Comic Fodder

DC's Missed Chance at Diversity

I wanted to put down the latest issue of JLA and never read it again, it was so bad. But something in the back of my mind kept re-visiting it. Why can't I get this out of my head? I wondered. Then it hit me: this was the perfect chance to showcase diversity, and DC had mind-numbingly thrown it all away immediately.

Take a look at the breakdown of the new team: most of the "old white guys" had quit. Who was left? Black Canary, John Stewart, Vixen, Doctor Light, Zatanna, and Firestorm. Of the six, four were women, a majority. Fully half were black, while still including one Asian. This is Equal Opportunity's (censored) dream! McDuffie has certainly not shied away from interjecting racial relation ideas into this title, so why in the world would the story work to assemble such a perfect team, only to have the leader immediately disband it? How in the world can anyone ever fight the Man if the first thing they do when all the white men in charge leave... is quit?

Setting the real world aside for a minute, let's look at the power quotient of the team, and how they might stack against the original JLA. Black Canary has a sonic scream, and is rated in the top ten of DC for martial arts prowess; she could stall Batman until the rest of her team got to her side. John Stewart is former military, an architect, and a Green Lantern; stalemate against Hal until the others distract him, and then John takes him down. Doctor Light can blind Flash long enough to have the other half of the original team eating dirt: Zatanna's magic could easily stop Superman cold; Vixen can hold her own against Wonder Woman for a short time; Firestorm vs. J'ohn J'onzz. Firestorm. See how easy that was? When you can immediately take two of the most powerful heroes in the world out of play and stalemate the other four, the only wild card that might tip the balance in favor of the original team is... Aquaman. Game over.

Now let's go back to the real world. Why is this important? I can easily argue that it isn't, but tons of people always say it is. "We need stronger female characters." "You need to have more heroes of color represented." I see this stuff all the time. DC is already working on this, hence the Milestone initiative. Both Marvel and DC have had black writers landing plum assignments in the last couple years, and McDuffie is a prime example of that. He's been in the comics industry for twenty years or so, but within the past few years he's had writing assignments for both Fantastic Four and JLA. Not too shabby. McDuffie's whole point when founding the Milestone universe was to recognize that we needed what was referred to as a "multi-cultural sensibility." Then why, when you have one of the most perfect configurations out of the existing characters in the DC universe, do you throw it all away? This wasn’t putting the Falcon on the Avengers roster to be a token. This team formation wasn’t political correctness gone amuck, some artificial affirmative action stacking of the deck. This was a function of the regular members of the DC universe all being in a certain place, at a certain time, with a chance to really shake things up.

As much as attempts to enforce a political correctness “standard” go overboard sometimes, people do have a point when they see a vast wall of white across the comic industry. Part of this is simply that the white guys who were writing and drawing the original characters all those decades ago happened to put in characters that were close to themselves. These characters, like Batman, Spider-Man, etc., have been so awesome and so full of potential, that they had the same effect as the upper levels of business executives in the real world: the white guys were there first, and so women and black men and others had trouble getting representational numbers to those ranks because the old white guys lasted a long time. You couldn't boot them out, so you had to bide your time and wait for an opening. In comics, these primary characters have last 60, 70 years, and it is going to take some time for newer characters to reach these "upper ranks" and have a place in the top tier. It wasn't intentionally racist or discriminatory, but there was an inherent effect that created the same results as if there was a racist aim, ending up with what I tend to call an "unintentional, inherently racist situation."

Both Marvel and DC, despite their various attempts to make up for this, still have an obvious character makeup that reflects an unintentional, inherently racist situation. Kudos to DC for recognizing that the situation exists (or if they don't have an accurate understanding, semi-kudos for them at least making attempts to increase diversity whatever the motivations). As long as they keep along the path, we should see an increasing number of diverse characters break the glass ceiling of the all-white Supes, Bats, Flash, Aqua, Green Arrow/Lantern, Hawk, Cap, Iron Man, Thor,Hulk, Spider-Man, etc. While these characters will probably last longer than the business executives occupying most of the President and CEO businesses in America, and while Superman and Batman will never go away, I do think there is a good chance that the landscape will expand to include more interesting points of view as time goes on.

Specifically at DC, they have introduced the new Firestorm who happens to be black, the new Blue Beetle who happens to be Hispanic, the recently-returned-to-the-spotlight Dr. Light is Asian, the new Mr. Terriffic is black, as is the new Johnny Thunder, and the JSA has number of newer female characters like Judomaster, Stargirl, Lightning, and Cyclone. The new Question is an Hispanic woman, and the now-deceased new Tarantula was also an Hispanic female, while the new Atom is Asian. So they've been working at it with intent for a few years, although they could also stand to introduce characters from other countries (Ryan Choi/Atom was from Hong Kong and Kimiyo Hoshi/Doctor Light was from Japan, that’s the type of thing I’m talking about).

Still, I can't figure out why McDuffie didn't work as hard as possible, once such a diverse team make-up was dropped in his lap, to take it and run with it. If there wasn't some irresistible editorial edict against it, this would have been a premiere opportunity. Even the writing could have reflected that. Instead of Black Canary telling Roy she needed him, "misogyny and all," why not let her tell Roy to take his pointy arrows and go have fun poking around somewhere else? This was a unique spot in time where someone could have stepped up to the plate and made more of an effort, and it looks like there was a moment in the conversation where she could have driven home the point that she didn’t need all the white males, some of whom are unashamedly sexist. Dinah was presented as a drowning woman clutching at men for hope of salvation, and when it didn’t come, she packed up her bags and went home.

How many more years will we now have to wait to see the same type of configuration in one of comicdom's standard-bearing teams?
Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

Fully agree with everything here written!

-- Posted by: Batzarro at March 28, 2009 5:41 PM

I wrote a post a few days ago criticizing how easily Canary threw in the towel. I especially agree about Roy. Surely Dinah could HUNT down someone with an impRESSive skill set similar to Roy's.

And you're right: the team she had left at the end of the issue was nothing to sneeze at. With two or three more key members (Steel and Icon would be good candidates to shore up the "Powerhouse" slot, and Kendra is coming back), they could be a really impressive unit.

-- Posted by: notintheface at April 4, 2009 12:26 PM