A look at Marvel in the 2010s

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Since I’ve looked at comics in general and DC Comics in the 2010s, it’s time to do the same for DC’s longtime rival, Marvel. Like DC, Marvel has also seen a lot through the 2010s.

Highlights

  • Slightly before the decade’s start, but important enough to list here: Disney’s purchase of Marvel for $4 billion in August 2009. Thus, this was Marvel’s first full decade under Disney ownership.
  • Miles Morales (Spider-Man) debuted (2011).
  • Alex Alonso became Marvel’s editor-in-chief (2011).
  • Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) debuted (2013).
  • The House of Ideas released a Spider-Woman cover with our hero in a questionable pose (2014).
  • Marvel tried downplaying the X-Men and all mutants, while instead played up the Inhumans (mid-2010s).
  • Marvel relaunched its “Star Wars” comic, with the first issue becoming the decade’s highest selling single-issue comic (2015).
  • Iceman was revealed as being gay (2015).
  • “Fantastic Four” was cancelled (2015); it returned several years later (2018).
  • “Secret Empire” tried to portray Captain America as “really” a Hydra agent, and got backlash (2017).
  • A Marvel sales exec blamed slumping sales on “diversity,” which also saw backlash (2017).
  • Brian Michael Bendis left Marvel for DC (2017).
  • CB Cebulski became Marvel’s editor-in-chief (2017).

Comics

Ms. Marvel #1 (April 2014) cover
“Ms. Marvel” #1 (April 2014). Art by Sara Pichelli and Justin Ponsor.

For the entire decade, Marvel’s dominated direct market single-issue comic sales. As such, a lot of their strategies stayed similar year in and out: big events, crossovers, sales stunts, multiple renumberings, and so forth.

Pros

On the plus side, Marvel made some stabs at diversity. The decade saw the debuts of the two most prominent superheroes created in the 2010s, Miles Morales and Kamala Khan. Both have gone on to make a splash in and out of comics, with Miles starring in the Oscar-winning “Into the Spider-Verse.”

A few older characters also saw new life in this decade. Squirrel Girl, a character created in the 90s, was until the 2010s mostly regarded as a “joke.” The launch of her own title in 2015 boosted Doreen’s popularity, and even led to her appearing in a few animated cartoons (“Marvel Rising,” etc.).

Iceman, one of the founding X-Men and one-third of Spider-Man’s “Amazing Friends,” was revealed as being gay mid-decade, via the convoluted teenage-X-Men time-travel plotline. (Its resolution (spoiler), however, was just as I feared. *Sigh.*)

Marvel Unlimited, Marvel’s digital subscription service, also saw a jump in popularity. Thanks to the debut of the iPad in 2010 (and larger smartphone screens by mid-decade), reading digital comics became more feasible.

Cons

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vol. 2 #1
“The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” (vol. 2) #1 (December 2015). Art by Erica Henderson.

That said, I’ve also got plenty of downsides about 2010s-era Marvel. For starters, Marvel, like DC, still engaged in many of the Big Two’s traditional flaws: expensive and intrusive crossovers; constant relaunches of titles (to the point Squirrel Girl’s book joked about having two #1s in the same year); and so forth.

Marvel also saw criticism for downplaying the Fantastic Four and the X-Men/various mutants, due to Fox owning the film rights to both. (Now a moot point with the Disney-Fox merger, of course.) Trying to play up the Inhumans as “totally a thing” (or as “mutants lite”/a generic origin akin to “they’re a mutant”) ultimately didn’t work. Well, save for Ms. Marvel, who ironically has few ties to the main Inhuman characters.

Additionally, despite Kamala and Miles (plus a few other characters like Moon Girl), Marvel still needs work when it comes to diversity, both on page and in their staffing. The fact their editor-in-chief pretended to be a Japanese person and still got hired says a lot. Sexism also continues to be an issue for Marvel, judging from the 2014 Spider-Woman cover controversy alone.

There’s also Marvel’s problematic chairman (and former CEO), Ike Perlmutter. Between his tight-fisted management of Marvel and his strong support of/questionable ties to Donald Trump, Marvel hasn’t been helped by his stewardship. Perlmutter’s presence might also explain certain actions by the House of Ideas, such as Art Spiegelman’s foreword to a reprint volume of Golden Age Marvel stories being dropped as “too political,” over a jab Spiegelman made about the Donald.

Finally, Marvel doesn’t seem to be paying as much attention to kids’ graphic novels as DC. Marvel does have a few (mostly via third party publishers like IDW), plus some trade paperbacks of kid-friendly books like “Moon Girl.” However, it’s not nearly as aggressive as DC’s publishing plans. Given kids graphic novels (and graphic novels in general) are growing to a prominent role in comics, ignoring this is something Marvel will regret.

The future

As for the 2020s, I expect Marvel to continue along its same path; there’s not much incentive to rock the boat, given its sales prominence. Unfortunately, that also means continuing the same flaws I outlined above. The only major change I can foresee is Perlmutter’s likely to leave Marvel at some point in the 2020s (he’s 77 years old as of this writing). Ideally, without Perlmutter around, some of Marvel’s practices will change for the better.

Movies

Avengers posterBy far, the biggest success story for Marvel’s been their famous “Marvel Cinematic Universe” movies. The blockbuster films have propelled characters like the Avengers or Black Panther into household names. The era reached its peak with 2019’s “Endgame,” which eclipsed “Avatar” as the top-grossing film of all time.

The same fortune, unfortunately, didn’t spread as well to Sony or Fox. For Fox’s case, the X-Men films petered out into diminishing returns, before the series ended with a whimper with “Dark Phoenix” in 2019.

Meanwhile, Sony rebooted Spider-Man twice, with the second time (featuring ties to the MCU) faring a bit better. Sony’s also had some luck with Venom (of all characters). “Into the Spider-Verse” also struck it big for Sony, giving them an animated franchise (a sequel’s due in 2022).

Unrelated to the above is the “Big Hero 6” animated film from 2014. Despite being based on a Marvel property, it’s considered an official Disney animated feature release (just like “Frozen,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “The Princess and the Frog”).

Going into the 2020s, I expect the core MCU films to continue doing solidly, as long as the public’s interest in superhero movies holds up. That said, I don’t expect the MCU to reach its 2010s heights. Meanwhile, the X-Men and Fantastic Four will likely see another revival, probably either as part of the MCU or still with Fox (but with Disney more closely guiding things). Finally, Sony should be fine (a brief squabble this year aside), thanks to Venom and Miles.

Live-action TV shows

Live-action TV hasn’t been Marvel’s strongest suit; it’s one area where DC seems to outdo Marvel. “Agents of Shield” has been their flagship show through the decade, with so-so success. Peggy Carter’s short-lived series was quite beloved; however, the Netflix-based Marvel shows seemed more hit-and-miss, at least going by my Twitter feed.

The launch of Disney+ will see more live-action Marvel shows in the future, with closer ties to the MCU. Plans to fold the TV production unit into the movie studio side seem to support this.

Animation

Miles Morales on Ultimate Spider-ManThe decade started off still reflecting the pre-Disney state of things, with “Super Hero Squad” airing on Cartoon Network. However, as the decade wore on, Marvel’s animated efforts moved solely to Disney-owned outlets, mainly Disney XD. They also started to reflect the MCU versions of some characters, such as an African-American Nick Fury on “Ultimate Spider-Man.” Miles Morales also made some appearances on TV, before his theatrical debut in “Spider-Verse.”

Looking ahead into the 2020s, Marvel plans on producing animated fare for Disney XD and Disney+. A “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur” cartoon’s coming in 2020 to Disney Channel. Meanwhile, a preschool-friendly “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” revival’s planned (featuring Miles and Ghost-Spider as Peter’s friends) for Disney Junior.

Conclusion

The Marvel Cinematic Universe movies were obviously Marvel’s strongest point of the 2010s. Meanwhile, the core comics seemed to plod along as usual, with both good and bad aspects.

Hopefully, the 2020s will see Marvel take producing young adult graphic novels more seriously. Ideally, there’ll also be changes in leadership and/or staffing diversity, which will also provide improvements.


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