I had no idea writer Chelsea Cain was on the cusp of a comeback at Marvel Entertainment. I would imagine many others were likewise in the dark about it. Apparently, her Vision title was announced at Comic-Con International San Diego this summer, but I hadn’t heard about it. Of course, there’s such a deluge of pop-culture news and gossip that emerges from the annual event, I’m not surprised I missed it.
That Marvel was tapping Cain (and her husband, Marc Mohan, as co-writer) once again to craft a story featuring one of its characters was a smart move for the publisher, in light of the controversy that arose over her Mockingbird series a couple of years ago. A disgusting backlash of toxic masculinity and a gatekeeper mentality directed at a woman whom Marvel dared to hire and over a feminist message became emblematic of a culture clash within comics. We’re still dealing with it today in the form of the “Comicsgate” crowd, railing against diversity in characters, storytelling and talent.
I didn’t read Cain’s Mockingbird series, though I’d heard enough good things (and was sufficiently put off by the sexist backlash against it) to check out her upcoming creator-owned book from Image Comics, Man-Eaters. It’s quite good, and it would’ve been more than enough incentive for me to read her now-scuttled Vision story. The Vision/Viv relationship has immense storytelling potential, as writer Mark Waid explored in Champions a while ago.
So calling upon Cain once again to write a character that’s managed to come to the attention of a wider audience (thanks to Marvel Studios movies) was a smart move for the publisher. Cain is an established novelist and essayist who brings an established audience with her, and bringing her back into the Marvel fold undoubtedly had the added benefit of mending some of the public-relations harm that arose over the cancellation of Mockingbird. Marvel should and ought to work to develop its audience beyond the perceived crowd of adult fanboys, and by all accounts, that audience shift and expansion has been happening throughout the industry in recent years.
And now Marvel has shot itself in its four-color foot. It’s cancelled Cain and Mohan’s Vision before it was even released. What’s so puzzling and ludicrous is that the cancellation comes after the publisher solicited the first issue, after it made an announcement at the premiere comics-culture event in North America.
It appears that Marvel’s plans for the character shifted, despite the fact Cain and Mohan had been working on the six-issue limited series for more than a year. We’ve seen this happen before, and one has to acknowledge there’s been changes in the editorial leadership at the publisher, and undoubtedly, forces from outside Marvel Entertainment – namely, Marvel Studios or other players in the other-media scene – would likely have major influences on what they’d like to see happen with certain properties. Disney just announced new animated series featuring Loki and the Scarlet Witch for a planned streaming service, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to think there are producers who have their eye on the Vision. Furthermore, Marvel Entertainment could have easily encountered a comics creator with an interest in a Vision project who’s been deemed internally to be more bankable than Cain; this is all purely speculative but certainly plausible. I’m confident this decision is all about money and not about politics or personal philosophies.
But one has to wonder if Marvel brass really considered the true costs of this cancellation, especially in light of what happened when Mockingbird was canned. While its movies are a pop-culture and business powerhouse, Marvel’s brand has been battered in the comics industry in recent years, with its hold on the marketplace dominance it once enjoyed slipping away. Top-tier talent has stepped away in favor of creator-owned endeavors or employment with the competition. And its PR image on social issues has taken a beating as of late, despite publishing initiatives aimed to embrace diversity.
To make matters worse, Marvel has (unintentionally, I assume) emboldened the Comicsgate crowd, which has declared its own victory on social media in light of the news of the Cain cancellation. Despite no evidence to support it, there are those who hold this up as proof that Marvel is listening to the negativity, that it’s caving to the social pressure of a small but boisterous segment of the potential readership. And Comicsgate isn’t just the dirty underside known only within this industry and devoted audience; it’s been covered in mainstream media, from The Daily Beast to The Washington Post. People outside of our niche world are hearing about this ugly movement (and others like it in other aspects of culture), and adding any fuel to the Comicsgate fire.
What’s really disappointing is that Marvel failed to realize it can have its cake and eat it too. So what if there are other plans for the Vision and/or Viv? It could have released Cain’s Vision and whatever other supposedly “competing” project or concept. What’s the problem? Continuity? Continuity be damned. DC’s Batman: Damned, released this week under its mature-readers Black Label imprint, offers an interesting, out-of-continuity story that conflicts with past and current depictions of such characters as Batman, John Constantine, Deadman, Zatanna and Enchantress. DC has realized it doesn’t matter; what matters is storytelling and expanding the audience. Certainly there’s room for two visions of the Vision in the marketplace; it’s not as though readers have been inundated with such titles, unlike others in its stable of properties.
Marvel Entertainment is dealing here with an instance of premature cancellation, but it needn’t be embarrassed. Well, actually, it should, but it can mitigate the damage. The controversy has offered the publisher a bevy of free publicity — albeit negative — but by acknowledging a misstep, it could turn that around, repair relationships with an important segment of the readership and regain an ally in the outspoken Cain.
How the publisher proceeds on this issue and others will be watched closely, and those actions or inactions will spell out a vision for Marvel Editorial.