Marvel Comic’s Merchandising Problem
Today, more than ever, women are reading and creating comics. While comic book and geek culture has always been thought of as traditionally male, the demographics have consistently shown otherwise.
As I mentioned in my article about cosplay creeps, women make up about 47% of all comic book readers, and that doesn’t even include other parts of geek culture consumption like science fiction and superhero films and television shows, web comics, and even our merchandise purchases. This misconception has highly influenced marketing strategies — especially to younger audiences. Marvel’s cinematic universe has been insanely successful, and the new Avengers film has already raked in about $312 million just in North America with an international total of $562 million. With these kinds of numbers, merchandising is incredibly important to keep the hype going, especially with young children. But that’s where Marvel has a major issue.
When new Age of Ultron toys started hitting shelves at Walmart's and Targets, Marvel happened to forget one Avenger: Black Widow. This is obviously disappointing, but unfortunately not surprising. Back when Guardians of the Galaxy toys were first appearing, they happened to forget Gamora as well. Marvel has a wide array of ladies, including their television characters on Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter, but somehow they always fail to get their merchandise to the shelves until years after their appearances. Meanwhile, Ant-Man has an action figure in stores months before the movie is even out. None of these women (except Peggy Carter) have explicitly led the films or shows before, but neither has Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and he has no issue getting merchandising.
The idea behind merchandising is to give audiences a physical representation of their favorite character, but when women are explicitly excluded from this opportunity, there’s a problem. The first issue being that you are telling the young boys who this marketing strategy is aimed at that if he happened to like Black Widow more than Thor, Captain America, Iron Man or any of the other Avengers, he shouldn’t have. No boy wants a girl on his shirt, right? Marvel is essentially saying she’s not a cool enough Avenger to get on equal footing with her male counterparts, when let’s be real, she is one of the most interesting and complex character in all of Marvel comics.
The second half of this issue is that little girls do like these films too. You don’t have to look very hard to find young girls in homemade superhero Halloween costumes because no one will produce a superhero costume for a little girl. While Black Widow’s cat suit probably wouldn’t be the most appropriate costume for a little girl, I’ve seen some pretty adorable variations floating around the Internet of Captain America and Thor costumes for girls. Leaving women out of the equations in merchandising is not only bad business, since there is obviously a market for women and girls, but just plain insulting. Marvel shouldn’t only be catering to their male fans because of some outdated, misguided idea that only boys enjoy their media.
Until more of an effort is made to include women in merchandising, Marvel has a long way to go with representation. Sure, more women are being put into films and television (although Captain Marvel and Black Panther movies did get pushed back for yet another Spider-Man film), but the characters and their fans are getting far from equal treatment