opinion

Is Marvel having a laugh with its first non-binary character?

Marvel's latest announcement all feels a bit off. Could something else be afoot? asks Markus Bidaux

2020-03-20

Words: Markus Bidaux

Marvel comics has announced they will be introducing their first non-binary superhero in the latest series of New Warriors relaunching in April.

Normally, this would be cause for celebration but the writer, Daniel Kibblesmith, codenamed them Snowflake, a term popularized by far-right conservatives to describe left-leaning liberals.

Snowflake will be part of a new group of five fresh young heroes who will be mentored by the older New Warrior characters.

The group includes Snowflake and her brother, Safespace, who are psychic twins and whose costumes reflect the colours of the Transgender Pride flag, which is a bit odd when there is a Non-binary Pride flag with different colours.

In a promotional video for the new comic, Kibblesmith had this to say on the characters that he created with artist Luciano Vecchio: “Snowflake is non-binary and goes by they/them, and has the power to generate individual crystalized snowflake-shaped shurikens.

"Snowflake is the person who has the more offensive power, and Safespace is the person who has the more defensive power. The idea is that they would mirror each other and complement each other.”

It all feels a bit off, but the writer says, “The connotations of the word 'snowflake' in our culture right now are something fragile, and this is a character who is turning it into something sharp.” And adds that the twins are “a post-ironic meditation on using violence to combat bullying.”

But let’s look at the bigger picture, the other three new characters include Screentime, a teenage boy who is permanently connected to the internet after being exposed to his grandfather’s “experimental internet gas,” B-Negative, a goth vampire and Trailblazer, a girl who is given a “magic backpack” that opens to a pocket dimension of infinite space.

It is safe to say, a “magic backpack” and “experimental internet gas” feel a bit ridiculous, even for a company whose most popular character got his powers from a radioactive spider – has the House of Ideas run out of any good ones?

So who is Daniel Kibblesmith? Well, the 36-year-old cisgender heterosexual male writer has written comics for Marvel before, but I think it is notable that he is a comedian and also writes for The Late Show with Steven Colbert, which he is a 4 time Emmy nominee.

So, clearly, Kibblesmith is a talented writer but is he and Marvel playing with nonbinary people for a laugh? I find that hard to believe since Marvel are acutely aware of their LGBTQ fanbase. And it would be remiss not to mention that Luciano Vecchio, the artist who has co-created these characters, is a queer Argentinian.

Is it right for two white cis-gendered men to be creating and writing the experiences of nonbinary people of colour? That is a much bigger argument, but one that urged genderqueer model Rain Dove and nonbinary comic book YouTuber Faust to call on more to engage with the wider LGBTQ, but to do so with authentic voices from the community.

Faust tells Attitude: "We want non-binary characters, but we want ones that represent us, and as a collective, I think most people find these characters insulting."

Rain Dove also expressed concer at the situation to Attitude, saying: “You [Marvel] need to create this with us, don't do this alone. I think you are interpreting a lot of experiences you haven't lived. You have the chance to do something historical, please don't waste this opportunity.”

Snowflake? Safespace? Screentime? B-Negative (a pun on a blood type and the term Be Negative)? These are all terms related to social media and internet use. “Experimental internet gas”? A magical backpack that opens to a pocket dimension of infinite space… like the internet is infinite? I suspect there is a ruse afoot.

Marvel are renowned for tricking their audience in their promotional material of new characters. In 1997, Marvel introduced a new superhero team called the Thunderbolts who by the end of issue #1 were revealed to really be the Masters of Evil in disguise.

More recently in 2005, Allen Heinberg, the screenwriter of Wonder Woman, introduced the world to the Young Avengers. The team looked like they were directly related to Captain America, Iron Man, Thor and the Hulk, but as the series progressed we learned that couldn’t be further from the truth – again proof Marvel loves to shock their audience.

Side note: Marvel’s 2013/2014 Young Avengers run by British writer/artist team Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie is one of the best LGBTQ-inclusive superhero story.

So are Marvel introducing a not very thought out two-dimensional non-binary character onto the comics landscape or is there more to this character from the House of Ideas? We won’t know until New Warriors #1 goes on sale 15 April...