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The State of Diversity in Comics

When it comes to the topic of diversity in comics, things can get quite heated—real fast. Especially if you’re not careful on how you approach the subject. Now, with me being a white guy, it can be difficult to really wrap my head around this issue—or rather, what it means to be on the right side of this issue.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there should more diversity of race, gender, and sexual orientation in comics. It’s just that for me, it’s kind of hard to grasp the concept fully with the majority of the characters in comics being white males; I don’t know what’s it like to not be represented.

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One of the main things that gets people in an uproar is when they change the race of a character; normally from white to black. This tends to happen more often in the shows and movies. But when this happens in the comics,  it’s usually just a different character taking over the mantle of another, more famous character; like when the Falcon took over being Captain America for a while. Personally, I don’t generally care when stuff like this happens—as long it’s pertinent to the story.

When it comes to the TV and movie versions of the comic book character, I couldn’t care less when the race gets switch. My only requirement is that they choose the best actor for the character. I’m a huge Stephen King fan. and The Dark Tower series are some of my favorite books I’ve ever read. And if you’re familiar with this series of books, you know the main character Roland is more or less Clint Eastwood.

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I bring this up because when the news broke that Idris Elba was going to play the gunslinger, there was a lot of complaining going on about the race change. But anyone who’s ever seen Elba in anything knows he has what it takes to play the character well. Now, on the flip side, I  kept on hearing about the Iron Fist show and how they should cast an Asian-American actor to play the part of Danny Rand. The first thing I thought when I heard that complaint was, “Doesn’t that sound kind of racist?” Just because a character knows martial arts he should just automatically be Asian?

This seems to me like diversity being pushed in the wrong direction for the sole purpose of having a person of a different race in the role. This is doubly so considering how Marvel has the Asia Shang-Chi, The Master of Kung Fu. They could easily work him into the show if they really felt they needed to add diversity without changing the story.

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Shang-Chi is pretty much Bruce Lee.

Also, considering how Iron Fist might be one of the only superheros that being white is an integral part of his origin, it doesn’t make sense to make him Asian. I mean think about it, he’s this privilege little white kid who loses his parents while flying over the mountains in his private jet. The jet crashes and then some monks take him in as a minority.

He instantly is the outsider of the community and he gets ridiculed because he’s not like everyone else there. So, he constantly has to prove himself. You don’t think that has a lot to do with him becoming a superhero? If you make him Asian, you have to get rid of this whole aspect of the origin because he wouldn’t be much of an outsider. It would be like making Luke Cage a white guy; it changes the whole character—way beyond appearance.

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Nobody wants to see a white Luke Cage.

But while you still see a lack of racially diverse characters in the comic world, there is at least one positive trend taking hold. Women in comics have been on the increase; with more and more prominent female characters taking the spotlight in their own solo series. They’re treated like actual characters now with real motivation, good storytelling, and are respected just like the guys. You know they’re really trying show women in the right light when in a movie called Batman vs Superman, Wonder Woman is the most badass character.

Another big issue within comic book diversity is the representation of the LGBTQ community. As I’ve stated before, I couldn’t care less when it comes to all of this stuff as long as the story is good. I say this because a lot of times. a publisher will introduce a new character or make an existing character gay just to be gay. Like they’re just trying to make a quota or want to act like they really care about the culture. Often times it comes off as nothing more than a quick attention grab.

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Another thing they like to do is go out of their way to let the reader and the other characters in the book know that a certain person is gay—repeatedly to the point that it hurts the story they’re trying to tell. To treat LGBTQ characters equally, the creators must be subtle and treat them like they’re normal—because they are.

One of the best ways I’ve see this done was a couple of years ago in DC’s Earth 2, written by James Robinson. James made Alan Scott, the Green Lantern of that earth, gay. But it was done in such a way that the character being gay wasn’t his defining characteristic.

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It also made sense in the story for a couple of reasons; one of them being that the moment he becomes Green Lantern his soon to be husband is killed in an explosion—which ultimately pushes Alan Scott to become a superhero.

The other reason this fit within the story was that in the old DCU, before the new 52 reboot, Alan Scott’s son was the one that was gay. And in that universe, Alan Scott was an older man. So, it was a little harder for him to accept his gay son for a while. Then when the new 52 started, a whole new DCU, I thought it was a nice touch having him be gay instead. It almost felt like DC was letting their fans know it’s okay to be gay.

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The main issue with diversity in comics is how they go about introducing it. They tend to stereotype characters or try to force feed diversity to their audience. But there’s better ways to go about it. One of the ways that can stop some of these stereotypes from happening would be by having a wider, more diverse range of people in the creating process. That way these characters can have some real depth to them because they’d be created by the people they’re representing. The good thing is, this is already going on to a degree. So, hopefully a lot of this can stop being an issue as comics continue to progress.

As the comic industry and its audience grows, so does the need for more diversity among its characters and creators. But they need to make sure they’re doing it for the right reasons—and not just doing it for money, or to gain false acclaim, or just to sell more of their product.  I don’t know about you, but i read comics for the stories. And if adding diversity in these comics isn’t for the betterment of the story, what is the point?

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5 Comments »

  1. On Iron Fist: Ask a Chinese-American how accepted they’ve felt when they’ve visited China. They still feel like outsiders. They arguably feel even more like outsiders than white people do, because white people are expected to know nothing, while a Chinese-American is expected to know the culture, even though they’ve never actually been a part of it. You get a third- or fourth- or fifth-generation Asian-American kid? They may not know any more about the culture(s) they come from than a white kid does, and they might not care, either. All the other stuff – the wealth and privilege and cluelessness – yep, Asian-Americans can be like that. What changes, by making Danny Rand Asian-American, is that an Asian-based culture is no longer centred on a white dude.

    On queer characters: I honestly can’t think of a single example of a queer character where being gay was their only trait. I see the idea brought up so often. And yet I never see it actually happen. Most of the time, I wonder if the argument’s only brought up to justify a desire to minimize queer romance in comics.

    I will agree that bringing in more diverse creators is crucial.

    Like

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