Just hours after announcing it on Friday, Marvel Comics has canceled a planned project with defense manufacturer Northrop Grumman. The tie-in was to include an Avengers comic featuring heroes using Northrop Grumman technology and, according to Marvel, was intended to promote aerospace technology and STEM education.
Critics, however, were swift and brutal in pointing out that Marvel’s corporate identity largely hinges on painting manufacturers like Northrop as war profiteers and villains. In the 2008 film Iron Man, industrialist and superhero Tony Stark resolves to stop manufacturing weapons of war after seeing their destructive power in action. That movie launched what is now known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has generated more than $12 billion in box office returns to date.
In their partnership with Grumman, however, Marvel would have portrayed munitions manufacturers as heroes. As reported by Polygon, Marvel was preparing to launch a multi-part comic teaming the Avengers with a new team of heroes known as N.G.E.N., for “Northrop Grumman Elite Nexus.” The team was to be equipped with super-powered, presumably fictional suits billed as Grumman products. A preview issue of the comic was posted online on October 4.
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Online critics of the partnership echoed the message of Iron Man, lambasting Grumman for its production of weapons including autonomous military drones, though some wrongly accused the company of making cluster bombs, which are now subject to a broad global ban. Critics also pointed out that the all-ages comic would likely reach impressionable young children.
Prominent leftist and antiwar commentator Matt Christman described the proposed new team as a “blood-soaked international death machine,” while one comics writer and retailer described Marvel’s new partnership as “monstrous.”
By 11 a.m. E.T. on Friday, Twitter users hinted that they would organize a protest of the Comic Con event announcing the partnership.
With public pressure mounting quickly, Marvel tweeted early this morning that the announcement event had been canceled. In a followup statement to Polygon, Marvel said that the partnership with Northrop Grumman had itself been dissolved.
It’s unclear whether the partnership might have entailed more than the tie-in comic, but in its statement to Polygon, Marvel said the project was “meant to focus on aerospace technology and exploration in a positive way. However, as the spirit of that intent has not come across, we will not be proceeding with this partnership including this weekend’s event programming.”
The single issue of the comic that had been released has now been pulled.
Northrop Grumman is among the top five defense contractors in the world, and its stock has surged amidst rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. It has also been in the news lately for its $7.8 billion acquisition of Orbital ATK, which both runs commercial space launches and manufactures missiles and ammunition.