Marvel Might Be Letting Social Agendas Go

Comic giant is finally realizing storytelling should come first — as fans have demanded for years

by Vinnie Penn | Updated 12 Feb 2017 at 10:56 AM

Marvel Comics has a long history of weaving social issues into its storylines, but a considerably shorter history of being political — overtly, anyway.

For instance, Marvel was the first comic book company to give an African-American superhero his own series (Luke Cage, who has his own Netflix series, too — over 40 years later). But Marvel never belabored the point; sure, Cage was determined to clean up his beloved Harlem, but that didn’t mean he gave speeches about race at the close of every issue. He shouted, “Sweet Christmas” while punching beings from outer space in the face.

Point is, the ideas served the story. Today, as many fans have been saying, the stories serve society.

Marvel also once went without the “approval by the comics code authority” for several issues while it had a secondary character in “The Amazing Spider-Man” struggle with an addiction to LSD. It did not, however, take over the story, but rather served as a backdrop to all of the personal problems Peter Parker was dealing with while trying to beat the bad guys.

Point is, the ideas served the story. Today, as many fans and retailers contest, the stories serve society. Or try to, anyway. And it’s turning comic book-buying fans off.

Related: ‘Lego Batman’ Goes Light, Superhero Genre Goes Dark

Ms. Marvel is now Kamala Khan, a Muslim character who first appeared in an issue of “Captain Marvel” (who, by the way, will be played on the big screen by a woman, Brie Larson, despite the character’s male origins). Khan’s creator said of the change, according to CNN, “The series came from a desire to explore the Muslim-American diaspora from an authentic perspective.”

To be sure, Khan suits up and fights archenemies, but the series is bogged down with tireless lectures about exclusion, Islamophobia, and more.

As for another one of Marvel’s flagship characters, Captain America — it was just revealed in the splashy pages of comic books that he has actually really been a villainous spy for the authoritarian Hydra all these years. Imagine: The beloved hero is actually part of a Nazi-affiliated terrorist cult. In the words of writer Nick Spencer, according to the Marvel’s official website, “This is not a clone, not an imposter, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve.”

Marvel heavily publicized the new Hydra Steve Rogers with a series of interviews from the comic's creative team. They assured readers that the plot twist was 100 percent real, but now they seem to be hedging their bets, revealing his most famed enemy, the Red Skull, might have something to do with all this. It leads to the quandary: Either they were telling the truth and Cap was now indelibly associated with Nazi super-villains, or the whole thing was a headline-grabbing fake-out, conveniently boosting sales for the comic's first issue.

Marvel has also recently turned Iron Man into — well, Iron Woman. Specifically, she is a younger black woman as opposed to the middle-aged white male the character had always been. Another popular character, Thor, was also given a gender swap. President Donald Trump has also taken direct hits in many issues of various Marvel series. Conservative pundits have become go-to bad guys, as well, as some have called for the deportation of various comic book characters due to their heritage.

"That existential crisis is tabled for the time being."

Recently, however, the new lead writer on the company's "X-Men" series, Marc Guggenheim, was talking about the future of Marvel's characters at a creative summit, and he hinted that these politically minded days may be waning. Several comic book outlets report Guggenheim said at the summit, "It’s more about the X-Men as heroes than the X-Men as a struggling minority fighting for their very existence … That existential crisis is tabled for the time being."

It was also relayed that the prominent characters in the Marvel stable — i.e. Thor, The Hulk, and more — would be getting back to basics, "leaving the politics to the politicians."

BleedingCool's Rich Johnston also published a recent report on the inner workings of Marvel, saying sources have informed him there will be a "familiar looking Marvel Universe" by the fall of this year.

Related: Interview: 'Comic Book Men' Highlights Friendship, Small Business

The company is realizing something audiences have been screaming at entertainment outlets for years: Don't let social agendas motivate your stories. Allow the stories to tell themselves, and if socially relevant points come out organically, then so be it. However, Marvel seemed to have forgotten the golden rule of entertainment: The story comes first.

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