Why You Should Be Paying (Some) Attention to Marvel Comics

Note: I wrote this post a few days before the list of post-Civil War II titles came out, which noticeably lacks some of the series I praised in this essay. Complete solicits are still forthcoming, so it is possible titles that did not appear in that release may yet emerge, but it does add a touch of irony to this piece.

The website http://www.hasmarveldonesomethingstupidtoday.com counter is set to 0, though it may not have been updated in a while. Anger over their latest stunt (the “reveal” that Steve Rogers aka Captain America was a member of Marvel’s Nazi expys of choice HYDRA all along – except oh wait, it was fake memories, despite vows to the contrary) has yet to subside. Recently, they killed James Rhodes (War Machine), one of few black superheroes, in order to generate angst for Tony Stark and Carol Danvers in their newest big summer event, Civil War II.

Still, news at Marvel isn’t entirely fuck-ups as usual.

As news begins to drop about Marvel’s post-Civil War II plans, and even in the midst of the mixed bag that has been the so-called All-New, All-Different Marvel post-Secret Wars, there are some bright spots that deserve highlighting.

Ta-Nahesi Coates’ Black Panther series continues to outsell almost every other Marvel title, excluding Civil War II and Deadpool. The Mighty Thor series, with Jane Foster as the titular character, is outselling Invincible Iron Man. As of June 2016, there are 15 solo female led titles and one all female team book, compared to five in June 2014 and eight in June 2015.

Carol Danvers, despite naysayers when she received the name in 2012, remains Captain Marvel, with Kamala Khan taking up the title of Ms. Marvel. Laura Kinney, formerly X-23, has moved into the role of Wolverine and Jane Foster is Thor. Among Marvel’s leaked post-Civil War II titles was Hawkeye #1, which will solo star Kate Bishop. And most recently, and perhaps most significantly, the news dropped that the new Iron Man will be Riri Williams, niece to James Rhodes.

It isn’t just the name on the cover that matters, of course – the content inside is good stuff. Of course, I’m biased, but almost the entirety of my pull list is female-led titles, and my top five series that I anticipate are all female solos (Black Widow, Mockingbird, All-New Wolverine, Scarlet Witch, and Ms. Marvel). The stories being told are fantastic, too: Mockingbird mocks female cheesecake with two issues in which the titular hero rescues men from dire peril, who subsequently spend the entire issue in their underwear. Scarlet Witch finally (finally!) allows its heroine to move beyond the events of Avengers Disassembled and House of M and strike out on her own. In All New Wolverine Laura Kinney mentors a young clone of herself, and Ms. Marvel continues to tell stories that resonate both with humor and themes of family, integrity, and growing up. In Black Widow Natasha Romanov returns to her spy roots in an espionage thriller story where Mark Waid frequently allows Samnee’s art to tell the story, showcasing the power of visual storytelling in comics.

The presence of big name writers on the covers of some of these titles – Waid on Black Widow, Jason Aaron on The Mighty Thor, and Brian Michael Bendis writing Invincible Iron Man in the fall – demonstrate a commitment by Marvel to put some weight behind these titles, even as others bring lesser known (at least in superhero comics) female creators on board, like Chelsea Cain on Mockingbird and Kelly Thompson on A-Force. It’s a small improvement of behind the scenes diversity – female creators are still the minority, and that’s not even getting into the whiteness of Marvel’s creative teams – but it’s still an improvement.

Comics change slowly. Painfully slowly. And that change, more often than not, comes with a lot of kicking and screaming from those who see a loss for themselves in those changes. However, it is heartening to see that diversity in comics continues to make news: that a conversation is happening, and continues to happen. The promotion of Sana Amanat to Director of Content and Character Development in February 2015 seems like a good sign, for one. The fact that Women of Marvel panels have become a staple at major conventions is another.

I’m not saying to stop criticizing Marvel – lord knows they deserve it, and it’s important to hold them accountable for their mistakes. Nor am I saying everything is good – now more than ever seems like a good time to look behind the scenes and insist on showcasing diversity not just in the pages of their comics but in Marvel’s offices as well. And again, that’s not even touching on the many dimensions of Marvel’s race problem.

At the same time, however, it can be easy to lose sight of the positives, and forget to note that all is not entirely awful.

I try to be cynical: all too often, the comics industry disappoints. But hope is stubborn, and it looks like a eighteen title pull list without a single white male lead.

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