Money makes the world go ‘round. Whatever sells, a large company will provide. Whatever does not sell, a company will do away with, without much moral influence. Unless of course, showing “morality” would make them more money. This is reality. In order to understand the issues concerning “diversity” we have to orient our minds to this brutally honest reality. The answer however is not, "people don't want diversity"
So What is Marvel's Diversity Problem?
I am tired of seeing books about marginalized people fail. To fix the failure within Marvel, we first have to work within the parameters of the above stated facts. We need to figure out how diverse representation can be implemented and make money. One option is to leave not to try to fix Marvel, leave it altogether and buy marginalized books by smaller companies that support and create for all people. I agree with this. However, I also agree with making a change in large company’s like Marvel because it’s important to be represented in all businesses, especially the most successful. So, let’s talk about why diversity isn’t working as well as it could be.
Pandering is one reason. Once again, it’s about the money. Enough marginalized cries for diverse characters were heard and Marvel responded, hoping to make money (and initially they did). But their heart was not in it, save for a select few projects. A massive number of women and PoC characters were created at the same time, others revived after years of not having books.
Some of these books were outfitted with teams that represented the characters, most notably Ms. Marvel, the Pakistani-American inhuman and the more reason America series, staring the powerhouse Latina America Chavez. Even Black Panther and Power Man and Iron Fist were given black writers. This is great news, however, were they doing this because they actually cared about the voices, or because fans said they had to, and they were hoping to make a quick buck?
This brings me to my next point. Diverse voices for diverse characters is something we need. But we also need, talented, experienced voices on these books to be successful. In order for these diverse books to sell, they need to be quality. G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel, is likely the most quality book with a representative voice, and I think that’s because she truly cares about here culture, her work, and has the experience to produce the quality that we need. This is not the case for every book.
I will use America again, as an example because I reviewed her latest issue most recently. The project team is full of Latino/Latina creators, and I must say, when I saw this months ago, I was elated. However, upon doing research I found that the writer, Gabby Rivera, has never written a comic book before. Not only that, she’s young, less experienced than many writers at Marvel, and only just came out with her debut novel last year. This is not to say that she cannot write or that she will never be able to write a comic book, but look at the talent she is standing next to. We are talking about people who have been writing longer than she’s been alive. America is not doing well because the quality and experience is not there.
Books like Black Panther and World of Wakanda suffer from the same issue. Ta-nehisi Coates and Roxanne Gray are great writers, but neither of them have worked on a comic before, and they are being put only books that are meant to sell very high numbers (and in the first few issues Black Panther did). This also isn’t solely on the writers. While Black Panther is great writing at face value he doesn’t seem to capture the character that fans like myself have been reading for years. This is where editorial should have stepped in to help guide his hand. Editorial also should’ve done the same on many other books to help these great writers, but new comic book writers, if they wanted to go that route. But in my opinion, they missed the mark. They did not care enough because what they cared about was quantity of dollars, instead of the quality of the work.
Fans don’t know these characters. New fans, definitely don’t know these characters. Marvel has introduced characters like Miles Morales as Spider-Man, Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel, a new Thor, Captain America, Wolverine, Nova, Hulk, the list goes on! But who the heck are these people??
Okay, so hardcore fans will know. We will know that Amadeus Cho, the 8th smartest man in the world, became the Hulk, and that X-23, Logan’s clone, became Wolverine. But what about the casual fan? What about the person that picks up a comic here and there, or the guy that came off a 10-year hiatus because he needed to focus on family and work, or what have you? They are not going to be quite as invested in these characters, especially if when they try one out, the quality is crap.
These people and new fans who have seen characters in the movies, or just out and about growing up, are going to want to see characters they know. What this means as that these new characters need to do one of two things- Either they need to be slowly eased in through larger titles and play major roles next to a well-known character prior to getting their own book, OR if they are brand new, the concept needs to be excellent, the plot tight, and they need to be backed up with some of the best creative teams Marvel has to offer to make it go big (like Riri Williams). This brings me to their current strategy.
Stop replacing characters. It’s not working. at least not in the way Marvel is doing it. This goes hand in hand with the previous point. You are replacing well known characters with 50+ years of recognition with characters that people know nothing about. Some people will buy it based on the “Invincible Iron Man” or “The Mighty Thor” title, but many more are still going to wonder what happened to Tony Stark or Thor Odinson, even if the characters replacing them are good.
That’s what diversity is to me. Inclusion. This is not about replacing white male characters. It’s about representing other characters of diverse backgrounds at the same level and quality. I’m definitely not saying that it is an easy process, I understand how it can be difficult to replace all those years of white male dominance, but it has to happen. It has been happening, slowly, but where’s the quality? See how all of these things work hand in hand?
Lastly, when we make these new characters, promote them. I saw Nighthawk and Mosaic die on the stands because they didn’t get adequate promotion. Both of them are excellent books with excellent concepts, with quality writers of color. The thing hurting them most is that they were new (or in Nighthawk’s case, relatively obscure). Nobody knew who they were and so the books failed. Marvel ha to put their money where their mouth is. If they say they want diversity then do it, and promote it. Bring characters like Miles Morales on the big screen and watch his numbers soar (instead of giving all of his story elements to a young Peter Parker). If you know that movies are what are bringing more interest to the characters, put them on screen. If you know fans don’t about the characters, put them on posters and highlighted previews. Make video synopsis of the books like I’ve seen before. Push these characters and people will by them if you adhere to the other points stated above.
Changing the status quo is a long hard road. But the statement that “people don’t want diversity” simply isn’t true. How that diversity is implemented is very, very important. We need great characters with quality stories, written by experienced writers with interesting plots. We need to let fans know that we aren’t replacing their old characters for new ones, and we need promote the ones that aren’t selling or figure out why they aren’t selling. It’s not because Miles is a black/latino kid. It’s not because Mockingbird is a woman. That’s just lazy analysis. There are many other factors involved and as big a company as Marvel is, they have the data and analysis teams to figure out why, and how to make a change to get it right. So let’s do it, without labeling “diversity” as the problem.