorabilia around his household for the wrong reasons is not the kind of flaws we want heroes and co-stars to have.
Alex Abad-Santos: Unlike Steve Rogers, Wilson comes from a place where he witnesses an imperfect America that can be ugly and racist. How does this affect his empathy and his heroism?

Rick Remender: One of the reasons I was drawn to writing him, and one of the reasons I wanted to do this, is if you look at Marvel history where he would land right now, that would make him Generation X.

He grew up when I grew up, and he grew up at a time that was increasingly more violent from the late 80s into the mid 90s.

Sam's story reflects that era, in that he was a kid who was disenfranchised and dealing with racism. He didn't have a lot of hope. But he's got a father who's a minister, and in the Marvel Universe, one of the most prominent popular ministers in Harlem. People come from miles around to listen to his sermon. He preaches about his American dream of tolerance and standing up against oppression, and these concepts that Sam cant buy into because he's not necessarily apathetic, as much as he is a jaded teenager.

His father is killed trying to stop a fight. And Sam becomes untethered. He's spiraling. And things get worse when his mother is gunned down by a mugger not long after his father's death.

I'm using this to build the character quite a bit. It's his origin. It's what was set up way back when. But it's not something that's we've seen examined a lot of. What [these events] end up giving us is this kid who's disenfranchised, jaded, and cynical listening to his whole life and his father and mother, trying to teach him to choose his own path but also absorb the dream that they are presenting. He doesn't get it until they are both dead. And he recognizes the gap they've left — the hole they've left in the community.

He has to then rise, rise in the same way Steve Rogers had to rise after the Great Depression. And he has to make a promise that he will do everything that he can to make sure that people have a defender. He believes in solving the community's problems from the inside.
Since when didn't Sam rise as Falcon? Only in terms of marketing and scriptwriting, that's where. Had they wanted to, Falcon could've been elevated to more prominent status in more stories than they actually tried writing long ago, and if memory serves, he did have a miniseries or two back in the 80s, just like Hercules did in 1982 and 1984. And that's how they should be going today, with an approach not unlike Chuck Dixon's when he first started Birds of Prey in 1996. Given how badly Remender's treated some of the Marvel cast in the books he's written, with Scarlet Witch and Rogue some of his recent victims, that's why we shouldn't buy into his claim he'll handle Wilson well.

The interviewer's question implying Steve Rogers didn't know that racism existed in early 20th century America is also absurd. Maybe it wasn't dealt with in Golden Age stories per se, but that doesn't mean something couldn't have been retconned into his continuity plausibly, unlike the sheer horror presented in The Truth: Red, White and Black. Of course there was racism in America during WW2, and it would be wrong to deny that. But what nobody ascribing to the same PC view as the interviewer and Remender seem to acknowledge is that during WW2, there was a Democratic government in power, one that permitted segregated army units, and while a lot of liberals then were more patriotic than they are today, it would be foolish to think there weren't some liberals at the time who weren't racist and condoned the segregation steps.
Alex Abad-Santos: Going back to characters like Wally West as the Flash, and now with characters like Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel, you see heroes who take on iconic titles like the Flash and Captain Marvel struggle with defining the character and living up to its expectations. How is Sam going to react to that?

Rick Remender: That's the fun of it — Sam's wearing the American flag. That means he represents all of America. And not just that, but the spirit of the character is that he tries to represent all of the world. (But he's walking around in an American flag, so it pretty well means you're representing America. And, well, your name's Captain America.)
What, he can't wear the American flag as the Falcon? And does not wearing a flag per se mean you can't represent America? I guess the Fantastic Four and Dr. Strange don't represent the USA because they're not wearing flags on their costumes, eh? This is ridiculous.
He's a different person than Steve and as the Falcon, he was more free to listen to his heart without the same sort of repercussions on such a stage as Captain America.

Without giving away what we have coming up, Sam is going to learn in a number of difficult ways that he now represents all of America. And the challenge before him is to take a polarized nation of people who have drawn a line in the sand and have decided that there is no middle. They're just going to throw things at each other, they're not going to cooperate, and they're not going to find common ground.

Instead they're going to villainize one another and endlessly chase this, adversarial relationship into the country's decline
. And Sam is going to try represent something that both sides and hopefully inspire people.
And I guess that means he didn't inspire anyone as Falcon. In that case, I guess the Avengers members didn't either. Remender's talk about a nation polarized suggests this could amount to little more than a clash between right and left, and we can only guess which side Remender's chosen, which he'll make Wilson take too. It's worth nothing that when Wally West took up the Flash mantle from his uncle Barry Allen, it had nothing to do with politics and was better that way. But now, it's not too difficult to guess where Remender and company are going with this take on Captain America. He also says:
Obviously, this isn't to say that Steve hasn't dealt with corruption in the government. And it isn't to say that Steve hasn't dealt with his own anti-authoritarian feelings.

Sam's not less hopeful, but he's a little more pragmatic. And he's a lot less likely to take orders from S.H.I.E.L.D. than he is to make his own mind up and do what he thinks is right.
As if Steve couldn't balk at taking orders from SHIELD either. It all depends on what the past writers cooked up. They're forgetting the publisher's own Civil War, where he went the path of mutiny. If there was any time Rogers went against the US government for real, that was it, right in one of the worst crossovers ever published. Had it been confined to a stand-alone tale in Cap's solo books, maybe it would've worked better, though today's politicized stories are becoming worse and worse. But Marvel just had to stuff it all into a crossover for the sake of short-term moneymaking.
Alex Abad-Santos: We see a little of that push-back with S.H.I.E.L.D. in the AXIS comic book event. He doesn't seem to be as trusting of the government. Do you think that speaks to something bigger, and reflects a cultural feeling right now?

Rick Remender: In AXIS, early in Sam's career as Captain America, he's drawn into this event. And his polarity is inverted. He basically is evil when you see him do that. But even a Sam Wilson who isn't inverted and evil, as we see him in AXIS, is going to be a lot less likely, a lot less prone to following the order laid out by a large institution as maybe Steve would be.
Just what does he mean by that? Is he saying a white guy is more likely to do bad than a black guy is? I don't like the sound of that.
Sam's questioning of the system in place, and the motives of the people who are running it will feed into a larger story that we're telling with the rise of HYDRA. And it's a HYDRA story that will take place over the first year or two of Captain America — it's unlike anything that we've ever seen from HYDRA. And I will definitely be reflecting some of my own, and some of what I perceive to be the character's feelings about certain institutions and the way they are being run.

I think it's a much more interesting perspective especially from somebody who doesn't feel like he's a man out of time. Steve is a man out of time, he's an FDR child of the Great Depression, he fought in WWII — he's many generations behind us now. And the ideals of who he is and what he stands are wonderful, and he's still a wonderful character. But Sam is somebody who's a little more pragmatic, and a little more cooked in the same soup that the readers are.
So in Remender's view, Steve is a guy who lives in a time warp vacuum and couldn't possibly get up to speed on anything. The more I ponder this, the more I'm convinced Remender has made up his mind Steve is a real life person who's as dumb as a log and doesn't know how to readjust. He also doesn't seem to realize there were Nazis roaming in America during WW2, who doubtless did everything to cause racism and division in society, and Cap did battle enemies on the homefront too at the time. Incidentally, how does Remender know everyone reading Cap's solo book swam in the same soup as Falcon? Think of the speculators and other brainless addicts who don't base their judgement on how well the stories are written or not. They're not all necessarily of the same experiences and opinions as Falcon had when Stan Lee and Gene Colan created him in 1969. Remender himself is bound to be way behind the times, as there has long been anti-white racism in America too, something I'm skeptical he wants to explore in his scripting.
Alex Abad-Santos: Over the last couple of years, we've seen Marvel really show heroes of different genders, sexualities, and skin color. What has the change been like since you started working with the company?

Rick Remender: I was just talking to someone about how when I started reading comics in 1984, Iron Man was African American. James Rhodes was Iron Man for a number of years when I was growing up. In fact, when Tony Stark became Iron Man, I was flummoxed.
What, he didn't know Tony was the first guy to don the IM armor? And James wasn't in the role for long at the time; it was to serve as a substitute for Tony when he sank into depression and alcoholism again in the mid-80s, and the following year, Tony returned to the role again at the time West Coast Avengers was being formed. Afterwards, it was only in 1992 when Rhodes took up the armor again, and Tony was back in business about a year later, and Jim developed his own armor, War Machine. Remender is curiously slippery on the exact history, and can't seem to appreciate when a hero gets a role to call his own. That may have been the reason Eric Masterson got wiped out at the end of his own solo book called Thunderstrike in 1995, where he'd been granted powers similar to Thor's, but as his own role, separate from the guy whom he'd shared a body with a few years earlier. And again, why do heroes count but not co-stars?

Towards the end, Remender says that when he began working at Marvel:
The diversity at that point in terms of the general line, it was predominantly white. One of my goals coming into the company was to do different things, and do diverse things.
Oh please. The MCU's been anything but predominantly white for decades. Yet again, don't co-stars count either? Another situation where nobody but costumed superheroes matter. And he doesn't seem to care about diversity based on ethnicity/nationality, just skin color/sexual orientation, so his argument is as lazy as can be.

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Grow a spine SJW...

The bigwigs behind these things probably consider characters like Black Panther just one of the guys and not as influential as they thought, hence why new characters are churned out every year, only instead of generic Nazi-clobberers, they're now looking for generic minorities.

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