Robot 6

Ms. Marvel’s uphill battle

ms marvel1Marvel’s announcement last week that a Muslim teenager living in New Jersey will star in the new Ms. Marvel series is an exciting step forward in diversifying superhero comics. And even better is the involvement of writer G. Willow Wilson and editor Sana Amanat, both Muslims, which should bring an authentic voice to the title.

The move is already garnering a lot of media attention, and I expect it will pique the curiosity of a number of people who never really expected a mainstream comic book to tell a story so closely connected to their own. This isn’t the first comic book to do something like this, but it’s remarkably significant.

I’m looking forward to Ms. Marvel, and I really hope the comic finds an audience (I’m also thrilled to see artist Adrian Alphona back on an ongoing series). But there’s no doubting this title is an underdog. Marvel often struggles with keeping solo series starring women; just ask fans of She-Hulk, or Rogue, or Carol Danvers. Poor Storm can’t even get more than a miniseries every 10 years or so. DC may be able to boast Wonder Woman and a number of female-starring Batman spinoffs, but both publishers have had limited success sustaining books that star minority characters. From Black Panther to War Machine to Steel to the current Batwing, there have been valiant efforts that ultimately get canceled. And I’m hard-pressed to think of a significant Marvel or DC book starring a character whose religion was such a strong crux of the premise.

Readers and retailers are notoriously uneasy about trying a book that could be considered at-risk. That’s why Marvel and DC fall back on their major brands: They know they can market Wolverine because enough of their customers faithfully follow the character, even while complaining he’s in every other book. Instead of buying what sounds interesting, too many readers would still rather support what they can be assured will be around for the long run.

There’s also the issue of the Captain/Ms. Marvel brand: Despite the acclaim of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Carol Danvers run, Captain Marvel has never proved itself to be a character that can support a franchise. The fact that the character’s superhero name has changed from Ms. Marvel to Warbird to Captain Marvel to whatever else demonstrates the branding challenges. The original Captain Marvel, Mar-Vel, was never a stellar seller, either, despite the acclaim of “The Death of Captain Marvel” story. Despite a few teases, there’s a reason he’s never been brought back to life, after all. An attempt in the ’90s to introduce a new male Captain Marvel didn’t work out either. It’s not that it can’t work, but most retailers know at least some of that history and order accordingly because they don’t have a lot of faith in the name bringing in readers.

That’s a lot of bad news for the upcoming Ms. Marvel. If it’s so doomed, why did Marvel even bother? Whether or not the book succeeds, it’s clear Marvel sees something changing in its readership. There were lots of reasons why Miles Morales as Spider-Man should never have worked — and yet, there he is still web-slinging two years later. Yes, sales have weakened. Whether the character stays around following the current “Cataclysm” event running through the Ultimate Universe remains to be seen, but the character has been demonstrated to be more than just a stunt. It’s also possible that the book’s sales were pulled down, at least in part, due to the imprint’s luster diminishing over the last five years or so; it’s not just Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man‘s sales that have weakened, but the entire line’s.

If a Facebook snapshot of comics fans by Graphic Policy carries over to the real world, women may make up 45.45 percent of comics readers. How many of those interact with comics by going to comic book stores is unclear, but Marvel might see a female readership within reach where previously it seemed more theoretical.

There is a part of us that loves rooting for the underdog, and I hope Ms. Marvel is a wild success. The talent behind the series is certainly capable of creating a good read. But despite their best efforts, the book faces a tough climb. And yet, that’s just the kind of challenge that defines a hero.

News From Our Partners

Comments

27 Comments

I really don’t think the issue is that the characters are minorities. Or if it is, it’s tangential. If you look at the big two publishers, what books consistently succeed? The ones that star what are perceived to be classic characters. Fans have been conditioned to read Iron Man and Flash every month, but not Ms. Marvel or Batwing. If Superman had been conceived as a black skinned character back in 1938, I think you’d see a minority character with a history of being published continuously for 7 + decades. But to simply pin it on the minority thing is silly. Hawkeye had a series that failed just a couple years ago, and he’s a white american male.

“If Superman had been conceived as a black skinned character back in 1938….”

No one would have bought it because people were even more racist then than they were now.

You know, I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me until I was reading this article, but Marvel’s apparent new strategy of launching a new volume for every significant shift in creative team or direction might actually help even the playing field between more bankable characters and those perceived to be ‘at risk’ of cancellation. If a decently selling Wolverine or Fantastic Four title is just as likely to only last under 20 issues as say, Captain Marvel or Avengers Arena, and all of those titles are allowed to tell complete stories before wrapping up, and all of them have a shot at a followup volume, then it seems like that should the focus off of how much of an investment a series is (in terms of money OR attachment) and let enjoyment and quality be the deciding factors in fans’ selection of what to read (as they should be.)

“If it’s so doomed, why did Marvel even bother?”

Because the market is ripe for it. A young female, and she’s Muslim…it’s a step in the direction of diversity that DC gets pummeled over constantly. Not only is it bringing a female character to a solo series, but it will make an attempt to shine a positive light on the Muslim faith. Can it be sustained? Who knows, but if it makes it to at least 12 issues, they may have a success on their hands. Even if it gets cancelled, later adding her to a Young Avengers title or something of that sort will help keep the character alive. I believe they may try to do the same with Mile Morales, but maybe not in the Ultimate Universe (somehow cross him over).

I will agree though, for the most part minority characters have not been able to sustain a strong readership. I think part of it has to do with them not being written right from the beginning, and the other part is the status quo. The majority of comic readers tend to navigate to what they’ve always liked and know. In order for the business to sustain, and garner new readership, you have to mix it up to today’s younger market that is looking for something outside of the status quo. Batwing is failing not because the character is black, but because DC failed in making the character relevant to the younger market. Hopefully Marvel can succeed with this character.

If the market’s so ripe, why is editorial denying girl-positive characters like Pixie any sort of prominence (yet we’re treated to continued exposure for dated tits and ass – including Carol Danvers herself).

Is that you pixie solanos

Religion has always been central to Wonder Woman’s character. I also don’t agree that the creative team having the same background is material. Most of the classic WASP comic characters were created and written by Jews, and they never sold better than when that happened. Indeed, Wonder Woman has never sold better than when written by her male creator.

Diversity is fine but this is another example of stealing/sampling an existing white character, which is both getting offensive and not generally working either. Even the affirmazing Spider-man is on the way out. If the powers that be were truly committed to diversity and inclusion, they would create brand new characters without either replacing existing white characters or stealing their name. It’s pretty clear you’re relying on the name and not the character to drive sales when you do that.

I find it fascinating that you are rooting for this series to be a success and not to be good, I would think one would hope the book is both as either one is pretty much useless without the other.

I disagree with jeff_14 because i dont see her stealing the ms.Marvel name or Carol Danver’s place since Carol Danver is still alive and her book is still running plus its hard to steal someone’s name when no one has that name right now.

true people have used the title before but none of them are using it now and i think the last person who had it besides Carol was Moonstone so I think the name is in better hands now.

I mean agree with him on Miles cause i feel you could bring him over and replace his spiderman origin with another one and he’s be just fine but i dont feel Kamala is making the same mistake.

The entire effort to push her religion as a selling point is what is killing it. It just shout ‘Agenda!’ From the start. Just as bad as Marvel launching her as a ‘Christian teenager living in Kentucky’. It immediately makes a reader think ‘Oh great. Is this book going to be page after page filled with religious lessons?’ And if that floats your boat, awesome. But the public majority isn’t interested in a comic about that. What’s next? A vegan toddler living in Texas beef country assuming the mantle of Nighthawk? Not a big draw there.

True it’s not as egregious as killing or altering a character for divetduty’s sake, but taking an existing name and slapping it on a new and unrelated character is heading in that direction. Why give a new character this name if not to trade on its brand appeal? Marvel wouldn’t allow another company to use that name for the same reason.

If you have the courage of your convictions that diversity sells, you would diversify the name away from an existing one.

Red, I don’t see where the author writes, or even implies that he doesn’t want the book to be good. In fact, I think the clear implication is that the author DOES want the book to be good, or to be ” a success”. Success can refer to, in this context, success sales-wise, and/or quality-wise.

I’m sick of this PC crap in my comics. I don’t want superheroes from New Jersey. That’s just wrong.

This character reeks of Arana the whole forced PC agenda the fact that the main draw is the fact that she is a minority character and she just shunted off into her own book right from the get go. That is the wrong thing to do. Just look at Arana couldn’t hold a book and just has people who just plain hate her now. They did the same thing to Batwing he had little to no exposure in any of the the batbooks and was pretty much advertised as Black Batman. Whats happened they had to change the character inside the suit to someone batfans might recognize and still the book is being outsold by reprints of digital comics that have nothing to do with the New 52.

I still say Batwoman was the best way to handle a diversity character sure they kinda fucked up with the whole media coverage but DC shelved the character a bit waited for the media attention to die down then slowly trickled her out onto the DC universe let creators do there thing and get people interested in her character and who she was and her story before giving her a solo. Really it worked shes got a pretty big fan following and good sales. If Marvel treated this character like how DC treated Batwoman or Cass Batgirl you know before the awfulness of DC editorial I think we could have a hit new character but they dont want to take the time and have the patience to do that so i see this character is screwed.

the majority of these comments are awful. but speaking for myself, I would love to see a well-handled superhero comic where the main character is a Christian (and not a lapsed christian, but a practising christian). I hope Ms. Marvel succeeds and I expect that it will be well-written. People talking about minority characters and how its not worth trying are missing something – – comic readers are a smaller part of the population than most ethnic and religious minorities that would easily pop into an American’s head.

and people who get tired of so-called spinoff characters – – I kinda get your point – – but c’mon– Marvel and DC own their trademarks, and you don’t. so get over it.

I really don’t get why there’s a big deal about the new Ms. Marvel that’s being called “risky” and “groundbreaking.” Marvel is the one doing it again, making it a bigger deal than it actually is by screaming, “Look!! Look at us!!,” and then turning around and saying, “What? What’s everyone looking at, this is no big deal, it’s just a character.” First, she’s at least the THIRD Muslim teen hero Marvel has, with M beating her out by 20 years and, second, it’s NOT the first Ms. or Captain Marvel that hasn’t been a blonde white woman; Monica Rambeau bore the name of Captain for years. Either way, it’s time for this so far yet to show up in any meaningful PURCHASING numbers of “Carol Corps” to stop crying on the Internet and actually purchase the books because I can’t imagine the new series will make it past a year and the relaunch having the same team that tanked it I can’t see having different results sadly. I love Carol and love the promotion. But she deserves better.

All the same, that’s why I get tired of hearing about the “huge following” and “diehard fanbases” of some characters; cosplay all you want, but if you’re not buying the comics, stop blaming the publisher or “racism” or “sexism” when a book is canned. Marvel and DC have both tried, even done some heavy marketing for quite a few minority and female characters in response to backlash and to simply keep with the times because, really, comics SHOULD have a more diverse cast. But if people don’t buy them, how can those people expect them to publish them? Instead, they wait for the sales to cause cancelation and then cry that Marvel/DC is against group x, y, or z and just “fired” one of their only group x writers. I have every issue of Danvers’ last series as Ms. Marvel and every issue as Captain Marvel and I’m getting both new series next year because I love Carol and am interested to see what the new writer does with the new girl. I just hope it’s handled without preachiness and without the dumbing down others to prop up a Mary Sue and I’ll be happy.

3 things

One this article is factually incorrect, Batwing has not been cancelled. It does however have an awesome Mike McKone, and Dawyne Cooke covers.

Two Miles Morales worked because he had the All Star Creative team of Bendis and Pichelli.

Three the current Captain Marvel comic sells around 20k, the notorious Marvel cancelation line. Which does not bode well for Ms. Marvel which I expect to have one of the most dramatic second issue drop offs, of the entire NOW! Launch.

The thing that gets me is, this reeks of some white chick trying to be edgy. She converts to Islam in 2010, lives in New Jersey, and now writes a comic about a teenage minority Muslim in New Jersey? Feels more like a midlife crisis and a cry of ‘look at me look at me I’m controversial!’

How any woman would knowingly convert to a religion that views woman as subservient and bound to serve the men is beyond me. And I think it sets a horrible example for any teenage girls reading this. Islam is archaic and outdated. It’s even worse (somehow) in its misogyny than christianity.

I hope in a couple years, once the newfound edginess wears off, she realizes what a foolish decision she made then actually writes something interesting once she splits from her ‘faith’.

To be fair, CJ, neither marvel nor comixology rerelease their digital sales (and neither has a reason to). The “Carol Corps” (I loathe the phrase) seems to be very plugged in to the internet. It wouldn’t shock me if this book was doing very well on the digital marketplace, which might be why they try to keep it alive.

What is the definition of “success” here? Carol’s last solo series ran for 4+ years and 50 issues. Black Panther ran for 62 issues, took a break for a year or so, then ran for another 41. These are hardly insignificant numbers when something like Defenders, with one of Marvel’s biggest writers and one of Marvel’s biggest artists, barely limped to 12 issues. Let’s not forget Spider-Girl, which ran for 12 long, glorious years. It sounds like the author thinks as soon as something gets canceled the entire series is immediately judged as a failure, when the reality is that the comics market will only support a handful of titles that run on and on indefinitely. Hell, even Thor had to disappear for a couple years to make people miss him.

I think all this talk about diversity in comics amongst the fans is quite disingenuous and a bit hypocritical.

People are saying they think minority characters don’t sell well, because they are just versions of white characters, and that they are merely programmed to read the major characters…

How many people were reading anything from Milestone, back when it first came out? That consisted of original Black and minority characters. Shadowman is black, how many of you are reading that? Black Panther was completely original, yet that can’t stay on the market (it’s also the reason why a BP movie continues to be “in development”, while nonsense like “Ant Man” gets rushed to th top of the production line).

Again, its disingenuous to ignore how race doesn’t play a factor in this. Captain America, Thor, Superman and Batman all have white spin off characters, and for the most part they sold pretty well.

The reality is, race plays a prominent factor in comics, as it plays a prominent factor in most things. How many of you white guys line up at the movies for the latest black movie?

The comics fan base, like most American hobbies, are white male dominated. As a black guy, I’ve reconciled a long time ago, that there isn’t going to be alot of black representation in comics. But that’s fine, because comics are where I go to escape the ills of the world. I don’t need my comics to “make a stand” for me.

I agree with some of the other comments that it is not a minority issue; it’s an issue of how well written and drawn the stories are. BUT distribution is the real problem.
There are no comic books at grocery stores and other common places children and adults can see them. You no longer happen to see a comic book. You must go find them.
Publishers need to re-imagine distribution, and maybe even material; not content, but the material on which books are printed. I don’t need magazine quality paper to enjoy these books. I enjoyed them on pulp and newsprint 25 years ago, and could now.
Also, comic books are not being written for the individual issue anymore; they are being written to be collected into a trade paperback to sell to the masses in the large bookstores.
It is difficult to invest $95.76 into a single story told over 2 years. That’s a lot of money, and I have yet to see a single story deliver that payoff.

I guess Marvel doesn’t remember Dust. The Muslim character who wore a burka (my apologies if I am using the wrong word). THAT was risky.

Personally, I would like to see someone try to do an Orthodox Jewish hero. I will gladly volunteer for the task. That would sell even worse, though all my fellow Orthodox fanboys and fangirls would buy it.

Also, everyone should read the Hereville graphic novels for a lesson in how to do a religious Jewish girl for a broader audience. If Ms Marvel is one third as good as Hereville in depicting a way of life and still telling a story everyone can relate to, it will be a triumph.

My take (as a non-American comic reader/Filipino indie comic writer) is that while a comic title charcter being a minority is newsworthy, and it does make the character more relatable to readers of a similar ethnicity, the branding of the book is affected, making it seem to be about a specific ethnicity’s experiences (whether or not that actually is the case) which may not interest other readers not of that same ethnicity.

For example, aside from the fact that she’s a Muslim teen superhero, what is the hook of the book? Wolverine has an appeal due to his unique powers and personality, which resonate with people who may not be Canadian. The Canadian aspect of him adds to his background, but doesn’t define him. It may be why he’s more successful a character than any of Alpha Flight, which is just known for being a Canadian superteam.

I think it’s something that plagues even the comics from my country where many creators try too hard to highlight how “Filipino” the characters and stories are without figuring out first what the more universal and broader appeal of the comic is.

It’s great to have comics that cater to specific demographics and underserved audiences, but these titles can’t expect a broader appeal and the income that comes from that type of wider audience without a more universal main hook.

To me, if the gender or the ethnicity of the main character is the hook (in the marketing at least) that doesn’t bode well for the book’s longevity considering the crowded marketplace and high financial expectations frombig comic publishers. That’s a game for digital or ad-supported free comics where they can benefit from the long tail and survive with low financial risks and expectations.

“It smacks of agenda!” -> as if other comics don’t have agenda either

“It’s PC nonsense” -> PC is the dog whistle of those who do not wish to be called out for their shitty behaviour

“It’s pandering” -> What and you don’t think white characters pander just as much?

“Islam is cruel to women!” -> Well congrats on reducing a complex religion of millions to what you heard from notorious racist Dawkins

So is religion going to play a major part in the comic? If so for that reason alone I will skip it and that’s the case no matter what religion she is.

Leave a Comment

 


Browse the Robot 6 Archives