The Sunday Salon: Comic Books and the Question of Diversity

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The new Thor

Recently Comic Book Resources Managing Editor Albert Ching made himself a target for the internet trolls, when his only negative comment in a glowing review about the Guardians of the Galaxy movie was, “While it is a little disappointing that a movie with such an eclectic cast still has a handsome white male as its lead, it’s hard to take issue with [Chris] Pratt’s actual performance.” I’m not even certain that it counts as a negative comment, it seems more like a suggestion.

In a follow up post he quoted the winning negative response (which at the time of the post had 45 likes), “Why is that disappointing? Star-Lord is white. It’s that simple. And he’s the only ‘white guy’ on a very diverse team of aliens. So, while I get that CBR feels the need to stroke the mane of the diversity unicorn to appease…someone…that statement seemed completely out of left field.” Apparently another detractor even went as far as to email CBR and request the removal of the review because of “the racism towards white males.”

Ching should have expected some negative feedback, even though the shifting of race and, more recently, sex and gender is not unprecedented in previous adaptions of comic books or even new reboots of comic book characters, like Thor becoming a woman. There seems to be a progressive vein in the comic book industry which has been slowly changing from the white male heteronormative tradition to something more diverse. Sadly, not all comic book fans and/or superhero fans appreciate this shift.

I’m no expert, but it seems to matter because superheroes are more like ideas than characters. In some cases they can represent the notion of hidden potential; underneath the guise of the clumsy bespectacled reporter is a man of steel. Vicariously a comic book reader can feel a kind of strength that he/she doesn’t feel in real life, and it is probably easier to identify with a superhero who looks like you.

This would probably explain all the excitement that surrounded last month’s release of the The Shadow Hero by graphic novel and comic book writer Gene Luen Yang and comic book artist Sonny Liew. I haven’t read it yet, but The Shadow Hero is the story of the first Asian American superhero called The Green Turtle, who, when originally created in the golden age of comic books, defended American allies in China from the invading Japanese army. According to an interview at NPR, the character only survived about five issues, and apparently there may have been issues with the representation of his race.

So the obvious question that jumps to my mind is, why don’t they just create new superheroes that reflect the diverse cross section of comic book readers or potential comic book readers? The answer is that new superheroes have been created, but changing the race or gender of an established superhero from the popular culture pantheon, like in reboots or other media adaptations, would have way more impact.

I don’t think Ching’s criticism of The Guardians of the Galaxy is unreasonable, but equally I don’t think it was a call to arms either. If anything, it could be a great opener to what could be an interesting debate, but that’s just me.

Kwame

Image Credit: BBC

After posting this I realized that there is a great post about diversity and Marvel Now at BookRiot by Jessica Pryde, which you guys can check out if you want to read more on this topic.

 

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One Response to The Sunday Salon: Comic Books and the Question of Diversity

  1. Rachel says:

    I’m not sure I agree with that criticism of Guardians. As far as I was concerned, Peter Quill wasn’t the most interesting character in the movie. He certainly wasn’t the most engaging. And he had just as many faults as the other members of the team did.

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