Are the Marvel and DC comic book divisions in trouble?

Marvel Studios' AVENGERS: ENDGAME..L to R: Captain America (Chris Evans) in b/g Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019
Marvel Studios' AVENGERS: ENDGAME..L to R: Captain America (Chris Evans) in b/g Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019 /

Riddled with concerning behind-the-scenes drama, the comic book publishing sides of Marvel and DC seem to be crumbling before our eyes, while live-action projects are more popular than ever before.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe and DCEU are synonymous with the word “blockbuster” these days, but with behind-the-scenes turmoil going on at both Marvel Comics and DC Comics, it seems like the mainstream comic book industry is headed toward extinction.

At Marvel, there have been troubling reports coming in for years about questionable behavior in the editorial departments, while DC (which is owned by WarnerMedia) just laid off 600 employees, including a third of its editorial staff. All this drama has fans and critics alike wondering what does this means for the future of the industry?

Today, it’s hard to imagine a media landscape that doesn’t include live-action superhero projects. Ever since 2000’s X-Men, Marvel and DC movies and television shows have moved to the forefront of the entertainment industry, with actors and creators alike clamoring to work with either cinematic universe. While some may consider this a comic book fan’s dream come true, there’s also been a noticeable decline in the quality of the source material that these projects draw their inspiration from.

Once live-action projects started becoming successful, it felt, at times, that comic books were being used for little more than marketing collateral for whichever movie or television series would come out in the next couple of months. Rosters of classic Marvel teams, like the X-Men and Avengers, would abruptly change to match whichever characters would be featured in the latest live-action project, even going so far as to change their comic book costumes to match the ones the characters were wearing in the project.

I started collecting comic books when I was 14 years old, and I would eagerly have my mom drive me to the local comic store to pick up my latest weekly haul. This was back when comic books were $.75-$1.25, so my allowance easily covered all of my issues of X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four, and various DC comics (which I only dabbled in occasionally, based on who was on the cover). So, 14-year-old me was ecstatic when it was announced that the X-Men film was officially greenlit, and, even though Blade had already been a box office success, this would be the first Marvel movie featuring a superhero team.

While I eventually stopped collecting comic books on a regular basis, due to a combination of disillusionment over the decline in quality storytelling and the rising costs, I did keep tabs on my favorite characters and had a regular subscription to Wizard magazine. (Remember those?) Gone were the days of massive crossovers that had rippling effects for years to come. Everything would just get clean slated by a company-wide rebranding almost every other year. As an adult, I was so excited to see so many new live-action projects spring to life. New shows and movies were being announced left and right, but there was hardly ever any publicity about comic books anymore.

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Once I became a pop culture journalist, I traveled to a lot of conventions. I enjoyed it immensely; it was like I had finally found my people, and I got to write about some of my favorite characters and actors on a semi-regular basis. I was in awe of meeting some of the editors who worked for Marvel, and I devoured every word of the speeches they gave at panels, particularly ones geared toward aspiring comic book writers like myself.

Then the stories about sexism that involved the origin of the Comicsgate scandal, as well as subtle micro-aggressions of homophobia, started coming to the surface. Comicsgate was a “movement” that was sparked when then Marvel editor Heather Antos gathered some of her female colleagues for a selfie pic in which they toasted milkshakes to honor legendary Marvel publisher Flo Steinberg. Almost immediately, Antos and the company were bombarded with harassment and offensive responses from male “fans” who felt like she was pretending to be a Marvel fangirl. The divisiveness of Comicsgate still endures to this day, creating a Civil War within the comic book industry.

Writer Matthew Rosenberg stirred up controversy just last year by killing off Rahne Sinclair, aka Wolfsbane, in Uncanny X-Men #17 depicted in a scene reminiscent of a transgender panic murder. Rosenberg later apologized following fan outcry, but this is just one of the latest examples of how poorly Marvel Comics is handling diversity behind-the-scenes.

Earlier this year, former Marvel writer and artist Sina Grace detailed his experience with the Marvel editorial team while completing his successful run on the short-lived Iceman solo series on his blog. In the entry, Grace talks about how he was suddenly pulled from a lucrative project with no reasonable explanation and eventually dropped by the company altogether. He spoke of the straight white male arrogance that reportedly permeates the office culture at Marvel Comics. Grace concluded:

"“Stories like what I’ve written need to be considered when discussing if Marvel has actually done anything to be accountable for not only hiring more diversely, but for fostering an environment where those people feel valued. My only advice to Marvel would be: f*cking hire a third-party organization to teach you all how to do this right…you can’t keep propping Sana [Amanat] up on a podium and pat yourselves on the back for doing half of the bare minimum….Granted, this is a company that has a bad reputation for not treating anybody fairly, so there is always the argument that Marvel Comics is just run by a box of pythons who indiscriminately poison and devour folks.”"

DC Comics had faired a bit better up until recently. Last month, it was announced that parent company WarnerMedia would be laying off approximately 600 employees in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. The layoffs hit DC Comics and DC Universe, the brand’s streaming platform, particularly hard, eliminating a third of the DC Comics editorial staff and all but obliterating every DC Universe position. The move by new CEO Jason Kilar has been looked upon as throwing away the DC Universe platform and moving WarnerMedia’s partnership with HBO Max front and center.

News of the layoffs came just weeks before the DC FanDome virtual convention event that featured creators and stars of upcoming projects such as Wonder Woman: 1984, The Suicide Squad 2, and The Batman. DC FanDome become one of the most-attended virtual events in history. However, this puts a very bad taste in my mouth. It was hard to take pride in the success of such live-action projects when the comics these projects are based on were literally being dismantled.

It’s hard to say what the future holds for the mainstream comic book industry. One silver lining out of all of this is that smaller, independent comic book publishers like Valiant and BOOM! Studios are flourishing now more than ever.

The issues at Marvel seem to be more deep-rooted than the ones at DC. DC may undergo some restructuring, but hopefully, once the world gets back to our new normal, they’ll be able to rehire most of the staff that has been laid off. It doesn’t sound like Marvel’s problems are going to be fixed without some drastic changes being made to the way things are done in the ole Marvel Bullpen.

In this day and age, finding qualified, diverse hires doesn’t seem like such an impossible feat as they’re apparently making it out to be. I’m sure several of the staff at DC that have just been laid off would love a call from Marvel right about now.

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How do you feel about the controversies surrounding the Marvel and DC comic book divisions? Let us know in the comments section below.