Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Gender/Race-Swapped Heroes
Black Panther was released over the weekend, and to no one?s surprise, it did as exceptionally well as other Marvel movies ? if not better! Even before its release, the movie was already being praise as a cultural milestone, what with it being the first black-led comic book superhero movie within a mainstream movie franchise. Unfortunately, with every action, there?s always an equal and opposite reaction, with the ?opposite reaction? arriving through on-line backlash from a vocal minority consisting of two factions. One faction were embittered DC fans upset that their comic book movies are not as well received as Marvel?s. (These people are known as sore losers.) The other faction were embittered trolls upset that a popular Hollywood blockbuster predominantly featured actors who were not straight white men like themselves. (These people are known as racists.) With both factions united in an unholy alliance, they attempted to ?sabotage? the movie through a Rotten Tomatoes review bomb ? and they would have gotten away with it, too, had it not been for that meddling Facebook shutting down their group! Honestly, this sad, pathetic attempt to give Black Panther bad ratings wouldn?t be as newsworthy if it were merely an isolated incident; but alas, like every other example of internet drama, these incidents are rarely, if ever, isolated. This backlash against Black Panther reflects a similar backlash that Marvel Comics has been facing overall as a company, with it being accused of pushing a nefarious ?feminist SJW agenda? to ruin the comic book industry by ? creating comic book characters who aren?t straight white men.
Part 1: Marvel?s ?SJW? Agenda
To be fair, many of these ?new? characters are race/gender-swapped counterparts of other more popular Marvel superheroes. These counterparts include a black Spider-Man, a Pakistani Ms. Marvel, a black female Iron Man, and a queer female Latino Captain America. While such clich and lazy attempts at creating ?new? superhero characters would at best receive an eyeroll from comic book fans, at worst, they were accused by the more obsessed fanboys as being part of a nefarious ploy by feminist SJWs to ?cuck? and ?de-masculate? ?Western Civilization? through ?cultural Marxism? and ?white genocide.? (No, seriously. Stop laughing. This is what they actually believe!) To back up their conspiracy theories, these comic book fans often pointed to declining comic book sales as proof that Marvel was being ruined by its so-called ?SJW agenda.? Interestingly enough, the people who seemed to agree with these assertions the most was Marvel itself. Its own Vice President of Sales claimed that its poor comic book sales were due to its push for ?diversity?, and several months later, the company announced the cancellation of most of their more diverse comic books. But was any of this true? Was Marvel really pushing an evil ?SJW agenda? aimed at destroying its own comic books? And were its comic book sales really suffering because of it? Or is this all just one big conspiracy being pushed by comic book fans with too much time on their hands? Most importantly, even if Marvel really were pushing such an agenda, was it really ?evil?? Speaking from prior experience, it really wasn?t.
To be fair, I used to be one of these ?anti-feminist SJW? fanboys who scoffed at Marvel race and gender-swapping their superhero characters to meet some imaginary diversity quota. So I was there rolling my eyes with every other fanboy when they released a black Spider-Man. I groaned when they released a female Thor. And I scoffed, rolled my eyes, and groaned when they released a black female Iron Man. This was the level of impotent rage I harbored towards Marvel doing all of this?up until I watched this video essay by Bob ?Moviebob? Chipman, which led me to re-evaluate, and later change, my prior opinions on the matter. Now I?m by no means a feminist SJW, mostly because I don?t consider stuff like ?manspreading? or ?mansplaining? to be serious issues that should be taken seriously by serious people. Also, while I?m no longer as ?outraged? over Marvel race/gender-swapping pre-existing superhero characters to create more ?diverse? characters, I still consider such ?creative? decisions to be the laziest, least creative way to achieve such greater diversity ? as opposed to, you know, actually hiring more diverse creators to create original characters! (You know, ?radical? concepts like that!) And also, I consider Marvel?s reaction to the backlash against their race/gender-swapped characters by having villains parrot such criticisms to said characters in their comic books to be rather petty, as it did nothing but add fuel to the already raging internet outrage dumpster fire. But in the end, while I wish that Marvel would create more original diverse characters and act more tactfully in response to criticism, I don?t really have the same resentment towards them creating ?new? characters through race/gender swaps of old characters. But what self-respecting comic book company would dare swap the gender and race of its most iconic characters? Well, there?s Marvel?s rival, DC Comics.
Part 2: DC Comics? Precedent
With the exception of Wonder Woman, DC Comics during its Golden Age was a major sausage fest whiter than a bowl of Minute Rice during a snow storm at a Donald Trump rally. So wanting to diversify its superhero roster, DC decided to promote more diversity by creating gendered and racial spinoffs to its pre-existing characters. Marvel fanboys scoff at female versions of Iron Man and Deadpool, but DC characters like Supergirl, Batgirl, and Hawkgirl are female versions of their male counterparts. And as much as Marvel fanboys raged over Steve Rogers handing over his Captain America shield to Sam Wilson, Green Lantern did the exact same thing several decades prior, with Hal Jordan handing over his green ring to John Stewart. Other DC superheroes have passed on their mantles to other characters of diverse backgrounds, with the new Blue Beetle being a Puerto Rican, and the new Question being a queer Latina. Even Marvel has done similar passing of the mantles, most notably with Thor. Marvel fans losing their tempers over Thor becoming a woman have forgotten that other characters have weld Thor?s hammer, including a frog and a horse-like alien. So why should a human female be considered any less worthy? In all of these cases, none of these race/gender-swapped characters ever replaced their original white straight male counterparts, but instead went onto become separate characters in their own rights. So if DC fans are okay with characters like Supergirl, Batwoman and John Stewart, why should Marvel fans be any more threatened by characters like Ms. Marvel or Miles Morales?
?But these new diverse superhero comics aren?t selling well. They?re killing Marvel?s comic book sales. Even its VP of Sale admitted this!? That would be a good point if comic book sales figures were a reliable objective metric, but for various reasons, they?re not. As people like Nick Rowe and Nash Bozard have explained on Twitter, the decline in comic book sales have less to do with an ?SJW agenda? and more to do with an outdated business model, one that places the burdens of these sales on comic book shops through monthly issue pre-sales. As Nash explains:
?Because of the direct market, comic titles live or die not by sales of graphic novels or even a given month?s sales, but by *pre-sales* of the next issues. Comics shops become the arbiters of what sells, because they?re trying to survive and don?t want to make risky bets. If that entire system sounds screwed up and not a very good way to gauge where the audience is and what they want: YOU?RE RIGHT. Comic book titles have zero room to grow or take off. It?s all about buzz. It?s all-or-nothing coming out of the gate.?
But even if comic books sales were a reliable metric, and even if their recent decline were caused by gender/race-swapped superheroes, the real question should be?so what? Comic books sales are a non-issue because that?s not where Marvel is making the most money from its intellectual properties. The real money, of course, is being generated, not through the comic book store, but the box office.
As Moviebob mentioned in his own video, Marvel at this point only sees its comic books as test kitchens for potential movie story lines and concepts.
Part 3: Marvel?s Real Endgame
Saying that Marvel has been making a lot of money off of its movies would be quite the understatement. The total box office earnings of all its movies exceed the GDP of all major countries. That the Marvel franchise continues to go strong ten years and counting is nothing short of a miracle, though it raises the question how long this success can last. While the biggest advantage of the movies is that they make more money than the comics, their biggest disadvantage is that their superheroes, or rather, the actors who play them, are not quite as timeless. Unlike the superheroes in their comics, who are made from ink and paint, the superheroes in their movies are portrayed by flesh and blood actors who age and grow old, unlike their comic book counterparts who remain ageless and timeless. Even if the MCU were to continue on for another ten years, the same cannot be said for their actors, especially since many of them will see their contracts expire after the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War. And even if we assume that Chris Evans and the others are willing to extend their contracts, it?s only a matter of time until they become old enough that they tire of their roles and decide to retire. At that point, assuming that the MCU continues to keep going on strong, Marvel will be left with a dilemma of what to do with their franchise, and they will be left with two potential options: either reboot the entire MCU from scratch, or replace the old characters with new actors. Considering how much the MCU films have defined the genre, it would almost seem unthinkable to reboot the entire franchise; and considering how much audiences have become attached to the characters and the actors who portray them, replacing them with new actors seems almost equally unthinkable.
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But what if there was a third option: what if the franchise were allowed to continue by having the older characters pass on their mantles to new, younger characters to serve as their successors? We?re already seeing a sliver of this concept with Tony Stark taking young Peter Parker under his wing as a superhero-in-training. And with Captain Marvel set to make her film debut, she could very well end up taking up a certain young Pakistani teenager as a protg in the near future. And with rumors that many characters are expected to bite the dust in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, the movie could serve as a stepping off point for minor characters to carry on the torch for major characters. Like what if Sam Wilson were to take up Steve Roger?s shield and title as the new Captain America? Or Jane Foster were to reunite with Thor and take claim of his hammer as the new Thor? The possibilities are as infinite as the movie. I can?t officially speak for Marvel, so I don?t know if this is what they have in mind; but if it is, I wouldn?t be surprised to say the least. Marvel clearly has a real money train going with its movies, and while that train isn?t slowing down anytime soon, it clearly wants to keep that train going for a long time, even after its original actors eventually leave. So who knows? Perhaps by then, once the MCU launches phase five, we?ll be seeing an older Peter Parker leading a new group of Avengers including such superheroes as Kamala Khan, Riri Williams, Kate Bishop, America Chavez, and maybe even Squirrel Girl. And if that?s really the route that the Marvel movies will be taking, wouldn?t that be better than seeing the whole MCU end? If this is the end game of Marvel?s SJW agenda, then I, for one, welcome our new feminist overlords!
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