Brian Michael Bendis Time

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.

Riri Willaims

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.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

42 comments

  1. The House of Ideas, indeed. It’s as if they no longer have faith that they can introduce a brand new character that fans will get behind unless they slap a pre-existing brand on them. I’d be perfectly fine with Riri if she had her own identity. Marvel seems intent on TELLING us how cool these characters are instead of showing us through great storytelling.

    1. “The House of Ideas, indeed. It’s as if they no longer have faith that they can introduce a brand new character that fans will get behind unless they slap a pre-existing brand on them.”

      Well said, Conner. It would sort of be like going to your favorite restaurant and they totally changed the recipe for your favorite dish — but still called it by some unique name. If you complained, then they would berate you: “What are you talking about? This is the ‘The Incredible Burger.’ It’s…incredible! How could you not think it’s…incredible. Have you lost your mind?”

      “I’d be perfectly fine with Riri if she had her own identity. Marvel seems intent on TELLING us how cool these characters are instead of showing us through great storytelling.”

      Right again. On top of everything else, there is no reason to shove Tony Stark off to the side for her star to shine brighter — but they do it anyway. And then they get mad at you for sticking up for a character who does not deserve to be shelved. It’s unreal.

  2. I’m pretty sure it’s not racist to point out what a creatively bankrupt idea it is to replace Tony as Iron Man, what with it having already happened with Rhodey in the ’80s and *shudder* that teenage double from a parallel timeline in ’90s. *again, shudder*

    And I don’t recall the creative team behind the Rhodey story condemning potential critics as racists. They did this weird thing called “letting the story speak for itself.” It speaks volumes about how lousy this plot must be for Bendis to carry on like this.

    “15-year-old MIT genius”

    You misspelled “Mary Sue.”

  3. Lets be honest. Marvel has treated their original minority characters like crap, and have consistently failed to put the spotlight on these characters. These guys are so creatively defunct that the only way these guys can join in the diversity crusade is to shift the colors and genders of their main characters. Whats sad is, pretty soon I’m sure the Marvel TV division is going to show us a Luke Cage that Marvel Comics has never given us.

    I once again point out a bastion of at least some creativity. The Japanese manga and anime industry builds new characters and shows constantly. The variety is so great that everything from the depraved to the most cherished morals are on display…sometimes both in the same piece of art. American Comics, we have murdering spider-man, color/gender replacements that all think and act the same, and writers that absolutely despise their readership in the most arrogant and ungrateful way. Watching ‘Kill la Kill’ with my wife today, we saw breasts and butts bouncing everywhere…but it seemed every episode was about friendship, love, family…it felt clean. American Comics? cheap shots at the audience, violence for it’s own sake and a sharp distaste for friendship, family, love.

    These comics reflect their writers…Cheap, arrogant and uninspired.

    1. “American Comics, we have murdering spider-man, color/gender replacements that all think and act the same, and writers that absolutely despise their readership in the most arrogant and ungrateful way. Watching ‘Kill la Kill’ with my wife today, we saw breasts and butts bouncing everywhere…but it seemed every episode was about friendship, love, family…it felt clean. American Comics? cheap shots at the audience, violence for it’s own sake and a sharp distaste for friendship, family, love.”

      That one drew blood! Truth-knuckles hit hard.

  4. Its a shame DC are not the ones doing this as they could launch a brand new title “Social Justice League!” …. I’ll get my coat….

    I don’t have a problem with a 15 year old woman of colour being a superhero. I have a problem with so-called comic book “creators” being unable to create their own characters without having them replace others and being better because of reasons.

    1. “Its a shame DC are not the ones doing this as they could launch a brand new title ‘Social Justice League!'”

      I had plans to bust out with a “Social Justice League” comment one of these days, Andrew! You beat me to it. 🙂

  5. Liberal racism, sexism, heterophobia, and religious bigotry. Anti-Caucasian, anti-male, anti-Christianity, anti-Judaism, anti-God. It’s the Marvel worldview people react against, not the mere creation of a black, female character.

  6. I have no issue with a minority character, I have an issue with the idea that all of the classic characters need to be pushed out and replaced. Why can Marvel not make new characters? They are too afraid to try something new, and it seems they would rather be lazy and use shock tactics and number 1 issues to get short term sales. I would love to see the numbers to see how the number 1 gimmick is producing, I would bet it is getting diminishing returns. I think people are getting sick of the lazy writing and the SJW views constantly being pushed. Why not let diversity be natural as it is in the world. I love many characters, the color of their skin has never been the issue, the issue is the story and the character of the hero. I believe Marvel is throwing the older readers to the wind with hope of getting new readers, why can’t they be smart and try to get both.

    1. “I believe Marvel is throwing the older readers to the wind with hope of getting new readers, why can’t they be smart and try to get both.”

      Are you saying there is a happy medium between retaining long-time customers while also mixing things up to court a new audience? Madness! Madness, I tell you!

  7. A product’s best advertisers are the current happy customers. A happy customer is your best sales force. The people running Marvel think they are able to end-run around that principle, by direct-marketing shocking story-lines and “edgy” new PC characters and thereby get a lot of favorable short-term media attention. But in the meantime, the regime is angering their most loyal customers. Not unlike the fools in charge of the new Ghostbusters movie.

    The people who run Marvel are such small-minded New-York-progressive provincials, they are ignorant (and contemptuous) of the likes and dislikes of rest of they country. This prejudice saturates their stories. Also, they haven’t distributed their product through general-service stores for years; the average 12 year old has never seen a real Spider-Man magazine just sitting out on a rack. I used to buy my comics at 7-11s and local newspaper stands. You haven’t been able to do that for decades now. I understand why Marvel stopped doing business that way. They were being literally robbed by local shops, who over-reported how many issues allegedly didn’t sell then kept the profit. But going all-in for the LCS, they cut themselves off from the general public (who have no idea where a comic shop is, and many of whom wouldn’t be caught dead in one).

    So their industry ice floe keeps melting and shrinking, which pushes them to more and more cheap, desperate measures.

    1. “A product’s best advertisers are the current happy customers. A happy customer is your best sales force. The people running Marvel think they are able to end-run around that principle, by direct-marketing shocking story-lines and “edgy” new PC characters and thereby get a lot of favorable short-term media attention. But in the meantime, the regime is angering their most loyal customers. Not unlike the fools in charge of the new Ghostbusters movie.”

      The owner of my comic shop jokes about Marvel’s business model, which is defined: “What are you going — not buy it?” He agrees that while that used to work for them, the times are changing…

      “The people who run Marvel are such small-minded New-York-progressive provincials, they are ignorant (and contemptuous) of the likes and dislikes of rest of they country. This prejudice saturates their stories.”

      It was harder to prove this demonstrate this in the past, but Twitter and the writers’ activism now makes that very easy.

      “Also, they haven’t distributed their product through general-service stores for years; the average 12 year old has never seen a real Spider-Man magazine just sitting out on a rack. I used to buy my comics at 7-11s and local newspaper stands. You haven’t been able to do that for decades now.”

      I used to buy The Amazing Spider-Man in the grocery store. If I had the option of getting a toy or getting a couple comics, then I’d go for the comics. My mom was really good about encouraging us to read, whether it was National Geographic or Marvel Comics.

      “So their industry ice floe keeps melting and shrinking, which pushes them to more and more cheap, desperate measures.”

      Well said.

      Marvel is also like a guy who tries to pour water on a grease fire, and then when it spreads he goes back to the sink for more water. It’s painful to watch.

  8. It’s like no one learned the lesson of the 90s that most readers don’t really like new characters based on supposed popular trends coming along and taking up the mantle of established favorites. Azbats was spectacularly unpopular, and the writing in the Knightfall arc was miles above and beyond a lot of what I’ve seen in comics today.

    1. Yeah. You went there. Heh.

      I kind of wish he had a monocle in that picture. I can see him wearing one of those while saying, “Hurrrrm, that isn’t very progressive of you.”

  9. I’m not surprised that Bendis called people “racist” and brought up “representation.” It seems like that’s more important to these activist-writers than telling a good story. Here’s the thing: I wouldn’t have a problem with RiRi if she were her own character, with her own secret identity and powers. Same with Miles Morales. But people like Bendis are incapable of creating original characters who happen to be black or female or any other group, so they replace an existing character with a new one. It’s ridiculous.

    I really wonder if being an SJW activist is a prerequisite to write for Marvel these days. I wonder if that gets brought up during the interview process or anything. I know there are some publishing companies that don’t sign new writers based on the quality of the story but on how many followers they have on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter. That, and they’ve been proven to discriminate against anyone who doesn’t have progressive views.

    Side note: I don’t like to toot my own horn, but two of the characters in my recently completed book are a black man and a half-Asian/half white woman. They both become friends with the main character. What makes them different from Riri or Miles Morales is that I mention their race once, and that’s it. I focus on how they are as human beings. It’s a fantasy book, so I’m not going to go into any weird sociopolitical/race issues. Besides, it’s 2016 for Pete’s sake.

    1. “You can tell when the story is crap when they slur their opponents as racist, sexist, etc instead of honestly discussing the merits of the story.”

      Bendis is a shrewd character. He says he is not calling fans a racist while essentially doing just that. He talks about “organically” bringing diversity to Marvel even as he often shoehorns it into stories. He essentially tries a Marvel-centric Jedi mind trick. I have no doubt that it works on a lot of people, too.

  10. I find it funny that Marvel is completely changing their characters while DC at the moment are bridging back some old DC elements from Pre-New 52 and mixing with the best elements of New 52 to create this perfect blend of new and old.

    1. “I find it funny that Marvel is completely changing their characters while DC at the moment are bridging back some old DC elements from Pre-New 52 and mixing with the best elements of New 52 to create this perfect blend of new and old.

      That is what Marvel should be striving for, but it’s sadly not happening. It’s going to feel weird when I start primarily collecting DC. We didn’t leave Marvel, Marvel left us…

  11. What is the probability that this dumping of Tony Stark is partly motivated by Ike Perlmutter, Bendis, et. al., slapping at Kevin Feige of the MCU for tearing himself loose from their incompetent oversight?

    1. “What is the probability that this dumping of Tony Stark is partly motivated by Ike Perlmutter, Bendis, et. al., slapping at Kevin Feige of the MCU for tearing himself loose from their incompetent oversight?”

      Right after the success of Captain America: Civil War they turn Steve Rogers into Hydra Cap — and now this. The timing is rather interesting.

  12. It would be a self-indulgent thing to do, and would subordinate the good of the magazines to their own petty opinions… Which, considering who’s running Marvel, is why I suspect it’s true.

  13. I have a couple of things to say :
    1= How quickly that turned out to be huh? Marvel said that in the new relaunch of The All New All Different, Iron-Man was the flagship charctor and now barely a year into that run the book is ending and relaunching with a new Iron Man. Then this just proves how willing they are just to grab attention.
    2=Riri Williams looks like Misty Knights, Iron Fist’s Fiancé, in this cover for Invincible Iron-Man. A much older woman for that matter, not a 15 year old.
    3=And this is my question for Mr Bendis : My question is not “why have Riri if we have already Miles?”, no my question is “Why have Riri if we already have Tony Stark and James Rhodes ?” Oh wait… Too soon.

    Also this is something Frontier over at Crawspace wrote :
    “-Because of how decompressed his run has been, Bendis has barely done anything with Tony despite having two books to work with. And now he’s replacing him? And with a 15-year old who Bendis is proclaiming could be better and smarter then Tony?”
    -He’s also replacing Tony with a new character who has no connection with Tony and has barely been established in one arc so far, when there were other, even more sensible, choices he could’ve used to replace Tony to promote them. Like Lila Rhodes, Rhodey’s neice, who is basically the same exact character (only not created by Bendis) and actually has a relationship with Tony through Rhodey (who Bendis also killed off in Civil War II).”

    1. “How quickly that turned out to be huh? Marvel said that in the new relaunch of The All New All Different, Iron-Man was the flagship character and now barely a year into that run the book is ending and relaunching with a new Iron Man. Then this just proves how willing they are just to grab attention.”

      It really ticks me off that they’re going to relaunch this title after one year. If I thought they were going to do that, there’s a good chance I would not have even started reading to begin with. As you mention, this was supposed to be “flagship” material.

      “My question is not “why have Riri if we have already Miles?” no my question is “Why have Riri if we already have Tony Stark and James Rhodes ?” Oh wait… Too soon.”

      I would have been perfectly fine if Rhodey took over as the “Invincible Iron Man” for a year with Tony off to the side “finding himself” or whatever lame idea Bendis wanted to come up with. I can’t believe Marvel expects me to get excited for Riri because … Riri. There is almost nothing known about this character or than her race and that she’s really smart. Sorry Mr. Bendis, but that’s not enough.

      “Because of how decompressed his run has been, Bendis has barely done anything with Tony despite having two books to work with. And now he’s replacing him? And with a 15-year old who Bendis is proclaiming could be better and smarter then Tony?”

      I saw that comment by Bendis and it certainly rubbed me the wrong way. It’s not enough for her to be intelligent. They have to say, “See! She’s better than Tony. She’s smarter than him and therefore will build better armor. She will be a better Iron Man than the original! Women! Race! Womenrace! Ifyoudontlikeitthenyourearacist!”

  14. It’s one thing to call people “racists” when they refuse to swallow the load of tripe you’re trying to dish out. It’s quite another to do so while saying “this idea wasn’t born in a corporate meeting only attended by rich, old white guys” when in fact, it WAS born in a corporate meeting only attended by rich, old white guys, (and we all KNOW it). This new character re-label is just the most recent in the heinous rash of Marvel’s uninspired, irresponsible “shock for sales” writing and sadly, it probably won’t be the last. The sad part is that by doing this, (saddling these new additions to the character roster with identities that took decades to build a readership), they’re not only cheapening the legacy of the original characters, (Captain America means nothing if you just keep passing the shield around every time your sales slip), but they’re also dooming these new prospective heroes to the inevitable realm of “second-bestism”. C’mon, we’ve seen it all before: New characters almost NEVER keep the old guarde’s identity. So what you end up with instead of “Wow! Miles Morales is an AWESOME, original character!” is “oh look: it’s that black kid who couldn’t cut it as Spider-man”. This in itself causes more racial / sex-based problems, (when these poor characters basically become expendable second-stringers waiting to be snuffed out in some future cross-event… RIP war Machine), than anyone pointing out your obviously greed, laziness and publicity-inspired missteps.

    Many of the great characters in the Comic Universe didn’t start great…. they had great writers who believed in them and poured their blood and tears into them for years and years. To tear the mask off of one of these icons who’s done the time and gone the distance and slap it on someone else just to make a quick buck is lazy and jusy plain-out insulting. It’s insulting to the original character, the original creator, the fans and to the rookie who will now never have the chance to achieve his or her OWN greatness, regardless of race, sex, age, religion or sexual persuasion. That’s the problem with guys like Bendis: He’s so worried about securing his next paycheck that he’s already sold his soul just to get the last.

    Disgusting.

    1. “It’s one thing to call people “racists” when they refuse to swallow the load of tripe you’re trying to dish out. It’s quite another to do so while saying ‘this idea wasn’t born in a corporate meeting only attended by rich, old white guys’ when in fact, it WAS born in a corporate meeting only attended by rich, old white guys, (and we all KNOW it).”

      Zing! I love when guys like Dan Slott talk about diversifying Marvel and getting minority writers on big books while refusing to lead by example. Yes, we do need more diversity, Dan. Why don’t you step down from ASM so an up-and-coming asian guy could get a shot? Maybe an asian writer wouldn’t objectify the asian women in Peter Parker’s life…(i.e., Japanese women who are just balls of sex pheromones and Chinese women who feed him with chop sticks before trying to murder him).

      “This new character re-label is just the most recent in the heinous rash of Marvel’s uninspired, irresponsible ‘shock for sales’ writing and sadly, it probably won’t be the last. The sad part is that by doing this, (saddling these new additions to the character roster with identities that took decades to build a readership), they’re not only cheapening the legacy of the original characters, (Captain America means nothing if you just keep passing the shield around every time your sales slip), but they’re also dooming these new prospective heroes to the inevitable realm of ‘second-bestism’.

      Boom. The weird thing is that Marvel seems to act as if there is this silent majority of minorities who will flood the Marvel coffers with cash if only guys like Bendis create Iron Riri. That isn’t the case. The alienate real very (not potential) customers with “shock” stories as you mention, and then further erode credibility with moves that are primarily PC-driven. It’s so bizarre.

      “Many of the great characters in the Comic Universe didn’t start great … they had great writers who believed in them and poured their blood and tears into them for years and years. To tear the mask off of one of these icons who’s done the time and gone the distance and slap it on someone else just to make a quick buck is lazy and jusy plain-out insulting. It’s insulting to the original character, the original creator, the fans and to the rookie who will now never have the chance to achieve his or her OWN greatness, regardless of race, sex, age, religion or sexual persuasion. That’s the problem with guys like Bendis: He’s so worried about securing his next paycheck that he’s already sold his soul just to get the last. Disgusting.”

      Great, great comment. Well said.

  15. Has Bendis ever created a really successful original character? Bendis, Slott, and the rest don’t understand that they don’t have a thimble-full of the creative innovation possessed by Kirby, Ditko, Lee, and Romita (or Alan Moore and Frank Miller even in their supreme weirdness, for that matter). Think of all the original characters created by Slott which have flopped. This RiRi will join those ranks.

    1. “Has Bendis ever created a really successful original character? Bendis, Slott, and the rest don’t understand that they don’t have a thimble-full of the creative innovation possessed by Kirby, Ditko, Lee, and Romita (or Alan Moore and Frank Miller even in their supreme weirdness, for that matter). Think of all the original characters created by Slott which have flopped. This RiRi will join those ranks.”

      Are you trying to say that you’re not enamored with Dan Slott’s greatest creation — “Freak”? Or Menace? Or Bendis’ “Gold Balls”? 😉

    1. “Or Alpha? Jackpot? Carlie Cooper? Regent? I’m still waiting on the Alpha action figure.”

      Didn’t Alpha briefly have his own title that only lasted a few issues? That was one horrible character. I almost want to go back and read the letters to the editor section of comics from that time period. I want to find the people who were like, “Alpha is the greatest! Keep it coming, Marvel! I can’t wait to see what he does next. Yadda, yadda, yadda.”

  16. Good Lord…
    Is that really a picture of Bendis? My immediate first and second thoughts were, “Uncle Fester?” and, “Doctor Evil?”

  17. My issue with the whole Riri as replacement thing is more like, “Why do we need Riri when we have Lila?”
    Lila Rhodes is Rhodey’s niece. In the Iron Patriot miniseries, she was shown to be a young genius who understood the inner workings of the armor even better than he did. She repaired it, could remotely access it, and was a fun new character.

    Looking back at it now, it almost seems like setup for something just like this. Instead, we get some random new character with pretty much the same personality and abilities. It seems like an ego thing, like Bendis just wanted a new character to put his stamp on. Why use this character someone else created when I can make my own and get the credit for doing something new and risky?

    The reason I don’t care for Riri is because it’s a complete waste of Lila.

    1. Money. If he creates the character, he’ll get some remuneration every time he uses her, basically forever. It’s the reason he shoehorns Jessica Jones into everything.

    2. “It seems like an ego thing, like Bendis just wanted a new character to put his stamp on.”

      We have a winner! Haha! I agree, Banon.

      On a serious note, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I appreciate it.

  18. I have totally given up on Marvel. They have replaced, killed or turned their classic heroes evil.

    I find it funny that is generally the straight White male characters that have changed. Why have Luke Cage,Black Panther,Storm etc not been replaced, oh yeah the SJW mob would be up in arms. However the evil White man is fine to replace. I will only read DC now,yes they have diversity but learned the lesson fast about pandering to SJWs and Feminist and that it is not a good idea. Most Comic Book readers are White Men, none of us want a 15 year old Black female Iron Man. So f*** Marvel. Hit them where it hurts, don’t buy their comics, don’t see the Films, don’t buy any Marvel products. We all know the SJW/Feminist c**** don’t actually like to buy Comics. So give it a few years, Marvel will be begging for the real fans back but we should say f*** you and let Marvel die a death for doing this. We fans made them and now they say f*** you to us, so f*** you back Marvel!

    1. “Most Comic Book readers are White Men, none of us want a 15 year old Black female Iron Man.”

      People of all races love Rhodey, a black guy, because the writers took the time to make him a good character before he temporarily replaced Tony and then went on to become War Machine. Likewise, people of all races would be fine with Riri if the switch wasn’t forced. Bendis and Marvel make these politically driven decisions and then wonder why long-time readers become livid.

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