There’s no denying that Marvel has had one heck of a decade. Since launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe back in 2008 with Iron Man, the House of Ideas has completely changed the way we watch movies and the way Hollywood thinks about them. The term “cinematic universe” might be one we take for granted today — after all, every major studio has been trying to emulate Marvel Studios’ success with its superhero universe — but there was a time when making a series of interconnected films seemed absolutely impossible. With the first part of Avengers: Infinity War out later this year, Marvel Entertainment has solidified itself as a company that can deliver big action, epic storytelling and innovative ways to change the face of the movie business.
That’s not to say that Marvel is always perfect. In fact, it has committed some blunders over the years that have raised many eyebrows and at times caused a bit of fan backlash. And for those fans who weren’t following Marvel pre-Iron Man, the company wasn’t always as successful. In fact, 1996 might have been the company’s lowest point to date — but we’ll get to that in a bit. Here are the behind the scenes scandals that have rocked Marvel over the years!
15. RELIGIOUS PROPAGANDA
The year 2017 saw the release of X-Men Gold #1, which was meant to usher in a brand new adventure for an eclectic team of X-Men. Unfortunately, the issue was wrapped in a controversy that sparked discussion about religious messaging in the new book’s storytelling. While not immediately apparent to readers zooming through the story, eagle-eyed fans noticed that Indonesian artist Ardian Syaf had snuck in references to a controversial passage from the Qur’an.
Many readers interpreted this as anti-Christian and anti-Jewish.
While it was seen as a form of protest in his native country, the passage in question speaks of distrust towards both Christians and Jews. Many readers interpreted this as anti-Christian and anti-Jewish messaging on Syaf’s part, who was terminated by Marvel soon after. The company also stated in a press release that it published the book “without knowledge behind its reported meanings.” The references were removed from later printings of the issue.
14. SJW = NAZIS?
Thunderbolts and Cable artist Jon Malin received much criticism from the online comic book community after claiming on Twitter that the Nazis of World War II were like today’s “SJWs” (social justice warriors). His statement was part of a longer thread of tweets about the current ““SJW insertion of identity politics into mainstream comics.” Malin said that it was becoming increasingly more difficult for creatives to express any other political viewpoint than a left-leaning one.
In a later Q&A streamed via YouTube, Malin clarified his tweets, saying, “These people are getting further and further into control of these companies, and when they find out you’re a Trump supporter, you’re gone.” This has caused some in the comic book community to accuse Malin of alt-right messaging in his work. Malin’s run on Cable ends in February with issue #154. He doesn’t currently have a new project lined up at Marvel.
13. STAN LEE ACCUSED OF SEXUAL MISCONDUCT
Stan Lee made headlines in January 2018 not for a TV or movie cameo but because of sexual misconduct accusations made against him by several nurses who had assisted him in the past few years. Lee’s former nurses, who were not identified by Daily Mail, the outlet that first broke the story, claimed that the former Marvel creator had harassed them during their time assisting him in his home. The nurses described how Lee was vulgar towards them and made several unwanted advances. Lee has denied these accusations.
The nurses described how Lee was vulgar towards them and made several unwanted advances.
This is not the first time Lee has been wrapped up in a scandal. A former assistant, Shawn Lukaszewicz, sued Lee back in 2015 for wrongful termination and “severe and constant mental abuse.” Lukaszewicz claimed that Lee, as well as his wife and daughter, had verbally abused him during the months he worked for the comic book creator.
12. IMAGE COMICS EXODUS
Over the years, many comic book writers and artists have expressed their unhappiness with Marvel’s stance on creator ownership as well as the company’s compensation and licensing practices. (In fact, there are a few examples below.) In 1992, a group made up of some of Marvel’s most popular creators decided that it was time to move on from the House of Ideas. Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino, Whilce Portacio and Chris Claremont all left Marvel to found Image Comics.
These creators started Image as a response to the things they considered to be wrong with the industry, especially when it came to working at the Big Two. At Image, creators would own their own work and the publisher would not have a right to any intellectual property. While Image changed the face of the industry, Marvel took a big creative hit.
11. THE FANTASTIC FOUR DISAPPEAR FROM THE LINEUP
It’s no secret that Marvel has been at odds with Fox for the past few years, as both studios have pursued superhero movie universes with their most popular characters. In the ’90s, Marvel sold the movie rights to many of its most well-known heroes and villains to Fox and Sony in order to stave off bankruptcy.
This deal gave Fox the exclusive rights to make X-Men and Fantastic Four movies.
When Marvel Studios became the leader in cinematic universes, it suddenly had a big competitor in Fox, which had been making X-Men movies for almost a decade by the time Iron Man hit theaters in 2008. In order to stifle the competition (and this is an unconfirmed conspiracy theory), Marvel apparently canceled the Fantastic Four ongoing comic because it didn’t want to promote Fox’s FF projects. Many fans are still very unhappy with the move.
10. JACK KIRBY VS. MARVEL
Jack Kirby is considered one of the greatest comic book creators to ever live, the man who brought us many of the beloved Marvel and DC properties we enjoy on the page and the big screen today. If you watched Thor: Ragnarok or Justice League last year, then you witnessed many of Kirby’s designs or ones inspired by his work in these movies. The X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the New Gods, Mister Miracle, Captain America and even a villain as zany as Crazy Quilt are all Kirby creations.
Kirby spent much of his later career fighting for the rights to the characters he had created during his time at Marvel, which has a history of creator disputes and lawsuits concerning royalties and its licensing practices. Even after his death, the Kirby estate continued to fight Marvel for the rights of the creations. Marvel finally settled with the estate in 2014.
9. STEVE GERBER VS. MARVEL
Steve Gerber was the writer who — along with artist Val Mayerik — created the satirical Howard the Duck. The cigar-chomping mallard debuted in 1973 as a supporting character in Gerber’s Man-Thing book. Howard went on to star in his own syndicated comic strip, which was written by Gerber and several artists. According to Marvel, Gerber was let go from the comic strip because he couldn’t meet deadlines.
Gerber tells another story, though…
Because Gerber and the artists were getting compensated through a percentage of the syndicate’s take on each strip and not with a proper salary, Marvel had a hard time nailing down an artist for the stories. After Gerber was let go and Marvel tried to license out Howard, Gerber sued the publisher, claiming that the character was his intellectual property. A judge ruled in Marvel’s favor, though.
8. MARVEL FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY
It’s hard to believe now, but there was a point in the ’90s when the Marvel ship was sinking. In 1996, Marvel Comics filed for bankruptcy. Several business decisions, such as the company’s acquisition of Heroes World Distribution as its exclusive distributor, as well as a slumping comic book industry led to Marvel’s dire situation. It didn’t help that several editorial choices, specifically those concerning the “Heroes Reborn” crossover which relaunched several of the publisher’s most well-known characters, were controversial and received a bit of fan backlash.
The House of Ideas was saved by Toy Biz, which bought the company in 1997. It has been long established that Toy Biz’s co-owner at the time, Ike Perlmutter, helped right the ship. Perlmutter is still the head of a very successful Marvel today, although the company was acquired by Disney in 2009.
7. THE WAR MACHINE RECASTING
A lot of controversy followed Marvel Studios’ recasting of War Machine for Iron Man 2. It all began when Terrence Howard asked for more money to reprise his role in the sequel. Howard has claimed over the years that Marvel decided to just push him out of the MCU rather than give him a raise. The actor says that this represented a loss of millions of dollars. He also thinks that being replaced caused his movie career to stagnate.
According to The Financial Time’s sources, The Marvel Entertainment CEO thinks “all black people look the same.”
Then Financial Times released a story about racist comments Marvel Entertainment CEO Ike Perlmutter reportedly made about replacing Howard with Don Cheadle. According to FT’s sources, Perlmutter said something to the effect of “all black people look the same” and that no one would notice that War Machine had been recast.
6. RENNER AND EVANS’ COMMENTS ON BLACK WIDOW
The Avengers’ only female member, Black Widow, has not received her own movie yet (although there’s a rumor that Marvel Studios might finally be preparing a vehicle for Scarlett Johansson’s spy turned superhero), which has brought on the ire of many fans of the MCU. Captain Marvel will be the first female-led superhero movie from the studio, even though Black Widow has been around since Iron Man 2. She’s also an original Avenger, joining the team all the way back in the first movie.
Johansson’s fellow cast members, Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans, stirred the pot even further during the press tour for Avengers: Age of Ultron when they jokingly used sexist and disparaging remarks about the character. While it was meant as a joke, many fans took this as yet another example of how Widow has been marginalized in the MCU.
5. IKE PERLMUTTER DOESN’T WANT FEMALE SUPERHERO MOVIES
Ike Perlmutter has been the subject of several controversies throughout his time as the head of Marvel Entertainment. From donating to and supporting the Donald Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election to his alleged comments regarding the War Machine recasting, Perlmutter has lost the favor of Marvel fans several times.
In 2014, fans discovered through a series of leaked emails during the Sony hack that Perlmutter also opposed female-led superhero films.
Since then, Wonder Woman has shattered box office records and Captain Marvel has been added to the MCU slate of upcoming films, but there was a time when the failure of female-led blockbusters like Elektra and Catwoman deterred studios from pursuing more female-centric superhero fare. Things have changed in recent years to say the least.
4. C.B. CEBULSKI USES ASIAN PSEUDONYM
Recent years have seen a push for more diversity in the comics industry, with more female and LGBTQ creators and creators of color joining the ranks of DC and Marvel. Revamps to characters like Ms. Marvel and Batwoman have been lauded as progressive ways forward to a more inclusive industry. (The blockbuster movie industry is currently seeing a similar shift.) Still, Marvel has made some missteps along the way, including the whitewashing of characters of color (which we’ll get to in a second).
Then there’s the case of new Marvel editor-in-chief C.B. Cebulski, who wrote under the pseudonym “Akira Yoshida” for a year in order to tell stories featuring Asian characters, some of which were set in Japan. He also wrote an Elektra story involving a Japanese criminal organization known as The Hand. The recent revelation that Cebulski used the pseudonym didn’t go well with certain Marvel fans.
3. EDGAR WRIGHT FIRED FROM ANT-MAN
Bringing Edgar Wright, the director behind hits such as Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, into the fold seemed like a major win for the Marvel Cinematic Universe back in 2006. He was hired to direct and co-write Ant-Man, along with Attack the Block director Joe Cornish. It was an exciting prospect for Marvel Studios, which had previously scored a major win by hiring fan-favorite filmmakers such as Joss Whedon, James Gunn and Shane Black.
Wright would, Marvel hoped, bring a unique voice to the character of Ant-Man.
Unfortunately, Wright ended up leaving the project when Marvel allegedly started to meddle with Wright and Cornish’s script. Wright decided to move on to another project he’d have more control of, which turned out to be Baby Driver. Peyton Reed, who was hired to replace Wright, did a good job on Ant-Man and is back to direct the sequel.
2. THE ANCIENT WHITEWASHED IN DOCTOR STRANGE
Bringing the Ancient One to the big screen for Doctor Strange was a tricky situation for Marvel Studios, which wanted to be faithful to the comics while also updating him for a more modern take, one that didn’t involve the Asian stereotypes that had long followed the character. Director Scott Derrickson tried to take a more progressive approach to the character by casting a woman in the role.
Fan favorite Tilda Swinton came on to the project to lend the film a bit more female star power, but this ended up sparking the controversy Derrickson and Marvel Studios had been hoping to avoid in the first place. People were none too happy with the choice to completely whitewash the Ancient One, no matter the gender. After all, there’s a pretty long history of white actors playing roles based on characters of color.
1. CREATORS’ CONFRONTATIONAL TWITTER PRESENCE
For more than a decade, Dan Slott has been the man behind Marvel’s major Spider-Man stories, from the whole island of Manhattan gaining Spidey powers to Doctor Octopus taking over Peter’s body. If it’s a Spidey story between 2008 and 2018, Slott’s probably had a hand in it. While his epic run with the character is beloved by many Marvel fans, there are some people online who don’t really appreciate Slott at all.
Comic book creators often make their opinions known on social media platforms, to varying degrees of controversy.
It all has to do with Slott’s confrontational Twitter presence, which has earned him some negative attention in the past. Slott has participated in several Twitter fights with Bleeding Cool editor Rich Johnston over the years and many readers have said they won’t read his Spider-Man stories anymore because of his political leanings, which he’s expressed on the social media platform on several occasions. This is of course not new to comic book creators, who often make their opinions known on social media platforms, to varying degrees of controversy.
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