It’s kind of hard to make gestures like cancelling a potentially tone-deaf panel land when you’re also helping a major defense contractor polish up its image.
That’s the situation Marvel found itself in as New York Comic Con kicked off on Friday with an announcement that the publisher had partnered with Northrop Grumman. The Virginia-based defense and aerospace technology firm is one of the U.S. military’s biggest clients, specializing in everything from cybersecurity to weapons of war.
Marvel, facing immediate backlash, called off the collaboration before Friday was even over. A public statement from the comics publisher acknowledged the tricky optics, but pledged to continue working with Northrop Grumman on their broader mission (via Screen Rant).
The activation with Northrop Grumman at New York Comic Con was meant to focus on aerospace technology and exploration in a positive way. However, as the spirit of that intent has not come across, we will not be proceeding with this partnership including this weekend’s event programming. Marvel and Northrop Grumman continue to be committed to elevating, and introducing, STEM to a broad audience.
The backlash focused on the perceived hypocrisy of Marvel allying itself with a defense contractor. Tony Stark, the human inside Iron Man’s armor, is the boss of the fictional tech firm and defense contractor Stark Industries. Many takes on the character, including his recent MCU portrayal, focus specifically on Tony wrestling with concerns over his company’s war profiteering.
That story thread is a not-at-all-subtle commentary on the modern-day prevalence of defense contractors that build their business around manufacturing tools of war and operating in war zones — commonly known as the “military-industrial complex.”
The full extent of what the two companies were cooking up was never revealed. Along with the statement, Marvel also removed from its website one of the only tangible products of the partnership: A special edition Avengers comic featuring “N.G.E.N.” — short for “Northrop Grumman Elite Nexus” — as guest stars.
Whether or not critiques of Northrop Grumman’s business interests are valid is besides the point; here, we see Marvel responding to people’s perception of the partnership. Superhero comics aren’t exclusively for kids, but it’s hard to make a case for this tie-in comic being anything other than kid-friendly propaganda.
The announcement-then-abrupt-cancellation of Marvel’s Northrop Grumman deal is very much in keeping with the publisher’s image-conscious approach to the 2017 edition of New York Comic Con.
Marvel also cancelled a planned panel for the upcoming Netflix series, The Punisher. The violent story of a vigilante anti-hero who views himself as a street-level judge, jury, and executioner cut just a little too close to the tragic events that occurred in Las Vegas earlier this week.
In place of the Punisher panel, Marvel swapped in a screening for a documentary about Stan Lee, creator of some of the publisher’s most well-known properties. Lee also repped for Marvel earlier in the week with a pre-recorded message meant to remind viewers that the company’s comic books are for everyone… except for those that subscribe to “racist [beliefs], intolerance, or bigotry.”