An artist strives to frame his ideals in an image, to challenge his audience and make his vision immortal. But the parasite says, “No! Your art must serve the Cause! Your ideals endanger the people!”
-Andrew Ryan, Bioshock 2
When parasites create art, the result is Marvel’s present lineup of comics.
In the last two days, Marvel has produced two pieces of social justice-inspired works. The first casts Gwen Stacey as a sex-flipped Spider-Man, with Donald Trump as the villain. The second has Tony Stark handing over the mantle of Iron Man to 15-year-old Riri Williams. The virtue signalling is so obvious, it is painful. Couple this with Female Thor, Evil Captain America, and a number of Marvel characters suddenly becoming lesbian, bisexual, gay, black, female or Muslim, and it’s obvious that Marvel has declared its position in the culture war.
The announcement of Black Iron Girl demonstrates comic book logic at its finest. The Iron Man suit has fought supervillains, aliens, mutated superhumans, assassins, magicians, monsters, supersoldiers, and rival suits of power armor. The suit transforms the wearer into a one-man army. In what sane universe is it a good idea for a veteran superhero to hand over the suit to a 15-year-old? How does a teenager somehow possess the judgment to properly use a weapon of mass destruction?
Iron Man, it should be remembered, fights in a staggering number of environments, including densely-packed urban cities. The wearer only has milliseconds to properly identify and engage targets with the appropriate weapon. Firing missiles at the wrong time or the wrong target would blow up a building full of innocents. The suit’s repulsor beams can blow holes through walls and armor; it is extremely easy for an inexperienced user to kill a roomful of civilians instead of a legitimate threat. Even trained soldiers and police officers would find this extremely difficult.
Tony Stark, at least, had the excuse of founding SHIELD and the Avengers, and with those organisations and his inherited wealth, he would have access to superior training and colleagues who could help him develop his skills. And he became Iron Man at 21, when he was a legal adult. As for Williams, her major achievement is somehow reverse-engineering an old Iron Man suit. And because of that, it is somehow acceptable to turn her into a child soldier. Which is illegal by international law, by the way.
None of this, of course, matters to the high priests of diversity. It is far more important to have yet another black female STEM-inclined superhero(ine) than for the story to make sense. Needless to say, Williams will embody the finest traditions of social justice, perhaps even throwing in references to Black Lives Matter, and will either become a Mary Sue or make mistakes so trivial that they can be glossed over.
The American comic book industry is particularly ripe for social justice infiltration and subversion. Many beloved characters have been around for decades: Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Nick Fury, Thor, Batman, Captain America, and so on. They have become static archetypes. Instead of character development or introducing new characters, Marvel prefers signing on new artists and writers to introduce ‘fresh’ takes on existing characters, which inevitably leads to Social Justice subversion. This disrespects the audience that previous generations have grown and served, and any publishing company that disrespects the audience is bound for the ash heap of history.
Contrast this with the Japanese manga industry. Virtually every artist creates his own unique stories, characters and worlds. The industry rewards success and punishes failure: artists who enjoy high sales are allowed to continue their career; those who do not are axed, and only very lucky ones are given a second shot. Characters, plots and worlds are not recycled among different artists as a matter of procedure; creators, stories and characters stand or die on their own merits, and characters are either retired or given new story arcs for greater development. There’s also far less blatant politicking and social justice in manga than in American comics.
While Japanese manga generally do not have archetypical characters, in my personal experience the industry as a whole offers richer and deeper stories than anything Marvel has to offer. They also tend to have a faster release schedule. And the very best manga characters become archetypes in their own right: Sailor Moon, Vash, Kusanagi Motoko, Vegeta, and so on.
The Americans have much to learn from the Japanese in the field. Focus on good writing and characters; introduce fresh characters and IPs to explore different themes instead of rehashing old ones; and get rid of the social justice virtue signalling. Art is not a weapon to reinforce a narrative or protect people from dangerous ideas; art is its own end, as the extension of the artist, and to catalyze the audience’s own growth.