Yesterday, Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso announced that, for the month of October, Marvel will release variant covers paying homage to hip hop. These covers were designed to reflect the “ongoing dialogue” between Marvel and hip hop, and to “spotlight the seamless relationship between those two forces.”
How nice, right? Seamless relationship! Ongoing dialogue! Hip hop! Marvel! Yes!
What Marvel Comics is doing is called cultural appropriation. Whit Taylor just did a nice comic for The Response on where the line between cultural inspiration ends and appropriation begins, but for those who have heard the term used but didn’t quite understand what it meant, Marvel is about to lay it out for you beautifully.
You might argue that Axel and Marvel are just paying respect to all those hip hop artists who loved their comics: Ghostface Killah’s sample of dialogue from the Iron Man Theme on Supreme Clientele, the references to superheroes in hip hop, the artists who have even named themselves after characters. This is clearly an attempt to show their love, their respect for hip hop!
I say again: actually, no.
Understand that hip hop culture is a culture that was born, bred, and still lives largely in blackness. Yes, there are white people who listen to and perform hip hop. And yes, there are black people who don’t. Still, the context of its origins and its role as an outlet for speaking about racial oppression cannot be ignored. To talk about hip hop culture is also to talk about a subset of blackness.
So I say “no” because Marvel Comics uses black culture and people as decorations, window dressings. They are objects that are to be used when convenient but rarely respected or valued in their own right. I mean, come on: with the right hand, you’ve got the EiC announcing hip hop variants in October, and then with the left, the company announces at SDCC that the new Blade book is going to done by white guys. Again.
And it’s not just the Blade book. Marvel’s All-New, All-Different, Basically All-White, And All-Men, Because It’s Largely Bullshit initiative includes: one black creator. One! And kids, it gets so much deeper. Even when Marvel throws black men the occasional bone, what many people don’t realize is that Marvel has not, in their 75 years of making comics, ever hired a black female writer. Ever.
(I’m not going to play like DC is that much better on that score, but DC is not on trial here because DC is not releasing hip hop variants. And actually DC is employing at least one black person to write comics, with confirmed plans to re-launch Milestone Comics as Earth-M so maybe just chill for five seconds before you try to derail this into a DC versus Marvel conversation. You probably do not want to go there at this point in time.)
This is all to say that hip hop, that blackness is absolutely fine as a means to sell Marvel’s comics, but that is by and large as far as black people get–and definitely as far as I, a black woman, am going to get. They can use our likenesses and styles on the covers, but the hell if they seem to want us in their board meetings, on their editorial staff, or making their comics. And this is why Tom Breevort’s assertion that these things are unrelated is wrong. (Please read David Brothers’ response here.)
Because in the face of these variants, in the face of this very one-sided dialogue, in the face of this horrendously imbalanced relationship, one thing is crystalline:
My “swag” is welcome.
My voice is not.