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Marvel Cancels Ill-Advised 'Sexy' Teenager Variant Cover


The controversial Invincible Iron Man variant cover commissioned by Midtown Comics and illustrated by artist J. Scott Campbell with Tony Stark's heir apparent, Riri Williams, on the cover has been canceled.

Considered by many, including me, as neither looking like a 15-year-old girl, either in body type or in fashion, Campbell took a barrage of Twitter criticism for sexualizing the new African-American teen superhero. Not that Campbell took the slights seriously at first.






Later, Campbell seemed to understand that his depiction wasn't being well received for legitimate reasons and admitting he didn't intentionally try to "sex her up."






In his defense, Campbell is a talented artist known for his pin-up style so the onus should be on Marvel for choosing him to do the cover. The lighter skin tone used for the cover also came under fire but the coloring was done by someone else. Again, this falls on Marvel. The portrayal of young women (and all women for that matter) in comics continues to be a sensitive issue because of the industry's history of rampant sexualization designed for the male gaze.   


As anyone knows, Marvel of all people absolutely does, if you hire J. Scott Campbell, you will get a J. Scott Campbell illustration. That means a thin-waisted, doe-eyed, woman with supermodel proportions. Is that who you want drawing one of the few leading teenage African-American superheroes in comics, Marvel? I don't believe Campbell intentionally depicted Riri negatively. He sincerely thought he was "portraying her as a sassy, strong, coming-of-age young woman." The resulting image was not at all surprising considering the artist.

Campbell is certainly capable of learning from this backlash, at least I hope, because how women, young women, young black women are portrayed matter. Overt sexualization of women will no longer be ignored. More importantly, why isn't Marvel aware of this as well? They had the good sense to introduce a character like Riri Williams, a brilliant engineering prodigy about to take over the Iron Man mantle, then turns her over to an artist like Campbell. That's not to say the image was vulgar or gratuitous, it was just a wildly inaccurate portrayal of the teen character. 

Marvel should know better. For all the progress it makes in creating a more diverse universe, it sabotages itself with foolish editorial decisions at times. As quickly as the release of the variant cover stirred controversy, Marvel made sure to show interior art from series artist Stefano Caselli proving Riri will actually look like a teenager. Whether or not the trending hashtag #TeensThatLookLikeTeens helped spur Marvel into releasing the images from the book that contradict the variant cover, it should take a more thoughtful approach when it comes to selecting artists for its characters. 





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