Marvel Comics continues to drum up controversy.
The Hollywood Reporter revealed today that early preview copies sent to retailers of the 80th-anniversary collection, Marvel Comics #1000, included an essay by Mark Waid that accompanied an image of Captain America by John Cassaday and Laura Martin. However, in the issue set to hit stands tomorrow, the essay—seen by comics retailers in issues sent out as previews—was replaced with what THR describes as a “less critical piece, also credited to Waid, that is more directly tied to Captain America, and notably less critical of the United States.”
The original Waid essay sounded highly critical of the American political system, saying “this isn’t the land of opportunity for everyone” and calling for people to take action and “force those in power to listen.” io9 has also seen evidence of the alterations to Marvel Comics #1000.
Marvel Comics Editor in Chief C.B. Cebulski did not respond to io9's request for comment, but someone close to Marvel told us the reason Waid’s essay was changed was that the anniversary collection was designed to be a celebration of the publisher’s history. They added that the team thought Waid’s original essay felt out of place—while mentioning that the first draft of the collection wasn’t for publication—and that each essay is meant to be from a Marvel character’s point of view. They didn’t comment on whether the essay’s political message factored into the decision.
We also reached out to Waid for comment. He has yet to reply, but in a statement to Newsarama he called the framing of the changes a misrepresentation of events: “The only comment I’ll offer is that the abridged version that’s being circulated by news outlets severely mischaracterizes what was actually written,” Waid said.
Here’s a section from the original essay as shared by THR:
“The system isn’t just. We’ve treated some of our own abominably,” he wrote. “Worse, we’ve perpetuated the myth that any American can become anything, can achieve anything, through sheer force of will. And that’s not always true. This isn’t the land of opportunity for everyone. The American ideals aren’t always shared fairly. Yet without them, we have nothing.”
He went on to write, “America’s systems are flawed, but they’re our only mechanism with which to remedy inequality on a meaningful scale. Yes, it’s hard and bloody work. But history has shown us that we can, bit by bit, right that system when enough of us get angry. When enough of us take to the streets and force those in power to listen. When enough of us call for revolution and say, ‘Injustice will not stand.’”
The final issue hitting stores tomorrow includes a replacement essay which focuses on Captain America’s mask as a symbol of the American ideal, instead of him as just a person. Here’s a section from the new piece, one that THR says is as political as the new essay gets:
It’s a commitment to fight every day for justice, for acceptance and equality, and for the rights of everyone in this nation. At its best, this is a good country filled with people who recognize that those—not hatred, not bigotry, not exclusion—are the values of true patriotism.
This alteration comes just two weeks after Pulitzer Prize-winning comics creator Art Spiegelman pulled his introduction to a comics collection because Marvel wanted him to take out an indirect, albeit pointed, Donald Trump reference (when asked, the source close to Marvel said they they didn’t feel there was a connection between the two incidents). After pulling his essay, Spiegelman wrote in the Guardian of the interaction, “A regretful Folio Society editor told me that Marvel Comics (evidently the co-publisher of the book) is trying to now stay ‘apolitical,’ and is not allowing its publications to take a political stance.”
The situation with the Marvel Comics #1000 essay appears to be another example of Marvel Comics censoring its creators in an attempt to be apolitical, to the detriment of the company and its audience. You may recall EiC Cebulski going on record on the subject almost one year to the day: “We can’t get too deep into the politics,” he said of Marvel storylines.
Trying to remain “apolitical” is an effort in futility in 2019. Art is inherently political. Saying you’re “not political” serves to uphold the status quo and hold back diverse voices who might open up the audience’s perspective to other points of view. Like, for example, how America isn’t perfect, and how fighting injustice is the American Way. Insulating your audience from the larger problems of the world, instead choosing to gloss over it all with vague messages about Captain America’s mask as a symbol, doesn’t do anyone any favors—especially in a world where the creatives behind Captain America, whether it’s Steve Rogers or Sam Wilson, are using Captain America’s status as a symbol of what America should be to actually question the nobility and ideals of what the nation and its people have become.
The source close to Marvel said they didn’t agree with the idea that Marvel Comics is shying away from discussing political issues in its comics, citing the recent Captain America series by Ta-Nahisi Coates, and said they believe the work speaks for itself.
Whether Marvel’s higher-ups want to admit it publicly or not, Captain America is inherently a political figure. The character is clad in armor in the colors of the stars and stripes, and was explicitly created not just to become a supersoldier in America’s name in a time of global conflict, but because the man being transformed deeply held the nation’s best ideals in his moral core. You cannot have your creative cake and eat it too, and say that Captain America can exist without also acknowledging the character’s place as a commentary on American politics and values at large.
The fact that Marvel Entertainment CEO and chairman Ike Perlmutter is a longtime Trump supporter (and donor) and reportedly a power player behind the scenes at the Department of Veterans Affairs is, we’re sure, just a coincidence.
Update 8/28/19, 9:00 a.m.: We’ve added Waid’s original essay in its entirety, which you can read below.
I’m asked how it’s possible to love a country that’s deeply flawed.
It’s hard sometimes. The system isn’t just. We’ve treated some of our own abominably.
Worse, we’ve perpetuated the myth that any American can become anything, can achieve anything, through sheer force of will. And that’s not always true. This isn’t the land of opportunity for everyone. The American ideals aren’t always shared fairly.
Yet without them, we have nothing.
With nothing, cynicism becomes reality. With nothing, for the privileged and the disenfranchised both, our way of life ceases to exist. We must always remember that America, as imperfect as it is, has something. It has ideals that give it structure.
When the structure works, we get schools. We get roads and hospitals. We get a social safety net. More importantly, when we have structure, we have a foundation upon which to rebuild the American Dream — that equal opportunity can be available to absolutely everyone.
America’s systems are flawed, but they’re our only mechanism with which to remedy inequality on a meaningful scale. Yes, it’s hard and bloody work. But history has shown us that we can, bit by bit, right that system when enough of us get angry. When enough of us take to the streets and force those in power to listen. When enough of us call for revolution and say, “Injustice will not stand.”
That’s what you can love about America.
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