It’s almost common knowledge by now that Marvel Entertainment (the branch that oversees the comics, not Marvel Studios which produces the films) is in dire straits in the direct market. There is no single reason why, rather its a collective list of issues such as price and over-saturation of product. The scapegoat of diversity has been heavily criticized as well as unproven, Marvel Comics across the board are struggling with Amazing Spider-Man #789 the only Marvel comic making it into the top ten of a limited survey sample of comic shops across the nation in October.
This is shocking as many thought Marvel Legacy would act in the same way as DC Rebirth did for their main competitor and revitalize their lineup. Instead, so far there seems to be no positive change. With no concrete evidence, I propose its because what Marvel has yet to change its the way its presented itself for the last three years. Co-opting Hip Hop imagery for their covers while failing to represent African Americans inside the company to make comics due accusations of cultural appropriation, CEO Ike Perlmutter supporting Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and eventually working in his administration that has pushed for things antithetical to the themes Marvel Comics represents, planning and then canceling a tie-in comic with defense contractor Northrop Grumman are some noteworthy examples.
Concurrent to most of that, Marvel’s various series have fallen under what many are calling a “SJW mentality”. SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) as defined by Urban Dictionary:
“A pejorative term for an individual who repeatedly and vehemently engages in arguments on social justice on the Internet, often in a shallow or not well-thought-out way, for the purpose of raising their own personal reputation. A social justice warrior, or SJW, does not necessarily strongly believe all that they say, or even care about the groups they are fighting on behalf of.”
Marvel recently created a comic depicting a new Wasp to encourage young girls to join the STEM field, a solo series starring an openly gay Ice Man, two spinoff series for Black Panther, and a new replacement for Tony Stark/Iron Man in the form of Riri Williams. In short, there’s what Marvel preaches and what it does in reality. It’s this contradiction that I think is preventing Marvel from its uphill climb back to prominence in the industry.
It’s not even that the subject matter is too controversial, DC has been publishing series for female and queer characters for awhile now, as well as series with Black and Asian leads written by creators that resemble those characters.
What I think is sending mixed signals is doing all of the aforementioned changes to their products, and blatantly turning Steve Rogers, a icon of American exceptionalism and famous anti-Nazi smasher, into an allegory for fascism.
It proved to be a poor choice, it regards to fan reception if not sales as well.
With Marvel’s CEO’s political affiliations known, it makes the “Captain Hydra” thing seem less like a spoof but some sort of meta affirmation of the Alt-Right movement in America right now. Whatever writer Nick Spencer wanted to say with this change to the character, it wasn’t one fans heard.
Now Marvel wants to reconcile its classic stable of characters with its “future” ones. If history is any indication, this is lip service and hype for cosmetic changes. Marvel was the king of the sales and quality comics a few short years ago with A-list creators and intriguing new directions for its characters. Gradually, that faded out to more output and relaunches ad nausem to try to hold on to the Diamond Sales chart. None of that really speaks to where Marvel’s heart lies outside of the almighty dollar. Which is fine, unless Marvel claims otherwise.
This isn’t a case of “One Hand Washes the Other”, its “The Right Hand is choking the Left”. Marvel has to pick one direction to go in, and commit to it. If it wants to be a force of change in the Industry, that’s great. If it wants to compete with DC and return to its place as the House of Ideas, not gimmicks or cash-grabs, that’s good too. But it clearly cannot do both, and very soon it may be too late to turn the ship around…