Diversity in Comics: The Reason It's Important

"It's just forced diversity for people who don't even buy comics," has been a phrase popping up for a while now and it never seems to go away. I started seeing around the time Marvel announced Miles Morales as the new Spider-Man. Then when DC rebooted the universe and made Alan Scott gay. Then again when Marvel made Iceman gay. Then when Fox cast Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm.  Yet again when DC made Wally West black. There's always this large portion of comic book readers who vocally complain, send letters and start petitions. They seem to have this idea that only straight white guys read comics. That's a silly belief to hold dear, and it's the reason they don't seem to realize how important diversity is in comics.

The other day I was reading Cyborg #2 and Cybrog goes out in public, not as superhero, but as 23 year old Victor Stone and he's stopped by some fans. This may have been no big deal to other heroes but it was reminder that Victor is still a young black guy. In this scene he was wearing casual clothes. Just jeans and a t-shirt. But, on this T-shirt front and center was an image of Black Vulcan (The Super friends version of Black Lightning). The fans he stopped to take a picture with was a group of black kids who were eager to tell Victor how much they looked up to him. That's when I remember my own childhood.

I always liked Superheroes, like any kid. Then one Saturday morning I'm flipping channels and I happen to see an episode of Static Shock. I was glued to the television more than ever before. Static was the first hero I really cared about. It wasn't just stories anymore. I recognized Static because he looked like me, he was black. I related to his stories. Richie's racist dad, almost every black person has dealt with a friend's racist parents, especially if you went to a predominately white school like I did. Static posters and action figures covered my room, I could never have enough Static. 

It may sound like I'm just reminiscing on my childhood and I may have had a unique experience, but I didn't. There's some kid who had the same reaction the first time he saw Jaime Reyes, John Stewart, Kamala Khan, Alan Scott or Bobby drake. Almost every kid becomes enamored with a character just because they can relate and despite what some people will tell you, everyone can't always relate to straight white male heroes. It doesn't even have to be heroes. Sometimes it only needs to be a main character. I'd like to show you an exchange from earlier this year that shows this.


I've shared my story and I've shared the story of this one little girl, but I want you to know it's not a one off thing. I decided to take to twitter and ask some people when was the first time they really connected with a superhero and I thought I would share some of those tweets with you as well.



So there you have it, it's not a one off phenomenon. Both boys and girls of every race relate to heroes that look like them. Sometimes it's race and sometimes it's gender. People complained to no end about Candice Patton being cast as Iris West. Then they complained about the comics being changed to reflect that. They wrote petitions demanding Iris West be returned to white and red headed Wally West return. They never once took the time to consider how much of an impact they would have on little kids. You can argue that red headed people looked up to red headed Wally West, and that may be true but they still have Roy Harper, Jason Todd, Jimmy Olson, Elongated Man, Black Widow, Banshee, Poison Ivy and a ton of others. What about the little girls who looked up to a white Iris West. Well they've still got a ton of others like Lois Lane, Wonder Woman, Dr. Light, Zatana, Black Canary, Renee Montoya, Fire, Ice, Jean Gray, Kitty Pride and a ton of others. 

Do you see what I'm getting at here? You can take away a white character or turn them into a minority and absolutely nothing changes. There's still a ton of recognizable white characters. What happens if you erase Jaime Reyes? Well you just wiped out a 5th of the recognizable Latino heroes. What happens if you make Luke Cage white? Well now you have to change his backstory because racism played a big part in it. You've also just wiped a 10th of the recognizable black characters Marvel has.

There's another issue people don't seem to comprehend about diversity in comics. Giving the name of a hero to a minority character or even sharing the name does not erase the character from history. Miles Morales did not turn Peter Parker into a black teenager. He is Spider-Man, a name used by no less than 20 recognizable characters and as Spider-Verse showed us, thousands of Spider-Men and Women. The one that has really bothered me, Sam Wilson is no longer Falcon, he's Captain America. The comic even pointed this out with one man yelling "He's not my Captain America." Sam Wilson did not make Steve Rogers black.

He isn't even the first person besides Steve Rogers to officially be recognized as Captain America. Sam Wilson isn't even the first black Captain America. There are 12 people Marvel has recognized as Captain America including Isaiah Bradly, another black man. If you count people who Marvel did not make the official Captain America the number grows to 23 and includes 4 more black men. If you consider alternate universes there's an additional 4 people who have been Captain America, which adds 1 woman, and 3 of those 4 are mixed race including Black, Latino and Japanese. It seems you don't actually know your history as much as you claim to because you would have recognized that Captain America is not a white guy in a star spangled suit. Captain America is an idea that anyone can be.

Speaking of history Stan Lee is often quoted as saying "I wouldn’t mind, if Peter Parker had originally been black, a Latino, an Indian or anything else, that he stay that way, but we originally made him white. I don’t see any reason to change that," has constantly been taken out of context. But, nobody ever includes the follow up to that. He then goes on to state "Peter Parker shouldn't be changed, but anyone can be Spider-Man behind the mask." Anyone, including Miles Morales, Miguel O'Harra or Jessica Drew.

There's a lot of reasons diversity is important in comics that I haven't mentioned. But, it really all boils down to a few points. Straight white guys aren't the only people to read comics, so straight white heroes shouldn't be the only ones getting their stories told. It's important to kids that they see heroes that look like them and relate to them. I'd like to finish with this. Jay Z once stated "You want my old shit, buy my old albums." I suggest that if you wish to live in the past, you buy old comics because there's decades of comics with nothing but straight white guys and oversexualized white women as well as plenty of racism and homophobia thrown in for seasoning.

You can hear Darrell on the CP Time and Powerbomb Jutsu podcasts. He also plays classic arcade games on The Cabinet
Diversity in Comics: The Reason It's Important Diversity in Comics: The Reason It's Important Reviewed by Darrell S. on Monday, August 31, 2015 Rating: 5

3 comments:

  1. I hate when color is forced into the story just to bring certain audiences into the profit margin. I hope that more Native American, South African, Middle Eastern, and Indian people become more popular in the next 5 years.

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    1. I think I understand what you mean. Off the top of my head the only changed that really bothered me was the Wally West change. That was the one situation where they simply just gave a character a race swap.

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  2. This article is on point. All you gotta do is create unique stories for different people. And, who knows, maybe that means hiring more non-White people to create those stories.

    I was a Static Shock superfan. I remember I used to love the Black Green Lantern as a kid, too. When the movie came out fairly recently I said "Why'd they change him to White?!" Lol. Then I read the history of the Lantern and understood. But no one will ever top the Black one just because I related to him.

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