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Sunday, April 16, 2017 

The New Statesman almost gets it, but then sinks into the usual PC

The New Statesman commented on Marvel's diversity propaganda. They get some of the points right, why fans have an issue with their conduct, but later in the article, they boomerang back on the same kind of nonsense other PC advocates have been preaching, and signal double-standards much as others in the press have:
The comic book industry has always considered itself a vanguard of progressiveness; where school library books, blockbuster movies and television failed to turn up varied protagonists, DC had characters like Oracle, a wheelchair-bound genius super-heroine who was an integral part of Birds of Prey – a mostly female team of badasses.
On Barbara Gordon's post-Batgirl role as Oracle, they've got an interesting point...except that of recent, they not only reverted her back to capability of walking (and resuming the role of Batgirl), the Birds of Prey title's been all but canceled. All for the sake of the New52 direction that was nothing but a boring embarrassment. So if a parapelegic protagonist means something to anybody, DiDio's bunch certainly didn't help themselves that way.
Meanwhile, Marvel comics had the X-Men. “Mutant and Proud” spoke to generations of readers from minority groups – and when those diverse characters were projected on to the silver screen, other filmgoers saw themselves represented. And yet recently, Marvel has made headlines, over and over again, for its apparently newfound disregard for diversity.

First, X-Men writer Marc Guggenheim claimed in an interview that a new story arc would be “more about the X-Men as heroes than the X-Men as a struggling minority fighting for their very existence”. Although Guggenheim stressed that X-Men is still “a story about extremism”, his decision to downplay connections with the fight for civil rights and equality seemingly dismisses the fact many fans like the X Men precisely because they are “a struggling minority”.
Did it ever occur to them that one of the biggest problems with the X-Men as the years went by was that this whole angle was overplayed to the point it became meaningless? On top of that, there was also the overt darkness, a direction writers like Arnold Drake began moving in when he was helming the first series in the late 60s, gradually increased under Chris Claremont, and became particularly frustrating when hacks like Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza took over in the mid-90s. Their approach brings to mind what some apologists for Spider-Man's One More Day fiasco use as a defense, that many fans like Spidey precisely because Peter Parker's struggling with bills, girlfriends and job assignments, all without considering that Peter wasn't dating busloads of babes at nearly the same time, and the finance hurdles were largely downplayed almost 15 years after Spidey debuted. Because if they kept it up with such ferocity as the superficial commentators suggest they did, it would only make the storytelling look like a joke.

Noticeably absent from the above is whether many fans like the X-Men because of the time when character interaction and drama was at a peak. Yet no comment on whether that all went to pot under Lobdell/Nicieza's tenures, nor any questions whether crossovers like Age of Apocalypse were a dreary, loathesome waste of time. This is in synch with countless other press articles that never examine what went wrong with once good books, nor whether there came to be too many spinoffs, a problem the Avengers now suffers from too. When they get to the topic of David Gabriel, they say:
...it's possible that Gabriel was conflating two issues - struggling sales and increased minority representation. The drop in sales to which he was referring was arguably a function of the flawed direct market system under which comics are distributed, which – as writer and critic J. A. Micheline told me – “alienates newcomers and only encourages a single and archaic avenue of purchases, which in turn guarantees that only a sliver of people buy comics in a way that reflects success to companies”.
Yes, all criticism of the direct market approach is valid, although I can't help point out that even if there were several more distributors other than Diamond, the 4 dollar prices for pamphlets wouldn't guarantee much more success, nor the fact that for nearly 2 decades, storylines extending 6 issues or more has become mandatory, and it leads to situations where readers may prefer to wait for paperback compilations, yet if the writing is poor, readers may feel ripped off. Which is exactly the situation for many years now, and demonstrates why they've lost so much audience. Even if they did go exclusively trade paperback - a move I advocate - it wouldn't work without good writing and respect for the audience. Success today for companies only means selling in low thousands, and I get the feeling they're actually happy about ghettoizing themselves so badly, and that it was all deliberate.
Marvel has also been criticised for not comparing its sales figures for diverse comics with those that they consider to be “not-diverse”; not including the sales numbers for their digital comics; and marketing things unequally. Given these recent comments, fans have pointed out the irony of how heavily the publisher has been marketing the arc of Captain America with Cap as a member of Hydra (an organisation founded by a Nazi), in comparison with its lacklustre push for readers of their newer comics. Also, introducing diverse replacements for famously successful characters rather than simply coming up with new ones has been criticised as a strategy that estranges long-term readers.
Rest assured, the objections to turning Steve Rogers evil are valid, and that's surely the biggest thing wrong with making Sam Wilson into Cap in his stead: when you tar the predecessor's legacy sickeningly (something DC's guilty of with several of their 3rd tier cast members in the mid-2000s), it makes it impossible to take the new sherrif in town seriously or view the succession as legitimate. After all, the way Nick Spencer and company set things up makes it look like Sam took over the role of a man who was a nazi collaborator, and why a sane guy would want to do that makes no sense.

But they're wrong about no comparisons. Didn't Gabriel note the Gerry Conway-scripted Spidey miniseries Renew Your Vows sold better in some ways than the Dan Slott-scripted drivel? In which case, a comparison was made, so I think their argument should be more about why Marvel still remains solidly adamant about keeping the Spider-marriage with Mary Jane Watson un-canonized despite everything.

However, they most certainly are on the mark about diverse replacements for notable characters in the same costume instead of conceiving new ones. Most of the comics press won't admit it, but this is just part of the problem with how DC handled the conception of an Asian Atom, a Black Firestorm and a Latino Blue Beetle, among others. In fact, even before that, I believe James Robinson and David Goyer made a similar mistake with a most Latina Hawkgirl (Kendra Saunders), because Sheira Sanders, the original Hawkgirl their new creation was replacing, was one of the biggest victims of DC's worst crossovers, namely Zero Hour, where her demise along with at least a few older JSA members was only done for the sake of nasty deaths. Indeed, in hindsight I don't think any of the replacements in the 1999 JSA series were developed on particularly valid grounds, if at all, one more reason I'm glad I reevaluated a lot of that material over the years.

The magazine's writer begins to fumble, however, with the following:
These are not the only reasons why big-name publishing companies are experiencing lower sales than in previous years. No longer are we locked in the bilateral Cold War of Marvel versus DC, both of whom have become so associated with film and television in recent years that their printed efforts feel slightly sidelined.

Other comic publishing houses are stepping into the breach – stealing the best writers - and, dare I say it, surpassing their predecessors. Ibtisam Ahmed, a doctoral research student at the School of Politics and IR, University of Nottingham (and avid comic book fan) told me that “the drop in sales mentioned by Marvel is down to the unpopularity of some storytelling, not people of colour or queer characters". He added: "Otherwise, the likes of America Chavez [the first gay Latin-American Miss America] and newly-out Iceman would not have received their own comic series, the likes of Wiccan and Hulkling [both from Young Avengers] would not have been top of fan lists for their own series, and Riri Williams [the young black woman taking on Iron Man’s mantle] would not have been used by universities in promoting women of colour in the sciences”.
Whoa, hold on, what's this I'm reading? It sounds like he's suggesting the readership entire sees nothing wrong with changing Bobby Drake's sexual orientation! By which logic, they wouldn't have a problem with replacing white heroes with those of diverse backgrounds either. This contradicts the earlier notes about replacing famous white heroes in their costumes instead of creating new diverse protagonists in separate roles of their own. And they don't consider any of the girlfriends Bobby had before the whole debacle began a few years ago. I have 2-3 trades collecting the early X-Men work, including the backup stories written in 1968 telling the origins of the first members (Gary Friedrich wrote Iceman's), and how Bobby froze a jealous hoodlum to stop him from kidnapping and assaulting a girl he was dating named Judy. It scared the two other thugs alright, but also frightened away the girl herself. He managed over time to find new girlfriends, Polaris included, even if the relations weren't all depicted long term. And to make it sound like Bobby never cared for babes is insulting to the many folks with better taste who worked so hard to produce these stories before.

And while the problem is definitely not with skin color, what if it is with normalizing homosexuality? One has to wonder why the new Latina in the Miss America role has to be a lesbian simultaneously. Has it gotten to the point where, if a new protagonist of different race must be introduced, homosexuality's become mandatory? Indeed, we can only wonder.

At the same time, the part about the new black teenage girl replacement for Tony Stark as Iron Man being used by universities is fascinating in a sense. Why would this brand new character, introduced only a year or so ago, be the object of campaigns to promote black women in science, and not older, better scripted characters like Misty Knight, Glory Grant and Storm? Monica Rambeau, the second protagonist in the MCU to use the Capt. Marvel moniker after Mar-Vell would also make a better choice, and her ascension was one of the few examples of how to pass on batons to a new character with the same codename the right way, because the demise of Mar-Vel in Jim Starlin's The Death of Captain Marvel GN from 1982 handled everything pretty respectfully. (Of course, Marvel also did this because they wanted to ensure they'd still have the copyright to the codename used by Fawcett's Billy Batson, which kept DC from making official use of it). If Marvel wanted to, they could promote any of their older creations as university mascots. That they came up with a new one under such dreadful circumstances only attests to their lack of confidence in their own agenda.
Comics have always been political and, while they may have been a niche interest in the past, thanks to the internet and big budget superhero films (which can afford the CGI to make scenes look as epic as they deserve) they have experienced a mainstream boom. Fans today do not have to hike miles to find a place which sells flimsy single issues. Now, anyone can go online and order the trade paperbacks straight to their home, or even discover new original web comics that independent authors and illustrators have lovingly curated and then gifted to the masses.
Very true, the internet can help sell products. But despite their claim, comics have not experienced the boom they speak of, in contrast to the movie adaptations. Even the trade paperbacks of modern stories post-2000 aren't selling particularly high, and much like the pamphlets, I've been getting the feeling they're not selling in millions either, as this recent sales chart strongly suggests. Indeed, how can you call it a success story when in sharp comparison to other mediums, it's not?

And while comics have always been political in their own way, they were never as openly hostile to right-wingers as they are now. It got to the point where somebody noticed, and whether Marvel/Disney listen this time remains to be seen. So I wish they'd quit acting like everyone thinks politics just came out of the blue.

Now here's a strange thing the magazine's telling:
Today, it is rare that minority creative teams are put in charge of famous comic books. This may be partially down to the idea that once a story is handed to a marginalised person it becomes viewed as solely for marginalised groups. As Dee Emm Elms, who wrote a short story starring transgender heroine Kit Farben, which was included in volume 2 of graphic novel My So-Called Secret Identity, told me: “When a white cis man slays a dragon, white cis men call that an adventure. When a woman or a minority slays a dragon, white cis men call that an agenda”.
In that case, every story where Wonder Woman battles dragons is a whole agenda, right? It's not true there were never minority contributors to famous books (what about George Perez on New Teen Titans, and Larry Hama on GI Joe?) and as I noted before, Vampirella and Shanna the She-Devil were co-created by women. Louise Simonson worked on Superman in the early 90s. The notion a book would only be for marginalized groups once somebody of minority background take it up is also nonsense. What matters is what they bring to the table. Do the assigned writers/artists want to entertain and offer escapist fare, or exploit the famous book for political statements that could be embarrassing?

Yet in a sense they're correct about famous books today rarely being written by minority creatives: I don't think Peter Parker as Spider-Man ever had a black writer assigned since the turn of the century, if at all. I recall the claims that the Superman editorial department at DC has almost no women involved because they absurdly cling to Eddie Berganza as editor, and he got himself in hot water on sexual harassment accusations. Maybe odder still is that when Joe Quesada, himself of a minority background, was EIC for Marvel, there still weren't many writers of black/Latino/Asian background assigned to their books, and even under Axel Alonso, this has remained the same. When they do get jobs, it's mostly been on books reflecting their background, like Black Panther, and not flagship titles like Spider-Man, Avengers and X-Men. One could surely argue it's a case of minority editors letting down minority creators.
Marvel's tone-deaf statements are particularly galling since they have recently begun to build a diverse audience – brought in by the appeal of Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel and Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Young Avengers (which offers a poignant look at sexuality and mental health – and hopefully will continue to do so).

DC rightly ruffled feathers with their New 52 reboot, which saw Barbara Gordon shift back from Oracle to Batgirl. Still, they have a much better track record with LGBT+ characters, notably Wonder Woman and the now canonical relationship between Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.
Yup, here we go round the mulberry bush of whitewashing Islam (not to mention homosexuality), and, notice the continued contradiction on forcibly replacing earlier heroes and heroines (namely, Carol Danvers) with a character whose whole conception was politically tainted from the start, so that it's impossible to see the character and settings as anything but. And they're totally fine with making WW more openly lesbian or bisexual? I don't think making Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn a couple has improved their status either. Just because they're crooks by contrast, does that make it okay? Nope. So why should we believe they really think reverting Babs to Batgirl again was bad, especially when the book under Gail Simone began featuring a co-star who was a transvestite, precisely the kind of background they seem to think is such a big deal? However, this does hint at the double-standard SJWs apparently have on costumed heroes and co-stars, the latter which is less important than the former.

In the end, this article doesn't really address anything well, and another demonstration of somebody who can't even be bothered to take up a challenging subject of why an otherwise normal man and woman like Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson can't be married. Yes, I wonder why today, a lot of press sources, both liberal and conservative, won't take that up for discussion? There's a particular audience with a potentially diverse makeup out there they clearly don't consider vital.

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The comic book industry runs in roughly 8 year cycles, enough time to gather a large number of young readers and keep selling to them until, 8 years later, most consider themselves too old for comic books. This is usually the point where two things happen to try and hang on until the beginning of the next cycle. Comic books with a farcical take on superhero comics and politically oriented comics are published. In this particular cycle, the Democrats have totally occupied the mass media in general and comics in particular through Disney and Time-Warner and the 8 year cycle has been synchronized with the Presidential election cycle. If the comic book industry does not go back to gather a new group of young readers - who are interested in fun power fantasies and not politics - the big movie power players will be killing their own future franchises. That is effectively what is happening now, IMO.

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