On Monday, Marvel Comics admitted what those who actually read comics have known all along: the emphasis on leftist messaging in comic books is killing the appeal. David Gabriel, the vice president of sales at Marvel, said that comic book retailers were reporting a drop-off in interest in the new, diversity-oriented comics: “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales…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.”
It’s not racism driving people away from Marvel, though. It’s a feeling of irritation that classic characters are being redrawn and recast in order to assuage the feelings of social justice warriors. Iron Man is Tony Stark, not Riri Williams. Captain America is Steve Rogers, not Sam Wilson. Thor is Thor, not female Thor. Spider Man is Peter Parker, not Miles Morales.
This isn’t to say that the comics with Miles Morales aren’t good (they’re actually really good, although the Iron Man series with Riri Williams isn’t any good at all). It’s to say that nobody wants to see iconic superheroes recast as completely different people to appease quotas on race and sex. Superheroes are brands. You can’t twist those brands without hurting them.
When it comes to new superheroes, people are always skeptical, so this poses something of a challenge: how do you better reflect diversity in comics without tanking sales? The answer: make new characters terrific, then worry about whether they’re diverse – or use a historic diverse character to infuse new life. Marvel did the latter with Black Panther, hiring Ta-Nehisi Coates to write the comic, which immediately became a bestseller (the comic is actually unreadably bad, but at least Marvel tried doing diversity the right way here). In the DC universe, Harley Quinn, who was a marginal character twenty years ago, is now a major bestseller because she’s interesting, not because Batman had to become a woman.
But the comic book industry keeps attempting to slam its constituents over the head with social justice messaging – and that’s killing the quality of comics (see Batman, advocate for Trayvon Martin, or Captain America, illegal immigration defender). Turning iconic characters into avatars of social justice kills sales, too. It’s throwback comics doing most of the heavy lifting at this point – and Marvel and DC should take note that it’s not American racism driving that choice. It’s Americans’ discontent with the left’s willingness to sacrifice quality and legacy for politics.