Marvel Has Been Ignoring Fans Telling Them to Stop Being So Progressive Since Forever

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A Marvel Comics fan letter from 1969 is showing we really haven’t come as far as we think.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about diversity and representation in our media. It’s happening everywhere but in the geek sphere in particular fans have been falling into two main arguments – there are those who think companies should do all they can to reflect the consumers and those who think doing so is being too “politically correct.”

I said in my recent HitFix piece about the Netflix Iron Fist casting that “One person’s ‘politically correct’ is another’s ‘treating people with respect,'” but not everyone sees it that way. Some look at diversity pushes as “pandering” or a tactic used to shut people up, I see it as people trying their best to make sure everyone sees themselves in the media they consume.

This 1969 fan letter echoes our current political climate in a way that should be unimaginable. Except it’s not.

Alan Scherstuhl, film editor at Village Voice/LA Weekly, posted this letter to Twitter yesterday:

I’ll transcribe it here since it’s a bit difficult to read:

Dear Stan and John,

I really don’t like writing this letter, but I believe it will benefit you more than hurt you. There has been a recent trend by Marvel to put the Negro in the spotlight (i.e., the Black Panther, Joe Robertson, Centurius). I’m all for it, but when you start your own civil rights protest, well, I’m against that.

I’m talking about the recent SILVER SURFER #5. The part I didn’t like was when the Surfer asked why Al Harper helped him. The reply was, “Mebbe it’s cause I know how it feels to be pushed around!” That was uncalled for! For months you’ve been knocking “us” (you know who I mean). It sounds as if we were all big, bad murderers who liked hurting minorities. What about the Chinese, Mexican, Jewish, Irish or Catholic minorities? In many parts of the world, they are suffering, too. So how about letting up?

I’m not a racist, just a concerned Marvelite who doesn’t want his favorite comic company to be ruined by something that really doesn’t concern you as comic publishers.

“I really don’t like writing this letter, but” they’re going to say the awful thing anyway…just like commenters do today. And the “I’m ok with Black people, but not when your work reflects something terrible inside I haven’t admitted” is all too close to the things I see every day when writing about diversity.

But check out the reply:

But, such matters as racism and equality do concern us, Tim – not just as comic-mag artists and writers and publishers, but as human beings.

Certainly it’s never out intention to portray all, or even most, white Americans as hard-core bigots or screaming racists. Maybe it’s just that we think that many people in this land of the free have too long turned their backs or averted their eyes to the more unpleasant things that are going on every day. Maybe we felt we could do something – even within the relatively humble format of what used to be called a “comic-book” – to change things just a bit for the better.

If we fail, let’s just say that we’d at least like to have it said of us that – we tried.

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“Many people in this land of the free have too long turned their backs or averted their eyes to the more unpleasant things that are going on every day.” Does that sound familiar?

Marvel isn’t perfect by a long shot, and it’s Editor in Chief might say some pretty terrible things regarding diversity sometimes, but “Maybe we felt we could do something” is one of the simplest yet most profound messages I’ve heard in a while. It may be 2016 but 1969 called and it wants us to listen.

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  • EMP826

    How was what Axel Alonso said negative? With the context of the full paragraph, he seemed to have some pretty positive and forward thinking ideas regarding diversifying comics. Was it because he doesn’t like to use a particular label? How does that translate to, “Alonso says terrible things about diversity?”

    • eddie willers

      I couldn’t find it either. I guess precious snowflakes are more attuned to ferret out offensiveness.

  • Snow Monet

    Love this article!

  • I feel like now’s a good moment to point out that Jack Kirby created the first black superhero for both Marvel and DC, and in his 70’s work at DC he added black characters to the Newsboy Legion, which he had originally created for DC in the Golden Age. Kirby was great.

  • MisterShoebox

    Yeah, they’re totally progressive, unless it means making a Tibetan character Celtic in order to appease the Chinese. I’m sorry, that was bitter of me.

    In all honesty, this was a fantastic article and Marvel deserves all the kudos.

    • Anthony Gallucci

      Would you consider that they changed the Ancient One completely because the original was a ghastly stereotype? Even if cast as a Tibetan, the roll is not a lot more than a magical Mr. Miyagi.

  • < 3 Make mine Marvel

  • Win!