“The notion that the longtime readers somehow have a greater claim on a comics character than the new fan – and that both outrank the artist – has plagued the industry for as long as there have been superheroes; people who spend 20 or 30 years reading the adventure of a single character develop proprietary feelings that have nothing to do with the nature or intricacy of the creative process”
Sam Thielman, The Guardian, Tuesday April 4th
I remember playing with M.A.S.K. figures when I was a kid, and you’d take a character like Miles Mayhem (an evil vicious bad guy in the story) and you’d make him the leader of M.A.S.K. – the good guys. You’d do this because they were your toys, and you were bringing the story to life, and you could do whatever you wanted. If you didn’t like the Matt Trakker in your toy chest that day you didn’t have to take him out and play with him. Hell, if you wanted to do a crossover episode where The Ghostbusters met The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles you could do that as well!
This is what I love about a company like IDW Comics or Dark Horse. They’ve not only done these crossovers, but you’ve got things like the “deviations” series last month from IDW, where Judge Dredd became a werewolf for an issue and Twilight Sparkle wasn’t chosen to be Celestia’s pupil…hell, the sub cover for My Little Pony featured Pinkie Pie sitting on top of a cake dressed in a Judge Dredd outfit. I mean, it was all about imagination and pretend, not taking yourselves – or your stories – too serious and boxed off. It was a bit of fun. It was diversification.
That’s a hot button issue right now. The world seems currently up in arms because Marvel’s VP of Sales, David Gabriel, has indicated a recent slump in Marvel Comics sales is owing to an over indulgence in diversification. Essentially not spending enough time concentrating on stories that feature the traditional white male protagonists. Does that mean Marvel fans are racist? Or does it mean that in Trump’s America they are unwilling to accept Kamala Kahn as a Pakistani Ms Marvel at the same time as he bombs Syria, possibly believing both are the same country?
While there are articles written in The Guardian that show some bearded lefty talking about how these remarks should be taken as deeply sexist and even homophobic in our “modern society”, I’m inclined to believe that comic book fans – at least Marvel fans – are probably the most traditional fans that exist. And there’s nothing, in my opinion, wrong with wanting to follow tradition. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to show loyalty to a brand. So often today we feel that we should be expected to change for change’s sake, even when something is neither broken nor offensive to begin with.
Marvel has made efforts to be as creative as possible with their story lines, the idea of making Iron Man a woman is another recent example, Riri Williams is black, she’s taken over from Tony Stark and doesn’t possess any of the qualities you’d expect to find in Tony. And why should she? She’s a black woman in her 20’s and it’s the 21st Century – she’s not a pioneer, she’s not a revolutionary, she’s just a lead character in a popular fantasy series. If people refuse to purchase these comics its because they feel that the character is disassociate, badly written, or even poorly constructed. They don’t like the fit. Maybe too modern? Certainly it’s not because she’s black.
I had a similar situation with M.A.S.K. recently, the new IDW comic line, which reintroduced Matt Trakker as a young skinny black man struggling with abandonment issues. I don’t feel the comic is doing very well, mostly due to the poor story, but I reckon it hasn’t had the ongoing popularity or renewed international interest afforded to The Transformers or GI Joe, so a new generation of fans may get a great opportunity to have a black character they can associate with from the ground up. Associate with, that is, if the character is worth associating with. Right now, the strongest character in the story for me is Miles Mayhem, because nostalgically I know the history of the role so well and his dialogue has been written to match. It has nothing to do with the fact he’s white.
A comic book is a fantasy, and the character shouldn’t have to be nearer in age or sex to its readership to appeal to anyone. In fact, the further the characters are apart from its readership, the better; lending itself more to imagination. Nobody who reads Aqua Man has gills (I mean, I hope not, anyway). Isn’t the reason people cos play to become someone else, the same kind of ideas and fantasies that go into dressing up in the bedroom for role play, so you can pretend to be someone you’re not? Add an extra element that wasn’t there before? Become the superhero you’re not?
But the story still needs to be well written, and well structured, something Marvel might be more interested in taking the time to address. Age, Gender, Race and Creed should not be the only selling point of note, especially when competing against 40+ years of great memories.