D23 2019 Rewind: When Disney+ Looked Ahead & Marvel Comics Looked Old

The story of what led to my ugly break-up with comics and fully baptizing myself in the glory that is television is one that I've told once or twice in the past so I won't do a full rehash this time around. Especially not when I can use this sentence you're reading right now to plug an opinion piece where I go into more detail that you can check out here. Okay, with that cheap plug out of the way and for those of you looking for a "long story, short" approach, here it is. For me, comics stopped being fun when they became $20 for six pages of stories & 14 pages of Snickers ads, the 24/7 endless event cycle began creating a numbness where nothing had meaning anymore. Is X-Men getting rebooted for 1,283rd time? Cool. How long will that last? Until "Fall of the Empire of the Ultimate X-Pansion Manifesto II: The Revenge"? Are there any more words left to put in front of "Crisis"? And if you go outside Marvel & DC to Image and indies? You can get an epic, four-issue series… stretched out over four years, assuming it gets finished. And even then, it started feeling less like a comic book reading experience and more like I was checking out someone's pitch storyboards for a series deal. And don't get me started on the hypocrisy behind the pirated comics debate and how the comics industry looked its readership in their eyes and pretty much told them to go f**k themselves in the middle of a pandemic. And while this may not be a popular point to make with some, no one has yet to make a solid argument why a comic book couldn't be a monthly animated short.

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Image: Screencap

But it wasn't until The Walt Disney Company's D23 event back in 2019 that I fully understood why I left comics and why it was so easy to embrace television as the next logical step in the evolution of comics. It's pretty funny because I haven't been the biggest defender of Disney's stuff as they've grown to be one very large & powerful rodent. For those of you who don't know, D23 is a big multimedia event that "The Mouse" rolls out so they can show off all of the films, shows, attractions, etc., that are heading consumers' way. This was the year when the Disney+ streaming service took the stage, a little more than two months before its debut. And from the Marvel Studios side of things, they came ready to play.

We had Jeffrey Wright's ominous Watcher narrating an early look at the animated What If…?. Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, and Wyatt Russell were introduced for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. WandaVision brought us Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Teyonah Parris, Kat Dennings, Randall Park, and Kathryn Hahn. And there was more, with Ms. Marvel aka Kamala Khan, Moon Knight, and She-Hulk all heading to the small screen with live-action takes. Now while I'm not in the business of trying to help "The Mouse" sell Disney+ subscriptions and we could easily debate the reasoning was more financially based and less socially conscious based, it was still an impressive rollout for one very obvious reason. Disney understood that a streaming service is only as good as the content that's on it and that there are still a large number of untapped fan bases out there looking to feel represented on screen. So when I look back on how that presentation went and what we've seen from the streamer regarding Marvel Studios projects since that time, I couldn't help but feel like some wheels were finally starting to turn when it came to diversity & representation. Did they take too long to start turning and is there room for them to turn a whole helluva lot faster? Definitely, but it was a start.

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Image: Screencap

And then there was the Marvel Comics panel. Billed as a tour "through eight decades of Marvel Comics history, highlighting the highs, the lows, and all the craziness in between," the panel was hosted by Marvel Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski and Executive Editor Tom Brevoort. And it was just that. A nostalgia trip back through the very white male "good old days" of the comics industry. Which normally makes my skin squirm a bit because it always begs the question of just how "good" were the "good old days" of comics for women, creators of color, and members of the LGBTQ community. But my brain couldn't stop comparing it with the message that Disney+ sent, and the difference was crystal clear. One was about looking towards the future with a willingness to try new things. The other harkened back to a time that not many find too friendly to harken back to. One felt vibrant and alive, while the other just felt old (and as someone who's *mumble-mumble* years old, I know of where I speak). But I get the argument that there's nothing wrong with celebrating one's past as you look towards the future, but at a D23 that vibed "The Future Is Now" it felt like no one could read the room on the comics side.

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Image: Screencap

And did they have to have Cebulski on the stage? Because seeing "Akira Yoshida" waxing nostalgically about the golden years of comics felt like a knife wound to that portion of my brain that can't accept blatant hypocrisy and twisted irony. In a nutshell, "Akira Yoshida" (not to be confused with the former Japanese rugby union player) was more than just a pseudonym that Cebulski created to get comics gigs- "Yoshida" was a full-on persona with a fake backstory as a Japanese man who was a manga fan as a child and discovered American comics when his traveling businessman father brought him over to the U.S. From there, Cebulski denied that he and "Yoshida" were one-in-the-same, "Yoshida" gave an interview, folks claimed to have met "Yoshida" in person, and then… kinda nothing. It pretty much became known that this whole thing was a ruse, but nothing happened to Cebulski- other than career growth within Marvel. And that was just allowed to be… okay? To this day, I'm still not sure how comics journalism sites didn't do more to call him out on the carpet for the fraud. And I know some of you may have an issue with the word "fraud" but isn't that really what it was, from a decency & common sense standpoint? Because it's one thing to have a pen name. It's another to appropriate the persona of someone from a group that's already under-represented in comics as it is. Essentially, "Akira Yoshida" took a job from a real-life Japanese creator.

And that's when I understood for the first time why my unhealthy relationship with comics needed to end. We were both looking for different things. With television, I found a partner I could develop a healthy future with while comics kept wanting to relive prom night from 1963.

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About Ray Flook

Serving as Television Editor since 2018, Ray began five years earlier as a contributing writer/photographer before being brought onto the core BC team in 2017.
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