I have a confession to make; I am a comic book nerd, and have been since long before it was cool. While there is a part of me that loves being able to wear my Batman shirt in public without ridicule, and also enjoys the edgier tones of my favourite childhood heroes, it is also clear that the big two publishers — DC and Marvel — have fallen behind the times in one very important way: their representation of minorities in the ranks of their superhero squads.
In case you don’t believe me, think back to the recent Avengers movie. It features a six-person team comprised of five white guys (one of whom does turn green) and a token female in the form of Black Widow. DC’s current version of the Justice League in their New 52 universe features a single hero who isn’t Caucasian — the African-American Cyborg. And this is on a team that has featured multiple aliens (Superman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl) in its various incarnations.
Even the X-Men, which has the most direct correlation with real world minority issues, features characters that, despite coming from various national, cultural, and religious backgrounds, are mostly white. Even Mystique, a character whose mutation allows her to shapeshift, often appears as a Caucasian.
It seems that many of the characters designed to represent minority groups are little more than tokens, a way for the two companies to show that they are attempting to be diverse in their portrayal of our heroes.
This is problematic, as these characters end up with a minority identification that encompasses their entire character. Though I’ve been reading the entire Earth 2 series up to this point, I don’t know much about their Green Lantern character, as the fact that he is gay and lost his fiancé in the second issue seems to becloud the rest of his persona.
DC and Marvel could learn a lot about strong characters from independent publishers.
To their credit, both DC and Marvel have made efforts to introduce more minorities into the superhero pantheon. Unfortunately, these efforts have been uninspired at best and downright offensive at worst.
Recently, Marvel Comics announced some major changes to two characters that have been around for decades, Thor and Captain America. The new Thor has already made her — that’s right, her — debut in the past week, while Sam Wilson, better known as Falcon, will soon don the suit formerly belonging to Steve Rogers, marking the debut of the African-American Cap. As I said, uninspired, as Marvel’s solution to creating strong minority characters is to simply repackage existing ones.
Though, all things considered, these measures are better than what DC did with the introduction of Simon Baz, the Muslim Green Lantern. Though it was a great idea in principle, DC dropped the ball, turning what could have been an inspiring story into a giant cliché. While Baz’ ring could’ve come to him while he was at prayer, DC writers decided to have the ring choose him while he was being interrogated by federal agents under suspicion of committing domestic terrorism. Ouch.
Point being, DC and Marvel could learn a lot from the independent publishers who seem to do an excellent job of providing strong characters that exist outside of what has become the culturally accepted norm for superheroes. Malibu Comics, for example, provides the superheroes Spectral and Turbo Charge, both of whom are members of the LGBTQ community. There are plenty of original ideas out there, and I sincerely hope the big two open their eyes to these possibilities soon.