UPDATE: and Brett Schenker has traced the whole thing to a reader with a vendetta against Remender.
In last week’s issue of Captain America, #22, two characters were shown having a few glasses of wine and tumbling into bed only to wake up the next morning wondering what happened. The characters in question were Sam Wilson, aka The Falcon, one of the few prominent African-American characters in both the Marvel comics and film universes. The woman was Jet Black, aka Jet Zola, the daughter of Arnim Zola. Although she runs around in a skimpy costume reminiscent of Leeloo from The Fifth Element, this is perhaps explained by her having been raised in an alien dimension. Although she was born only a few years ago in real world time, she has aged more in comics time.
However, one blogger on Examiner saw it as the Falcon banging a 14 year old and over the weekend—even though a panel in the comic explicitly states that she is 23 years old— a #firerickrememnder hashtag spread across the viralnets saying that he had a beloved minority character commit statutory rape. Remender has been in hot water a few times before, so this found some purchase.
Now, I’m not am expert on current Marvel continuity, but apparently a reader named Khat is in a detailed tumblr post, it was explained about parallel dimensions and time and aging and other stuff. Anyway, maybe Falcon made a mistake, but at least she was of age.
The outrage itself spawned more outrage, especially among comics pros who are sick of being held up to political level scrutiny, and for calls for the man to lose his job over a storyline they objected to for erroneous reasons.
I got my education in it 20 years ago. There's a sad segment of fans who value imaginary characters more than real people. #firerickremender
— Ron Marz (@ronmarz) July 7, 2014
I think #firerickremender was just a ploy to get the WORST Internet people to come out of their holes and be documented for posterity.
— Rob Guillory (@Rob_guillory) July 7, 2014
Best blogger ever! Guy complaining about Waid's take on #FireRickRemender: "Now, I've no idea about the character and story in question…"
— Dan Slott (@DanSlott) July 7, 2014
Whether you think Falcon's decisions were poor or not, falsely crying "statutory rape" is insulting to genuine victims. #FireRickRemender.
— Mark Waid (@MarkWaid) July 7, 2014
Former Marvel editor Tom Brennan even blogged about this:
I understand there are complications to this scene that some offended comic book fans would use to argue that the scene was somehow an instance of statutory rape or that it degraded the Falcon, a major character in comics who finally got his due in this year’s Captain America movie. I appreciate how these people feel. I also think they’re wrong in their understanding of the book. The scene definitely made me uncomfortable – but that’s because it’s drama and sometimes drama makes you uncomfortable.
But arguing the story is not what I’m interested in doing right now. What bothers me – and should bother *everyone* — is that people are calling on a company to fire someone because of something that company asked him to do.
There seems to be a grave misunderstanding in today’s protest-hungry world of entertainment fans into how far their opinion should really matter. You don’t like a story? That’s fine – don’t read a story. But unless that massive dislike leads to a nosedive in a book’s sales (which has not occurred, despite how much comics journalists like to spin the numbers), then you not liking someone is not equal to a moral judgment. And to call for someone to be fired for doing a story that was approved by a group of very good, very talented and very smart editors, editors who represent the interests and opinions of a broader corporation, is offensive. Imagine saying a police officer should be fired because you don’t like that he gave out parking tickets, or if a teacher was fired for teaching a sex ed curriculum approved by a school – that’s what these people are demanding. Rick’s not writing in a vacuum here, not with a character as important as Captain America. Like the stories or hate the stories, they’re not just Rick’s stories, they’re Marvel’s stories. A fan who demands one person lose their job because they don’t like a story is a fan who has demonstrated a severe lack of understanding of how any of this really works.
It’s no secret that internet outrage is a constant these days, over matters great and small. And sometimes, as with real issues of harassment and discrimination, it’s a powerful tool. (The Skyler Page incident is an example of a real problem being played out in real time on social media.) But a lot of people just troll around looking for something to be outraged about. And there are powerful psychological reasons for this:
A 2013 study, from Beihang University in Beijing, of Weibo, a Twitter-like site, found that anger is the emotion that spreads the most easily over social media. Joy came in a distant second. The main difference, said Ryan Martin, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, who studies anger, is that although we tend to share the happiness only of people we are close to, we are willing to join in the rage of strangers. As the study suggests, outrage is lavishly rewarded on social media, whether through supportive comments, retweets or Facebook likes. People prone to Internet outrage are looking for validation, Professor Martin said. “They want to hear that others share it,” he said, “because they feel they’re vindicated and a little less lonely and isolated in their belief.”
I’m all for social justice, and when someone says something stupid these days they get called on it in about seven seconds. But as the above study suggests, internet outrage can also be part of a mob mentality. And mobs aren’t particularly informed or sensitive to nuance.
This wasn’t the first misplaced outrage comics mob, and it won’t be the last. And #notallmobs. But still, come on, people. It’s better to use your energy trying to make a difference that matters than running around looking for something to be mad about.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.