Marvel Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso has been having a terrible, horrible, no good very bad past couple of weeks. It'd be easy to say that things started with a set of controversial, hip-hop-themed variant covers, but that wouldn't exactly be true.
Marvel has been called out for a lack of diversity on its editorial staff for some time now, and a series of interviews have done little to assuage fans' concerns.
"How does a publishing line diversify?" Alonso said. "It starts with an editorial staff that is diverse — and there has never been a more diverse editorial staff at Marvel — and that is willing to have tough internal conversations and course-correct when there's a problem."
Alonso elaborated on this "course-correction" further, listing off a number of women and minority staffers that Marvel's brought on board in recent years. Though some were incensed at Marvel's hip-hop variant covers, it's worth noting that many of the artists responsible for creating them were, in fact, black.
"A small but very loud contingent are high-fiving each other while making huge assumptions about our intentions, spreading misinformation about the diversity of the artists involved in this project and across our entire line," Alonso said. "[They're handing] out snap judgments like they just learned the term 'cultural appropriation' and are dying to put it in an essay."
Newly-created heroes like Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel), Cindy Moon (Silk), and Miles Morales (Spider-Man) show that Marvel's been aware of its need for stronger, more nuanced characters of color to appear in the pages of its books. Marvel was willing to drastically alter older, more iconic characters like Thor and Captain America in order to live up to its claims of now being "all-new" and "all-different."
"Thor," we've learned, is a title as much as a singular identity. Once the old, male Thor was judged to no longer be worthy, the mystical hammer Mjölnir finds a new wielder: a woman.
Steve Rogers, the classic Captain America, is suddenly depowered and his age finally catches up with him. Facing his impending mortality, he calls upon his longtime friend and fellow Avenger Sam Wilson (the Falcon) to take up the Captain America mantle, making him the third black supersoldier to defend his country.
For all the good that seeing traditionally marginalized people fighting crime does though, there are still two pressing matters at hand. First, for the most part, these characters are still being written by white men. Second, there's the perception that Marvel's larger editorial voice and vision are still being guided primarily by white men.
This fall, Marvel plans to release an updated version of its popular Blade series, a comic about a black, daywalking, vampire who hunts his own kind in the sake of humanity.
This new Blade will also feature the vampire hunter's daughter, Fallon, who'll follow in her father's footsteps. The series will bring another face of color to the forefront of Marvel's current offerings, which is great, but the voices behind the book? Two white guys. Here's the kicker—Blade isn't the only Marvel comic with this issue.
Infinity Gauntlet tells the story of a black family dealing with the aftermath of a devastating attack from Thanos, the Mad Titan. The story is poignant and one of the few comics to ever focus on the dynamics of a family of black superheroes. Again, it's being written by a pair of white dudes.
"[S]ince the Infinity Gauntlet storyline is all about a Black woman leading her family through a really difficult struggle (something that I think maybe one or two Female POCs might know a thing or two about), you would think that they might hire one Black woman to work on part of the series," Karama Horne wrote for Black Girl Nerds. "I just want to know when will it be okay to say, 'Hey Marvel, hey DC, if you’re really committed to diversity, how about you hire someone who actually LOOKS like the market that you’re trying to sell to instead of temporarily putting characters in the window for limited runs?'"
The current wave of criticism being level at Marvel goes beyond race.
In that same interview with Comic Book Resources, Alonso shared a bit of information about Hercules, who sometimes joins forces with the Avengers. He's basically like Thor, but a Roman god instead of a Norse one. Hercules became a favorite for many queer readers when it was revealed that an alternate-reality version of the character was openly queer and in a relationship with that universe's Wolverine.
Fans of this queer Hercules were holding out hope that the character's fluid sexuality would be carried over into his new, mainstream version. Alonso was quick to shut that down.
"Hercules and James Howlett's relationship in X-Treme X-Men took place in a unique alternate universe, similar to how Colossus was gay in the Ultimate Universe, but is straight in the 616. Same goes for Hercules here."
While it's perfectly plausible that Marvel's "main" Hercules might have a different sexual orientation than his queer counterpart, there were a number of heavy handed hints that the "mainstream" Hercules might, in fact, have been bisexual.
The clarification came, for some, as a blow against Marvel's (weak) track record of putting LGBT characters at the forefront of its titles. Marvel's most high-profile gay character, Northstar, isn't exactly topping any fan-favorite lists.
Alonso explained that Marvel's editorial team was actively interested in building stories around LGBTQ characters, but it was committed to finding the right kind of narratives to tell. Tom Brevoort, a Marvel editor with a history of saying questionable things about diversity in comics, said Marvel simply didn't encounter any "legitimate" LGBT storylines this year.
"I need the story and the creative team to show up, and feel legitimate," Brevoort wrote. "I don’t just want to do it because somebody else has done it, and in doing so, do it badly."
DC, by comparison, recently greenlit Midnighter, a series about an alternate reality, openly gay version of Batman who suddenly finds himself in DC's mainstream universe with no apparent explanation. Where Marvel's holding its leading queer characters at arms length, DC's moved to embrace them wholeheartedly.
The issue with the message coming out of Marvel's mouthpiece, then, is less about fans actually seeing themselves on the pages of their favorite comic books. The problem's with Marvel's gatekeeping.
Though Alonso insists that Marvel will further diversify its editorial team, promises of a more inclusive future don't mean as much when the titles they're putting out now don't feature queer leads and aren't being written by minorities.