Marvel In Whitewash

(In Response To Mark Hale)

Mark: Thanks for checking back here and sorry to be gone so long. I have no idea what THE UNTOLD STORY is. I suppose, if I wasn’t interviewed, it’s still untold. 🙂 I presume I’ve been retconned out of Marvel history, which only makes my point. Now, maybe I’m being retconned for being (a) Shooter’s protĂ©gĂ©, (b) an a-hole (comes with being Shooter’s protĂ©gĂ©), but much like the liberal pundits wringing their hands speculating why the GOP so personally hates President Obama, there’s an obvious cause and effect for whatever presumed blind spots may present themselves in Marvels’ self-congratulatory published histories.

The fact their first black editorial hire didn’t occur until 1978 is and should be a source of some embarrassment. Pretending to be colorblind, “Oh, we never think of that, that shouldn’t matter, we call no attention to that,” just makes them idiots. The fact they never seem to mention the historic nature of Joe Quesada being, from what I can tell, the longest-serving EIC (call Guinness) AND the first Cuban American Marvel exec only makes the company seem racist, not post-racial. They seem like idiots to not trumpet the progressive nature of their hiring practices. Marie Severin was, to my knowledge, the first female art director. Where is she in their history? Jo Duffy wa a female writer/editor when I started there, and Louise (Weezie) Jones (ne-Simonson) was the very powerful editor of The Uncanny X-Men (well, she’d probably tell you she was not initially so powerful, but then the X-Men blew up). Were they the first female editors? Isn’t that worth noting?

I understand trying to seem above it all or somehow beyond it all. Marvel just continues to seem racist and sexist and for no perceptible reason. They hired a black guy, they hired a woman, they hired a Cuban American. These are things to be proud of, not to live in denial of. What should embarrass them is that they are a company led, creatively, by a Cuban American yet their footprint in the Latino American community remains microscopic as they continue to invest virtually all their energy in, no offense, white males. Marvel was, by no means, a beacon of diversity but , to my recollection, they seemed largely indifferent toward race or gender. And, like Mad Men, whose Season One set looked almost *exactly* like the 1970’s Marvel offices, Marvel was a place of scurrilous racist and sexist jokes–along with fat jokes, bald jokes, ethnic jokes and so forth. It was a creative place jammed with creative people. I have no earthly idea why every history I’ve read of the place–most especially every self-generated, self-congratulatory history–refuses to put these important industry milestones on the map.

The late Morrie Kuramoto openly mocked whites of all ethnicities and celebrated December 7th every year. Offensive? You bet. But hilarious. The Marvel I recall was a lot like the old sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati. Powerful women in charge of important stuff, a sprinkling of minorities and a diversity among white ethnicities. And every history I read seems to ignore this, which makes Marvel seem like DC, which it never was. Marvel should be proud of Morrie, of Marie, of Weezie, of Larry Hama, Jim Owsley, and, yes, Jim Shooter– Polish, who took a lot of ribbing for that. The historic nature of Joe Quesada’s epic run as EIC should be a source of pride.

As I said, I have no idea what The Untold Story is, but I wish somebody would write a history that does not embarrass Marvel by the repeated omission of the good Marvel (ne-Stan Lee, ne-Jim Shooter) did by creating opportunities for all persons, regardless of ethnicity, gender or sexual preference. The only caveat being, back in those days, you needed thick skin, regardless of what color it was. Nobody really cared much what color you were or what gender you preferred or if you had a full head of hair. But everything was fair game for ribald mockery.

It wasn’t perfect. 70’s-era racism fueled a lot of the challenges I encountered there. An honest history would include that as well. But, at the very least, the historic nature of first gender and ethnic hires is something Marvel should actually be proud of. I can’t imagine their motive for ignoring what are, in retrospect, very progressive choices in what appears to be an effort to project Marvel as some monolithic white superhero version of Disney. Who was the first black executive at Disney? Is he or she noted in their history? Why would a company deliberately omit or gloss over these kinds of things?

Oh, and just for the record: Stan Lee worked in the office my first year at Marvel. He was genuinely kind and engaged in teaching me as much as I wanted to learn. I, a high-school intern, could get in to see him. I never, not one time, heard a sexist or racist joke come from Stan. Ever. Or, for that matter, from Shooter who, as the butt of many jokes up there himself, never (in my presence, anyway) made disparaging remarks about all the Jewish and Italian guys running around up there. That was maybe because we figured Vinnie Colletta was mobbed up. 🙂

Marvel was way out in front on most of these issues, albeit likely by accident (I seriously doubt there was any progressive hiring initiative; we just stumbled through the door). DC, by contrast, didn’t hire their first black editor until 1990. It was me. And, at DC, after Dick Giordano made initiatives to move me to Group Editor, I was specifically told I’d never be promoted above editor. I’m confident this was most likely performance-based, but I knew my future there was limited. At Marvel I suspected my future had (at that time) limits; at DC I knew, for sure, I was sitting at the last desk I’d ever get. Marvel has absolutely no rational reason to keep ignoring this important part of their history.


  1. Tom says:

    The Untold Story is more of an expose of the history of Marvel written by Sean Howe. It’s written from the “Marvel screwed creators” mindset and obsessed with Marvel’s impact on counter culture in the 60s and 70s.

    Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Jim Starlin and Steve Gerber are the heroes of the book. The thesis is essentially something like…

    “Jim Starlin dropped acid so Warlock was awesome and all the college kids loved it. Starlin should have gotten rich off of that”

    I listened to the audio book version and the Shooter era is quickly glossed over. The audio book is 17.5 hours long. 9.5 is devoted to pre-Shooter, 4.5 to the rise of Image, and an hour to the beginning of the Jemas/Quesada era. Shooter’s entire run as EiC gets 2 hours and 40 minutes (and about an hour of that details Stan Lee’s move to Hollywood).

    Shooter is essentially the villain. The guy who targeted little kids instead of college kids and drove away all the cool creators while paving the way to corporate Marvel of the 90s. By the end Shooter is depicted as almost mentally ill. Demanding a cover be redrawn because of the shoe laces on one character or demanding every book have a “can’t-must” panel in the first three pages.

    You’re mentioned once in text about Secret Wars 2…

    “In Power Man & Iron Fist #121 Jim Owsley provided the most unique version of the Beyonder. Arriving in a black neighborhood he sports mirrored shades an outrageous afro and black skin. “Slide me a piece of the porgy on the down fried side.” he tells the waitress”

    A lot of the stories in the book seem off or contradict other stories I’ve heard over the years. For example, it depicts DeFalco as a loyal second in command who was dedicated to Shooter. In one story all the editors go to confront Shooter led by Walt Simonson. This is days before Shooter was fired. It says Defalco tried to stop them and then, and this is the exact quote, “DeFalco stood behind Shooter ready to go down with his captain”

    I’ve heard a lot of stories about that era (including your posts here). None of them have ever depicted the Shooter/Defalco relationship like that.

    • Priest Priest says:

      So that’s what I’m remembered for: Afro Beyonder. 🙂 I’d forgotten all about that… Actually, the stuff re: DeFalco sounds about right to me, but I wasn’t there at the Shooter intervention; I’d been politely shown the door (by Shooter) a month or two before. What I heard of the event sounds about right, though. I can’t speak to their personal relationship but, to my observation, Tom was most certainly a very hard and dedicated worker, Will RIker to Shooter’s Picard. I spent most mornings in Tom’s office before the day started, going over Spider-stuff over bagels and cream cheese. Ironically, the main reason our relationship deteriorated was Jim was keeping Tom so busy Tom could never make a deadline. As for th intervention, I wasn’t aware Walt Simonson was there… Louise Simonson was on staff, maybe somebody’s get those two confused…? Apocrypha: I was in the progress of composing a letter of support for Jim to send to Publisher Mike Hobson when the confrontation went down and Jim was let go.

      • Tom says:

        I might have some anti-DeFalco bias. When I was a little kid in the comic store all the older kids idolized Shooter and DeFalco was the evil second in command who stabbed him in the back. This was the brief and now largely forgotten time when Shooter was head of Valiant while DeFalco was letting Mcfarlane write his own dialogue (I still love the man’s art but even at 10 years old I knew that was some truly awful writing).

        But just so you don’t get the wrong impression the book actually lays Shooter’s firing at John Byrne’s feet. It details an April 4th party at Byrne’s house where they hung a suit stuffed with New Universe issues from a tree and pasted Shooter’s face on it. They then burned it in effigy. From there the book says…

        “The New World owners liked Shooter and couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t happier. But they only knew how to deal with temperamental actors and film directors. Couldn’t they just send him a fruit basket or offer him a more important sounding title? But when a video tape of the effigy made its way to California just before Shooter’s contract negotiations were about to begin it was clear to New World that the commander had lost control of the soldiers. On April 15th, Bob Layton and David Michelinie came into the Marvel Offices to meet with Mark Gruenwald and Shooter about redesigns for an Iron Man costume. When they brought the pages into Shooter’s office Shooter calmly told them his changes wouldn’t matter. He’d just gotten the news that he’d no longer be the Editor-In-Chief”

        I don’t know the hierarchy well enough to know where that puts Mike Hobson but it sounds like Shooter’s problems were higher up the food chain anyway.

        Oh, and on the meeting/confrontation the specific text says…

        “At the end of March a group of freelancers and editors decided to demonstrate an organized complaint. Walter Simonson, Louise Simonson and Michael Higgins knocked on office doors gathering editors like villagers with torches”

        So I was a little unfair in saying it was led by Walt Simonson (who for the record is a terribly nice guy who back in the day spent way more time chatting with us fans on Compuserve than any human should be expected to).

        • Priest Priest says:

          Walter is an amazingly nice guy, as is Louise (only not a guy). I do not have specific recollection of ever seeing Walter angry or behaving in an unkind manner to anyone, so news of his leading the charge to Shooter’s office sounds strange to my ear. But, as I mentioned, I was gone by that time, home writing Web of Spider-Man, Conan and/or Conan The King. BTW: Dark Horse has issued a bunch of collections of that stuff, which totally delights me ’cause I know Marvel would likely not (even if they still had the license).

          I have no basis to believe Tom ever stabbed Jim in the back, that doesn’t sound right. On the other hand, Marvel prospered greatly under Tom DeFalco and, from my chair, Tom got very little credit for the exponential growth of the company on his watch. Credit also must go to Shooter, who laid that foundation, but Tom surely exploited (in a good way) Shooter’s innovations and evolved them in tremendous ways. Yet he never seems to be regarded as more than a kind of Gerald Ford to Shooter’s Nixon (probably a bad analogy), when DeFalco was more like Jimmy Carter to Shooter’s Reagan; Reagan being a transformational figure while Carter (who passed maybe twice as much key legislation as Reagan) is treated less kindly in the public mindset. I am unconvinced the EIC chair was something Tom actually wanted, his Ed McMahon post in the office next door to Shooter’s was far less politically volatile, and the Marvel EIC chair was traditionally an ejector seat pre-Quesada, whom I predicted would last maybe 6 months. Of the three EIC’s, I was perhaps friendliest on a personal level with Joe and figured he’d snap one day and storm out. I am *amazed* at his longevity and how he’s grown the company.

          • Mario says:

            I can confirm that Walt is still an amazingly nice guy, and _utterly_ unflappable. Back when I was modding the Panther forum on ComicBoards, I was also running one for ORION. None of the more vitriolic fans ever caused Walt to even raise a (virtual) eyebrow.

  2. Mark Hale says:

    Priest, thanks so much for taking time to talk about this.

    And don’t feel bad about being out of the loop; I’m only just now finding out about your and Doc’s Q&W miniseries!