Ending 2022 With New York Post, Woke Comics And John Stossel
John Stossel is a 75-year-old American libertarian television presenter, author, consumer journalist, and pundit, known for moving from ABC News to the Fox Business Network, to Reason TV and his own online channel StosselTV, as well as books, Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media in 2004, Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity: Get Out the Shovel – Why Everything You Know is Wrong in 2007, and No, They Can't: Why Government Fails – But Individuals Succeed in 2012. Stossel has a reputation for debunk myths in his journalism, so I hope he doesn't mind if we have a go as well.
Because John Stossel has just written a piece for the New York Post titled "Woke comic books are laughable money-losers — but DC and Marvel keep pushing them anyway". You can probably guess many of the arguments he makes as someone who has just discovered that comic books are still being published, but here we go.
"Woke" is defined as "aware of and actively attentive to important societal facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)", which has described most superhero comic books since day one. But it's used in an insulting form in this article, and by others as being "overtly progressive in politics". However, it seems that, as ever, it always depends on your starting position. John Stossel asked
Did you know that Superman's son is bisexual? So is Batman's sidekick, Robin, and lots of other superheroes created by Marvel and DC Comics." One of the Robins, Tim Drake, yes. And lots? Hardly. There are far more Avengers, more Justice Leaguers, more X-Men characters alone than bisexuals in the whole of the respective publisher's character base.
John Stossel talks to Eric July of the Isom comic book we'd previously featured, saying,
They became bisexual "out of nowhere!" complains comic creator Eric July to me. "They make it seem as if the only way that you can relate to a character is because you're gay and that character's gay, which is nonsense!"
That's not true. The characters cited are teenagers, a time when people commonly come to terms with who they are, and Superman's son, Jon Kent, has only been around for a few years. He expands on the latter point.
July, who is black, says you don't have to share the same traits as a superhero to enjoy the character. His favorite was Batman. "I ain't got Bruce Wayne money, and I'm not rich! And I'm certainly not white."
Of course, that's true, however there are other people with different experiences. Outside of race and sexuality, I can't deny that as a Brit, the existence of Captain Britain comics when I was a kid was a self-affirming thing to me. And no one can deny the very visual evidence of how the very existence of the Black Panther movie empowered some audiences in a way that no other superhero movie had done at that point. Different people have different experiences, reactions and needs, and publishers will try to tap into them in order to make money. Eric July is doing just that with his campaign, tapping into and fermenting pre-existing beliefs and attitudes and persuading holders of those to part with their cash and he has done rather well. The New York Post does the same, as does John Stossel.
July points out that there have long been gay comic superheroes, like Northstar. But what's new and dumb is that DC and Marvel are changing the identity of established characters."
Northstar was an established character in the Marvel Universe for around for fifteen years before Marvel Comics published a story that stated that he was gay. It would be another fifteen years after that before he would even get a boyfriend. Jonathan Kent has been around for only seven years, and was depicted as a young child for most of that period. Because, as ever, it's where you start from. And the majority of Marvel and DC's gay and lesbian characters were introduced in that fashion. Stossel continues;
A new Batman is black. There's a new Spider-Man-like character, except she's a lesbian who uses a wheelchair. Iron Man is now a black teenage girl. Really.
Stossel ignores that we've had a black Iron Man since the seventies, a black Spider-Man since 2011, and that Riri Williams isn't Iron Man, she's Ironheart. And the Spider-Verse has given us a thousand different Spider-Men-based characters. Plenty of whom are also white, straight men not in wheelchairs. It seems that Marvel and DC are damned if they introduce new diverse characters as part of their Marvel Universe, and damned if they make some change to an existing character. Stossel acknowledges that this isn't necessarily a bad thing
Maybe this is progress. "When I was a kid," I say to July, "all the characters were white. It's a good thing more are non-white." "But they've been just reduced to being an item to pander to certain audiences that aren't really buying into it"" July responds. No, they sure aren't. Marvel and DC had the estselling graphic novels. Now the bestsellers are from Japan. Often, they aren't even in color, yet they outsell Marvel and DC. The American-made books aren't even in the top 20
Okay, and this is the crux of it. No, the best-selling graphic novels in America are not from Japan, they are American-born, and some of them are superhero too. They just happen to be the likes of Dog-Man or Cat-Kid by Dav Pilkey, the MG and YA works of Raina Telgemeier and Shannon Hale. They top the kids general charts in bookstores, while manga tops the adult graphic novel charts in bookstores. But the kids' graphic novels outsell the adult graphic novels by a large factor. Now Marvel and DC titles in bookstores are outsold by manga titles, absolutely, utterly so. But in comic shops, superhero comics outsell manga. They do so with smaller "floppy" issues, but they add up. Batman will regularly sell 100,000 copies in comic book stores in a month, whereas the bestselling manga title, Chainsaw Man, sells around 50,000 copies a month of the latest volume in bookstores. This is massively impressive, as Batman doesn't sell anything like that in collected format every month in any venue. But it doesn't stop the Batman comic from having twice as many readers picking up a copy of the main Batman comic book title on a monthly basis in the US, when Chainsaw Man has half that. This is just print, of course, digital brings in a bunch more readers, but by isolating any one market, rather than looking at the whole, and measuring individual readers, you miss the big picture. And pretending that they are "money losers" as the headline has it, just doesn't match up to the real biases of Marvel and DC – which is to make money. Stossel continues;
"They turned off their audience by . . . hyper-emphasizing the social justice element" says July.
Superheroes have pretty much, since day one, been fighting for social justice. It's just now the term is being used differently, redefined and weaponised. The comics you liked when you were a kid are fine and somehow weren't fighting against social justice, even when it was Spider-Man teaming up with black superheroes to fight fascist skinheads on the streets of New York in the eighties, but the one you see, now are. It's far more likely that the reader has just…. grown up, grown out of superhero comics, which are generally doing what they've always done, and continuing to, as Stan Lee put it, reflect the world outside your window. Stossel says
Marvel made its evil character MODAAK resemble Donald Trump.
This was a one-off gag for two pages in a comic set in a parallel dimension in 2016. The chairman of Marvel, Ike Perlmutter, remains Donald Trump's biggest political donor. Stossel continues;
It hired leftist writer Ta-Nehisi Coates to create a Captain America series. Coates made the villain, Red Skull, a bizarre version of psychologist and writer Jordan Peterson.
Yup, he did, back in 2021. That he was able to do it so easily might raise questions. But absolutely, he did indeed do that. But generally, Marvel Comics hires writers to tell superhero stories about individual duty, not relying on the government to do the right thing but taking responsibility for yourself, as well as a soupcon of might makes right, and not worrying overly about the rights of those trying to kill or maim others. If you are looking for political bias in superhero comic books from Marvel and DC, they skew more to portraying a conservative view of human nature. Even those preaching a kind of collective responsibility, such as current X-Men comics and their separatist Krakoan storyline, choose the example of Israel as an allegory. You can cherry-pick individual cases to make a point, but you have to ignore the whole to do so. Stossel continues
Instead of just saving lives, today's comic superheroes lead protests. The cover of a Superman comic shows Superman's son leading a school "strike for climate." It's so stupid! Superman, with all his powers, could solve climate change all by himself. But now he holds a protest sign.
Of course, this didn't happen in the comic itself, it was more symbolic as a cover in nature. The Superman comics have literally had Superman say it is humanity's responsibility to do such, not his. But DC Comics superheroes have been portrayed in protest marches before now, especially in the seventies. There's something about the symbolism. Stossel cites further;
"These guys are writing material for their peers," says July. "So even if the Son of Superman falls completely off the charts like it did, right? It's still a win in their mind." I thought that capitalism would be a break on the silliest of the woke world. But in this case, they're just sabotaging their own projects. The bisexual Superman series was canceled after 18 issues.
As Bleeding Cool had fun pointing out, the Heterosexual Robin series published alongside Superman: Son Of Kal-El was cancelled after just 17 issues. But no one has used it in a New York Post to make the point that straight characters don't sell. Both series became part of bigger event comics, Robin into Batman Vs Robin and Lazarus Planet, with Superman joining Dark Crisis and coming out of it with a new series The Adventures Of Superman: Jon Kent. This is just what superhero comic books do, sexuality doesn't come into it. Stossel also states,
"Marvel came up with two not-so-super heroes named "Snowflake" and "Safespace." Really. "Snowflake is nonbinary and goes by they-them," says the writer in Marvel's video introducing the characters. Fan reaction to the preview video was pretty bad. Marvel decided not to release Snowflake and Safespace."
This was a planned New Warriors comic book from Marvel by satirical comedy writer of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Daniel Kibblesmith, planned back in 2020, that Marvel didn't publish. Again, you have to go back a few years to gather enough evidence via all this cherry-picking, and this one wasn't even published, which shows how deep the barrel is being scraped. Stossel concluded;
I wanted to ask Marvel and DC why they seem fine with losing market share. Aren't their investors angry? Neither company would talk to me.
With loaded questions like that, I can see why not. Hell, but at least he got Eric July to talk to him, he wouldn't talk to me. However, Marvel and DC Comics continue to make money for their owners who, I am sure, would have something to say if they did not. Ike Perlmutter is very keen on that sort of thing for a start. And as for naming new versions of old characters, or reinterpreting them in new ways, that not only has always happened, time after time, sometimes through blatantly sledgehammer tactics – such as replacing all the X-Men with foreigners (mostly from countries who were or had been at war with the USA) in order to increase international sales. Stossel returns to why this article really existed in the first place.
"At least their stupidity gives new opportunities to independent creators like Eric July. He's raised $3.7 million to fund a new superhero comic book, "Isom." The market will decide if people want to pay for new characters like him. But July understands something that Marvel and DC apparently no longer do: Capitalism means giving people what they want."
Eric July's Isom has performed remarkably well for a brand new comic book, if his figures are to be believed – unlike Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or BookScan, there's no independent measure of those figures. But taking it purely on face value, he has got over 42,000 customers to preorder his first issue since it was launched in July, after a PR campaign from his employer Blaze TV which was picked up by Fox News and indeed the New York Post previously. And with issue two planned for next year, he will likely repeat that performance. But Batman has to do that every week. And it doesn't hype up its audience by criticising other comic books.
If Stossel really wants to pick up a true and unarguable American Capitalist success story in comic books, he should go with the many-millions-selling Dav Pilkey and Raina Telgemeier. I just hope it's all not too woke for him…