io9 on Twitter

You know why I hound @marvelentertainment and take them to task so often about how awful their executives and upper level editorial tend to be? This is fucking why.

There’s a lot of history behind how awful Marvel can be that offsets the moments of genuine good it sometimes offers. My personal interest in Polaris and how Marvel has screwed her over for decades, and especially undermined her for the past decade, gave me a lot of insight into how Marvel really functions beyond its PR machinations.

And I want to stress as I continue: this is not applicable to people like G. Willow Wilson, Cullen Bunn, Mark Paniccia, etc. They’re great as far as I’ve seen, but they have much less authority compared to the people I’m complaining about here.

Axel Alonso and Nick Spencer are here, trying to pretend that what they’re doing has nothing to do with politics. It’s bullshit. We know it’s bullshit because Marvel’s entire schtick for a while now has been about superheroes in a politicized atmosphere.

Fucking Civil War was about politics. Superheroes needing to register, rebellion against registration, Captain America opposing the policies of the U.S. government to resist forced registration as a matter of protecting the values and freedoms of the U.S., that was all political.

Marvel’s entire history is about politics. Captain America was created to push back against the evils of Hitler, the Nazis and fascism, and encourage the U.S. to be part of the World War II war effort. The X-Men were created as an allegory to the civil rights movement. This is Marvel’s roots. To suddenly say this shitty event that’s clearly political somehow isn’t political is a betrayal of those roots.

Let me put it this way: either Marvel is lying when they say this isn’t political, or their decision to continue the event with all its political trappings even if unintended makes them grossly ignorant both of the socio-political landscape and Marvel’s history. There is literally no scenario where continuing Secret Empire as presently established and put forth by Marvel can make Marvel look good.

The refusal of Marvel to listen to feedback and change things if not cancel the event entirely is also incredibly damning. In the past, Marvel was perfectly willing to retroactively explain away things that pissed their readers off and abandon plans they had in mind. In one such case, in the 90s, Susan Storm-Richards started wearing a skimpy outfit with a number 4 boob window after she’d given birth to one of her children. In response to backlash from readers, Marvel explained it away as Malice possessing her.

Marvel’s hands aren’t tied by “the big machine” of publishing either. Yes, they do plan years in advance, but it’s not like that means they have every issue written and printed in warehouses for the next two years just waiting to be released. 

But, all of this is assuming Marvel doesn’t know what it’s doing. I think they do.

If you don’t pay a lot of attention to shit Marvel execs and upper level editors say and do, here’s an incredibly common philosophy they repeat everywhere: “outrage is good for sales.” They take the attitude that any time they piss readers off, that actually helps them make more money, because it spreads word of mouth and makes SOME readers buy the issues just so they can see how bad it is and complain about specific problems.

Which is also an ignorant as hell philosophy. It’s short-sighted and narrow-minded. It ignores POTENTIAL audiences and how such actions can dissuade people that aren’t reading Marvel comics from ever wanting to read them in the future. If this philosophy had its way throughout the entire company, Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel wouldn’t exist.

Secret Empire is just the natural end point of this horribly misinformed train of thought. “Hey, let’s do a comic book event that’ll REALLY piss people off! Make Captain America a Nazi! Make it so that he was ALWAYS a Nazi! No, why stop there, let’s do Magneto – a Jewish man, survivor of the Holocaust who lost his family in the genocide – too! People will line up around the block to read how we fucked it all up just so they can yell at us on the internet!”

For fuck sakes, Marvel.

Ultimately, if the backlash gets REALLY bad, they start making half-assed excuses – like they did here. “It’s not political,” Axel Alonso and Nick Spencer say, as the comic advocates for fascism and turns long-time anti-fascist heroes into the very thing they were created to oppose. “Trust us and wait until you see what we have in store for Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver before you complain, it’ll all pay off,” Tom Brevoort says after that forced retcon in Axis that made the Maximoff twins suddenly not Magneto’s kids anymore. Followed by years plodding useless bullshit that hasn’t once provided any kind of pay-off for fans of those characters.

Marvel’s chronic problem is this: they do shitty things for shitty reasons, and when they’re called on it, they provide shitty excuses that literally anyone can see through if they take five seconds to think about it. Marvel doesn’t know how to own its mistakes anymore. Marvel doesn’t know how to make amends for its mistakes. Marvel only knows how to lie and bullshit its way along during controversies, following their egos to the bitter end.

I learned this years ago as I saw Polaris excluded from events she should’ve been a part of, or how her first book as a full-fledged leader in her own right got canceled for “lack of sales” when it received zero support from Marvel (while other books selling much worse got to last longer), and so much else. In every case, Marvel had a poor excuse.

“Polaris can’t be in Avengers vs X-Men because events are only for A-listers and B-listers, and she’s not one of them!”

“Polaris can’t be Magneto’s daughter because of genetics breeding true, but Siryn can be Banshee’s daughter because reasons!”

At Marvel, for the people at the top, it’s never about putting their best foot forward and listening to their readers. It’s always, always about doing whatever the fuck they want and then making up excuses for why that should be the case. They don’t work for the fictional universe they’re supposed to curate, and they don’t work for their readers either. They work exclusively for themselves.

Before I end this rant, I want to remind anyone reading this of one very important point: Ike Perlmutter is the current CEO at Marvel, with control over the comic books. He was kicked out of involvement in the Marvel films because of how he meddles with things. It’s an open secret that he’s responsible for the past decade of Marvel doing things to undermine the Fantastic Four and X-men entirely because Fox owns the film rights to those franchises.

Why does this matter in this specific instance? Because Ike Perlmutter supported Donald Trump’s campaign last year, and works with Trump on veterans affairs. Trump even explicitly cited Perlmutter as THE name he talks with on the subject, in a brief interview last month where he said he was going to have a meeting about it at Mar-a-Lago (which got canceled).

That’s who’s running Marvel. Given everything else I just said, what are the chances Perlmutter isn’t partly responsible either directly or by reputation for Marvel suddenly putting out this “non-political” event that turns heroes into Nazis and claims they were Nazis all along?

io9 on Twitter

I’m gonna talk about something a little different this time. It deals with Polaris indirectly, but most of it comes from my interest in video games.

I’m a huge video game fan. I grew up with video games, they did a lot to shape who I am today. I got really into story specifically because of RPGs, which were big for me both because I had Final Fantasy in my house and because RPGs were the genre of choice in the late 90s/early 00s after FF7.

Now, one thing I’ve seen way too often over the past decade has been companies radically changing characters or disregarding their value for no good reason. It’s usually insulting changes, and most cases I notice target female characters.

Rosa Farrell from FF4 is my favorite female character at least in Final Fantasy, perhaps all gaming. Yet, people didn’t see her value, because they only focused on what was immediately in front of them. Worse, certain Rydia fans went as far as to make up things about the character and twist scenes to make them sound bad. Suddenly, Rosa being badass enough to cross a desert full of monsters by herself and happening to get sick makes her an anchor holding Cecil back. Suddenly, Rosa letting herself be captured by Golbez to save everyone’s lives, because Golbez already beat all the fighters and could’ve killed them if he wanted, suggests she’s a useless damsel in distress. Meanwhile, Leviathan destroying a ship and possibly killing sailors to get to Rydia is fine.

This kind of negative talk about Rosa led to a closed favorite character poll in Japan placing her fifth, with Cecil, Kain, Rydia and Cid ranking above her. Consequently, Squeenix decided to shove Rosa down to a lower status, to where she had no chapter of her own and had all her character development undone in After Years, while Rydia’s essentially been the most prominent woman from FF4.

On another track. Japan has been terrible toward iconic female characters.

When making Soul Calibur V, the director in charge, Daishi, said Taki was “too old” to be in the game. Yet he was perfectly fine with Siegfried, Mitsurugi, Raphael, just about every guy character you can imagine, getting a place in the game. Nearly all the female characters got replaced by younger “replacements,” typically their children.

Similarly, Resident Evil. In Resident Evil 5, Capcom put a HUGE emphasis on the idea of turning Jill into “damaged goods” that’s “not good enough” to be partnered with Chris anymore. Capcom gave Jill this horrific experience of at minimum a year trapped in her own body, aware of Wesker ordering her to kill her own BSAA comrades while using antibodies from her body to make the worst biohazard ever (biohazards being something she’d dedicated her life to stopping), and all of that amounts to… Chris’ pain. It exists exclusively so the audience can see how “horrified” Chris is to see the state his former partner is in. Jill doesn’t even get to help fight Wesker or land a killing blow. She’s deliberately written to keep her out of the action, and there’s a constant undercurrent idea that Sheva is better than her and is more deserving of being with Chris.

Because of course, Chris is the second coming of Christ, and all women should be honored to be in his presence.

Resident Evil’s problems don’t stop there. Degeneration demoted Claire to a mix of damsel in distress and semi-sidekick, with Angela taking the role of love interest for Leon – who’s the main star. Claire’s only allowed to use a gun once in the whole thing and immediately has to give it back.

Later, when Resident Evil 6 came out, Jill and Claire were nowhere. It was a game made partly to celebrate Resident Evil’s anniversary. It had Chris, Leon, Ada and Sherry, yet Jill and Claire were nowhere to be found. The closest it came was Sherry briefly mentioning Claire.

Since then, Jill and Claire have been stars in games… but not the main entries. Only Revelations, a spinoff side series with more emphasis on horror. And Chris still got to be in Revelations, and all while having been the star of both RE5 and RE6. Revelations 2, meanwhile, was a budget title where they experimented with episodic content. Capcom only let Claire headline a game again when it meant less money to the project. Through it all, there’s a very, very specific sexist bias showing through: men are for action, women are for horror. Men can be big, tough badasses, but women are more easily scared.

But now I move on to Squeenix.

When they made a supposed spinoff/sequel to Parasite Eve called 3rd Birthday, they completely ruined Aya Brea. “Amnesia” made Aya, a consummate badass in PE1 and PE2, act so terrified of combat that she couldn’t even fire her gun. The game came loaded with a slew of fetish outfits (French maid being the most notable), a game mechanic to make clothes rip away with damage, a script filled with sexual objectification and sexual harassment (Maeda, one of her allies, is completely rewritten into the kind of creep who says he’d like to “taste [Aya’s] tears”), and a softcore porn shower scene. Ultimately, the game reveals “Aya” was actually Eve Brea in Aya’s body that entire time, and wraps up with forcing the player to kill the actual Aya Brea.

So not only was making Aya cowardly and willing to accept sexual objectification and harassment deemed acceptable, but Squeenix allowed Motomu Toriyama to have the star killed off and replace her spirit with a “younger Aya.”

To explain, Parasite Eve 2 revealed that Aya Brea’s body doesn’t age. Its physical condition is perpetually in her 20s. That still wasn’t enough. The woman inhabiting that body couldn’t have been in her 20s in the 90s, she had to be young in both body and mind.

Whereas Japan is fine with men being in their 40s or 50s and starring in games, women must be in their teens or 20s both physically and mentally or they’re deemed “too old.”

Age isn’t the only problem, though. There’s depiction in general. When Samus was introduced for Metroid, the surprise was that a character assumed to be male was in fact a woman. Her prowess as a bounty hunter took precedence, and even in her physical attributes, she was allowed to command authority. Her original height is listed at 6′3″.

Then Other M came along. At and a little before that game, Nintendo started sexually objectifying and “feminizing” (their take of it anyway) her. It started with the Zero Suit. Other M carried that not only with the infamously awful writing (asking permission from a man to access parts of her own suit so she won’t die, breaking down at the sight of Ridley and needing to be rescued by a man, Adam getting to sacrifice himself for a case where Samus needed a man to do her job for her, etc), but with physical changes.

The most notable here, and something people don’t pay enough attention to: they shrank her down to 5′1″. Nintendo took her from a towering, imposing height to one that brought her back under men, and there’s no good reason for any of it. They followed up by making her high heels more notable with “jet boots” in Smash Bros.

But that’s not where it ends with Samus and Metroid. After Other M, Nintendo hasn’t done anything. Nintendo hasn’t made a Metroid game in six years, and hasn’t celebrated Metroid’s anniversary while doing so for Mario and Zelda. The only thing they have going is Federation Force, whose primary selling point story-wise is supposed to be “It’s a Metroid game that doesn’t star Samus Aran!”

Let that sink in for a moment. Nintendo hasn’t made a single Metroid game in 6 years, after Other M. And the very first thing they make with Metroid’s name on it is all about trying to sell people on how they can remove Samus Aran from her own franchise and still make Metroid games.

One more track, and I’m in the minority on this one. The “Tomb Raider” “reboot” and its “Lara Croft.”

Lara Croft was a badass. Like Samus, she represented a heroic icon badass type of woman. She’s supposed to be an example you look up to and admire as what you’d like to become. Unfortunately, she got sexually objectified horrendously, and a mix of genuinely bad games and good ones that didn’t get enough promotion and marketing ruined perception of her.

This led into the “reboot,” where “Lara” is repeatedly beat down, tormented, traumatized by men. She doesn’t choose her own fate or face it with excitement – she’s terrified, broken repeatedly, and suffers PTSD because of it. It’s a “gritty” and “realistic” reimagining. And it’s celebrated.

But you know what people don’t celebrate? The exact same thing done to male characters. DC Comics did it to Superman with Man of Steel and it’s been a huge uproar. Ninja Theory tried to “remake” Dante with DmC and it got panned. Yet it happens to Lara Croft, and it’s just fine. Same criteria, same deal of being an icon, only a male character gets complaints while a female character gets praise.

Final bits

So yeah. Female characters are treated very, very poorly, or things are permitted with them that aren’t permitted with male characters. It’s the same problem behind Hollywood claiming female-led superhero movies won’t sell, or excluding Black Widow and Rey from merchandise.

Here’s what people don’t consider, though: fan excuses.

I have seen so, so, so many cases of fans making excuses for treating characters poorly, or completely rewriting who they are.

Jill left out of the final fight with Wesker in RE5? “Well she passed out, so she couldn’t join the fight!” As if the writers are beholden to some great fiction god that has decreed Jill must pass out at that spot and it can’t go any other way.

Taki left out of Soul Calibur V? “She would’ve been redundant, we already have a ninja character.” As if the new ninja character couldn’t have been left out, or there couldn’t be differences in their styles in the same way Soul Calibur could have both Sophitia and Cassandra around for so long.

The most common refrain I see for excusing Lara Croft completely rewritten, or for Nintendo downplaying Samus Aran lately, has been “She was always just an empty shell of a character, tits and ass and nothing more.” And it often goes hand in hand with the false idea of “The company tried to make them a thing, the company failed because the character always sucked.”

Company ruins perfectly good character, or uses them wrong. Consumer decides to view that treatment not as a reflection on the company, but a reflection on the character herself. Consumer then proceeds to claim the character herself is bad, never had anything of value, and needs to be replaced or radically remade. The character then either gets shoved off to the sidelines, thrown away completely, or turned into a completely different character.

All because they’re a female character and the people calling the shots don’t want to make a real effort at getting the world to see what made the character so great in the first place.

Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield, Sophitia Alexandra, Taki, Aya Brea, Samus Aran, Lara Croft, all these characters didn’t last as long as they did just because they have “nice tits.” They managed to stick it out for decades because people liked them. These characters had something to offer. When we go along with poor excuses like “She’s empty and only existed for sex appeal,” we’re basically giving up on female characters with a lot to offer just because some assholes can’t be bothered to look deeper than how they’ve been mishandled.

I mentioned above that Polaris factors into this a little. For a long time, people didn’t see her value. Writers currently using her at Marvel are fixing that slowly, from a base that started small with Peter David in the early 90s and really picked up in the early 00s. They’re fixing damage done to perception of her character and potential in the past, but there are still obstacles. Lorna almost wasn’t in Avengers vs X-Men at all because of this kind of bias, and when she was added, it was only as a nameless cameo – one where her own father ignored her being mind-controlled into submission by Emma Frost.

This is a ludicrously long post from me, but I keep having to deal with these problems. I’ve seen it so, so often for the past decade, and I’m really sick of it. I specifically want these characters to be treated better (I spent a lot of time ranting about Nintendo’s recent mishandling of Samus last week), but in general, I want people to spot this behavior as it’s happening. While people are noticing the big moments of companies screwing Rey out of merch or no female-led superhero films, they don’t recognize the more subtle bits screwing over female characters in other places.

Fridging is known, but not everything is fridging. Sometimes, it’s as simple as someone with creative power deciding that iconic character is “just a pair of bland, useless tits” and treating her that way until consumers agree with them.

If you see a “bad character,” don’t assume they’re actually bad. Assume they could be the best character ever made, if only they had a writer that cared enough to make real use of their potential.

That’s the end of this spiel. Tune in next time for more gibberish!

I don’t like when companies make excuses, especially when it’s excuses to cover up the fact they did something they know was wrong.

I didn’t like when an exec at Square-Enix tried to claim the game mechanic in 3rd Birthday focused on making clothes rip off “Aya’s” body when she takes damage was about realism.

I didn’t like when the writer and director of Final Fantasy XIII at Square-Enix tried to blame a lack of towns in the game on making them in HD being “too difficult” in a time when we have massive worlds like Skyrim and Fallout New Vegas.

I ALSO didn’t like when that same writer and director for the same game, Final Fantasy XIII, claimed dungeons had to be linear to fit a JRPG story. Even Final Fantasy IV had tons of branching options and had the same on-rails approach for half the game.

I didn’t like when a certain person tied to the “Tomb Raider” “reboot” tried to make excuses for “Lara” not being her tough, cool self innately by adulthood because you supposedly can’t have a game starring a child character learning to survive.

I didn’t like when Ubisoft claimed they didn’t have enough to to add
playable women to Assassin’s Creed Unity, that it was something they
could only add “if they have time” as if they couldn’t have added
playable women if they wanted.

I didn’t like when the director for Resident Evil 6 claimed Jill Valentine and Claire Redfield couldn’t be added to the game, an anniversary game part of a celebration for the franchise, because it would be too many characters. When half the new game’s roster was random new characters.

I didn’t like when Capcom tried to blame fans of Megaman Legends on the cancellation of Megaman Legends 3, claiming there “wasn’t enough fan interest.” When it was incredibly obvious Capcom was doing it to spite departing creator Keiji Inafune, and after Capcom had plans to try to make MML fans PAY FOR A DEMO to “prove [they] want it badly enough.”

I didn’t like when the director of DmC tried to defend his radically changing “Dante” into a completely different character better suited to a brand new IP by saying the actual Dante from Devil May Cry wasn’t “cool” enough, would be “laughed out of a bar” for his looks, and that fans only cared about hair color and nothing more.

I didn’t like when an editor at Marvel tried to claim Polaris shouldn’t be Magneto’s daughter by making a convoluted excuse about genetics “breeding true” in order to excuse permitting Siryn to have the same powers as her father Banshee while saying Lorna can’t have the same powers as HER father.

I didn’t like when that same editor tried to claim Polaris couldn’t take part in Avengers vs X-Men and interact with her family because such events are only for A-listers and B-listers, basically saying Lorna can’t be part of it despite her huge stake in that event because he didn’t want her there.

I didn’t like when Marvel tried to claim the cover for All-New X-Factor #14 wasn’t released until a week before release purely because the second issue in a double shipping month doesn’t get that out until previews. We know damn well Marvel could and would have put that cover out and promoted ANXF #14 well in advance if they wanted.

I don’t like basically every single excuse Marvel keeps making to justify or hide the fact they’re trying to undermine and ruin the X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises in all the rights they have purely because they don’t like the deal they have with Fox over the film rights.

I’ve been dealing with poor excuses and bad behavior out of companies and people heading up major franchises at them for nearly 8 years. Every excuse is paper thin to me, and frustrating. These are people working jobs at major companies that don’t seem to appreciate what they have, and don’t respect their fans and consumers like they should. They get hit hard financially and PR wise like they should, yet their egos and wet dreams about somehow making more of a profit by being tools toward IPs and fans keep them going at it.

Obsession with personal goals and changing things based on false assumptions is rampant as hell in creative companies, and I’m sick of it.

By the way, I deliberately left out the names of people responsible for these cases where I knew them. There’s a serious risk over the past couple years that people might send threats and harassment to those people when named, and I don’t want to risk that happening. If you want to create change, refuse to buy products from those companies. If you know the people responsible, refuse to buy stuff they specifically make until things get better. Either they change for the better, or the money line and any prestige and power they seek suffer. Sending them direct personal attacks is never right or helpful. They can be greedy, selfish or ignorant, but they’re still people, and it can at least be said that they’re not killing anyone. Not directly and intentionally, at the very least.

Sometimes, I feel terrible for complaining about Marvel, and especially calling out Brevoort and Remender for things they’ve said and done. Story-wise, Polaris has had a lot of good things done for her, from coming back to Earth and confirming her as a mutant and Magneto’s daughter, to having her origin story told after 40 years and getting to lead her own team on All-New X-Factor.

But then I remember why I’m complaining and push onward. 

I remember Lorna as a nameless cameo in Avengers vs X-Men, one that Magneto ignores getting mind-controlled into submission by Emma Frost despite Magneto having just gone out into space specifically to rescue Lorna in X-Men Legacy’s Five Miles South of the Universe.

I remember that Lorna having her origin story told after such a long time got next to no promotion; the only thing Marvel did to promote it was a short piece on Marvel.com that quickly disappeared.

I remember that All-New X-Factor got no promotion out of Marvel aside from when it was announced, and they went so far as to withhold the cover for All-New X-Factor #14, the issue where Lorna and Wanda spent time together as sisters, until a week before the issue’s release when it was too late for casual fans to preorder a copy of the issue.

I remember Marvel quickly followed this up by putting out an Axis variant cover pairing Enchantress and Scarlet Witch that was very clearly designed to make Enchantress look like Lorna. They even went so far as to color Wanda’s hair red and Enchantress’ green.

I’m extremely grateful for the good stuff Marvel’s done for Lorna, but I can’t keep quiet when books get canceled or sell poorly, or Lorna’s excluded from events she should be taking part in, just because people at Marvel don’t like or respect her enough to promote anything involving her, or because they’re in the middle of some pissing match with Fox over film rights.

If this sounds paranoid, well, there’s an easy way to disprove what I’m saying. All they need to do is use her in events where she has reason to be involved (e.g. Axis since it was on Genosha and heavily involved her family) and actually promote books she’s on every once in a while (e.g. All-New X-Factor). That’s really all it takes. Stuff like the Axis variant cover last year while ANXF #14 got absolutely no promotion only proves me right and makes me more likely to complain.

This’ll probably be the last time I rant about this for… at least a week, unless something new happens that’s bad.