Okay, we’ve restocked our load of piss and vinegar and we’ve loaded our shotgun for bear! UNTIL WE TELL IT, WE JUST CAN”T MOVE ON!
My first “Complaints” post drew a bit of private praise, especially from those who welcomed a return to more pointed commentary. To which I say, I’d love to do more of it but I was literally up until dawn writing that first one (I’m ssslllooowww) and this one will take just as long. Especially since this time I”m taking on everyone’s FAVORITE SUBJECTS: Race and gender. It’s a good thing comics never talk about religion or we’d be here all night and day! And if I can predict one thing with dead certainty it’s this: Gene PHillips will show up in the comments.
¶ Ground zero for recent discussions poor, poor DC Senior Story EditorIan Sattler who hit an instant five-way bingo with this classic, when asked at a panel about recent incidents in the DCU that saw minority characters getting bumped off and replaced with whites:
“It’s so hard for me to be on the other side because it’s not our intention. There is a reason behind it all. We don’t see it that way and strive very hard to have a diverse DCU. I mean, we have green, pink, and blue characters. We have the Great Ten out there and I have counter statistics, but I won’t get into that. It’s not how we perceived it. We get the same thing about how we treat our female characters.”
This has been pilloried from dusk til dawn on sites from Racialicious to Scans_Daily. When Fangirls Attack had an epic round-up of reactions which ranged from lulz to flamethrowers. David Brothers at 4th Letters has been reacting to this and the reaction ever since with a series of posts here, here and here. Oh and a special appearance in the Beat comments here.
John Stewart is the only Green Lantern to not show up on any covers. Hal, Kyle, Guy, Alan, all of those guys get covers. Hey, pop quiz! Does the JLA have a Luke Cage? No? Well… name a black supporting character in a DC Comic on the level of a Sam Wilson! Steel? Now name another. Or hey, name one on the level of a Robbie Robertson. Just Lucious Fox? Really? Whatever happened to Ron Troupe? Remember him? Married to Lois Lane’s sister, had a kid with her? Oh, right. Lucy Lane is back and superpowered. Ron and the baby are a footnote and a question mark.
DC Comics isn’t a racist company and it isn’t run by racists. This does not, however, mean that they cannot do and say stupid things that are racist. Killing Ryan Choi is not, in and of itself, racist. Ditching Ron Troupe and marginalizing John Stewart is not racist. Replacing Jason Rusch with a more boring version of Firestorm isn’t racist. These are perfectly valid story choices that, in a better world, would have taken place in stories that were worth reading.
His mentioning of John Stewart is particularly interesting. Stewart is a supporting Lantern, and sometime lead character in the DCU since his debut in…oh look, it’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow!
Given this issue’s proximity to the bludgeon used to pummel Sattler into baby seal meat, and remembering that this came out in a time of post Civil Rights Era readjustment in America, it’s not too hard to guess that Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams created John Stewart to be a Strong Black Character from the git go, in a DC Universe that wasn’t too big on minority supporting characters at the time. Since then (and I’m no Mark Waid, so I’m just going by the Wikipedia page) he’s bounced around in various roles, including a starring run in Mosiac, and is currently doing whatever it is people do during Brightest Day. So kind of on the d-lo for now, even as Green Lantern gears up for a Major Media Push ahead of the movie, starring Ryan Reynolds. Which makes sense, because Green Lantern (Ryan Reynolds) is a white dude, not a black dude, so why confuse people who don’t know the character’s history.
However, John Stewart’s great moment in the sun came during the Justice League Cartoon era (2001-2004), when he WAS Green Lantern.
The line-up of characters on the show was specifically set-up to reflect more diversity than just a bunch of white guys and a green guy. (Heck there are two girls, something unheard of these days.) This cartoon wasn’t really aimed just at kids, despite airing on the Cartoon Network, but I can tell you right now that diversity is Really, Really Important in kids cartoons, because then sociologists and educators and all can say “Look, this cartoon promotes diversity! It is good for the children!” and big corporations like to hear that and feel good about themselves.
Sometimes it doesn’t go well.
Oh sometimes it goes very very bad. I found this in a post by Joe Singleton, which has all kinds of gruesome observations:
The first thing I notice is, they’re all male. Second thing….three out of four of them are bare-legged and the fourth is shirtless. Of course . . . We all know that ethnic minority types wear less clothing than wholesome WASP types, right? Ugh!
Of course, Super Friends had the worst minority characters of all times, but it also had the worst CHARACTERS of all times — if we could only return to this ideal of equality for all, maybe things would go better.
Cut to the present. With all the bad feelings about racial diversity in the DCU flying around — much of it directed at Geoff Johns, rightly or wrongly, Johns has taken to the Source Blog to reveal that all sorts of opportunity for minority characters in the DCU. To make up for all the newly demoted non-white characters, the New Aqualad is in fact, African-American.
Despite having “Aqua” in his name, he also hates to swim and lives in the desert, because that’s what you call CONFLICT.
Now, what I noticed about all this was New Aqualad’s dual purpose origin:
At the same time, as previously announced, the YOUNG JUSTICE cartoon series is just around the corner featuring Robin, Kid Flash, Superboy, Miss Martian, Artemis and the all-new Aqualad who will be appearing very briefly in BRIGHTEST DAY #4, but really comes into his own in BRIGHTEST DAY #10 before hitting the small screen this fall.
That’s right, New Aqualad was created for a KID’S CARTOON.
Here we have the basic Justice League cartoon line-up just trimmed down a bit — there’s super lad, revenge lad, fast lad, mythological lass and black lad, but Green Alien and Alien Lass have been combined into Green Lass.
I have no idea which came first — the cartoon or Brightest Day — but in this case, diversity was good for everyone, including the children. Luckily, new Aqualad isn’t being Black Vulcanized and will appear in actual comic books with dramatic covers by David FInch.
Johns has also been raising excitement online with teasers of a screen test that shows that for hispanic teen Jamie Reyes, aka the new Blue Beetle is also being kicked around for a possible TV treatment:
I feel very fortunate to have been a part of Blue Beetle’s introduction way back in INFINITE CRISIS. I’ve said it before, but thanks to the BLUE BEETLE series launched by Keith Giffen and John Rogers with a great design by Cully Hamner, Jaime Reyes rocks. Great character, great story, great look. He’s already appeared in animation, had action figures and right now he’s on my computer in live-action glory. I have an early special effects test that has been floating around of what his armored scarab-suit could look like. This isn’t final. This isn’t greenlit. It’s only a test that was done. We still have a long way to go to see if we can get this off the ground and a lot of people to jump on board…but check out some stills:
In a previous post Johns talked a bit about all the synergy going on:
Our goals with the DC Entertainment are to not only bring you BATMAN and SUPERMAN, but also introduce new characters in the comics and film, tv and animation simultaneously with our partners at Warner Brothers – in this case, the talented crew who’s heading up the YOUNG JUSTICE animated series, including Greg Weissman (who actually wrote CAPTAIN ATOM back in the day!).
While TV appearances seem to be the impetus for some of the diversification, don’t get your hopes up. Minority characters don’t fare very well on TV either.:
Veteran Producer Suzanne de Passe, a former president of Motown Television, offered up her thoughts on the disparity. Noting that it was not that long ago that the broadcast networks had such shows as “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “The Cosby Show” and “Living Single,” she laid the blame on media consolidation.
“I have witnessed what consolidation of content and distribution in entertainment and media has done to significantly slow down and diminish opportunity for minority professionals rather than accelerate and increase it,” she said. The networks that used to make shows aimed at blacks “now only offer a minority cast member here and there and a long list of contributions to minority charities under the catch-all word, `diversity,’ ” she testified.
That whole link is worth reading for anyone whose been following this topic since it gives some idea of how all this is handled when there is actual money at stake. It also contained this classic correction:
An earlier version of this post said the stars of NBC’s “Undercovers” are African-American. Actually, neither are American. Boris Kodjoe was born in Austria and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is from England.
In a way this correction explains the whole reason we even need diversity. Gugu and Boris. What were you expecting? English people and Austrian people don’t always look like we expect them to look. It’s a surprise element. Keeps us on our toes. Conflict.
This whole thing made me think about Doug Funnie. You know, from Doug, that cartoon that ran back in the 90s. I was editing some Doug comics back in the day and had occasion to meet with the creator, Jim Jinkins, who was a very nice fellow, to explain the show to me. One of the things he’d done on purpose in Doug, he felt, was remove race altogether by making the kids purple, blue, orange…whatever. I remember thinking that the show was really about suburban white kids who happened to be blue, purple, whatever, but it was a nice thought. If there’s one thing Doug wasn’t, it was multicultural.
This blogger agrees, although he’s a bit harder on the show than I am, probably because I worked on the licensing:
However, Doug tried to make a statement. If you look at it, every supporting character around Doug is some wacky shade except, of course, for Doug Funnie, who is a regular white kid. The main character is white in world full of colorful yet ancillary characters. What does that tell our children? It tells them only the white race is deserving of a spotlight. Only the white race is worthy of being the star of the show. All other skin tones must remain in the background. No, only Caucasians are worthy… and hyper intelligent dogs, of course. Also, take a notice of the coupling on Doug. Every parent is coupled with someone of the same color (or very close proximity) and they produce children of the same color. So, in the TV series Doug, races never mix, the colors never blend. With that logic, Doug would never get with Patty simply because they’re not a matching set.
“…we have green, pink, and blue characters.” Maybe the DCU is set in Bluffington and we never noticed before.
Whoa look at the time! I’m looking at the bingo card, and I still haven’t even gotten to the bonus square:
We get the same thing about how we treat our female characters.
Okay, the complaining will have to continue tomorrow.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.