The recent revelation that Tony Stark will soon be passing on the mantle of Iron Man to (among others) Riri Williams, a 15-year-old MIT prodigy, got me thinking about the state of Marvel Comics.
In recent years, Marvel has been changing the face of its comic book line at breakneck speed. The Marvel of today little resembles the Marvel of 2009, the year Disney acquired the publisher. It’s hard to say how many of those changes are based on decisions made in-house by creators, and how many are the result of top-down mandates from Marvel’s new mouse overlords.
Some of the changes have been great—Marvel took an early lead in bringing more diversity to the stable of creators who craft their books, a feat I applauded then, and still do now. The only cause for concern is that some of the creators seem to have been brought in more for the message their hiring sends than for the strength of their previous work. There have been a legion of independent creators passed over in favor of creators who are already veterans. I am, of course, not privy to whether or not Marvel actually extended offers to these people, but if I were to place a wager on the subject, I’d probably have to bet against it.
While diversity in the world of comics is still a hot topic, this article isn’t about that. Instead, it’s about the changes that Marvel has been making to their lineup of characters. It seems that Marvel has been steering their characters toward a wider diversity at the cost of their established icons. Enter the stepping down of Tony Stark and the entrance of Riri Williams. This is just another in a long series of changes to characters, like the Miles Morales Spider-Man, Sam Wilson becoming Captain America, and Jane Foster becoming Thor—not to mention the marginalization of the X-Men, cancellation of Fantastic Four, and the attempt to replace mutants with Inhumans line-wide.
Reading to this point, you must think I’m against change, but I’m not. What I am against is corporate dictates overriding creativity. Shareholders, with their need for instant gratification and demand for ever-higher share value, seem to have as much influence on creative decisions as the creators themselves, if not more.
Let’s take a look at the promo art for the next totally unnecessary mega-event at Marvel, Divided We Stand. According to Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso, someone who has worked almost solely in editorial since the beginning of his comics career, said would establish the new status quo for the companies’ characters going forward. While the art is brimming with recent additions and revamped characters, pay close attention to the fact that many characters are missing. Where is Peter Parker, the Fantastic Four, Tony Stark (Unless the clean shaven guy is Tony), or any of the X-Men?
Which brings me to the meat of this article—namely, that Marvel needs to learn from the folly of its competitor. DC Comics tried to shake things up and change their world a few years ago too. They canceled and rebooted their entire line of comics, and while at first, while the shine was still on the change, sales were good. But after the dust settled, complaints settled in. Some changes were too drastic, and many things didn’t change that much at all, but only got more confusing.
Recent events have bolstered this reasoning. DC, to no one’s surprise, has rebooted again, this time to more-or-less roll things back to the previous status quo. No matter how much gimmicks may sell in the short-term, it’s silly for Marvel to think that fans of Iron Man will passively accept the replacement of their decades-old favorite simply because Marvel insists on shaking things up.
Quite to the contrary, you can bet that many fans will become pissed off. Sales are bound to slip eventually, and there’s no better evidence to support that prediction than the recent trend in DC’s sales. As Rebirth seems poised to roll back many of the New 52‘s less popular changes to the line, DC’s sales are skyrocketing, while Marvel’s continue to slip. Big events like Civil War II may alleviate the problem temporarily, but there is little sign that the overall trend is going to reverse itself anytime soon.
If Marvel wants to really bring in more diversity, they need to realize that doing it through their established characters, especially when it’s forced, and not organic from within the stories, is going to fail. If Marvel wants more diversity, they should bring in new characters and put competent creators behind them. The new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, is a great example of this. Riri, on the other hand, who was only introduced back in May of this year, obviously with replacing Tony in mind, is not.
The real question is, is this happening because of orders from Disney? Or is it simply the effect of a directionless editorial staff? If it’s because Disney wants it to be this way, then we might be in for a much longer haul. Disney has the money to weather bad sales, and if they are getting one or two new properties they can turn into blockbuster films, what do they care if the comics end of the business suffers? I hope I’m wrong about that, but only time will tell.
So what’s a reader of comics to do? Well, if you only read Marvel, you might want to start expanding the comics you read from other publishers. Companies like Aftershock, Valiant, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Boom, and Dynamite are hands down out producing the big two when it comes to great stories. So give them a try if you start getting fed up with Marvel, and wait for the big reversal that will come eventually, hopefully not too long from now.