The Cliffs of Insanity: Literally Not at the Table

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co-created by Marie Severin.
Cover to Spider-Woman #1 co-created by Marie Severin and Archie Goodwin. Image: Marvel

Welcome to this week’s episode climbing the cliffs of insanity where I keep hoping to write all is well with the world of comics and pop culture.

Sadly, it seems to be two steps forward, one step back.

With the absolutely wonderful news about the upcoming Captain Marvel movie (though three years away), some positive changes being made at DC, the announced Wonder Woman movie, and my attendance at GeekGirlCon last month, you might expect me to feel very positively about the future of female geekdom.

Maybe a little. It feels still too much like baby steps. There’s GamerGate and women receiving death threats for commentary about video games or even for just supporting the right to comment about the role of women in some video games. Not to mention that I was subject to those same threats for even being in the same building as Anita Sarkeesian. (She was at GeekGirlCon and, of course, received the threats that follow her every appearance.)

Still, all that feels like the sad status quo among geekdom lately. And there were those awesome movie announcements to mitigate it.

No, it was a two-second television scene this week that blindsided me.

There’s a Table. And Only White Men Invited.

It was a short scene in the obviously-public relations piece Marvel: 75 Years From Pulp to Pop that aired on ABC on Tuesday, election night in the United States. I didn’t expect this show to tell me anything new and it didn’t. That was okay. I only taped it to be somewhat entertained and watch interviews with a few of today’s creators. I was very pleased to see Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko receive full credit for their contributions to Marvel history. I was surprised but pleased to see even Denny O’Neil, who’s mostly associated with DC, interviewed as well.

Unfortunately, only two women are interviewed, each taking up about five seconds of time. The first was Nicole Pearlman, who thought out of the box by picking the obscure Guardians of the Galaxy for a screen treatment and the other was Sara Aramant, the editor of Ms. Marvel. No Marie Severin, whose career spanned most of the glory days at Marvel or “Fabulous Flo” Steinberg, who made the Marvel office what it was in the Silver Age. (Of course, Marvel let Steinberg go rather than give her a raise, so maybe she wouldn’t have had nice things to say.)

And then the show switched to talking about how the wave of Marvel movie successes started with Iron Man and it detailed how the Marvel “braintrust” gets together to go over each of the characters coming to film, so every aspect of them is mined and so the filmmakers get the essence of what makes them a hero.

Cut to a scene of the braintrust, sitting around a table.

They are all white men. There are, quite literally, no women and no people of color at the table.

And the latest Spider-Woman cover.
And the latest Spider-Woman #1 cover (variant edition), copyright Marvel Comics. Why is the #1 issue from 1978 less sexualized than the one from 2014? We’ve gone backwards in some ways.

Now, I knew this, intellectually, but it struck me to see it so visually represented.

Add that to the lack of interviews with female creators, and to the glossing over of the issues in their portrayal of female characters Silver Age. Like how Valkyrie was a parody of a feminist when she first showed up. Like how Sue Storm was..well, awful, in much of the first decade of the Fantastic Four. Like how the Wasp was similarly portrayed as an air-headed assistant to Ant-Man. Like how Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel has an incredible problematic history under male creators, until Kelly Sue DeConnick grabbed Carol and revitalized her. (See the Captain Marvel link above for the details.)

There was also no mention in this show of the Wasp, Janet Van Dyne, but that’s probably because she’s apparently going to be fridged in the upcoming Ant-Man movie.

Why is this important? Because Janet is an original Avenger. She’s the only founding Avenger not to get a movie. Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America all have movies. The Ant-Men (Hank Pym and Scott Lang) have a movie. The Wasp will not.

The members who all have movies are all men. Janet’s not. I don’t for a minute believe that’s a coincidence.

Which brings me back to the problem of no women being at that table.

The documentary also glossed over some cringe-inducing stories in the 1970s featuring people of color, like retconning Sam Wilson’s Falcon into being a street thug/pimp for a time, or Luke Cage’s problematic origin as a prisoner, or how Iron Fist is a white guy who somehow becomes the champion of a society that’s clearly based on Asian mythologies.

And, of course, there are no people of color at that literal movie braintrust table either.

Do I love the Marvel movies? I do.

Does the lack of any women’s story in the Marvel movies decrease my enjoyment of them? In some cases, yes.

I would have loved Guardians of the Galaxy far more if they hadn’t reduced Gamora, bad-ass and cynical assassin, to damsel in distress who falls for the immature Starlord. Listen, I promise, if you add more three dimensional and interesting female characters in your movies, Marvel, it won’t hurt them.

See Big Hero 6, which is just awesome in every way.

Am I thrilled that Peggy Carter is getting a television series in January? I couldn’t be more thrilled. Am I thrilled there will be a Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) movie in 2018? I couldn’t be more thrilled. And I’m glad to see that there are Black Panther and Cyborg movies planned.

But Carol’s motto is “higher, further, faster, more.”

I want more than one movie a decade or so or one television show.

I want the whole cake.

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3 thoughts on “The Cliffs of Insanity: Literally Not at the Table

  1. Great article and I totally agree with your analysis 100 percent. It is appalling that marvel has so few women in top positions driving their stories forward.

    One note though. You misspelled Sana Amanat’s name as Sara Aramant. She is a very inspiring and talented woman and one of the few women allowed at the table when story decisions are made ( at least in regards to the comics). I just wanted to make sure she is properly credited.

    1. There has been criticism of Luke Cage’s origin and early portrayal as going too-over-the-top into the land of parody, such as his catchphrase, “Sweet Christmas,” which has since been retired, and other elements from African-American creators I’ve encountered.

      The bigger problem, to my mind, isn’t something from so many years ago. I didn’t expect the show to address problems but I also didn’t expect them to claim everything was fine and Marvel was progressive. No, the bigger problem is still the appalling lack of POC creators at both DC and Marvel, either in comics or in developing the movies.

  2. While I agree with you about The Falcon, I disagree about Luke Cage’s origins. Especially given he was innocent of the crime he was imprisoned for. Also, that particular origin didn’t happen in a vacuum. Black Panther was a king, and Robbie Robertson was editor of the daily bugle, the first black professional in comics actually. You also had Robbie’s son Randy, a college educated African American.

    If anything, the fact that Cage was in prison for a crime he didn’t commit was more societal commentary than the misstep of some oblivious white guy. Now, I’m not saying there weren’t problematic stories regarding female characters and characters of color. I’m just saying that I don’t think Cage falls into that category. Other than to be part of the Blaxploitation movement of the time.

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