Marvel Comics has had the worst year in terms of public perception since rival DC in 2013. And we should know, as co-founder of the Has DC Done Something Stupid Today? counter. And just like during DC’s Very Stupid Year, if there were a single-purpose website keeping track of all of Marvel’s blunders this year, it would have been constantly set to “zero.” Even Marvel stalwart “The Great One” Brian Michael Bendis fled the company in 2017 (an honorable mention on this list).
It’s hard to distill all of Marvel’s screw-ups to just a handful, but we’ve done our best to create this clickbait listicle. Without further ado, here are Marvel’s Top 5 Screw-Ups of 2017!
Marvel’s entire business model centers on a nonstop cycle of super-mega-crossover events boosting sales and leading into some kind of line-wide relaunch initiative, and while it’s been suffering from diminishing returns for some time now, 2017 was the year that the bottom fell out.
Even 2016’s Civil War 2 managed to top the charts, but when Secret Empire #0 hit, it was defeated by The Button, a regular old crossover happening between rival DC’s Batman and The Flash. A technicality, in which the sales for Batman and The Flash were split amongst two entries thanks to different pricing for lenticular variant covers, allowed Secret Empire #0 to land the top spot on the charts, but when the two cover versions of each of the comics were taken together, both sold way more copies than Secret Empire, a shocking defeat for a Marvel super-mega-crossover event.
Yeah, we hear what you’re saying. A number zero issue isn’t really the same as a number one. Well, the same thing happened the next month when Secret Empire #1 hit, this time up against the lower-selling second half of The Button crossover. Oof.
Making matters worse, Marvel Legacy, the line-wide relaunch initiative that hoped to return Marvel to its former glory, fizzled when claims of “industry-changing announcements” were followed up by the announcement of a bunch of solicitations mostly for the books that were already being published, legacy numbering, and lenticular variants. For such paltry results, it seems like such a waste that Marvel spent the entire year hyping up a Nazi-themed event comic that many people found distasteful in the Trump era.
What could possibly be more bone-headed than partnering with a maker of nuclear missiles to create a comic aimed at kids? How about partnering with a maker of nuclear missiles to create a comic aimed at kids, planning to announce it at one of the biggest pop-culture events of the year during a time when the President of the United States is pushing the world to the brink of actual nuclear war over a Twitter pissing match with a foreign dictator, and having absolutely no idea that this could backfire big time? Yeah, that sounds more like the 2017 Marvel we know and love.
Avengers Featuring Northrop Grumman Elite Nexus, written by Fabian Nicieza with art by Sean Chen, was set to be revealed at a big event at Marvel’s booth at New York Comic Con in October, but they teased it on Twitter first, and all hell broke loose. It wasn’t 12 hours before Marvel had canceled the partnership and removed the free-to-read comic from their website, though the few copies of the book that did make their way out there could be advertised as both rare and controversial on eBay, so at least someone profited besides the military-industrial complex.
In any other instance, the brand new white Editor-in-Chief of a major comic book publisher revealing, on his very first day on the job, that he had previously skirted company policy by writing comics for Marvel while pretending to be a Japanese man named Akira Yoshida would top a list of colossal PR screw-ups, but for Marvel in 2017, this one only earned the number 3 slot. Under the guise of Yoshida, Cebulski wrote a bunch of comics using stereotypical elements of Japanese culture. As Bleeding Cool Rumourmonger-in-Chief Rich Johnston wrote at the time:
It may not have been as much of an issue at the time, but Akira Yoshida — presented as a Japanese writer — wrote about Japan and created Japanese characters, locations, and themes that, if it had been Cebulski, would be problematic. That comes with allegations of appropriation, yellowface, and playing up an authenticity that wasn’t there.
To make matters worse, a story — one that we’re not sure is worse if it’s a cover story or worse if its true — claims that people at Marvel believed Cebulski was a real person because a Japanese translator who happened to visit the Marvel offices, and even had lunch with editor Mike Marts, was “misidentified” as Yoshida. Marvel took a beating over this one in the mainstream media for weeks, and Cebulski has been laying low ever since, with Joe Quesada taking up the position of the company’s chief social media defender.
Oh, and it’s worth pointing out that Marvel found out about all of this before they named Cebulski as new Editor-in-Chief, and apparently chose to endure the scandal anyway.
#2: Marvel executives say people are sick of diversity and a bunch of other salacious things in a closed-door retailer meeting
Marvel’s commitment to diversity is very nuanced. When it comes to appearing on talk shows to talk about Marvel’s commitment to diversity, Marvel is all in, but when it comes to, for example, having more than 16% of the creators credited on your books be women, things get a little murkier. As a corporation, we can’t expect Marvel to have an ideology beyond making a profit, and any attempts to brand it or any other corporation as benevolent is foolish. Of course, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good people at Marvel who care about issues as individuals, but when it comes down to it, as a corporate entity, Marvel cares only about cold, hard cash.
When the going was good, Marvel was happy to position itself as a champion of diversity, but when the going got tough, well, just take a look at what happened when the curtain was pulled back in 2017 as Marvel allowed industry website ICv2 to sit in on a closed-door meeting with retailers. During that meeting, and in subsequent interviews, then Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso and Vice President David Gabriel let loose with a cavalcade of outrageous statements that spawned more than a dozen Bleeding Cool articles and caused the company to take yet another beating in the press.
First and foremost, and most embarrassingly, was Gabriel saying that Marvel was hearing readers didn’t want diversity anymore. But that was just one of the many salacious things that made headlines that weekend. To give just a few examples, you also had Axel Alonso saying artists “don’t move the needle,” Gabriel calling the term “limited series” “the death knell,” Alonso saying that creators told him they wished they hadn’t launched Image books, Gabriel saying Marvel can’t make trade paperbacks more affordable because it would undercut the overpriced floppies, and even Alonso blaming Donald Trump for the sales slump Marvel led the industry into with their business practices, which was particularly ironic given the next entry on this list.
#1: Marvel Chairman Ike Perlmutter continues to be good friends with, official advisor to, and financial supporter of President Donald Trump
Marvel has made a big effort to brush off criticism that they’ve abandoned their commitment to diversity in 2017 after saying that they heard from retailers that people didn’t want it and then canceling a crapload of books with LGBTQ and POC leads at the end of the year. Marvel editor Jordan White even took to Twitter to ask people to please keep buying Marvel books so that they can get their diversity back on in 2018.
The people you are boycotting are the people that took a chance on the book you loved. They made that book because they believed in it, and they made something you both cared about. That suggests to me that they're going to keep trying, and that you may well like their next book.
— Jordan D. White (@cracksh0t) December 28, 2017
As an example–Gwenpool. When I was asked to do that book, there was nothing but a costume. I brought in Chris Hastings and we worked out a concept for a character that was something I LOVED in every way.
— Jordan D. White (@cracksh0t) December 28, 2017
So yeah. I am just advocating not giving up on the people who made something you are so passionate about just because it wasn't a commercial success. We're just as passionate as you are, and we're going to give it another go.
— Jordan D. White (@cracksh0t) December 28, 2017
But how can Marvel Comics be a positive force for social justice when their Chairman is good friends with Donald Trump and financially supported his presidential campaign? Do a couple of comic books with more representation even out financial support for a President that has tried to ban Muslims from entering the country, wants to deport immigrants, has openly bragged about sexual assault on tape, and done so many other terrible things that it would take a dozen listicles to name them all? For every dollar spent on a book promoting a positive social message, how many ended up in the coffers of the Trump campaign through donations from Perlmutter? What would the ratio need to be before any positive benefit is canceled out?
And sure, you can find a Trump-supporting 1%er if you look hard enough at any major corporation, and if you tried to consume 100% responsibly, you’d probably have to live in the woods like Ales Kot. But how many of your favorite company’s Chairpeople dine frequently with Trump at Mar-a-lago, fly around with him on Air Force One, serve as advisors to the administration, break decades of reclusion to appear at bill signings and shake hands with the President, donate repeatedly to his campaign, including after he won, and contribute more than 1/3 of the total funds collected by the Trump Foundation in 2016? That club, we’d argue, is a lot more exclusive, and Ike Perlmutter tops its ranks. As a result, anything Marvel achieves while Trump is President must be marked with a giant orange asterisk, knowing that as Marvel succeeds, and Ike becomes more wealthy and powerful, he uses that power to support Donald Trump.
So as you can see, Marvel didn’t have a great 2017. But then again, who did? It was a bad year, and it’s probably best for us all to put 2017 behind us and never speak of it again. And on the bright side, when you start out the year at such a historic low, there’s nowhere to go but up, right? *gulp*