I was going to make another post about the announcement of Polaris returning in X-Men Blue #9, particularly as I hadn’t emphasized the good of it yet. But there’s something else I suddenly feel an urgent need to post about that I think is actually more important than my personal fandom for Polaris.

Since I started paying more attention to Marvel comics (in 2009, because of Polaris), I’ve noticed how they approach the comic book industry. Some of this is going to sound obvious to regulars, but I’m building toward something.

Marvel puts out a crazy number of events. In these events, they throw out ~major revelations~ about characters and relationships and the status quo of the Marvel universe. A lot of times, these developments piss people off – and for good reason.

The forced Axis retcon on Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver being Magneto’s kids has pissed off fans that want to see the Magnus family get more use. Subsequent storylines added to this fire by going down avenues that didn’t make up for the forced retcon.

When Captain America was revealed to “have always been a Hydra agent,” that also pissed off a lot of people – because it essentially destroyed a symbol of good in the world. Further development into Secret Empire has only made this worse by doing stupid and awful shit like making Magneto into a Hydra agent too.

Here’s the part that matters in this post. Everything above was establishing the scene.

Every single time Marvel does something awful and gets called on it, that was intentional on Marvel’s part (not a random bit of awful by an artist/writer that Marvel didn’t catch), their answer is this: trust us and give the story a chance to play out before judging.

They’re asking readers to withhold judgment until after the whole event is finished. In some cases, this means asking readers to wait until a full year or two has passed. This is asking readers to read issue after issue, sometimes multiple comic books, to “get the full picture.”

There are various ways to interpret Marvel’s behavior here. The less forgiving and more critical way is to assume they’re morally bankrupt money chasers.

But if we decide to be very kind and offer up a substantial benefit of doubt for their sake, then we could also interpret their behavior as myopic nostalgia. People set in their ways, no clue how to do anything different and perhaps too stubborn to even try.

Here’s what I mean by that.

In this day and age, drawing out something like “Captain America is a Nazi” is a BAD idea. That is NOT the sort of thing readers will look at and say “Alright, this is bad but sure, I’ll wait to see where they’re going with this.” Readers today know every single millisecond counts. This is especially informed with the way the internet works. Getting information out there doesn’t take days or weeks anymore (or hours, if big enough for TV). It takes seconds.

A smart company needs to account for this.

One way to deal with it: put out the potentially scandalous bits of storyline and their “satisfying conclusion” all at once. If this means you have to put out the equivalent of a TPB or graphic novel, so be it. The key is that you don’t drag your feet on something as terrible as “Captain America is a Nazi and always was” or “Magneto is now a Nazi.”

Letting a claim like that fester for months or years doesn’t boost sales. No grand revelation at the end of the event is going to make it all fine. “lol Captain America wasn’t a Nazi after all” doesn’t make all that time where Marvel said he was one suddenly go away.

Letting it fester also risks Marvel “fixing” it getting interpreted as Marvel only doing it cause of massive public backlash, not out of any genuine plan they had from the start.

Another way of dealing with it: make the idea run in the background of stories and only reveal it when ready to IMMEDIATELY undo it in the very same issue it’s revealed.

Hypothetical example, let’s say there’s a character whose death would piss people off. But you want them to have been dead for story reasons. Instead of killing them off and leaving them dead for years, simply don’t use them directly in that time, then revive them in the same issue it’s revealed they were dead that whole time. You sidestep the potential outrage of a character death while getting to use it for story.

I’m not saying these two suggestions make up all possible angles, or saying they can fit every situation. Only saying they’re much better approaches to story ideas like “Captain America was a Nazi all along” or “Magneto is now a Nazi.” I personally don’t see how ANY end point could make either of those ideas okay, but if there is one that nobody can imagine, the current approach of dragging it out for months or years doesn’t work. It only makes Marvel look horrible as a company.

Marvel needs to learn how the world has changed in the past couple decades. Their understanding of this seems to have stopped at available hardware/software and the ability to spread ad copy and trailers to people easier, without acknowledging its social and cultural dimensions. Until Marvel figures this out, their sales are going to suffer due to easily avoided mistakes like “Captain America is a Nazi.”

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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?

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