Good morning, Marvel Editorial Staff:
First and foremost, I want to acknowledge my 35+year relationship with comic books. Currently, my monthly pull list consists of 22 ongoing series (13 of which are Marvel publications). As an American woman of African ancestry, I am well aware of the ploy to make me believe I am not the “go-to” audience for comic books and superhero movies. I disagree with that entirely because I know I am not alone and I know my voice matters. I can only hope this email reaches those with open hearts, open minds, the ability to move from the past and from stereotypes, and the willingness to truly comprehend what accurate/positive representation means.
Second, this is not a letter where I claim to represent any group of people. The opinions listed are my thoughts and feelings alone, although I will incorporate words from a colleague who wanted to join in on this email with me. Of course, my experiences growing up as an American woman of African ancestry play a major part in my perspective and why I am writing this letter to you today. I ask you to understand these are my perspectives based on my experiences and should not be grouped together with what someone else thinks or believes about women who identify as I do.
Finally, please be aware it took me a few days to put my thoughts together because I was deeply concerned, angered, and frustrated by what I read and saw in recent issues of Marvel comics. I wanted to take the time to organize my thoughts in an effort to relay my message so you can fully understand the level of pain and mental anguish I experienced. I do not expect this letter to be published for I have a lot to say and it would probably take up an entire letters column.
As I mentioned above, I currently purchase 22 monthly titles, yet I previously had an additional five Marvel titles on my pull list. I cut each series from my list due to dissatisfaction with either the writing, art, or both. Before I get into those titles, I want to begin with the title that was the catalyst in getting me to write to you today: Power Man & Iron Fist (PM/IF)#7.
I am a huge fan of the original pairing of this dynamic duo from the 1970s-1980s and was excited for the re-imagining of Luke’s and Danny’s relationship. I had the pleasure of meeting both David F. Walker and Sanford Greene at a local convention to discuss the series with them. Although I adore the two main characters, my heart always belongs to Misty Knight and I was highly anticipating her (re) introduction into this series (through more than just a flashback). Unfortunately, my anticipation turned into despair when I saw how Misty was dressed during her time at the Decommissioned S.H.I.E.L.D. safe house. This “atrocious” costume of hers has been the bane of my existence since it debuted in Sam Wilson Captain America (SWCA) #1. It is obvious this outfit was created to appeal to fanboys who want to ogle at the female form but who have no actual appreciation or understanding of said form. Misty Knight is a weapons expert, combat trained, martial artist who uses stealth and easy maneuverability to locate, engage, and take down villains from all over the globe. How on Earth is she going to be able to do all that when her breasts are practically popping out? There’s not a sports bra around that could keep her in place, not with such a large opening in the front. Keep in mind, the shoulder holster is not adequate enough support. Not only is the outfit in itself demeaning in how it is used in SWCA, the fact it showed up in PM/IF shows continued disregard for and understanding of the female form (including necessary undergarments). Yet, it is even more disturbing to see it’s only Misty Knight portrayed in this manner in PM/IF. Jessica, Colleen, and Lotus are wearing clothes that accentuate their bodies but do not hypersexualize them. I am left to question if this is a not-so-subtle way of continuing to objectify women of African ancestry. (The last page of the comic includes both Monica and Storm. If you note, only Storm has her mid-section showing while everyone else has on full body suits. Only a portion of Monica’s body is showing, so I cannot fully assess her outfit.)
This is all so frustrating because at times it seems Misty’s portrayal is handled with care and understanding, such as in 2015’s Secret Wars: Secret Love and in 2016’s Civil War II: Choosing Sides #2. Even Sam Wilson Captain America #10 (aka the “About Time” Issue!) showed promise with the outfit in question because the artist for this issue chose to forego the despised “cleavage show”. Misty is a well-rounded woman with an inspirational origin story, relatable life lessons, mind-blowing martial arts skills, phenomenal friends, amazing ability to connect people; yet all of this is regaled to the background because writers and artists do not know how (or do not want) to bring such a powerhouse persona (who happens to be of African ancestry) to the forefront. I’m tired of seeing Misty being sidelined in SWCA (where was she during the Pleasant Hill situation?) considering how many times she’s saved Sam’s life. I would like to know why she is good enough to be his conscious and sparring partner but not good enough to go into battle with him? This boggles my mind considering how integral she was in All-New Captain America #2 -6, but I even question that series because we never knew what happened to Misty, especially after Fury stated she was not working with S.H.I.E.L.D.
There are so many more unanswered questions about Misty and why she continues to receive poor treatment 85% of the time. I definitely need a Misty standalone series (fully backed [aka “advertised”] by Marvel just like Ms. Marvel, Thor, or Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and not treated poorly like the short lived Storm and She-Hulk solo series) written by a woman of African ancestry who fully understands the nuances of being in a society where we are often viewed as second class citizens. Misty, along with so many other underutilized characters of color, should not just be background characters but leading ones as well. Fans belonging to diverse or even intersectional groups (women, disabled, LGBT, non-Caucasian ethnicities) would appreciate such varied representation. But the onus is on you to create products that reflect and include each of these groups, individually, and collectively. I understand it’s a numbers game and it’s risky to create new, decent (diverse) characters; however, ask yourself this: was Marvel founded to be all about money? What about doing something you love and taking a chance on it? Yet, in doing that, move away from the “tried and true” of yesteryear; and put your faith on the “new and unknown.” Fans would certainly appreciate that.
As I hope you have come to understand, I am passionate about Misty Knight and seeing her represented in the best possible way. I also want positive and accurate representation of other comic book characters as well. At this point, I will touch on the five ongoing Marvel comics I no longer include in my pull list.
A-Force was a huge hit with me because of the phenomenal writing of G. Willow Wilson and the beautiful artwork. I maintained this pull through the Battleworld situation and on into post-Secret Wars. I dropped that title when the art no longer appealed to me and G. Willow Wilson was no longer writing.
The same with Totally Awesome Hulk because I was there for the first six issues when Frank Cho depicted both Amadeus and Hulk with Asian features. It was exciting to have the Hulk be from a different ethnicity and to learn more about a different culture through Greg Pak’s writing. Unfortunately, when Cho left to work on another project, I felt the art on Totally Awesome Hulk declined as well. Having an Asian looking Hulk is what appealed to me, so when it looked as though Amadeus was Asian but the Hulk was once again Caucasian-looking, I lost interest in the series. I want art to accurately reflect the story I am reading (I begrudgingly give a pass to a cover) and if it does not, I will drop the title. (On a side-note, I have to state my outrage with Cho’s overall depiction and characterization of women as hypersexualized objects merely presented for the enjoyment of fanboys. But, that discussion is for a different letter.)
As for Thor, I was happy with the new edition to this mythology within the realm of comics, but was dismayed when Jane Foster was revealed to be Thor. I thought this was the lazy “safe” selection for the secret identity. I hoped for a more dramatic reveal of Thor being a character of color or at least a less obvious choice. That disappointment rested heavily on me; hence, I dropped the series.
The last two comics I dropped were due to internal conflicts I experienced each time I read the stories. With each issue, I became more and more agitated and disillusioned to the point it was best for me to drop the titles.
Spider-Man was wonderful reading about Miles Morales’ journey, yet his reluctance to discuss race or see how it affected his life was a red flag to me. With Miles being of a mixed race (regardless of which one he identified with), living in America his ethnic makeup would always be put on display. Having him see it otherwise and openly express that in a comic book where other young men (and women) would read this is both dangerous and ignorant of what children of color have to go through on a daily basis. The adage of “…with great power comes great responsibility” also applies to dealing with racial issues in America. This is something Caucasian writers may think they have a grasp on but do not fully understand. The dialogue between Ganke and Miles regarding Miles not “wanting to be the Black Spider-Man” was an opportunity to learn, embrace, acknowledge, and educate others about this particular issue. Instead it was treated as something disgusting and hurtful and not worth mentioning further. Such a wasted moment led me to lose faith in the writer’s comprehension of what it truly means to be identified as a “minority” in the USA.
As mentioned in the opening to this letter, a colleague wanted to incorporate some of her thoughts into this email. This is what she had to say about Spider-Man: “Children & even some adult fans reading your work would greatly appreciate seeing themselves represented on the page. Speaking of representation, it’s likely these stories would come off more authentically if they were told by people that understand such narratives. For example, I love Miles Morales and while I feel Brian Michael Bendis has created a great character & has success with him, the narrative could appear more authentic if told from an Afro-Latino/a perspective even if as a creative advisor.”
Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur brought me tears of joy when I first learned about the title. I could not contain my excitement when the first issue was placed lovingly into my waiting hands. I devoured the first two issues just so happy to have this little girl in my life, but there was something nagging at me the entire time. It wasn’t until Issue #4 when I realized what it was: Lunella’s relationship with her parents. I was Lunella as a child: independent; opinionated; coke bottle glasses; “nerd” carrying heavy books to and from school; advanced placement and gifted programs; and often the only melanin-infused person in my classes. But the difference stopped there because Lunella’s interaction with her parents shows a lack of cultural awareness and understanding on the part of the two Caucasian writers.
As a gifted child, I was always aware of being different from my classmates, which was enhanced by my being female, but above all, it was even more so enhanced by my being of African ancestry. This awareness included my learning about racism at an early age and knowing my home was my sacred space. Reading how Lunella would be gone all times of the day and out all night only to return home and have her parents look a little worried but mainly just go about their day was a slap in my face. Never would this behavior been tolerated in my home because of fear of what could happen to me in a world where I am seen as “less than” anyway. There would be a lot more worry from the adults and more questions about where I’d been. Being gifted and a genius did not allow me to disrespect my family and disregard their well-being. I allowed a Caucasian co-worker to read each issue of this series so I could test a theory. After reading each issue, she would say to me “…it seems like Lunella is a Black child adopted into a white home, but this comic shows her as having two Black parents…. where is the parents’ outrage and concern?” These were the exact questions I’d asked myself, so it was interesting having them placed back at me proving my theory: it is not possible for two Caucasian writers to understand what it is like to be a female child of African ancestry growing up in America and almost impossible to know what it’s like being that child and being gifted. I attempted to push through with the series, especially as it was receiving so much great press and winning so many awards, but I found myself increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with the writing. I did not hear Lunella’s authentic voice, but instead the voices of Caucasian Americans telling the world how a child – like me in fact – should sound and act. I could no longer stomach the pretense, so I dropped the title.
I believe I managed to get a lot “off my chest” with this dissertation I wrote. Although I would welcome feedback regarding my concerns and what I wrote today, I do not expect anyone to respond. Too often I am told my voice does not matter in comics because I am the wrong age, the wrong race, and the wrong gender. I see myself depicted poorly, not at all, or inconsistently in the comics I pick up from the “big 2” and I am routinely disappointed. But, I have hope because my voice is not alone; my thoughts and concerns are shared by many; I speak not only with my words but with my disposable income as well. I chose to purchase these comics monthly but I know I can definitely take my money to independent sources to provide the authentic representation I need, demand, and deserve. I just hope Marvel Comics will get on board and see the positive portrayal of women of African ancestry is more than just pandering solely for monetary reasons but ethically viable to ensure your company is able to survive in these changing times.
In closing, I want to leave you with some food for thought:
- Sam Wilson’s prolonged portrayal as Cap Wolf in Sam Wilson Captain America was a nod to Steve Rogers’ portrayal of the same character, but did anyone in the writing room (or editors) stop to think how the media and American history routinely portrays men of African ancestry as beasts?
- Jim Rhodes’ death propels Civil War II is reminiscent of Bill Foster’s death in the first Civil War. Why is it the death of men of African ancestry needed to justify disagreements between Caucasian characters?
- Over the years, Marvel’s aim to provide diverse characters has been highlighted. Yet, there is still one glaring omission (until recently) – lack of women of African ancestry as writers and/or editors. As you begin to include diverse narratives in your products, it would be wise to employ those that can help accurately and appropriately get such narratives told.
- The success of Secret Wars: Secret Loveand Civil War II: Choosing Sides #2 is based on the excellent writing of Jeremy Whitley. He depicts well-rounded women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and sexual orientations and you know what? It works! Why? He uses an authentic voice by not guessing what a woman would say or do, but essentially getting input from actual women on what they would say and do. Knowing his wife was his inspiration for his depiction of Misty Knight in CWII enhances my faith in this writer to have a deep seated respect for non-Caucasian characters. More writers should copy this method.
All in all, I continue to maintain some hope with Marvel, especially with the
announcement of Roxane Gay’s involvement with the World of Wakanda. Pandering? Maybe, but someone must be first.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read through my comments, questions, and concerns. Again, I hope this reaches those with an open heart, open mind and the willingness to understand the motivation behind this letter.
Written by: Sistah Geek