Marvel Is Canceling A Controversial Character After Fan Backlash

By Nathan Kamal | 2 months ago

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Marvel Comics got themselves into heated controversy recently, when a newly introduced character shocked many with its cultural insensitivity. King Conan, a continuation of the decades-old fantasy character Conan the Barbarian created by Robert E. Howard, brought in a new character in issue three. In of itself, not an issue. But this particular character was immediately flagged by Native American writers and activists as overtly playing into stereotypes of indigenous women, inappropriately referencing a real-life Native American historical figure, as well as overtly sexualizing the character. Initially, King Conan writer Jason Aaron, Marvel Comics, and even their parent company Disney had no comment, but it appears they have gotten themselves together. Per CNN, Aaron issued this statement: 

“This new character is a supernatural, thousand-year-old princess of a cursed island within a world of pastiche and dark fantasy and was never intended to be based on anyone from history…I should have better understood the name’s true meaning and resonance and recognized it wasn’t appropriate to use it. I understand the outrage expressed by those who hold the true Matoaka’s legacy dear, and for all of this and the distress it’s caused, I apologize.”

Aaron went on to say that his earnings from sales of King Conan were being donated to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. It is unclear whether any proceeds going to Marvel Comics or Disney are being donated. Marvel also indicated that the character in question would be redesigned and renamed for the upcoming issues, digital versions of the comic, and future reprints. While this will likely make the existing issue of the character’s original appearance into a collector’s item, there is not a lot that they could do otherwise. While some have called for the comic to be entirely pulled from distribution and/or canceled as a series, that does not appear to be the direction Marvel is going. 

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The Marvel character in question was encountered by Conan in the third issue of the series. She was originally named Matoaka, which many pointed out was the private/familial name of Pocahontas, the historical figure involved with early European colonists in North America. The character also had the backstory of being exiled from a distant land, where she had killed a man and now served to lure away colonizers who might try to find it. All this is a clear reference to the real-life Pocahontas/Matoaka, who has been mythologized as a young Powhatan woman who fell in love with a colonist named John Smith and saved his life, defusing conflict between the indigenous people and the Europeans. This story has been roundly refuted, and increasing historical consensus (and indigenous oral history) is that she was likely a child who was kidnapped, forcibly married, and sexually assaulted. 

That Marvel Comics would utilize the tragic history of this woman (and the specter of genocidal colonization inherent in referencing it) is already misguided, to say the least. Critics also pointed out that the Marvel character was also drawn by artist Mahmud Asrar ​​to be highly sexualized and depicted as a figure of Conan’s desire. Native American women are assaulted and murdered at a vastly disproportionate rate to other ethnicities in the United States, and media attention towards it is inversely incredibly low. Comic book history (and pop culture in general) already has deep issues with the portrayal of indigenous peoples, with Disney being no exception. Marvel Studios recently introduced an indigenous character in its streaming show Hawkeye, for which they were praised, but one step forward, two steps back. It is a good thing they are retroactively trying to do something about this particular instance, but it is really indicative of a larger problem that Disney and Marvel need to be doing better at.