OPINION: The Irresponsibility Of The “Just Make New Characters” Argument
Why the "Just Make New Characters" argument does not work in the modern comic book industry led by DC Comics and Marvel Comics.
Marvel’s “new” New Warriors. DC’s 5G Initiative. Riri Williams. Wallace West. Amadeus Cho. ‘All-New’ Mockingbird. Carol Danvers. A list of borderline-heretical names, certain to induce lucid nightmares for long-time comic-book fans. The underlying theme congruent throughout those aforementioned disasters? Their agenda-driven hijacking and desecration of the legacy of beloved pre-existing characters.
To appease the new school of identity-obsessed writers within comics, the assertion ‘Just make new characters’ has been upheld as a happy medium, to spare existing titles from corruption by contemporary politics, and open up new avenues for prospective writers to gift fans with unexpected breakout stars. However, with the stranglehold on content said identitarians have asserted, and vapid characters like Ms Marvel/Kamala Khan and Ms. America Chavez being only two of many unsuccessful experiments churned out in recent years, the latter half of that ambition hasn’t come to fruition.
But, before we go any further in examining the viability of the proposition, allow me to first steel-man the argument. When ‘Just make new characters’ is said, what is meant is “Create individualistic, complex, standalone characters, which aren’t derivative of established characters, don’t supplant established characters, and aren’t diverse gender-or-race-swaps of established characters.” Said argument has been propagated by numerous prominent industry commentators, including Eric D. July, Ya Boi Zack, and Ethan Van Sciver. This is a perfectly valid desire, but the current state of the comics renders it an insufficient remedy for the industry’s ails.
Its issues are derived from the multi-faceted failings of modern comics. Namely: the ideology of the writers being inseparable from character creation; the incapability of writers with inclinations toward activism to compartmentalise characters and monthly floppies into their original, politicised content, and inherited, untouchable, and impartial intellectual property; and the over-saturation of stores, causing widespread closure.
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Let’s deconstruct each of these points.
The coalescence of postmodernism and Marxism came to the following sequential conclusions. There are an infinite number of interpretations of a text. There are an infinite number of interpretations of the world. Therefore, objectivity is meaningless, because everyone operates on subjective observations and value judgements. Therefore, any hierarchy which privileges one perspective above another is evil. Therefore, hierarchies are only predicated on the immoral misuse of power. Therefore, hierarchies should be abolished in favour of equity (equality of outcome), to ensure there aren’t disparities in evaluating differing interpretations as valid. Therefore, to implement this, the current hierarchies, and distribution of power, must be inverted, and redistributed. Therefore, the “oppressed” groups must oppress their “oppressors” to rebalance hierarchal power, and—as said power is amoral aside from its outcome—any method to do so is permitted.
This is why representation matters to those abiding by this ideology: although all perspectives are subjective, perspectives which align with the narrative that hierarchies are oppressive (for example, those decrying western society as a ‘patriarchy,’ ‘white supremacist,’ or ‘heteronormative/homophobic’) bolster and reinforce the overarching narrative that subjective perspectives are being suppressed.
You may be thinking to yourself: ‘Isn’t that like in Revenge of the Sith, when Jedi said ‘Only Sith deal in absolutes,’ but that’s an absolute?’ And you’d be right: but these ideologues discard constraints placed on thought by objective facts and rationality, because they’re deemed part of the white supremacist, patriarchal philosophical tradition traceable through Jerusalem, Greece, and Enlightenment Europe (mainly Britain). So, they can contradict themselves with axioms like ‘the truth is there is no truth,’ or ‘all perspectives are subjective, but this group is correct because they all agree,’ and, like the Jedi, be ignorant to the eventuality that they’ll succumb to a downfall set in motion by their own intellectual vanity. As Jordan Peterson said: postmodernists say biology doesn’t exist, but they don’t act like it because they all die.
Regardless of the ideology’s contradictions, it’s imposed on our modern comics. So, what happens when this redistribution of power, to validate the abolition of objective facts and morals, is imposed on heroes, who abide by classical narrative archetypes and virtues? Simple: heroes become anti-heroes, at best, and villains, at worst. The imposing of a subjective view of the world, believing it’s a better one, on the world, by force, is the role of a villain. It suddenly becomes permissible to retaliate to speech with violence, because criticism is an attack on your subjective interpretation; and therefore your identity; and therefore you. Speech paradoxically becomes violence. “New” postmodern heroes redefine justice as ‘the redistribution of power,’ and engage in, disproportionate retributive violence for even the slightest of infractions (as seen in Roxane Gay’s She-Hulk comics, or the deleted scene from 2019’s Captain Marvel).
It’s no surprise, then, that the ‘Women of Marvel’ podcast unanimously agreed that they prefer writing villains. Their sympathy is derived from inverting the hierarchies of conventional justice to equally value the interpretations of the world held by villains and heroes, as to not unevenly privilege one over the other. They defined a villain’s vengeful externalising of their own past trauma as ‘a catharsis’: an inversion of the term’s original intention. Catharsis, to those unaware, was originally the ablution of negative emotion from audiences of Grecian tragedies, who would weep at the death of the tragic protagonist. The fall of the protagonist was initiated by ‘Hamartia’: their fatal flaw, often exhibited as them being conceited, ambitious, and, above all, prideful. Again, it’s no coincidence that the confession of Marvel’s female writers’ sympathy for villains came during their ‘Pride Month’ episode.
And who, you might ask, is responsible for the degradation of the two industry titans to this well-documented degree? At Marvel—as YouTuber The Fourth Age has concisely presented—it began with Joe Quesada’s hiring of Sana Amanat as Director of Content and Character Development. Amanat’s wealthy family has close ties to the Clinton Foundation and Hollywood. Amanat’s bachelor’s degree was in political science, with an aim to be a journalist, before working for Virgin Comics after its owner, Amanat’s friend, offered her a job. Three years later, the company folded, and Amanat and two other Virgin Comics employees were brought aboard Marvel by Quesada. When the head of content and character creation has spoken about the importance of intersectional identity at the White House on Obama’s invitation, you can expect a little ideological bias to permeate the trajectory of the company’s content.
At DC, former co-publisher Dan DiDio’s culture of incessant reboots and crossovers was conducted to ‘force’ an arbitrary and equitable outcome of ‘diversity and representation,’ and the false dichotomy of widening your audience by catering to a supposedly untapped market by pandering to ‘minorities’ with identity politics. There is, of course, a profoundly racist idea at the core of this marketing strategy: that universal ethics exhibited by heroes like Batman and Superman are inaccessible to non-white men, and women, because they originate from a western philosophical tradition. Not only is the ignorance of Eastern and Middle Eastern contributions to that tradition astounding, but it’s also the inverted perspective of 19th century racists who barred non-whites from education on the grounds that they believed “white thought” to be inaccessible to them.
So, with the ideology identified, it’s evident as to why it can’t stay confined to the pages of their “original” characters. The ideology is so pervasive, and permeates all established mediums and media that activists can infiltrate, because the ideology mandates promulgation until their mouthpiece’s definitions of diversity and inclusivity are uniform. Therefore, be it with the takeover of established titles, or creation of new characters, it’s evident that no avenue in comics would mitigate the dogmatic political poison of writers who agree with this ideological framework.
The other predominant issue is—over at Marvel at least—that sales are of secondary importance to ability to circulate their books as indoctrinating materials to children. Perpetuating the ideology has become paramount. ‘Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur,’ set to have its own Disney Plus animated series this year, had its appalling sales propped up entirely by Scholastic book fairs. Amanat has considered other cancelled books ‘a success’ because of their “educational” property, despite their devastating impact on the sustainability of local comic stores.
Even in the MCU, poor-selling series’ characters have been fast-tracked to receive Disney+ series and movie appearances to fulfill Kevin Feige’s sudden diversity and inclusion mandate. Consumer voice and creative meritocracy is being sacrificed at the altar of political correctness, and the industry itself is having the pages of its paperbacks drenched to illegibility with the blood.
This isn’t only taking the sustainability of the industry round the back of the woodshed, but it’s also putting a slug in the skull of any hopes for audience expansion. With increased monthly issue cost, increased numbers of interconnecting titles, and an increased roster of characters which are made mandatory to know with the increased frequency of crossover events, the barrier to entry for new fans is nigh-on unscalable.
Now, I wouldn’t be much use contributing to the discourse without proposing a solution, would I? Whilst Comicsgate has provided conscientious readers a noble alternative to the big two’s monopoly on the medium, it still leaves a childhood-sized hole in the hearts of long-time fans. But fret not: DC’s Black Label line seems to provide a model for a healthier industry. Producing less books, with higher quality control, and focused on narratives concerning flagship characters—without culminating in an interruptive universe-wide cataclysm or reboot every six months—has proven a profitable and acclaimed venture. Hopefully, an emulation of this by Marvel, following a necessary ousting of the ideologues sitting pretty alongside Amanat, will revitalise both companies. However, with rumors that AT&T might cancel DC’s publishing wing, and Disney’s detestable regime over Stan Lee’s legacy looking unshakable, I’m nihilistic about such a prospect.
Without greater consumer consciousness, and a reorientation of the industry toward an ethic of individualistic exhibitions of virtue constituting heroism, laughable characters like Snowflake and Safespace will continue to kamikaze the profit margins of comic books into obsoletion. I say we hold off on going gung-ho on bloating continuity with a cavalcade of new characters, and only focus on high-quality iterations on flagship titles, until we uproot the bad actors in the industry’s midst and settle on a sustainable business model as a fandom. Currently, waiting for ‘new characters’ untainted by the derangement signature of the contemporary zeitgeist is a forlorn and fiscally untenable hope indeed.