|Riri Williams, who took over the Iron Man storyline as Ironheart, on the cover of Invincible Iron Man #1. Photograph: Marvel|
Over recent years, Marvel has made efforts to include more diverse and more female characters, introducing new iterations of fan favourites including a female Thor; Riri Williams, a black teenager who took over the Iron Man storyline as Ironheart; Miles Morales, a biracial Spider-Man and Kamala Khan, a Muslim teenage girl who is the current Ms Marvel.
But speaking at the Marvel retailer summit about the studio’s falling comic sales since October, David Gabriel told ICv2 that retailers had told him that fans were sticking to old favourites. “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity,” he said. “They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.”
He added: “I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales … Any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up.”
Gabriel later issued a clarifying statement, saying that some retailers felt that some core Marvel heroes were being abandoned, but that there was a readership for characters like Ms Marvel and Miles Morales who “ARE excited about these new heroes”. He added: “And let me be clear, our new heroes are not going anywhere! We are proud and excited to keep introducing unique characters that reflect new voices and new experiences into the Marvel universe and pair them with our iconic heroes.
“We have also been hearing from stores that welcome and champion our new characters and titles and want more! … So we’re getting both sides of the story and the only upcoming change we’re making is to ensure we don’t lose focus [on] our core heroes.”
Online, readers scorned Gabriel’s remarks, pointing to Marvel’s tendency over the last few years to focus on restarting and rebooting storylines, creating a complicated web of interwoven universes, as well as an overwhelming output that fans struggled to keep up with.
I love how Marvel thinks people are tired of "diversity".— Alisha Rai (@AlishaRai) April 1, 2017
NO I AM TIRED OF WATCHING UNCLE BEN DIE 373929463 TIMES.
An idiotic conclusion, @Marvel. I stopped buying your books because of the high price & event fatigue not diversity. https://t.co/uysUOwOBkh— Anthony John Agnello (@ajohnagnello) March 31, 2017
Marvel thinks diversity is ruining their sales? Idk, MAYBE turning Captain America, a worldwide symbol, into a nazi has something to do— ㅤmanu (@hoesling) April 2, 2017
Writer of the Kamala Khan Ms Marvel series, G Willow Wilson responded to Gabriel’s comments, writing that “diversity as a form of performative guilt doesn’t work” and criticising Marvel’s tendency to introduce the new iterations of fan favourites by “killing off or humiliating the original character … Who wants a legacy if the legacy is shitty?”
“A huge reason Ms Marvel has struck the chord it has is because it deals with the role of traditionalist faith in the context of social justice, and there was – apparently – an untapped audience of people from a wide variety of faith backgrounds who were eager for a story like this,” she wrote. “Nobody could have predicted or planned for that. That’s being in the right place at the right time with the right story burning a hole in your pocket.”
One retailer told ICv2 that increased diversity had brought a new clientele to his store. “One thing about the new books that go through my store, they don’t sell the numbers that I would like,” he said. “They do bring in a different demographic, and I’m happy to see that money in my store.”