Marvel have finally bowed to the pressure of many fans by saying that they’ll go back to a ‘meat and potatoes’ approach to comics, mirroring DC’s approach with Rebirth which has been extremely successful for them. This compiled with some questionable comments from David Gabriel (Marvel’s VP of sales) though it may lead to great comics but is disconcerting for the future of diversity in comic books.
Most protagonists in comic books work because they are relatable on some sort of human level, a prime example of this is Spider-man, or more specifically Peter Parker. The thing that makes him so beloved by so many is that he’s a lovable nerd, he isn’t a god amongst men like Superman or an eccentric billionaire like Tony Stark, he’s just a nerdy guy who gained incredible power. He has to struggle to get anything in life and faces constant setbacks, even his current position with Parker Industries is the culmination of years and years of struggle, not something handed to him on a silver platter. All of this humanity and understanding builds a deep connection between the reader and the character which makes you care about what happens to them.
That sort of connection is something that is so important in comics, and for people who are minorities, it’s way more difficult to find that. Part of the point of these comics is escapism, the idea that you can project yourself into a character and minorities just don’t and won’t have the same opportunity to do that without their diversity being implemented in comics. For example, if a disabled person is to look to comics, looking for a character which they can relate to, there are very few examples. The same applies for pretty much anyone LGBT+. People are shut out from the industry when there aren’t diverse characters to represent them. Take for example the Ms. Marvel comic, a major part of why that comic is such a hit (aside from brilliant writing) is that it has gone where almost no mainstream comics have gone before and actively engaged with Muslims and people from the Middle East. The sort of connection I’m talking about has been formed with so many people outside of the typical audience of comic books. Now imagine this with on a larger scale, imagine the amount of people that comic books can connect with if they were more diverse if comics broke beyond constantly trying to cater to the same demographic. This isn’t to say that there aren’t many, many minorities (of any kind) who buy comics with protagonists who are the typical non-diverse character but that still doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be characters who diverse people can relate to on a personal level.
This applies to children as well, if you’re reading this you’re likely someone who ‘wanted to be a superhero when they grew up’ and maybe you still do! Well, if you’re someone who (for example) is an ethnic minority, you would likely be pigeonholed into the few specific characters that were ‘like you’. Whereas if we have a diversity in comics then kids have positive role models that are like them and are heroes to aspire to be like irrespective of who they are and what they identify as.
As a business decision, diversifying comics also makes complete sense, broadening your target audience gives you a broader and more consistent audience, which directly leads to growth. In addition to that, it gives the company which employs the diversity good PR which attracts, even more, consumers which can only be good news.
Diversity is such an essential thing to have in our literature and it shouldn’t just be thrown said (or completely ignored) to appease a small subsection of people. It doesn’t hold back creators or storytelling if anything it allows for new avenues to be explored. Marvel was getting on the right track for diversity and it would be a tragedy if they turned their back on so many different and wonderful people now.
P.S. Thanks to the whole Harrow crew for the discussion which birthed this article.