If you’ve been following comics or the comics media sphere for a bit, you probably already know that beloved writer Mark Waid has come under some pretty harsh and entirely justified criticism for his collaboration with JG Jones at BOOM!, Strange Fruit. You can read J.A. Micheline’s take on it at Women Write About Comics (here’s her thoughts on the first issue and the second issue), but all you need to know right now is that Waid is in some pretty uncomfortable waters going into writing the ALL NEW ALL DIFFERENT Avengers book that showcases a team of Avengers where white dudes seem to be in the minority.
I can’t know how long ago Waid’s script for All-New, All-Different Avengers had to be submitted to Marvel, but even if it was before the Strange Fruit mess, I’m not quite sure how the content in the preview made it past an editor. In the first two pages, we have Captain America (Sam Wilson) saving some folks, and it’s fun and exciting. So we go two pages without a trainwreck, and maybe whoever edited this book just looked at those two pages and went “it’s Mark Waid, he knows what he’s doing” and just rubber-stamped the book. That’s the only scenario that makes sense to me. Because here’s what happens on page 6:
Wilson’s been Cap in the Marvel Universe for a while and has clearly gotten used to the hero gig, doing his duty as a superhero and posing for a few publicity shots. Cool, that’s great. Then some not-Girl Scouts ask him if he wants to buy some cookies. One is a black girl. The other is white. Cap’s just got $5 on him and everyone has their phones out recording. Background characters have said things like “he’s not my Cap,” “this is going to be good,” and “which is he going to choose” up until this point. Waid isn’t being subtle about it at all, but what exactly is he trying to do here?
Is Waid trying to point out the pressure celebrities are under to wear their politics on their sleeve with every decision or the weight that is put on people of color in positions of power and how they seem to rarely have a “correct” choice available to them? I think that if we’re being generous that’s the kind of thing Waid may have been going for, but he also serves up a critique of social media and the masses — like the masses Waid’s basically ignored regarding the tone-deaf Strange Fruit and the social media that called him out on it repeatedly — as they are the ones causing Wilson to worry about whose cookies he’s going to buy. After all, it’s just a box of cookies, and all these people are going to brand him as something unfavorable no matter what he does when he’s just trying to be the good guy and help out some girls and get some cookies and is in no way serving as an authorial stand-in for Waid at all.
It’s just a comic book written by someone trying to do something good, and all these people are going to brand him as… you see where this is going, right?
How is Wilson going to get out of the clutches of a trap more diabolical than AIM or HYDRA could have set up?
He’ll ask his rich white friend for money as the crowd keeps recording. Because Tony Stark just happens to be in the crowd. Rich white friend has no cash and Wilson looks back and forth between the scouts as more pics are taken.
Since his white friend’s money can’t save him, Wilson uses Stark’s fame to deflect the no-win scenario he stumbled into. Wilson is saved by his friendship with a wealthy, famous white dude that the masses care more about than they do the current Captain America (current because we know it’s just a matter of time before blonde-haired blue-eyed white-bread Steve is under the cowl).
So, this is a mess but Cap managed to mostly salvage it, right? There isn’t much a guy can do in that kind of situation to avoid completely tarnishing his public image, is there?
There’s only one problem: this is a work of fiction. Produced by committee. There is no reason this scene needed to happen at all, let alone happen the way it did (did the scouts have a troop leader who would say “who the hell are we to charge Captain America for cookies?”). Mark Waid wrote this issue, and he’s seemed to have some really huge blinders on lately when it comes to race, but Marvel has an editorial staff as well who had to drop the ball at reading this script. And then there’s the artist, Adam Kubert. I can’t fault someone who needs to pay their bills and eat, but was there not a point over these three pages where Kubert went “uh, Mark, I’m not sure what you’re trying to do here, but this is really awkward and unnecessary.”
After the art’s been drawn, there’s still inking, coloring, and lettering. Now, changing the book at these stages could cost a little bit, but did nobody think to say anything? It would’ve been possible to just cut the scene or change it before publication, but this went through the sausage machine that is Marvel Entertainment and came out the other side, ready to be bought by people who might be eager to read an Avengers book that’s not populated by a ton of white dudes for a change.
Speaking of that sausage machine, is now a good time to ask how many people of color work at Marvel? What about how many people of color have ever written an Avengers story? Is there a joke I could’ve made there about the sausage machine also being a sausage fest? I don’t have the answer to these first two questions, but I am definitely curious why Marvel doesn’t hire more people of color if they want to tell these kinds of stories and aim for these kinds of messages.
While Marvel is trying to be ALL NEW AND ALL DIFFERENT, they are delivering more of the same. Maybe it’s time to stop giving the reins of your properties over to old white dudes who are prone to writing tone-deaf political statements into comics and bring in some new blood. Or hire a goddamned editor who might notice something like this. I’m working on my MFA right now, but I know quite a few people who would be willing to say “maybe don’t do that” when your writers have an awful idea, Marvel. At the bare minimum, you should have someone on staff to keep you from embarrassing yourself.
For anyone curious, Wilson spells out to the reader the conclusions I made above on the page following the preview images, because Waid is a writer and thus has to write a lot of words. The rest of the main story is the most generic superhero fare I have read in some time. Waid actually writes a person of color well when he’s writing Kamala Khan in the backup, and I’m not at all surprised. It’s a straightforward superhero story that lets Kamala be Kamala without an old white man trying to shoehorn his awkward thoughts on race and fame into the story.