I’ve been writing about comic books and superheroes for quite some time, and have been a fan even longer. I got into comic books in the early ’90s, when it was extremely rare that a young girl from the South would be interested in reading them. I grew up on syndicated television shows like Wonder Woman, Charlie’s Angels, and The Bionic Woman that showed women as more than just a love interest or damsel in distress. Therefore, my eventual love of comic book superheroes was inevitable. As much as I loved being a fan of all the Marvel, DC, Image, etc. characters, I learned real quick that my presence as a fan wasn’t necessarily welcomed by everyone else–specifically, dedicated fanboys who hogged up all of the counter space at the local comic book store. Back then, I had to fight for my place at the counter and, apparently, some things never change.
Almost 30 years later, after I’ve made a decent career out of writing about what I love, the bigotry and misogyny that I first experienced all those years ago seems to have grown louder, thanks to the internet. The internet allows trolls of all kinds to share hateful, ignorant comments all while hiding behind a computer screen. Not long ago, I wrote an in-depth expose on the Comicsgate hate group, an organization who vocally opposes diversity and progressivism in American comic books. This group was against the advancement of characters, writers, and artists who dared mess with their pristine idea of how comic books should be made. As women, POC, and LGBTQ individuals rose in the ranks both on and off the page of comic books, the dissonance created by Comicsgate and it’s followers has come to a fever pitch. I got a few online death threats for that article, which made me feel even more proud for writing it.
Take for example, 2019’s Captain Marvel. The first female-led superhero film in the MCU, which took almost a decade to make. Black Widow and Wanda Maximoff were pretty much still playing supporting roles in the adventures of Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man at this point. Twenty films into the MCU later, we finally get a solo female superhero film–and fanboys hated it from the start. Despite the fact that Captain Marvel is already known as one of the most powerful characters in the comic books, some didn’t want Cap & Co. to be outshined by a woman who “doesn’t smile” and is “too cocky.” The sexism ran rampant, after all would someone say that a male superhero doesn’t smile enough? Or is too arrogant? Hell, Iron Man built a whole civilian identity around being arrogant. Ironically, Captain Marvel made big bank at the box office and proved that women were absolutely interested in being represented in superhero movies. Was it the best film of the MCU? Perhaps not, but it is far from the worst.
The same is now happening with this year’s Black Widow, which for all intents and purposes, should’ve been released way before the demise of it’s lead character in Avengers: Endgame. Most fans and critics loved the film, but there were still the naysayers who thought it was a “killjoy” or that it was too much like a James Bond film. Are we watching the same film? Black Widow is a film about sisterhood and survival. The film shines a realistic light on the harsh truth about child trafficking and how women have to struggle for their own autonomy way too often (#FreeBritney). Natasha’s backstory, which we had only scenes bits and pieces of up until now, was fleshed out, finally making her a fully-formed character. There is also a distinct difference between a movie about spies and a movie that has spies in it. If anything, Black Widow is just as much a family drama as it is a superhero action movie. Some say it comes up too little, too late. Some have called it a pretty damn sweet swan song for Natasha.
Toxic fandoms have been around forever and don’t show any sign of giving up anytime soon. Of course, they aren’t exclusive to just Marvel. Netflix just released it’s Masters of the Universe: Revelations revival of the beloved cartoon from the ’80s. Fanboys took the internet once again to review-bomb the Kevin Smith-helmed show simply because they felt like it didn’t have enough He-Man in it and it focused too much on Teela. The show is called MASTERS of the Universe. Not The He-Man Show or even He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. And I wonder if there would’ve been such an uproar over focusing on Teela if she had retained her volumptuous appearance from the original series, instead of becoming a side cut-wearing queer icon.
So, what can we do about it? It’s simple–show up and show support for superhero projects that feature women, POC, and members of the LGBTQ community. Pay to see that movie. Praise an actor’s performance on social media. Safely attend comic-cons and support artists and writers there. Even just offering words of encouragement or appreciation to them go a long way. By no means am I saying to say a project is good simply because it features members of a marginalized group, but I am saying to support it if you liked it and don’t automatically discount it because it does. Our voices have to be louder, and prouder, to drown out the bigoted hate speech.
Straight, white fanboys do not have domain over all comic books and superhero properties. Genre projects that get made do not owe them anything, because the industry is starting to get that fans of superheroes come from all walks of life and are eager to see themselves represented as such.