Tag Archives: diversity

Diversity issues and Black writers at Marvel and DC

staticRecently, there’s been much discussion online about the diversity problems facing the “mainstream” (read: DC and Marvel) comic industry. Particularly for African-Americans, the odds of working for DC or Marvel at all are apparently nearly nil. Out of their 70+-year-long histories, Marvel and DC have hired only about two dozen writers for an ongoing series (“ongoing” defined as two or more issues), per this Google Docs spreadsheet.

Among reasons for a lack of diversity at the “Big Two” I’ve seen cited: the limited-circle nature of the superhero comics industry (“hiring who you know” and all that); the same historical racism issues present in other American entertainment industries (movies, television, etc.); the general head-in-the-sand nature of Marvel and DC that’s led to their other problems (lack of diversity of genres/product, pricing, availability, etc.); and so forth.

I’d also add to the above problems with attracting any fresh, original talent (of any race, gender, etc.) in general: why should a writer contribute one’s best ideas for Marvel/DC (and see Marvel/DC own them lock, stock, and barrel) when they can publish them themselves at Image, etc.? Given the success of independent comics like  “The Walking Dead,” as well as various successful webcomics, etc., I can see why even the Wall Street Journal (the nation’s top business newspaper) has pointed this out.  (So did The Comics Beat, in case there’s any future issues re: the Journal link.) It also doesn’t help when DC itself is driving off some of their veteran talent recently (the high turnover rate on the Superman books, etc.).

Overall, if one’s not married to superheroes (which “mainstream” usually gets cited as being), there’s plenty of other comic companies (and independent comics/webcomics) for minority cartoonists to write/draw for. There’s also the fact that with the changing demographics of the United States (i.e. more ethnic minorities, openly LGBT folk, etc.), it’ll be quite foolish for any business, especially in the entertainment industry, to ignore said issues in the long run. This just makes Marvel and DC’s lack of truly fixing their broken business model even more problematic for them in the future.

Others online have written in recent weeks/months about Marvel and DC’s diversity issues:

  • An article by Hannibal Tabu about Marvel/DC not hiring Black writers.
  • Joseph Hughes‘ article on Comics Alliance about Marvel/DC diversity.
  • The Comics Beat also has an article.
  • An article from last fall by Comics Alliance, which mentions Kevin Keller’s success as a positive aspect of diversity driving sales.

 

Thoughts on DC Comics’ “racial regressing”

This article’s been making the Internet rounds lately; it focuses on the recent DC Comics trend of restoring their Silver Age heroes to their roles, replacing their newer but more ethnically diverse modern counterparts: 

http://www.comicsalliance.com/2010/05/06/the-racial-politics-of-regressive-storytelling/

Not sure how much input I have, given my tastes often are either at odds with whatever’s currently popular or seem a bit old-fashioned/eclectic/”odd,” as well as that I’ve long since given up on mainstream universe-set DC Comics. But here goes anyway…

As an African-American comics reader, I agree with others (and the article’s writer) that modern superhero comics should be racially diverse. Showing our world’s diversity is not being “politically correct” or “PC,” plus it also reflects realism. Given how many current fans seem to want their comics about, erm, guys with heat-vision and unbreakable adamantium claws to be “realistic” (usually meaning “grim and gritty”), I would think that’d be a desirable trait.

I’ve seen the “they’re just being PC” argument about minority superheroes before. About 10 years ago, when the Justice League cartoon was announced, African-American character John Stewart (a long running supporting character in the Green Lantern comics, and also one of Earth’s GLs) was chosen as the series’ Green Lantern. This got a lot of complaints online from some fans, who claimed the producers’ reasons for choosing John were just “being PC” (as well as some disappointed they didn’t go with the GL of the 90s/early 2000s, Kyle Rayner). Needless to say, after the series debuted, John proved to be one of the most popular characters, to the point that he made appearances in Static Shock, another popular 2000s cartoon with a Black superhero, as well as being the GL of choice for the current Super Friends comic. This apparently shut the naysayers up (for a time).

On the other hand, the “replace a favorite old character with a new one” bit, while something that dates back to the Silver Age superhero revival (when Hal Jordan, Ray Palmer and Barry Allen replaced Alan Scott, Al Pratt and Jay Garrick), hasn’t always gone smoothly, as seen by the 90s hullabaloo over how Hal Jordan was replaced by new character Kyle Rayner (who like Hal is also white, though recent comics have retconned in some Latino heritage). In this case, however, the way they went about replacing Hal was very ham-fisted and badly written (requiring Hal to act out-of-character, mass slaughter of his hometown/other GLs, etc.), which seemed to just cause even more divide among fans of the time. Though Kyle got some fan following over the 90s and 2000s, he never made the jump to other media (save one episode of Superman: The Animated Series); as of a few  years ago, Kyle was re-replaced by Hal again. For the record, I never liked Kyle (he struck me in stories I read as an obnoxious twerp), and found how he replaced Hal as utterly inept writing, so I’m not sorry to see him pushed aside. Still, I can see the Kyle fans being upset over *their* favorite character pushed aside for another one, since every character is *somebody’s* favorite (well, except maybe Eclipso…). Though if they had to replace Hal at all, a much more forward-thinking choice than Kyle would’ve been to replace Hal with John Stewart, which would’ve added some diversity to one of their flagship A-list characters…

Then there’s the notion of trying to replace still-used characters at all, which seems to be a very DC idea, versus Marvel, where the Thing, Hulk and Spidey are the same people they were 50 years ago. Granted, Hal, Ray and Barry are replacement characters too, but their Golden Age counterparts also had been long disused for years. That, and when the Golden Age characters were also brought back and kept around, they were used as secondary characters to the “new” GL, Flash, or Atom (at the time as their older Earth-2 counterparts, or as elder heroes in current continuity), which allowed them to function as mentors to the younger heroes and appear in occasional specials, backup stories or the like without (usually) requiring them to carry their own book or take away the spotlight from the new stars. And nobody was confused by there being more than one Atom, Flash, etc. (or two Supermen, Wonder Women and Batmen per Earth-1 and Earth-2). There’s no reason that the same couldn’t be done for the Silver Age characters—assuming a mentor or supporting/secondary character role to the new Asian-American Atom, African-American Firestorm, etc., similar to the JSAers. It’d certainly be better than killing them off (per DC’s current bloodthirsty story tone) or writing them wildly out of character (as was done to Hal), and has worked well with Jay Garrick in modern comics. From what I’ve read, this is the track they *did* take with Ray and the new Atom, though apparently this didn’t last…

Another reason to keep the new characters around are that superhero comics these days have only a small fraction of the draw that their TV and movie spinoffs have. With Batman: The Brave and the Bold using the newest Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes, a Latino) and the African-American Firestorm (Jason Rusch) as characters, it would seem to make sense to keep their comic counterparts around as a tie-in to the rather popular TV series, instead of canceling Jaime’s book as DC foolishly did just before the show debuted (though I understand Jaime’s made appearances since). That, and sometimes non-comics media creations do trickle back to the comics, as seen with kryptonite and Jimmy Olsen (both creations of the 40s Superman radio show) or, more recently, Harley Quinn (from the 90s Batman cartoon).

Of course, DC could do as some suggested and, instead of replacing existing heroes, make better use of the minority heroes they already have and also create new ones. However, said heroes too often don’t have even the bottom-of-the-A-list caliber that the Atom has, though that lies in how the characters are treated. The X-Men’s Storm was created in the mid-70s, and has since gone on to become a major character for Marvel. The same could’ve been done for DC’s (via Milestone) character Static—whose 10-year-old TV cartoon still airs multiple times a day on Disney XD, which suggests some popularity. Unfortunately, DC’s treatment of the Milestone characters and Dwayne McDuffie seems to suggest this won’t be the case. Another factor to blame is parent company Time-Warner’s mediocre-to-awful marketing skills historically, compared to competitors Disney or Viacom: I wonder if Static were owned by Viacom (home of SpongeBob SquarePants and Avatar: The Last Airbender) or Disney (home of High School Musical and Hanna Montana), we’d already be hearing about a live-action Static movie being put in pre-production, with debate on which actor should play Static (or Gear, or Ebon, Virgil’s father, etc.) and the usual heavy marketing tie-ins. Instead, Cartoon Network (and Time-Warner) seems to be mainly obsessed with Scooby-Doo (ignoring the rest of the Hanna-Barbera library of characters), Batman (to the expense of the rest of the DC pantheon of characters, including Superman himself), Canadian imports like 6Teen, and Pokemon. But I digress…

Finally, I assume DC’s also trying to, nostalgia aside, lure back fans of the Silver Age characters, given comics’ dismal sales these days. I admit my DC purchases these days are exclusively either the “Johnny DC” line (Tiny Titans, the Batman:TBATB spinoff comic, etc.) or their Silver Age Showcase Presents black-and-white trade paperback reprints. I prefer the characters and tone of the Johnny DC and Silver/Bronze Age stories, as well as the latter’s emphasis on sci-fi/fantasy and adventure (which seem missing from modern mainstream DC books in favor of gore and shock-value violence). I also like the former’s use of modern elements, particularly ethnic diversity (a given of course, and without fan backlash—no accusations of “being PC” with Super Friends’ use of John Stewart). Given the nasty tone of current mainstream DCU comics, it doesn’t matter to me if the characters are either all-white (as in the Silver Age reprints) or as diverse as the Global Guardians/Milestone crew—the stories these days are all literally non-stop crossovers (and convoluted or long ones at that), cost too much to follow, and all seem to have a “grim and gritty”, “violence porn”/”Joker Chainsaw Massacre” mentality to them (see: Superboy-Prime, or any Joker apperance in the past 15-20 years). Much as I like Barry Allen, Hal Jordan and Ray Palmer, and appreciate DC bringing the multiverse back (albeit in the most inept way possible via Infinite Crisis), I’m still not biting as long as that’s the tone and style of their books. The fact that I *did* give them several previous chances, only to see other favorite old characters of mine mangled badly (the Earth-2 Superman being gruesomely beaten to death; Capt. Carrot and the Zoo Crew’s recent fates; the Milestone characters being merged into the main DCU where they’ll probably be ignored or used as cannon-fodder) and their rather gruesome use of C-list characters as cannon fodder (such as gay hero Tasmanian Devil being skinned alive and turned into a rug, or Superboy-Prime punching someone’s head into a bloody mist in Infinite Crisis) also has pretty much killed my interest in ever buying another mainstream-DCU-set DC comic, barring some sort of very remarkable exception. Oh, well… I guess that’s more money for other stuff (the Archie comic with the new gay character in it, more Silver Age DC reprints, Love and Capes, Linux magazines, DVDs, etc.).

OK, I’m done ranting… sorry if this was long-winded.