Marvel’s editorial team may share nothing in common with Matt Drudge, but there is no doubt they were thrilled on Wednesday when the media mogul gave Riri Williams (aka, the soon-to-be Iron Man) a ton of free publicity.
Mr. Bendis sat down for an exclusive interview with Time magazine, where he said that his 15-year-old MIT genius, Riri, would soon take the reins from Marvel’s coolest billionaire entrepreneur. Yours truly wondered in March if Riri would soon replace Mr. Stark, but for some reason Marvel doesn’t send scoops this way. How odd… **cough**cough**
What is most striking about the writer’s discussion with Time, however, is the giant straw-man argument he used to slime critics of his work as racists.
Mr. Bendis said:
“Some of the comments online, I don’t think people even realize how racist they sound. I’m not saying if you criticize you’re a racist, but if someone writes, ‘Why do we need Riri Williams we already have Miles?’ that’s a weird thing to say. They’re individuals just like Captain America and Cyclops are individuals. All I can do is state my case for the character, and maybe they’ll realize over time that that’s not the most progressive thinking.
But increasingly we see less and less of that. Once Miles hit, and Kamala Khan hit and female Thor hit — there was a part of an audience crawling through the desert looking for an oasis when it came to representation, and now that it’s here, you’ll go online and be greeted with this wave of love.
Translation: “I’m not saying you are racist if you say [insert critique that Mr. Bendis doesn’t agree with], buuuuut, you’re probably — hurrrrm — racist. You’re most certainly not — hurrrm — progressive.”
The vast majority of critics, who are tired of “wave of love”-driven decisions being shoved in their face, do not say things like, “Why do we need Riri Williams — we already have Miles?” Most readers get upset with Mr. Bendis for turning a Spider-Man derivative into a God-like being for the “more power means cooler hero” crowd, but they do not have a racist or sexist aversion to his characters.
With that said, even the “weird” comment Mr. Bendis cites is only “weird” at a cursory glance. Mr. Bendis lies by omission by not really explaining the whole situation to Time.
As was already mentioned, Miles Morales is a derivative of Spider-Man. Likewise, She-Thor is a derivative of Thor, and Amadeus Cho is a diversity-upgrade for Hulk. Heck, even Falcon cannot be Falcon — he must be Captain America — because Marvel has decided Steve Rogers is generally just fit to be … dead … or a Nazi-sympathizing Hydra agent.
The point is this: Rational people might begin to wonder why classic superheroes all need a female or minority replacement when creating cool new characters is always an option.
It is actually more patronizing to women and minorities to pat them on the head and say, “Here you go my special goo-goo, ga-ga, coochie-coo. Here’s a Spider-Man and Iron Man and Captain America and Thor just for you. Don’t you cry, little ones.”
When Brian Michael Bendis talks about going online and being “greeted with this wave of love,” it is important to remember just how much Marvel writers want it. They crave the wave. They seek it from Time magazine. They seek it from mainstream comic book websites. They seek it from Tumblr kids. They seek it in their Twitter stream and every other digital tributary — because it is addictive.
Do not let Mr. Bendis use straw-man arguments. Do not be cowed when he implies or outright calls you a racist over legitimate criticisms of his work. There are right ways and wrong ways to create a more diverse Marvel universe, and fans should not be shamed into silence because writers are quick to start talking about racism at the least bit of criticism.