Marvel has a reputation for underrepresenting minorities in their content. Just recently, Marvel’s Sales VP made comments in an interview with ICv2 about a decline in sales being a direct result from including a more diverse range of characters. Translation: having too many female and minority characters were causing readers to spend money and time elsewhere. There are a lot of common misconceptions cropping up in this, the first being the difference between a causation and correlation, and the second being that boys aren’t willing to read books about female characters.
Gizmodo explained that lately the comic book giant has been pumping out events and crossovers more quickly than fans have time – or finances—to keep up with, and that, “In the past two years alone, there have been at least 12 events and crossovers.” With comic books costing $3.99-$5.99 per issue, there are very real economic difficulties in keeping up with all the current story lines.
These companies are merely attempting to shrug off responsibility for portraying minority characters in their books, movies, TV shows, and merchandise. A choice they are deliberately making. There was nothing that made me more aware of gendered marketing than my year of working in the clothing department at Target. Going from the girls’ department to the boys’ department was like entering another universe. The entire color scheme changed from bright pinks, purples, and sassy princess sayings to dark blues, browns, greens and sporting super heroes like the Avengers. Pick up an Avengers shirt, and someone would be conspicuously missing from the line-up, and I won’t even give you a guess as to who it was.
Naturally, poor representation does not end at women. There are regrettably few minority characters of any sort within the marvel universe, cinematic or otherwise. Equally as upsetting are common are opinions that state that because characters with disability exist, it means that there is representation. This is simply not accurate.
Daredevil is not a character I would say accurately portrays what it is like to have a visual impairment. He is, however, an excellent example of how Marvel tends to handle disabilities: by giving the person super powers that compliment that disability perfectly, to the point that it negates the disability entirely. Daredevil’s super power is that he’s a blind guy who isn’t blind.
I do want to acknowledge that writing disabled characters in a fantasy universe takes some creativity. Because in a world where magic exists, disability would play out differently. They also might not fit into what we traditionally view as the ideal story. If there was a totally DeafBlind super hero that was running around flying a jet, I would seriously question the integrity of the writing. Disabled characters and the authors who write them, need to face the same challenges that real disabled people face every single day—force themselves to look at what they can do, rather than what limits them.
If writers focused more energy on letting their disabled characters drive their stories based on what their innate talents and abilities are, rather than have them try and squish into a preconceived notion of heroism, they’d have the makings of a fantastic story. A story about a Deaf character learning how to accommodate herself so she can participate in a real battle because her powers have nothing to do with acoustics? Then deal with what happens when communications fail? Then, at the end of the day, have her teammates continue to value her for her contributions to the team? Now that is a story I want to engage with.
It is also a myth that boys will only read books about boys. Women and girls have been reading books about men and boys for centuries, a good story is a good story. Varying who the protagonist is throughout the story can only serve to generate an increasingly larger selection of quality comics, movies, and television stories. We can all benefit from reading about characters who are not like us.
For now, we have a splattering of disabled characters with varying degrees of solid representation. It is also why we need critiques to call attention to these representations.
This was the first installment in what will be a monthly series, looking at various aspects of representation within the Marvel universe—past and present. I will look at the writers behind the scenes, characters on the page, and go into the cinematic universe and how it is portrayed.
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