Two pieces of news on Marvel properties have some relevance to our current national predicament this week. First up, news that nobody cared about the horrid reviews Iron Fist on Netflix gathered during its roll out. Almost unanimously condemned for not casting the lead character, Danny Rand, as an Asian American, subsequent viewing statistics seemed to indicate it was a Netflix blockbuster:
“Marvel’s Iron Fist” drew some of the most scathing reviews that any Netflix series has earned. But the critical dog pile apparently did little to dampen enthusiasm for the show.
The superhero drama’s March 17 premiere was the most binge-watched this year for a Netflix drama, according to data from research firm 7Park Data, which measures number of streams on subscription video services. The company found that 54.7% of “Iron Fist” streams on the premiere date were of episodes three or higher. The average hour-long show on Netflix has a binge score of 46.9%.
“Iron Fist” also accounted for 14.6% of all Netflix streams on March 17 — the highest percentage of any series premiere that 7Park measured, topping “Stranger Things” (4.0%), “Marvel’s Luke Cage” (12.8%), “Marvel’s Daredevil” Season 2 (13.8%), and “Orange is the New Black” Season 4.
You’ll recall the hilarious Guardian opinion by Kendra James last week. Iron Fist was rotten because all its white characters sucked. But not its two not-white supporting women.
“Iron Fist was the first Marvel TV series to receive critical scorn,” reads The Independent.
The paper’s original review: “A rich, privileged white guy with more arrogance than brains loses everything.”
As a rich, privileged white guy he immediately did what we know most privileged white guys do at big corporations: make their lifesaving drugs available at cost and vow to shutter a plant that was said to be dumping carcinogens into the locals’ water.
Fast forward to now. Sales of Marvel comics are off and one of its managers opines:
[Speaking] at the Marvel retailer summit about the studio’s falling comic sales since October, David Gabriel told ICv2 that retailers had told him that fans were sticking to old favourites. “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity,” he said. “They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.”
He added: “I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales … Any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up.”
The piece is accompanied by clip art of Riri Williams, the African American teenage girl who’s the new Invincible Irom Man while Tony Stark lies in a coma.
Williams makes for a dull Iron Man (she’s named Ironheart) and since classic Iron Man generally depends on its brute force approach, Stark in armor beating adversaries half to death with his fists and repulsor rays, you can see this news from sales must have some Marvel editors breathing a sigh of relief. Stark’s coma will be shortened and Riri Williams quietly offloaded to a separate intermittent title or reduced to sidekick status.
And make no mistake, Riri Williams’ Iron Man is a poor one. Totally unready and unbelievable as someone who wins battles with armored fists, so far her trick has been to write computer viruses that cause her foes to crash. It’s not sustainable in the classic Marvel sense.
None of this matter in the moment, though. Social media and features writers immediately forced Marvel’s David Gabriel to say he really didn’t mean what he said. The wise people of the web insisted diversity isn’t what’s hurting Marvel in 140-character chunks. Too many titles and Captain America as a Hydra Nazi were. Never mind that the multiplication of Marvel titles has been mostly clustered around diversity characters.
America Chavez, a Latina and lesbian superhero, saves an alien planet, enrolls at Sotomayor University and punches Adolf Hitler in the first issue of her new Marvel comic book series. But what’s being celebrated as most fantastic in this comic is that Gabby Rivera, a young-adult author who is gay and Latina herself, is writing the adventures of America.
Keep in mind the New York Times didn’t get excited at all about the resurrection of the Iron Fist comic title. In its premier issue the character, angry, middle-aged and white, spends most of the page time breaking the jaws and assorted bones of other unnamed martial arts gangsters in dingy bars. And that’s not critically cool at all.
So here’s one possible interpretation and it’s guaranteed unpopular. Diversity comic titles get good press. They’re guaranteed clickbait. But the titles don’t sell like Marvel’s old white legacy stars.
The sooner Marvel sends its social outreach to the bench, the better for sales. Not to fear, no character’s loss is ever really permament.