This week, many fans worldwide celebrated a newly-diverse character in the Marvel Universe. Undoubtedly, Marvel Comics underestimated fans’ mixed reactions to Bobby Drake (Iceman) being gay. Having read the comic book (New Avengers #40), I admit it’s a good story. While I personally want to see more diversity in comic books, I realize this advocacy is a process we have to start with someone somewhere. This week, it’s Bobby Drake.
Some fans questioned my claims how Marvel Comics doesn’t prioritize diversity as highly as it does money. Sure, they’re a big business. They’re in this business to sell us great stories. Pffft- what about Marvel Comics has ever ever ever indicated they understand diversity, or are subject-matter experts about diversity? This isn’t their specialty- making money from selling us stories IS their business. We should expect Marvel Comics (and DC, and Image and Dark Horse, etc.) to write compelling stories. When they don’t show their work behind a new character, we should question their commitments to new characters. Is it a gimmick to have a gay comic book hero? No, it’s not a gimmick- it’s a first step towards compassionate understanding.
However, if Marvel Comics does nothing with Iceman’s character’s identity, he becomes less real. He becomes a poster-child for non-existent advocacy if writers abandon his character’s identity. I do not know who among Iceman’s creative team knows enough about gay experiences to lend legitimacy to his character. Dogs can’t write cat stories, through no fault of their own. Even in our comic book, I need help to capture a teenage girl’s experiences, since I’m a 40 year old male. We sincerely hope Marvel Comics continues to write compelling, engaging stories about our heroes. Iceman’s been around 50 years and appeared in six different movies, so it’s time he’s known for something more than his ability to make free snow cones.
Yesterday, two independent comic book creators (with former ties to Marvel Comics) sued Marvel Comics and Disney (among other named defendants). Why? Their claims are better articulated in this news coverage by Robot 6, here:
The last time Marvel Comics were sued by artists, we got new renditions of their characters. Specifically, we had exact opposite depictions of the characters Captain America and Thor. Why were these changes made? Does Marvel Comics want to embrace diversity, or do they just want to avoid (more) lawsuits? If we see a new Iron Man from Marvel Comics in the near future, we have reasonable cause to question WHY we have a new Iron Man. Answer: Money, while dodging lawsuits. Making a new Iron Man would be okay- he DOES have a lot of suits. However, if Iron Man is suddenly a member of any particular minority group, let’s not pretend that Marvel Comics suddenly grew a heart. If we agree they are big business, then any moves made are from a business standpoint. What business strategy would be gained by making Iron Man a member of any minority group? It’s insulting to think they could cover up their mistakes by simply hiding behind a minority-based character. We know and remember WHY the character was changed- they got sued. Adding to the diversity discussion is profitable secondary gain. More importantly, I want to ask Marvel Comics to continue what they do best- write stories. Sure, they have a target on their backs as billion-dollar business, and lawsuits could be predictably common. However, making a new character requires more than a new costume and demographic label. Show us heart. Show us bravery. Show us failures and successes with compassion for the attempt. Yes, we
want demand intelligently-created superheroes, even if the heroes aren’t genius-caliber. We want to see internal struggles and victories with the associated personal experiences with which you, Marvel Comics, have given them. You didn’t HAVE to make so-and-so a member of this-or-that group, but since you did, please follow-through.
Throw darts. Spin a wheel. Pick labels out of hat. Whatever changes we see in a new Iron Man won’t be prompted by understanding diversity- it’ll be because of a lawsuit. We’ve seen this happen with Jack Kirby’s lawsuit, so why should we expect anything different? I want to like Iceman as a legitimate character. I can’t help but feel like he may be a strategically-placed pawn in a much larger chess board. Will Marvel Comics sacrifice Iceman’s character to grab more dollars? Let’s hope they keep him safe and strong, and continue along this journey of respecting diversity in comic books.
We’ll be watching…