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Of course your comics are political, Marvel

Of course your comics are political, Marvel

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One of my best friends came to me this morning upset about comments Marvel VP of sales David Gabriel made during the Marvel Retailer Summit. Interviewed by ICv2, Gabriel claimed that diversity was turning readers away and hurting the company’s sales. “They didn't want female characters out there,” he said. “That's what we heard, whether we believe that or not.”

This is a silly assertion for a number of reasons. Yes, fans of a certain stripe can always be counted on to cry foul about women and people of color taking the spotlight away from the sprawling pantheon of white male characters. But Marvel’s position in the marketplace has also been damaged by the rising cost of monthly issues, the shift toward events that don’t cater to new readers, and the loss of talent like Secret Wars writer Jonathan Hickman, who keep readers loyal and invested. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl isn’t the reason readers are walking away. Books are more expensive overall, and the ones that receive the best marketing aren’t exactly critical smashes. (You can read more about this over on io9.)

Marvel is caught between the numbers and the zeitgeist

The bigger issue here, though, is what these comments (and how they were later clarified to mean essentially, “Calm down! We don’t actually have hard data that says people hate Spider-Gwen! Who would even hate that book?! Please don’t be mad!”) seem to say about how Marvel feels caught between the numbers and the zeitgeist. At the same summit, Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso reportedly said, “There’s been this massive discussion about inclusion and diversity… But Marvel is not about politics. We are about telling stories about the world.” That’s illuminating, because it provides a clear picture of intent. Marvel comics are absolutely about telling stories that reflect the world we live in. That doesn’t mean superheroes are going to start fighting against gerrymandering and voter-suppression tactics, but it does mean they’ll showcase black and brown men and women where the publisher deems it profitable.

And since this is a money-making enterprise that feeds not only editorial, but also a studio arm of a massive multinational corporation, that intent forces the company to think about not only catering to new and diverse audiences, but also fans who buy books, movie tickets, and streaming subscriptions. Providing choices across media that simultaneously honor the past and welcome in neophytes is a balancing act that’s built into this already intensely competitive business. A crossover event like Generations might never get the kind of mainstream attention that Netflix’s Luke Cage does, but the aim is the same: draw from yesterday while providing a platform for perspectives that don’t often get to take center stage today.

But creating a false distinction between politics and “stories about the world” is a mistake. American superhero comics were political from their earliest days, and Marvel’s are arguably more political than they’ve ever been. Captain America punching Hitler in 1940 is a bold, obvious statement. But exploring the specific experiences of Muslim Americans like Ms. Marvel’s Kamala Khan and queer Latinx Americans like America Chavez is no less political. Discussing how power and identity work in America is an inherently political act, even more so during an era when identity, and stories about it, have become so controversial and polarizing.

I think the focus needs to be on stories featuring characters who resonate, facing threats that are either fun, or strike at who they are as people. (Or whatever Rocket and Groot qualify as.) That’s hard to do — though not outright impossible — when the reining paradigm is “Events sell,” and new initiatives are designed to create headlines instead of strong narratives. It’s why Cap is a Nazi right now, for reasons too convoluted to go into here. (And yes, I know Marvel is distancing Hydra from its ties with Nazi Germany.)

Speaking to why Ms. Marvel found success, writer G. Willow Wilson found that it resonated with an untapped readership:

A h-u-g-e reason Ms Marvel has struck the chord it has is because it deals with the role of traditionalist faith in the context of social justice, and there was — apparently — an untapped audience of people from a wide variety of faith backgrounds who were eager for a story like this.

That title never set out to attract think pieces by polemicizing American society, or trailblazing a diversity initiative at Marvel. Rather, its focus on “authenticity and realism” is what turned Kamala Khan into the Peter Parker of her generation. She’s a regular person who worries about homework and her doting Pakistani parents, on top of being a former Avenger. She’s fully realized and relatable. It’s almost incidental that Kamala has become iconic at a time when Islamophobia has settled in the White House. Showing an ordinary girl growing up in circumstances that don’t mirror the experience of so-called average Americans is radical all on its own.

Inclusion and politics are a big part of what Marvel is

Whether Marvel brass wants to admit it or not, making diversity a priority over the last several years has made much of what it does political. This is the same company that made an entire event about profiling, literally called Civil War II. If sales are suffering, there are so many other things about Marvel’s approach that could use re-evaluation. Focus more on better stories and less on the next big crossover. Give writers more freedom to experiment. Stop killing beloved characters only to bring them back as zombies. (Sorry, Hulk.) But inclusion and politics are a big part of what Marvel is. We’ve come too far to even entertain the idea of turning back.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 23 10 minutes in the clouds

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Twitter
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


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Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


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External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


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Nilay PatelSep 13
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External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.


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TikTok
Spain’s Transports Urbans de Sabadell has La Bussí.

Once again, the US has fallen behind in transportation — call it the Bussí gap. A hole in our infrastructure, if you will.


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External Link
Jay PetersSep 23
Doing more with less (extravagant holiday parties).

Sundar Pichai addressed employees’ questions about Google’s spending changes at an all-hands this week, according to CNBC.

“Maybe you were planning on hiring six more people but maybe you are going to have to do with four and how are you going to make that happen?” Pichai sent a memo to workers in July about a hiring slowdown.

In the all-hands, Google’s head of finance also asked staff to try not to go “over the top” for holiday parties.


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External Link
Insiders made the most money off of Helium’s “People’s Network.”

Remember Helium, which was touted by The New York Times in an article entitled “Maybe There’s a Use for Crypto After All?” Not only was the company misleading people about who used it — Salesforce and Lime weren’t using it, despite what Helium said on its site — Helium disproportionately enriched insiders, Forbes reports.


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Youtube
James VincentSep 23
Nvidia’s latest AI model generates endless 3D models.

Need to fill your video game, VR world, or project render with 3D chaff? Nvidia’s latest AI model could help. Trained on 2D images, it can churn out customizable 3D objects ready to import and tweak.

The model seems rudimentary (the renders aren’t amazing quality and seem limited in their variety), but generative AI models like this are only going to improve, speeding up work for all sorts of creative types.


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Richard LawlerSep 23
Green light.

This week Friday brings the debut of Apple’s other new hardware. We’ve reviewed both the new AirPods Pro and this chonky Apple Watch Ultra, and now you’ll decide if you’re picking them up, or not.

Otherwise, we’re preparing for Netflix’s Tudum event this weekend and slapping Dynamic Island onto Android phones.


The Apple Watch Ultra on a woman’s wrist
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
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Jess WeatherbedSep 23
Japan will fully reopen to tourists in October following two and a half years of travel restrictions.

Good news for folks who have been waiting to book their dream Tokyo vacation: Japan will finally relax Covid border control measures for visa-free travel and individual travelers on October 11th.

Tourists will still need to be vaccinated three times or submit a negative COVID-19 test result ahead of their trip, but can take advantage of the weak yen and a ‘national travel discount’ launching on the same date. Sugoi!


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Thomas RickerSep 23
Sony starts selling the Xperia 1 IV with continuous zoom lens.

What does it cost to buy a smartphone that does something no smartphone from Apple, Google, Samsung can? $1,599.99 is Sony’s answer: for a camera lens that can shift its focal length anywhere between 85mm and 125mm.

Here’s Allison’s take on Sony’s continuous-zoom lens when she tested a prototype Xperia 1 IV back in May: 

Sony put a good point-and-shoot zoom in a smartphone. That’s an impressive feat. In practical use, it’s a bit less impressive. It’s essentially two lenses that serve the same function: portrait photography. The fact that there’s optical zoom connecting them doesn’t make them much more versatile.

Still, it is a Sony, and like.no.other.


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Corin FaifeSep 23
If God sees everything, so do these apps.

Some Churches are asking congregants to install so-called “accountability apps” to prevent sinful behavior. A Wired investigation found that they monitor almost everything a user does on their phone, including taking regular screenshots and flagging LGBT search terms.