In a shocking display of good taste, and stunning acknowledgement that it isn’t the 90s anymore and girls read comics now, Midtown Comics and Marvel jointly decided to pull the J. Scott Campbell cover that presented an overly sexualized version of 15 year old Riri Williams.
As reported yesterday, the cover reveal ignited a firestorm of protest over the inappropriate nature of hiring a pinup artist to depict a teen girl. An armored version of the cover will still be offered. Riri is the star of the upcoming Invincible Iron Man comic, reverse engineering some Iron Man armor to her own use as Ironheart. As for where’s Iron Man…well the delayed final issue of Civil War II reveals that, or this week’s Infamous Iron Man #1, where it turns out…Civil War II didn’t end so good for Tony. So Riri it is inside the armor for the next while.
To show that they are trying to get it right, Marvel also released a bunch of concept art by interior artist Stefano Caselli showing Riri in more appropriate and fashionable – leggings! – garb.
In a piece for Hitfix’s Harpy site, Jill Pantozzi points out that it’s editorial vision that should drive how a character is portrayed:
Consider this: you don’t see variant covers like this on Ms. Marvel. That probably has a lot to do with editor Sana Amanat who has a strong idea of who that character and her audience is. That’s her job, after all. An editor is meant to make sure the comic puts out a united front to the demographic they’re courting. In this case, Marvel has and always has had the heterosexual male demo. They don’t need a teenage character sexualized into order to lure them into buying the book and they, hopefully, won’t be offended if there’s a lack of sexualized characters because they’re there for the quality story and art, right? But Marvel and others do need to make sure other readers (read: women, new readers, etc.) aren’t actively turned off from buying it.
Campbell was unrepentant on twitter:
The decision today is unfortunate. Simply attempted to draw a young, sassy coming of age young woman. But I don't blame Midtown or Marvel.
— J. Scott Campbell (@JScottCampbell) October 20, 2016
He also retweeted this flashback to the glory days of the Bad Girl, where Danger Girl roamed free, her midriff unfettered.
— ダリアン Sullivan (@AiDarrian) October 20, 2016
Look, cheesecake has a place (cf. Bombshells), and Campbell does a breezy, lighthearted take on it. That place is not on the cover to a book starring an African-American teenaged girl genius. Retailer variant covers are usually commissioned by the store, and they can select the artist. It is not a decision of the creative team on the book, and they are often totally unaware of the content, as writer Brian Michael Bendis was of this cover, or Cameron Stewart was of the inappropriate Batgirl cover that showed her cowering in fear. Midtown made a dated choice, given the current audience for comics, and they quickly realized it when the cover was released into the wild.
I know people are going to cry censorship and SJW and what not, but, really, why are you defending a sleazy depiction of a teenaged girl?
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.