Marvel’s 2024 Pride Month plans received internal criticism

An article in the Advocate quotes a Marvel employee who thought Marvel’s ‘ally’ covers were a ‘prank.’

Marvel’s approach to Pride Month this year received not only external criticism but also concern from their own employees, as an Advocate article revealed last week. An anonymous Marvel employee spoke to the publication about their reaction to an internal email about Marvel’s “ally” variant covers, which many have said put the spotlight on non-LGBTQ+ characters during a month aimed to spotlight and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. “I thought, ‘they’re really erasing us,’” the employee told the publication.

What was different about Marvel’s approach this year? First, they opted not to call this year’s Pride special a Pride special. The Marvel’s Voices: Pride anthology, as they’ve called it in years past, was replaced with X-Men: The Wedding Special — which featured the wedding of Mystique and Destiny, the first time a wedding between two women was shown in a Marvel comic. The comic also featured additional stories that tied into the main story, by creators like Yoon Ha Lee, a trans science fiction author, and M. Louis, creator of the webcomic Agents of the Realm. While it served a similar function, showcasing stories about LGBTQ+ characters, it did so without the word “Pride” in the title (although it did sport an emblem on the cover that noted it was “A Very Special Edition of Marvel Voices: Pride.”)

Second, when their line of Pride Month variant covers were first revealed, Marvel said they would focus on “allies,” and would include LGBTQ+ characters teamed with Spider-Man and other characters. This brought criticism, as it seemed to put the emphasis on non-LGBTQ+ characters during Pride Month. They seem to have backed away from this poor choice of words, and their announcement article has since been updated and does not include the word “ally” in it. The covers are all drawn by Betsy Cola and Davi Go, and feature Northstar, Loki, Hulkling and other LGBTQ+ characters alongside Hulk, Thor, Spider-Man and more.

On the surface, and maybe taken without additional context, these changes may seem insignificant. Is having Davi Go draw Northstar and Spider-Man, rather than just Northstar, that big of a deal? Maybe not, but the covers feel like they could have appeared during any month if you scrubbed the Pride logo off. They’re fairly generic, especially when you look at what DC has been doing with their Pride Month covers, as some have noted on social media:

And after decades of teasing “off the page” that Destiny and Mystique were lovers — and the biological parents of Nightcrawler, thanks to mutant biology — Marvel actually made this canon a few months ago. This was a significant event, and following it up with Mystique and Destiny’s wedding felt just as much so.

(Of course, there’s nothing that says you can’t do an X-Men wedding special AND a Pride Month special. It also follows what was an odd turn in 2023 for the entire Marvel’s Voices line. Originally the anthologies that fell under this branding were released within the designated cultural month — a Marvel’s Voices anthology featuring Black creators writing stories about Black characters would come out during Black History Month, for instance. Last year Marvel changed their approach and began releasing character-specific anthologies under this banner, like Marvel’s Voices: X-Men and Marvel’s Voices: Spider-Verse. Last year’s Marvel’s Voices: Pride special was the only one that focused on an underrepresented demographic vs. a Marvel property with its theme).

But getting back to this year’s change in approach — what could look like small changes come after a tumultuous 2023 for LGBTQ+ rights, in particular trans rights, and how companies show up for Pride Month. You can’t ignore the numerous bills and legislation across states to limit the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, in particular the trans community, and we’ve seen book bannings skyrocket over the past couple years with a huge bullseye on LGBTQ+ books and graphic novels. In 2023, companies like Target and Budweiser saw extreme reactions from anti-trans activists for selling tuck-friendly bathing suits and partnering with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney, respectively — with Target saying they’d be scaling back on their Pride Month plans this year. While the Ragan Report shared that most companies weren’t planning on changing their approach to Pride this year, 30% of consumer goods companies said they would — most likely as a reaction to what Target and Bud Light experienced. I guess no one likes to see their brand go viral for being shotgunned, literally, by Kid Rock.

Marvel parent company Disney, often accused of being “woke” by conservatives and after fighting a battle in Florida against Gov. Ron DeSantis, seems to be distancing themselves from further political battles. At their annual shareholder meeting in April, Disney CEO Bob Iger said that the company would focus on entertaining over advancing “any kind of agenda.”

Now, did any of this actually influence Marvel’s approach to Pride Month this year? Who knows, because they aren’t talking, to fans who pointed it out, to the Advocate or even to their own employees, as noted in the article.

“We get one month, and they corporatized it so much,” the anonymous employee told the Advocate. “It’s the one time of year where we can get a check from these awful people who also donate to disgusting Republicans and big oil and bombing innocent people. These companies do all these things and they can’t be supportive of queer people, and then they want our money.”

2 thoughts on “Marvel’s 2024 Pride Month plans received internal criticism”

  1. “It’s the one time of year where we can get a check from these awful people…”

    This is the first I’ve ever heard that Marvel/Disney only pays its queer employees one month per year. Huge news, if true.

    Not to be too dismissive, but perhaps counting on a for-profit corporation to be a consistent “ally” to your cause through thick and thin was a bit naive? I don’t have access to sales figures, but I’d guess if a “Marvel’s Voices: LatinX Voices” special could sell as many copies as a “Marvel’s Voices: Spider-Verse” or an “X-Men Wedding Special,” Marvel wouldn’t be moving away from relying on the Marvel’s Voices brand alone. If a variant cover of Northstar waving a rainbow flag could move as many units–not just attract support from a subset of fans on Twitter and in the media–as a generic variant cover of Northstar beside Spider-Man, you’d see a lot more rainbow flags on Marvel’s variant covers.

  2. Sales figures unfortunately are not easily attainable these days, especially since COVID and the distribution shake-ups we’ve seen over the last few years. That being said, both Marvel and DC have been doing Pride Month anthologies for a few years now, along with accompanying variant cover programs. If these weren’t selling to someone, I don’t think Marvel or DC would still be doing them. And even if the idea is to grow goodwill with an audience, DC seems to be doing that a whole lot better than Marvel on this front.

    I know that the popular refrain when a company does something we don’t like is to say, “Well, they’re just there to make money, so what did you expect?” But you can go to every company’s website or LinkedIn presence or whatever, and they’ll tell you they are about more than just selling stuff. They want to serve their customers well, they want their employees to have a passion for what they do, and they spend a lot of time and money developing things like purpose statements, DEI statements, sustainability plans and the like to show us that they aren’t just money-grubbing, soulless corporations. Which I think is fair, because at the end of the day a company is a collection of people. And I think it’s fair to hold them to a higher standard than just how much profit they made last quarter. This isn’t even something new for Marvel — they’ve put a face to the company since the beginning. It’s hard to be a “true believer” if you think the company’s erasing you.

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