Marvel Comics is Doubling Down on Diversity


By Shanna Bowie

Even though I’m not above criticizing one of my favorite franchises for its shortcomings, I’m also not so petty that I won’t give credit where it’s due. Over the summer Marvel comics engaged in a complete overhaul of its universe with the Secret Wars story arc. The main storyline follows Dr. Doom, his allies and detractors as they try to figure out what happened after the collapse of the two Marvel universes. There have been a myriad of strong titles to come out of this event (believe me when I tell you that my wallet has suffered) and some of the highlights have been A-Force, an all-female Avengers team, Infinity Gauntlet, fronted by a young Black girl named Anwin Bakian and Secret Wars 2099, which features two women of color as Black Widow and Captain America.

And lest this seem like some sort of stunt, Marvel continues to double down on diversity with the announcement of their post-Secret Wars titles. In the All-New All-Different Marvel, there are more than 10 female lead titles, one of which features a pregnant superhero (I have no idea what’s going to happen but I’m excited). With the various superhero team-up titles, all of them prominently feature heroes of color like Miles Morales’ Spiderman and Monica Rambeau. Many of the popular female led titles such as Spider Gwen, Ms. Marvel and Thor are all continuing. As more announcements of new series continue to roll out, Marvel’s commitment to diversifying is evident. Recent announcements include November’s release of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur whose star is a precocious, bespectacled African-American little girl with afro-puffs and a pet dinosaur. Also Red Wolf, a Native American character coming out of the Secret Wars’ 1872 book will be getting a solo title in December.

Beyond gushing over what Marvel is doing, let’s talk about what this means. One of the two giants in the comic book industry is not saying that it is committed to diversity but rather diving head first into it. One thing I really give credit to Marvel for is embracing its history and radicalizing it. They are taking characters and racebending and genderbending them without ignoring the ramifications of it. One of the great things about the female Thor is that while she still kicks butt, the other characters openly discuss and address her gender. In the All-New Captain America, Sam Wilson has to defend his right as a Black man to be Captain America. It’s a subversive way to openly address the detractors who complain about Marvel opening up their universe to fully include women and people of color at the forefront. At this point, I’m kind of tithing to Marvel and I admit; I’m a fan. There’s lots of diversity in the smaller comic houses and I will always recommend them to first time buyers but having one of the majors take a running leap towards representing something beyond the standard superhero is affirming. Marvel recognizes that we are here and we want to see ourselves reflected back on the page. And that is empowering.

When Women Collaborate


By Shanna Bowie

Last Saturday marked the anniversary of the release of Beyonce and Nicki Minaj’s first collaboration “Flawless (Remix)”. I remember the day that single dropped. It wasn’t quite the fanfare of Beyonce’s self-titled album but Twitter was still atwitter and the carefree Black girls were out en masse. We knew we were flawless and when the video of Beyonce and Nicki performing in Paris came out, the Beyhive and the Barbs lost it.

In the past few years we’ve seen some amazing female collaborations. Ava DuVernay directed a pivotal episode of Scandal which marked the first time a Black female director was directing a Black female lead in a show created by a Black woman. It was also the introduction of Khandi Alexander as Maya Pope, Olivia’s mom who is also a spy and terrorist. Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin teamed up to executive produce Grace & Frankie, which has become a hit on Netflix and netted Tomlin an Emmy nomination for Best Lead Actress. They also stood together and called out unfair pay in Hollywood when they found out the male leads on the show were being paid more than them. The release of Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” video caught a lot of flack for it’s use of violence, but few talked about the fact that Rihanna directed the video and that she tapped a virtually unknown visual artist named Sanam whose work she saw on Instagram. And this fall, the female showrunners of Agent Carter will make their comic debut writing the All-New Captain Marvel.

The fact is that when women collaborate, we get greatness but for some reason women are largely depicted as catty and competitive. And that’s not to say that it doesn’t exist. Not all women should or could hold hands and sing kumbaya but I want to celebrate the great female collaborations; the Feeling Myself’s and the Pretty Deadly’s and the A-Force’s. It could be that 20 years later we’ve truly reached the era of girl power the Spice Girls foretold.

Best Laid Plans: Black Women in the Marvel Cinematic Universe



Disclaimer: Since I was asked to write about pop culture from a feminist perspective, I want to make a few things clear. First, as a Black woman, my feminism stems from a place of intersectionality and centering Black women in discussions of feminism. If you’re looking for your hundredth “Why Doesn’t Black Widow Have A Solo Film?” article, you won’t find it here. Secondly, I am a professional fangirl. I don’t write about stuff I don’t like and if I critique something, it’s because I genuinely love it and I want it to be even better. I’m probably not going to call for a boycott of Doctor Who because Moffatt sucks (even though he does) but I will call something I love problematic if it is. In fact, that’s just what I’m about to do.


A recent back and forth on Facebook caused me to do some deeper thinking about representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU has been touted for its inclusion and diversity since it began. The MCU is based largely on the Marvel comics Ultimate universe reboot which started with the introduction of Miles Morales by Brian Michael Bendis. Subsequently, in 2008 the MCU started out with a concerted effort towards showcasing diversity and strong women. Samuel L. Jackson was cast as Nick Fury, whom the Ultimate’s artists had based their comic book version on. And Terrance Howard was featured as James Rhodes in the first Iron Man film.

Women were also given more prominent coverage like Pepper Potts, who was moved out of the mere love interest/sidekick role and molded into a businesswoman and equal partner for Tony Stark. As the MCU has grown, we’ve seen the addition of even more Black men; Idris Elba as Heimdall in Thor 1 & 2, Anthony Mackie as Falcon in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Avengers 2 and now the upcoming Ant-Man, and even a solo film for Black Panther slated to open in 2017. And women have been kicking ass and taking names all over the MCU; Agent Carter, Black Widow, Jane Foster, Lady Sif, more than half the cast of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Marvel’s universe has expanded beyond anyone’s wildest imagination but this did not spring forth without careful planning and thought. So my question is: with all this thoughtful planning, did anyone think to include Black women in the MCU?

Just to note again, I am a huge fan of the MCU (read my disclaimer again before you call me a hater) but this is a real question. It seems like there was a real concerted effort to include Black people (read: Black men) and strong women (read: strong White women) into the MCU and basically, everyone thought they’d covered their bases. Pats on the back, golf claps, we did it! We solved the diversity issue in comic book films! And now it feels like if you call out this glaring oversight, here come the excuses. “We just got Black Panther, why can’t you be patient?” “But Warner Bros. has all the mutants and the only good sistas in the comics are mutants” “You guys got Zoe Saldana in Guardians. Isn’t that something?”

The answers to your questions are: “I’m tired of waiting” “Misty Knight and Monica Rambeau” and “Zoe was an alien not a Black woman”. I’m not even saying that Marvel needs to add a Black woman in a solo film to prove their commitment to diversity, what I’m saying is, has anyone examined the fact that this was a carefully laid plan that started pre-2008, spans 12 films, 3 television shows, is filled with Easter eggs and references to characters seen and unseen and none of Marvel’s Black women characters have been included even tangentially. I don’t think it’s malicious, I think it shows how we are not even included in the thought process. I don’t think some exec stood in a meeting and vetoed every Black female character that was pitched, I think we honestly never crossed their minds.

Now I can sit here and tell you anecdotes about all the Black women I know who frequent shops or Comixology or what have you to prove our buying power and why we should be included, but honestly, that’s not why we should be included. We should be included because the invisibility of Black women in the MCU mirrors the invisibility we feel in the real world every day. Just like the Black women who marched for Trayvon Martin, we criticized and pushed with Black men for Black Panther. Just like the Black women who burned their bras in solidarity, we lobbied for Black Widow to have a prominent role in Avengers. So when can we finally speak truth to power and acknowledge that we have been erased in this universe, both on-screen and off. When can we ask to be seen? Or can we admit, this plan wasn’t made for us.