Monkeys Fighting Robots

In service of not burying the lede; Marvel Comics will not get another dime from me. That’s it. We’re done.

Let me explain.

On Friday, Marvel announced on Twitter that it would be hosting an event at New York Comic Con with defense contractor Northrop Grumman. The presentation was intended to promote a new crossover comic, Avengers, Featuring N.G.E.N. – Start Your N.G.E.N.S! The comic included big name Marvel heroes, as well as “Elite Nexus” suits designed by Northrop Grumman. The comic was aimed at all-ages.

Northrop Grumman is the fifth largest defense contractor in the world. They did $23B in arms sales in 2015, including work on the F-35 fighter jet, drones, missiles, etc. However, their largest get was the $80 billion Pentagon contract for 100 B-21 long-range strike bombers. Which, to be crystal clear, makes them war profiteers.

At the very least this makes Marvel Comics extreme hypocrites. Tony Stark/Iron Man, one of their most popular characters, turned away from weapons manufacturing after realizing it was immoral in his origin story. More problematically, it means Marvel comics is using an arms manufacturers to sell comics to children.

After receiving backlash to their announcement, Marvel Comics cancelled their event.

Then, on Saturday, Marvel Comics announced the ending of their partnership with Northrop Grumman, saying:

The activation with Northrop Grumman at New York Comic Con was meant to focus on aerospace technology and exploration in a positive way. However, as the spirit of that intent has not come across, we will not be proceeding with this partnership including this weekend’s event programming. Marvel and Northrop Grumman continue to be committed to elevating, and introducing, STEM to a broad audience.

Given this apology/non-apology, it seems that Marvel Comics was intent on ignoring the promotion of the military industrial complex to children. Instead, they wanted to focus on Northrop Grumman’s non-weapons related ventures. Intent aside, the damage is done. This should have never occurred at any level, let alone in an all-ages comic.

But let’s be clear – this isn’t just about an incredibly tone-deaf corporate partnership. Marvel Comics has displayed a consistent track record of disregard for women and people of color.

At a retailers only breakfast on Friday, Marvel encountered resistance to their recent attempts at diversifying its character line, described here by Bleeding Cool:

Two older retailers started raising their voices arguing about diversity and how it does not work. The words “black”, “homo” and “freaking females” were used multiple times, at which point other retailers started to boo those retailers and the room started to turn on itself. Marvel editor Nick Lowe tried to get calm by saying that Marvel try and they tell stories for everyone, that the old heroes are not going anywhere, neither are the new ones, there is room for them both.

The panel ended sharply, with Marvel‘s Senior Vice President of Sales David Gabriel saying that he would give out his e-mail address to any retailer who still had concerns. And with that everyone got kicked out of the area.

It’s good to hear that there were retailers who disagreed. And Nick Lowe’s clear message that new heroes aren’t going anywhere is heartening. But to think that this is Marvel Comics’ policy ignores all evidence to the contrary.

If Marvel Comics truly wanted to show their commitment to change, to reflecting a population of consumers outside of older white men, then they would stop cancelling series featuring characters of color within six issues. And they would stand up to retailers like these. As of this writing, the company has yet to issue a statement denouncing these retailers.

The fact is, retailers have an entire history of comics to recommend to fans who want to see white, male heroes. Marvel Comics should not be catering to retailers or customers who will not engage because there are women and people of color involved. It does nothing to grow new readership. To the contrary; they are being alienated.

The strongest voice speaking out agains this so far was Stan Lee, who talked about how Marvel stories are for everyone. While Stan Lee is certainly influential, he does not control their editorial policies or creative policies.

Perhaps their issue is on the creative side. In that department, Marvel Comics has also shown little growth. While fantastic new creatives like Gabby Rivera, G. Willow Wilson, and Roxane Gay have come on to write popular and well received books, the company continues to ignore non-white men at large. Look at Marvel Legacy, the cornerstone of their new relaunch. Of 18 creatives, all are men, and nearly all are white.

And this was all just in the last month. This ignores their recent brushes with Nazism. Check out this great Newsarama piece from another writer who broke up with Marvel for their only-slightly older transgressions.

In all honesty, I should’ve known better. I only lasted this long because I wanted to help support excellent books like AmericaMs. Marvel, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. But the dollars I was spending were going towards Marvel Chairman Ike Perlmutter, a donor and friend of President Donald Trump. And therein lies the key.

Marvel Comics cannot fix their problems by adding more diverse characters, or hiring folks that aren’t white men. Because the problem, like many others, is systemic. It comes from the very top. It doesn’t matter how much you shine the apple if the core is rotten.

So, Marvel Comics, we are done. I encourage any and all who read this to end their relationship with them as well. Choosing to be silent in the face of toxic retailers, continuing to disregard non-white/men/hetero/binary creators, characters, and consumers, and being run by a supporter of the current administration were all more than reasons enough.

Thinking that selling a book aimed at kids that would promote and benefit war profiteers is a good idea? That’s just a terrible cherry on an incredibly disappointing cake.