Credit: Marvel

Marvel has found itself in an online civil war after a top executive suggested too much diversity and female characters were to blame for declining comic sales.

The issue started when the company’s vice president of sales, David Gabriel, was asked by geek culture trade magazine ICv2 at the Marvel Retailer Summit why the company’s numbers were down. His reply: “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not. I don’t know that that’s really true, but that’s what we saw in sales.”

Recent storylines have included black female character taking over as Iron Man, a biracial Spider-Man, a female version of Thor, and a Muslim teenage girl as the new Ms. Marvel.

Continued Gabriel: “We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. That was difficult for us because we had a lot of fresh, new, exciting ideas that we were trying to get out and nothing new really worked.”

Note that Gabriel isn’t saying Marvel thinks that diversity and female characters are a problem but rather that’s the feedback he’s getting from many retailers. But still, Gabriel’s comments were met with quick anti-Marvel criticism online with readers hitting back with other reasons for their flagging interest:

While the writer of the successful Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel series, G. Willow Wilson, addressed the topic on her blog, criticizing Marvel for a tendency to launch “a legacy character by killing off or humiliating the original character [that] sets the legacy character up for failure. Who wants a legacy if the legacy is sh–ty? … Let’s scrap the word diversity entirely and replace it with authenticity and realism. This is not a new world. This is the world,” and noted, “On a practical level, this is not really a story about ‘diversity’ at all. It’s a story about the rise of YA comics. If you look at it that way, the things that sell and don’t sell (AND THE MARKETS THEY SELL IN VS THE MARKETS THEY DON’T SELL IN) start to make a different kind of sense.”

Gabriel has since followed up with a corrective statement that spun around his previous comments with Quicksilver-like alacrity: “…Contrary to what some said about characters ‘not working,’ the sticking factor and popularity for a majority of these new titles and characters like Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, The Mighty Thor, Spider-Gwen, Miles Morales, and Moon Girl, continue to prove that our fans and retailers ARE excited about these new heroes. And let me be clear, our new heroes are not going anywhere! We are proud and excited to keep introducing unique characters that reflect new voices and new experiences into the Marvel Universe and pair them with our iconic heroes. We have also been hearing from stores that welcome and champion our new characters and titles and want more! They’ve invigorated their own customer base and helped them grow their stores because of it. So we’re getting both sides of the story and the only upcoming change we’re making is to ensure we don’t lose focus of our core heroes.”