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The Marvel Comics / Northrop Grumman Comic Book Cancellation (but why was NGEN named after a US Navy IT project?)

Thus began and ended the tie-up between the world’s fifth largest defence contractor, Northrop Grumman, and US superhero comic book publisher Marvel Comics.

The Washington Post and other news sources have reported that multi-part comic, Avengers, Featuring N.G.E.N. – Start Your N.G.E.N.S!, had been cancelled. The title, as demonstrated by the cover, was to feature some of Marvel’s superhero characters, such as Nick Fury, Captain America, and Iron Man, interacting with a group individsuals wearing “Elite Nexus” mobile suits. The suits were to have been depicted in the comic as designed by Northrop Grumman. Marvel released an online version of the first issue for free ahead of a title launch at the New York Comic Con (which was also to have featured a short film starring some of Northrop Grumman’s employees). But it has been removed from Marvel’s Website.

The reason should have been obvious in retrospect. Angry Twitter users accused Marvel Comics, which publishes comic books aimed at a young demographic, of partnering with a company which manufactures weapons, including nuclear weapons nuclear armed bombers, and ballistic missiles.

(Promotional tie-in poster. Sources: Vice)

Parallels to Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark, did not escape Twitter users:

Twitter users were apparently in the planning stages of a protest at the convention. Marvel Comics, a division of enterainment goliath Disney, blinked. The Washington Post published a quotation from a Northrop Grumman spokesman, ““This was part of our broader effort to reach new audiences and bring attention to the value of science and technology… We are disappointed that Marvel chose not to proceed with the partnership.” For Marvel, a spokesman is reported as stating that, ““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.” News websites Fortune and Polygon quoted Marvel Comics as asserting the title 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.”

(NGEN poster and promotional game tie-in from Marvel Comics’ website. Source: Bleeding Cool)

We have written before about product placements in comics. “Rush City” (DC Comics, 2006-2007) was specifically created to raise awareness of the Pontiac Solstice, a sports car. Dark Horse Comics’ “The Hire” (2004) promoted German car manufacturer, BMW. Marvel Comics has previously promoted DaimlerChrysler AG’s Dodge Caliber car in various titles including Spider-Man. Marvel Comics also promoted sports clothing manufacturer Nike’s “swoosh” logo, whereby Marvel Comics undertook to feature the logo within various comic titles over a four-to-six month period. Entering into a deal with a defence contractor to promote what seemed to be weaponised armoured suits was a public relations grenade.

The very peculiar thing about this brand, “NGEN”, is that it is an acronym for “Next Generation Enterprise Network”, a US Navy program. The $3.5 billion contract was the subject in 2013 of a consortium bid led by Northrop Grumman and other defence contractors and large IT firms (including IBM, Hewlett Packard, AT&T, and Lockheed Martin). The US Navy’s NGEN project is a reaplcement for the Navy-Marine Corps’ intranet, which supported, as at 2012, 700000 users. “NGEN will serve nearly 2,500 Navy and Marine Corps locations worldwide, from major bases to single-user sites, and will provide services for 400,000 seats and more than 800,000 users. The initial work is expected to be completed in June 2014. If the options are exercised, the work will continue through June 2018,” according to FCW Magazine. Why Northrop Grumman chose to use a brand for a comic book, which was otherwise being used by its main customer for its intranet, is not obvious. Curiously, neither Marvel Comics nor Northrop Grumman filed any US trademark application for “NGEN” or variations.