Marvel Comics 2017 - The Trouble With Marvel

Two years ago Marvel Comics was leading the comic book industry and it wasn't even close. Then some things happened...

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool, karl@whenitwascool.com)

It is mid-spring 2017 and two years ago Marvel Comics launched a mini-series wrapping up an elaborate storyline years in the making called Secret Wars.  The Marvel Comics line had momentum going into the series and, despite event fatigue being a very real thing two years ago, this series had significant interest.  Secret Wars was poised to re-set, in a sense, the Marvel Universe.  While not a relaunch exactly, Secret Wars was conceived to put a fresh coat of paint on the aging Marvel Universe.  

The event was not perfect but the series was generally critically praised.  The biggest failure of the event was the significant delays in putting out the last few issues.  The delays were so significant that several of the post-Secret Wars comics came out before the ending of the event series itself causing confusion and disillusion.

The signs of the post-Secret Wars misfire were evident early on.  While Marvel Comics fans waited to see what the newly updated universe would look like in completion, Marvel rolled out several updated titles.  From the onset the newly polished Marvel Universe looked, well, unimpressive.

I can't even say the early books post-Secret Wars were bad.  They really weren't, but none of them packed any punch.  There seemed to be a mystery about the fate of Bruce Banner as The Incredible Hulk, who was now replaced by Amadeus Cho.  Then a mystery about another Iron-Man.  Another Thor.  Rinse and repeat, so on and so forth.  None seemed very interesting and there were a few outright bad ideas.  Branded as "The All-New, All-Different" Marvel Comics line, the launch took place in October 2015.  The post- Secret Wars launch consisted of multiple new titles and classic characters with new looks and stories, and thus began the first of several missteps.

Now infamously, David Gabriel (Marvel’s senior vice president of print, sales, and marketing), was quoted (referenced in this Variety website article) as saying, “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity.  They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.”  It seems that David Gabriel may have "heard" wrong.

The storytelling can make a point but it needs to arise from the story naturally... Making it about a point rather than a good story devalues the story and characters. Basically, just focus on good storytelling- WRCentral on Twitter

Diversity is not the problem.  How you framed it was.

 This is diversity done right. However, we don't need three or four of the same character running around the same story.

This is diversity done right. However, we don't need three or four of the same character running around the same story.

Marvel Comics and their creative members seem really hyper-defensive about this issue.  If you don't believe me, just try to engage in dialog with some of them about the issue on social media.  My position has always been simply this- I am 100% for diverse characters but I am not in favor of hijacking established characters for the sake of pushing the agenda unless there is a clear storyline reason for this. 

It seems the stock Marvel apologist comeback for this (I have seen this line used multiple times) is "Shouldn't minorities get to have iconic heroes too?" It then seems that their defenders on social media immediately go into hyper-defense mode and essentially infer you are a racist or misogynistic if you disagree and miss the entire point.

It's perfectly fine for Spider-Man to be of Black Hispanic descent but there shouldn't be a half dozen "Spider-Men" running around.

 This is fine.  in fact, it's preferable and no, marvel, it is not the problem.

This is fine.  in fact, it's preferable and no, marvel, it is not the problem.

I am completely fine with Miles Morales being Spider-Man.  In 2017 I find him far more interesting than Peter Parker and the Spider-Man series to be far superior (no pun intended) to the Amazing Spider-Man series.  My question is, why do we even need the Peter Parker series?  Hasn't Peter Parker literally done everything there is to do as Spider-Man?  Hasn't he fought every villain multiple times?  Been married, unmarried, unmasked, re-masked, Aunt May has died more times than I can remember, so on and so forth.  It is perfectly fine for a new Spider-Man in the modern era to have a new set of modern day teenage adventures and it's great on Marvel's part to have that person played by a minority.  My point is, then ditch the old one and quit hogging the spotlight.  Let there be one Spider-Man and let him be Miles Morales.  Ditto for Thor, Hulk, Iron-Man, Captain America, Ms. Marvel, and the list seems to go on and on. #JustPickOne

There is one Captain America and he is Steve Rogers and you are really messing that up.

 Oh boy.

Oh boy.

I am firmly against Captain America: Sam Wilson.  It has nothing to do with diversity.  In fact, Sam Wilson had a perfectly fine character, it was even in multiple movies and it's name was The Falcon.  Only out of sheer laziness did he become Captain America in the comics.  Marvel took the easy way out.  Instead of making The Falcon in the comics iconic and interesting and riding the momentum of the Marvel movies, they made him Captain America for the sake of "diversity".  I understand it would be much harder to make The Falcon an iconic hero that this generation of children could grow up admiring but it needs to be done.  

There have been very few great characters created over the last twenty-years.  You might even argue that Deadpool was the last "new" character that really gained massive mainstream popularity and that character is over twenty-five years old now.  You had the opportunity to make Luke Cage into a mainstream star.  Marvel, you were so close.  Pre-Secret Wars, Luke Cage was a major player in the Marvel Universe.  He was front and center (along with his wife Jessica Jones) in the first Marvel Civil War comic book series, he even lead an Avengers team at one point.  He headlined a successful Netflix series.  Yet, in 2017 he is co-featured in a book tucked away in a niche corner of the Marvel Universe (that is getting cancelled) and is front and center of nothing.  Instead of finally pushing Luke Cage into his rightful place in the top tier of the Marvel Universe he is languishing away.

Now, the latest big event series in the Marvel Universe is called Secret Empire (Marvel is big on their "Secret's").  And boy, oh boy, what a backlash that has caused.  Somehow, in the political climate we live in today, Marvel Comics decided it was a good idea to have Captain America: Steve Rogers reveled as a secret agent of Hydra.  If you don't know what Hydra is or why that is a terrible idea then read the Wikipedia article but it's essentially an allegory for Nazi's since, in 2017, nobody is going to read a comic book about Nazi's.  We will see how the story plays out (as Marvel has requested) but that leads us to the final, and most important point.

DC Comics has had a "Rebirth" and it is largely about fun and storytelling.  Marvel has decided to go all in on politics and it is decisively not fun.

 this is interesting.

this is interesting.

DC Comics also relaunched their line a couple of years ago.  Unlike Marvel, DC Comics has done this a few times over the years to correct or update continuity problems.  The previous relaunched branded "The New 52" started off promising but ended up a rather boring mess.  However, the most recent relaunch, branded "Rebirth" has been largely a critical success and has especially helped many of their core characters like Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash out of a prolonged slump.

How did DC Comics turn things around?  Since Rebirth, the DC Comics line have told good stories and have been generally a lot of fun and very interesting.  Marvel, it seems, has cast it's lot with being political.  Don't misunderstand, there is a place for politics in literature to be sure.  In fact, I would say it is essential for art to reflect some degree of social commentary.  However, when your whole line is a social commentary where are the people who just want to escape from the real world going to go?  In this case, it looks like they are going to DC.

Again, I'm not saying this approach is wrong, in fact, morally it's pretty right, but understand that it does come at a cost.  The cost in this instance is a substantial loss of market share.  Many people read comics to escape and that has always been the case.  In the 1960s, sure, Peter Parker had all the problems an average teenager had, that was part of his appeal.  But unlike Peter Parker, the average teenager couldn't put on a costume and go out and be a superhero, that's where the escapism came in.  In 2017, according to Marvel, MODAK is both in the White House and in your comic books.

 Does this guy look familar?

Does this guy look familar?

In 2017, with social media and the 24 hour news cycle, politics are in your face constantly.  We live in a very deeply divided world.  Go to virtually any social media feed you have and you will see a constant stream of venomous social opinion.  Then, pick up your favorite comic book to escape for a while and... you get more of the same.  It's just not fun.  Again, morally, it's probably right just don't expect your war protest song to sell as many albums as the dumb silly pop song does because people need to turn off for a while and with Marvel, they are turning over to DC Comics.

If you found this article interesting consider becoming a Patreon supporter.  That is how When It Was Cool keeps our website and podcasts online, plus you get lots of bonus content including extra and extended podcasts, articles, digital comics, ebooks, and much more.  Check out our Patreon Page to see what's up!

If you don't want to use Patreon but still want to support When It Was Cool then how about a one time $5 PayPal donation? Thank you!