Marvel's Progressive Delusion and Why David Gabriel -- and the rest of the comic book industry still don't get it
There is a lot of anger because Marvel Comics/Entertainment brass believe that diversity isn't working in comics.
I have a lot to say about this as a woman who writes for a living and has read comics since I was four years old.
So here is the memo: diversity isn't skin deep. It goes right to the core, and Marvel's archaic idea of being diverse is wanting because diverse is more than just having a character who is not a white male on the cover.
The characters have to have a voice that speaks in chords: if the character is a female superhero, she is not to have a huge chest and g-string costume running around. She has to speak to other women -- as she has to speak to a general audience. If one of those chords is off, it falls flat.
Comics books have spoken to white men for so long that those in the industry never heard all those other voices, and now trying to do it is not working for them. Comics need more diversity, but it is more than sprucing up the window-dressing: it requires creating characters that connect to new readers and move them to read.
What they need is to make changes to the structure of their stories because what they have right now is a single structure: patriarchal.
There is no matriarchal considerations to the racial and gender make up of their characters.
It is not as if Marvel cannot do this: they weave characters together where main characters can also be supporting characters. They do well with generational characters, but when it comes to having characters who are diverse inside and out, Marvel and DC have much work to do.
They need characters who are rich, textured, and authentic. A female character is not be a male fantasy or a white male wearing a mask of a female -- she has to be a woman inside and out.
Because so many of their characters are still stereotypical -- or what a white male would think is "safe" or "acceptable." These characters are not dangerous in that they don't challenge the very core of the structures and confines we take for granted in stories. Almost no mainstream stories in North America bother themselves to offer any other structure, and the Patriarchal dominates superhero stories, meaning the patriarchal has a chokehold on their "universes". The competitiveness of the patriarchal means there can only be a single structure deemed "good" and others are either inferior (supporting cast and victim) or evil (villain).
You don't really have genres of heroes that have a different structure: anti-heroes seem different, but given the slim pickings, its novelty is overly-enhanced.
We don't have negotiators-as-heroes, for example -- someone who understands that different people have different life requirements. If we don't have different chords of heroes, then how can we have an honest expectation of having a truly diverse cast?
And the test is simple: if you could only hear the story with no visuals, would the stories be any different from the old patriarchal ones?
With Marvel and DC, the answer is, sadly, no. These are the same structures that have confined our thinking for decades: hero meddles to show his superiority, and anyone who disagrees with him is evil and must be vanquished. We are even given the justification why the hero must destroy the life of the antagonist: the bad guy is usually crazy and destructive. We don't have nuanced stories where there may be clashing interests, and both sides see each other as jerks, but if we pull back, we can see the blinders and assumptions keeping both sides spinning in circles on their hamster wheels -- and both sides learn and break down barriers to find their own respective way.
There can be more than one hero. There can be more than one villain. We can see how a hero for one group is a villain for another and we can explore how different ways of thinking interact with each other.
That is the basis of diverse storytelling, but it is a Matriarchal one. Marvel has yet to approach this structure in this regard. They cannot whine that diversity isn't working when they didn't even try it. You cannot make a shallow effort, be surprised that people aren't buying it, then declare it a failure. It takes trying different things, learning from it, and then making real changes and trying again. It takes a scientific approach to writing, but for all the posh technology featured in comics, many comic book writers don't get it.
Comics are an ideal incubation for discovering how to create diverse stories, and yet their potential has not been met.
Matriarchal is a flexible structure whose time has come, but when the traditionalists cling on the Patriarchal thinking they will lose their power if they try something new, they don't get it, but it is important that other creators learn from it to ensure they don't make those same mistakes in their own ventures.