Marvel has a long and not always well-regarded history making branded comics. As a child, my copies of Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four were occasionally filled with full-page ads for Hostess baked goods, starring the mighty men and women of Marvel; Spider-Man would help a kid enjoy three different kinds of delicious fruit pies, and so on. But this weekend’s situation was a fruit pie of another color.

At New York Comic-Con this weekend (via Polygon), Marvel was hyping a new branded comic partnership: With Northrop Grumman, one of the world’s biggest defense contractors. This new comic, which you can see the cover of above, featured the iconic members of the Avengers like Captain America and Iron Man alongside the members of “N.G.E.N.” - the Northrop Grumman Elite Nexus. Marvel had been giving the first issue away for free on their website.

It sounds harmless enough, but this sort of thing, like the Hostess ads of old, except in this case, Marvel wasn’t helping sell donuts. They were helping sell weapons. And when Marvel announced their presentation with Northrop Grumman at NYCC, they were besieged by outraged and angry responses on social media, pointing out the hypocrisy of a comic book company that often casts weapons makers as villains partnering with a real one:

Eventually Marvel canceled Saturday’s event, and later released the following statement:

The activation with Northrop Grumman at New York Comic Con 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. Marvel and Northrop Grumman continue to be committed to elevating, and introducing, STEM to a broad audience.

Stem stands for “science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,” an important part of a child’s education. (There are a lot of complex acronyms in this post, sorry.) Marvel executive and creator Joe Quesada later told a panel at NYCC “I think there were some messaging issues. It was really about science and education.”

Marvel hasn‘t had the smoothest NYCC. Netflix planned to launch its Punisher series there, but had to cancel its debut following the horrific attack in Las Vegas. I don’t expect to see the N.G.E.N.s hanging around the pages of the X-Men anytime soon; if you can get a physical copy of that Northrop Grumman comic it might become quite the collector’s item.

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