Race + Comics: Three Characters Of Color Who (Probably) Won’t Benefit From The Avengers’ Success

Courtesy artwallpapers.biz

By Arturo R. García

Ok, so The Avengers–pardon me, Marvel’s The Avengers–is a well-made summer blockbuster-type movie, well worth catching at least once. To no one’s surprise, the film’s gargantuan opening weekend has made a sequel inevitable. Which means it’s officially time to start speculating on which characters will be next to make the jump to the big screen.

This would be a great chance for Marvel to give fans a more diverse super-team, right? Maybe include Black Panther or Luke Cage? It’s a nice thought, but with the comic-book industry involved, it’s … best not to get too optimistic. Still, it’s not hard to see the opportunities Marvel is almost assuredly going to neglect because of some behind-the-scenes moves.

Ultimate Janet Van Dyne
Way back in 2008, Samuel L. Jackson’s surprise appearance as Nick Fury in Iron Man served as an elegant signal to viewers and readers: the nascent Marvel movieverse would be adapting material from the company’s Ultimate line of comics, which presented more diverse versions of the company’s core characters. Ultimate Nick Fury’s character design, for example, was specifically modeled after Jackson. And Ultimate Janet was depicted as an Asian-American woman.

Over the years, however, the company has transferred that corporate synergy toward its primary line of comics: Tony Stark looks more like Robert Downey Jr; Hawkeye looks more like Jeremy Renner; and most recently, a black Nick Fury was introduced in the Battle Lines miniseries.

If that pattern holds, it’s not hard to imagine Ultimate Janet not getting a movie counterpart, while her Caucasian counterpart gets the nod. But if Joss Whedon returns to direct an Avengers 2 movie, here’s to hoping he can do right by another Dollhouse alum–blink and you’ll miss Enver Gokaj as a cop in Avengers–and cast Dichen Lachman instead.

Miles Morales
It’s worth noting that Marvel doesn’t own the film rights to the Spider-Man brand; right now they’re controlled by Sony Entertainment. And even if the upcoming Andrew Garfield vehicle The Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t do well at the box office (which isn’t likely; it honestly doesn’t look bad at all), all Sony has to do is keep making movies to retain those rights. Which is bad news for fans of Miles, who was introduced in Ultimate Spider-Man last year, when he took up the mantle of the dead Ultimate Peter Parker.

Even if we indulge in some wild speculation, and argue that Marvel and parent company Disney can use some of that Avengers money to buy back the Spider-Man and Fantastic Four brands, it won’t help Miles. After all, the traditional Peter Parker is still alive and well, and a featured player in two Avengers titles.

Courtesy Marvel Comics

Monica Rambeau
Monica is perhaps still best known for being the second character to take on the name Captain Marvel (in Marvel canon, anyway), and for being written to not only appear in the Avengers comic book in the 1980s, but become the team leader.

As we’ve mentioned before on Racialicious, the key words there are “being written to ____.” Because ever since her run with the Avengers, not only have Monica’s appearances dwindled to a few miniseries, but she’s been written to give up her superhero name twice to the original Captain’s son, Genis-Vell, leading to Monica getting rebranded from Captain Marvel to Photon to Pulsar, with less emphasis on her along the way.

That doesn’t figure to change with the news that there will be a new Captain Marvel series, where Carol Danvers, the character formerly known as Ms. Marvel, will get the benefit of not only the Captain Marvel brand, but a new costume, and Marvel’s promotional muscle behind her. In other words, the Danvers character is being positioned to be all but a cinch for inclusion in the next round of Marvel films.

This isn’t a knock on the new Marvel’s creative team, writer Kelly Sue DeCormick and artist Dexter Soy. But Marvel editor Steve Wacker did shed some light on the company’s thought process in this piece by Comics Alliance’s Laura Hudson, where he told Hudson he “has been trying to get this name change since my first day editing the book about five years ago, so this has been a long time coming.”

Think about that for a second. Wacker had been working on raising the Danvers character’s profile for five years. All the while, Carol has been written to be a part of at least one Avengers team, on top of getting her own solo series. Has anybody given such consideration to an audience for Rambeau, even as she was part of the cult hit miniseries Nextwave?

Apparently not, because ever since Nextwave, Rambeau has only been written as a supporting players in miniseries like Marvel Divas, Heralds, and Young Allies, none of which was promoted as a major event by Marvel. Why could that be?

Oh, right. Silly me.

Aside: I feel it’s absolutely necessary to point out that while the Avengers film is good for what it is, but none of it would have been possible without the efforts of Jack Kirby, who co-created many of the characters featured in it and won’t see a dime of the box-office take. CA’s David Brothers has an excellent column detailing how little Kirby received for his contributions to Marvel Comics:

For most artists, the form was a one-page contract. For Kirby, it was four pages. You can read the form here on The Comics Journal site, and get a good background on the fight for Kirby’s artwork by Michael Dean here. Marvel offered to return eighty-eight pages to Jack Kirby. Kirby’s regular schedule for in the ’70s was fifteen pages a week, depending on how much outside animation work he was doing. But even then, he’d worked for Marvel for years, generating thousands of pages of work. There is a gulf as wide as the Grand Canyon between what Kirby was legally owed and what Marvel offered. Marvel’s offer was an insult, at best.

In exchange for those 88 pages, Kirby would have to give up several rights. Here’s an incomplete list of Marvel’s requests:

  • Kirby was to agree that Marvel was “the sole and exclusive owner of all copyright in and to the Artwork throughout the worid,” and if the art somehow wasn’t already copyright Marvel, Kirby was to cede copyright to Marvel for that, too.
  • Kirby was to receive no royalties for future use of the work by Marvel.
  • Kirby was forbidden from assisting others in questioning Marvel’s copyright.
  • Kirby was forbidden from objecting to future use or modification of his work, no matter the form it took.
  • Marvel was to receive the rights to Kirby’s name, likeness, and biographical info to use in their marketing or publishing as they wished.
  • Kirby was not allowed to copy, publicly display, or even give away any of his artwork.
  • Kirby was to give Marvel unfettered access to the artwork at Marvel’s sole discretion.
  • Kirby was forbidden from saying that Marvel had possession of any more of his art.

In light of this injustice, I’d like to invite our readers to make a donation to Avengers to The Hero Initiative, a non-profit group that helps comics creators pay for medical aid and other essentials as needed. Another standout piece from CA on why this matters can be found here.

  • Anonymous

    I hated the USM arc ” Death of Spider-man” and hate the whole Miles business. Some legacy heroes and replacements can get the shadow out of the originals. Miles will never be able to do that with Peter Parker because Parker /Spidey are inextricably linked and it becomes harder to replace an A list global icon.

    • Anonymous

       But one of the ideas behind the Ultimate Universe – at least, according to several interviews around the time it was created – was that it wouldn’t necessarily be dependent on the same crowd that buys 616 books. So Marvel was, at least outwardly, angling to create two different fanbases for, say, Ultimate Thor vis-a-vis the traditional characterization.

      The problems begin when a company places an overemphasis on “synergy.” Consider the case of DC’s Justice League animated series, which featured John Stewart. Despite a relative lack of promotion on the printed side, what with biracial Kyle Rayner being the Lantern of record, John developed his own fanbase independent of the book. But as soon as Geoff Johns took more control of the company’s creative projects, not only was Hal Jordan restored in the comics, but more animated features were presented emphasizing Hal alongside that epic fail of a Ryan Reynolds movie.

      So the problem isn’t that Miles is around – it’s the company’s refusal to cultivate multiple fan revenue sources for the sake of keeping things “consistent” for some mythical all-encompassing clientele.

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  • Anonymous

    That was Enver Gjokaj! ::fistpump::

  • Keith

    Edit:  although marvel never reconned him hitting wasp, other characters like Reed Richards have gotten a free pass from the wife beating label. Pym was never a repeat offender in beating women he’s been in relationship with.  He’s been trying to redeem himself ever since.

    • Anonymous

      As well, from the same time period Wolverine was an unrepentant killer, and that has been kind of glossed over. 

  • Cathy S

    Black Panther is one of The Avengers in Disney’s current Avengers cartoon on Disney XD, and Luke Cage has made at least one appearance, so maybe. They’re both great characters; it would be nice to see them on the big screen.

  • http://twitter.com/gabbysilang gabby

    As much as I love Jan, Ulimate and 616, I despite Hank Pym enough to fear her inclusion just because he’s have to come along with. 

    I’m somewhat hopeful for a Luke Cage vehicle, with as much hype as Isaiah Mustafa has gotten around the role. His power set would also be pretty easy to fit into the existing universe Marvel has going. 

    • Anonymous

       I have huge problems with how Marvel handled their relationship and how they’ve handled the criticism of the handling of that relationship. It has thoroughly tainted both characters.

  • http://twitter.com/MalikPanama Malik

    I agree with most of this. However, I disagree with the bit about Captain Marvel being a cinch for the next round of Marvel films. I think it would be contingent on (if it ever comes to light) how well a Black Widow film will do to see if they’re going to invest in another film about a woman superhero.

    Maybe with Idris Elba’s rising popularity we can get a Luke Cage film?

    • Antonio

      That doesn’t mean much. Chris Evans played both Captain America and Johnny Storm. Granted, Fantastic Four was a different studio, but still.

    • Anonymous

       Keep in mind, though, that the Danvers character could be introduced as a secondary player – say, as a SHIELD agent tasked to monitor Tony Stark or Steve Rogers. That’s basically the same route Black Widow took to inclusion in Avengers, which served as another springboard to a possible movie (though there’s fan theories out there saying the most likely play is a Widow/Hawkeye tandem project, since the characters seem to have a history as a partnership.)

  • Anonymous

    This is why I give Stan Lee a massive side-eye whenever I see him in Marvel movies and cartoons.

  • Skeptical

    Honestly, some of this seems… tenuous. Why *should* Marvel buy back Spiderman? I understand that if they did and somehow Miles was in the movie, that would be good for POC, but you’ve not really made any argument as to why (artistically or morally even) they should. It doesn’t really seem like a real critique. Besides, the Spiderman movie “reboot” looks atrocious and is clearly a huge cash grab. Would they even want to taint the Avengers movies with the stench of that crap?

    • Anonymous

      I was annoyed when they put Spider-Man in The Avengers. Spider-Man is not really a joiner.

      • Anonymous

         True. Which makes it doubly awkward when the best parts of New Avengers are when he and the other heroes are shooting the bull at dinner, as opposed to the actual superheroics. The curse of Bendis at work?

    • Anonymous

       At this point it’s all subjective. Personally, I think ASM looks halfway decent, so calling it “crap” based off a couple of previews is jumping the gun in a major way. 

      But to your main point: of course this is a cash grab – Marvel is out to make as much money as it can, and Spider-Man is, for better or worse, still the company’s flagship character in the comic-book realm. Even if the new film is bad, Michael Bay’s Transformers films proved that quality doesn’t automatically prevent the extension of a franchise. So it would make sense for the company to at least consider (whether it admits it on the record or not) reacquiring the rights to the brand and at least setting it in the shared Marvel movieverse, regardless of whether the character’s an Avenger or not.

      My overall point is, moving the movie emphasis closer to the original Marvel continuity shuts Miles out of the equation, which squanders an opportunity on both an economic and artistic level.

  • Keith

    I think marvel created ultimate Nick Fury so that they could have Samuel L Jackson play Nick Fury on the Big screen somewhere down the line, not for the sake of diversity. 

    • Anonymous

      Ultimate Fury was directly based on Jackson.

  • Keith

    Jack Kirby died in 1994, his family however won’t see a dime.