At a Marvel Retailer Summit in NYC this past weekend, retailers provided feedback to both David Gabriel, VP of Sales for Marvel, and Axel Alonso, Editor-in-Chief, concerning overt political messaging as it relates to Marvel’s slump in sales beginning in October 2016.
“I don’t want you guys doing that stuff,” one retailer said of political content. “I want you to entertain. That’s the job. One of my customers even said the other day (because he knew we were coming) he wants to get stories and doesn’t mind a message, but he doesn’t want to be beaten over the head with these things.”
And Gabriel reiterated such feedback to icv2.com:
“What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity…that’s what we saw in sales,” said Gabriel. “We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against.”
Alonso clarified Marvel’s intentions. “We’ve gone through a period where in pop culture as a whole (and you guys notice that as much as we do), there’s been this massive discussion about inclusion and diversity,” he said.
While Gabriel did clarify and slightly walk back his statement, the reality remains that there has been an overt push by Marvel to cater to the multiculturalism crowd. There have been a couple relaunches from Marvell; the latest starting in 2016. This particular relaunch has included many core, legacy characters being recast as either women or minorities, and many longtime Marvel fans aren’t happy with it.
Ben Shapiro, a Marvel reader himself, states in his opening monologue to his podcast on Monday, “It’s not racism and sexism that is driving people away from Marvel. It’s a feeling of irritation that classic characters are being redrawn and recast in order to assuage the feelings of social justice warriors.”
Rather than a demand for a “white male ideal,” as one SJW puts it, the problem is that nobody wants to see legendary superheroes recast as totally different people in a seeming effort to appease political pressures.
It’s not that the core audience demands the white male ideal, it’s that they demand characters and storylines that aren’t blatantly driven by political-activism. If Marvel wants to diversify their universe, then the best path is to create new characters that are able to achieve sustained success and that come across as authentic and real. Build diverse characters from the ground up.
In contrast to this kind of cheap transparent pandering, consider Game of Thrones – a show that deals with politics, power, and has an extremely diverse cast of characters – and which has attained wild success…What’s the difference?
It’s that the writing is authentic, real and beautifully complex, and it doesn’t beat its audience over the head with an overtly political message.
Consuming quality writing like GoT simply feels different than the experience of, say… Superman renouncing his American citizenship because Tehran perceives him to be an American agent (DC comic hero, I know, but this kind of stuff is happening there, too). Or, in late 2015, a comic relaunch with Sam Wilson as Captain America, standing up for illegal immigration and published at a time when Trump was leading with “build the wall” in the Republican Primary.
There is no doubt that this is a thin line for Marvel to tread, especially considering that so much of their content is based on present-day circumstances and includes governmental institutions. But their recent sales slump, and the feedback that they’ve received from retailers and fans, seems to suggest that they leaned too far toward an artificial push for multiculturalism in pandering to the diversity crowd.
As with most things in life, subtle change tends to be the best change. Or, least risky.