Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Marvel's Misogynist Merchandising Malady

I am a boy.

I love comics.

All my favorite characters are girls.

And I have always wondered why my shelves had to be lined with Cyclops and Wolverine action figures.
I have always been a comic fanboy. They were an escape and part of the mythology I grew up reading. They were as equally important as the stories of Greek heroes and Norse adventures. They were powerful and quite personal. In the Marvel universe I found an entire team of people that felt outcast from society just the way I did. They had something in their DNA that made them different and feared by society just the way I did.


My favorite characters were always the women. From their portrayals in the various animated series to the fleshed out, complex storylines in the comics proper, my favorite comic characters have always been the women.

Why?

Because they got the absolute best stories, the biggest powers, and wore the coolest costumes. Unfortunately, all the best women in comics go crazy. Like...all the fucking time. This is likely due to the fact that men think guys should have powers and abilities and backstories that play up how macho and bad ass they are and women should have powers and abilities and backstories that play up how men don't understand a woman's period.

Every significant female character has been evil. Not only evil, but so drunk with evil that they're responsible for death and destruction that the men in comics only dream about. Jean Grey ate a star and killed billions. Wanda Maximoff in the last decade seems to only be brought out in order to kill, maim, or wipe out entire populations of people (and then she's trotted off back to obscurity). Rogue. Emma Frost. Storm. They all either go full on evil, or their sanity is cracked in half any time the writers don't know what to do with them.

But the guys in comics more or less get to be guys. Wolverine. Cyclops. Gambit (except when he was one of Apocalypse's horsemen). Nightcrawler. Peter Parker. They're flawed, to be sure, but in a way that is human. In a way that you understand. In a way that's able to be redeemed. They save the day. They stay on track, and if they fall by the wayside, everyone comes together to bring them back to the fold.

When Wanda went crazy,  Professor X wanted to kill her. When Jean Grey went crazy, everyone in the universe wanted to kill her.

Men go crazy, they're going through a bad time. Women go crazy, they need to be put down.

And I get it. Wolverine goes crazy...he can't take out an entire solar system. Jean Grey goes crazy...I mentioned she can eat a star, right?

But the women are still my favorite. Their power sets. Their ostentatious costumes. And, in the last decade or so, their strength. Once writers stopped using women in comics as paramours and damsels in distress (Seriously, Sue Richards, if you could just stop getting kidnapped by Doctor Doom and Namor, that would be great) they realized that there isn't a man in the Marvel universe that could tangle with the big girls.


One of my favorite comic moments for Storm is a little quip way back in some forgotten issue where she's trying to take out a gunman, and Wolverine tells her not to worry, and she tells him to fuck off because she's storm and lightning is faster than a gun and reminds him that she's Storm and I went THAT'S RIGHT, BITCH, SHE'S STORM AND SHE DOESN'T NEED A MAN TO FIGHT HER BATTLES FOR HER!

Ahem...

Lately there's been a lot of talk lately about Black Widow. Most recently about her exclusion from the Marvel toy line (including one of her most bad ass scenes from the recent Avengers movie). And I agree. Black Widow, being one of the main Marvel women right now should be front and center in merchandise. Her gauntlets should be right next to Thor's Mjolnir and Captain America's shield in the toy aisle for girls and boys alike to beg their parents to buy. But her appearance is noticeably absent. In the recent Avengers at Target commercial, they made sure to play up Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, and Iron Man...but ignored Black Widow. (They ignored Hawkeye too, but everyone ignores Hawkeye.)

Though I do find it odd that they're ignoring both Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in the merchandising strategy, since they're the new, flashy characters in the movie...but whatevs. 

As any lifelong comic fan can tell you, however, this isn't new. Merchandising folks have always favored the male characters over the female. I remember one Christmas my parents bought me one of those giant action figure sets. You know the kind. It includes something like 20-30 action figures in one giant box? It contains all the big characters of the moment and then some side characters that you have either never heard of or don't care about. I got Cyclops and Wolverine and 1-2 A-list characters. Then I got some B-grade characters like Silver Surfer (who, to be fair, had his own TV show at the time) and then it went down to freaking Ghost Rider who has only ever been a "generic bad ass guy" filler for when Wolverine or Bishop or Cable wasn't available.

I didn't get a single female action figure in the bunch. Now, the X-Men animated series was at its peak around that time. But Jean Grey, Storm, Rogue, and Jubilee were noticeably absent from the action figure lineup. Spider-Man I could buy. And, sure, there were a couple Jean Grey figures here and there at peak buying season, but they never had Phoenix action figures or Jean Grey with a bunch of neat accessories. She was a single action figure that was supposed to fit into the main, male-dominated playset.

I was so glad when this recent run of the X-Men saw an all-female team. And, for what it's worth, that got some media attention. But I'm ready to walk by the toy aisle at Target and see girls not able to just dress up as Queen Elsa, but I want Scarlet Witch's red jacket and Black Widow's stinger gauntlets right next to them. I don't want to have to drown out the Marvel Men and purposefully replace them with female characters for the sake of doing so, because overcorrecting doesn't solve anything.


It isn't genuine if we're forcing an all-female Avengers cast. But if you're going to include Black Widow and Scarlet Witch in your movie that made you billions of dollars, maybe trust that the audience wouldn't mind picking up some Black Widow and Scarlet Witch memorabilia.

But if we could also start figuring out a way to understand that comic fans love these characters and would like to stop seeing them as women drunk with power and on the very brink of insanity...that would be great, too.

I'd love to cheer on Scarlet Witch and Jean Grey's return and not have to worry about whether they're about to go Dark Phoenix in the next issue. Let a fan favorite guy go crazy and get written out of the comics for a decade. I could personally do without Wolverine being on every single flipping Marvel team in existence for quite a while. There are better characters out there. I'd much rather see Emma Frost get fully realized without her motives and allegiances getting called into question at every turn.

I will say... I'm hopeful of the Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel/Ms. Marvel) inclusion. She's one powerful Marvel bad ass who hasn't really gone too terribly crazy in the books. And...I know feminists everywhere will likely stone me for this, but I hope they let her keep her iconic costume. It's awesome.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

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