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It doesn’t look so fresh after all.
Marvel announced its Fresh Start relaunch on Feb. 20, and since then it’s followed a predictable formula. The publisher revealed a handful of rebooted characters, shared some cover art, and posted some platitudes about its creative mission. So far, it looks anything but “fresh.”
When Marvel hired its new editor in chief C.B. Cebulski last November, it felt like a turning point. Axel Alonso’s tenure spanned a period of upheaval, covering the rise of Marvel Studios and an ongoing culture war over diversity in comics. Characters like Miles Morales and Kamala Khan became A-list stars, but Marvel also faced criticism for its lack of women and people of color in creative roles. Cebulski’s “Fresh Start” suggested a progression toward something new, but it increasingly feels like a step back.
After two weeks of announcements, there’s only one new comic that looks like an actual Fresh Start. Black Panther‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates will write Captain America; an intentional course-correction after last year’s Nazi Captain America debacle. Otherwise, the relaunch is surprisingly conservative.
Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, and Thor will return to their original characters. This marks the end of headline roles for characters like Amadeus Cho (Hulk) and Sam Wilson (Captain America), introduced to diversify Marvel’s lineup of white men. So far, only two of the 16 Fresh Start comics have female leads: Captain Marvel and Ant-Man and the Wasp. Captain Marvel is the only one with a woman on the creative team, writer Margaret Stohl. Even by the male-dominated standards of superhero comics, that ratio should raise some eyebrows.
Where are the women in Marvel’s Fresh Start?
Last year, the comics industry banded together to support Marvel editor Heather Antos, who attracted sexist harassment by posting a photo of herself drinking a milkshake with female coworkers. (Yes, even typing that sentence is exhausting.) Plenty of well-known creators shared the #MakeMineMilkshake hashtag, decrying sexism in the industry. Likewise, they stood by Mockingbird writer Chelsea Cain when she was hounded off Twitter. But these examples both offered an obvious villain. It’s easy enough to support a woman against anonymous trolls. Less so when the problem is structural, and the perpetrator is your own company. Judging by Fresh Start, Marvel is simply failing to promote women in creative roles.
The announcements aren’t over yet, so Fresh Start’s lineup will look different when it launches this summer. Still, the current list shows where Marvel’s priorities lie. With an emphasis on old-school heroes like Tony Stark and Peter Parker, women (both real and fictional) are an afterthought. Bizarrely, they didn’t even capitalize on the popularity of Black Panther by announcing his comic first, or Ta-Nehisi Coates’ move to Captain America. The roster is overwhelmingly geared toward white men, while Marvel quietly cancels comics like America, She-Hulk, and Iceman.
Even if we ignore the lack of race and gender diversity, Fresh Start still has a distinctly old-fashioned tone. What’s exciting about Dan Slott writing Iron Man, or Nick Spencer writing Spidey? Given the widespread apathy toward reboots, it’s hard to justify a relaunch that seemingly gives us nothing new.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested.