Missing Opportunities by “Diversifying” Characters?

In the last decade, the two main powerhouses in the comic book world have made leaps and bounds in bringing minorities into the forefront of their universes. Or have they? They have taken large strides in creating new and likable characters that can identify with all genders. Or maybe they haven’t? They have broken the mold with characters that all sexual orientations, religions, and backgrounds can get behind. Then again, maybe not. We have been seeing a trend in the world that is demanding diversity, pushing for equality, and educating the masses about alternative backgrounds. Marvel and DC are in a uniquely great position to do just that by creating characters that fans can rally behind and cheer on, positive role models and heroes that all genders, races, and orientations can relate to. But, are they missing the mark? Are their approaches short sighted? Is what they are doing going to make it worse in the long run?

First, what are they doing? Initially, DC introduced John Stewart, a former Marine and black man that was chosen by the Guardians of Oa to become a Green Lantern. Ethnic diversity covered. Then, in 2012, they announced that they would reintroduce the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, would be gay. Alternative lifestyles, golden. However, Marvel was not to be left behind. They’ve made a female Thor, a female Wolverine, and even had a gay wedding after it was legalized in New York.

The question is, how is this helping the problem of diversifying the comics? Does it help? Are the characters genuine attempts? Or are they stop gaps, appeasements to the fans in hopes that it will blow over so they can go back to the way it always has been? In my opinion, and I repeat, only in MY opinion, I believe the latter. I propose this thought. When you think of black super heroes, thoughts always go to secondary characters, do they not? When you think of characters with alternative lifestyles, doesn’t it always seem like an after thought that doesn’t fit with the background of the character?

John Stewart is a great Green Lantern, but when a movie was made, it was about the most successful GL, Hal Jordan. Black Panther has taken ten years to show up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Alan Scott was married . . .twice. The gay wedding in the Marvel Universe involved a hero named Northstar. Do you know who that is? Nobody else does either. When it comes to the female characters, female Thor and Wolverine, what happens to them when fans want the originals back? Does Logan come back? Does the original Thor regain his worth? And if so, the others will most likely fade into the distance, being only a hiccup in the original character’s timeline. They will be just another Jean-Paul Valley. Who is that you ask? That is the guy that was Batman when Bruce Wayne was broken. That is all these women are right now . . .substitutes.

Like it or not, these are not fixes and both houses need to find a new way to fix the problem. Interestingly enough, there is a solution staring right at them, and it is a big, huge, neon sign. Literally, it is huge on a movie screen right now, a solution that is seventy-five years in the making.

Wonder Woman

In 1941, the women’s rights movement had been raging for decades and women still were fighting for equality on all fronts. DC had the foresight to create a woman, a super powered woman that not only held her own, but dominated in a male world. She gave young girls a hero to stand behind, a role model to follow, and a beacon of inspiration to cheer for. Today, she is the most recognizable female superhero on the planet, and still fights today for women’s rights.

With that template, Marvel and DC are both missing the opportunity. Don’t give substitutes, don’t give us a carbon copy hero that is taking over an already assumed identity. When DC announced that the new Wally West was going to be black, it was hoped that it would be a daring move in the stance for diversity. Instead, all it was was the same old Wally, whose lines had been colored in a little darker. These superheroes that have been announced as homosexual, are written that way so nobody can say that the publication is discriminating.

I vote instead, write us a new character. Give us all of your talent, all of your abilities to come up with a character that is black, or gay, or transgendered, or Islamic. Let’s start over with a new character and make them integral to the story lines, make them a priority and build them up. And even more important, make these qualities (race, orientation, religion, etc.) a big part of who they are, what made them them what they are. Give us the struggles that a homosexual girl had to face, show us how she grew from it, got passed it. Show us how growing up an Islamic man in New York brought hatred and fear, and how he forged a life for himself in the face of odds that others can’t understand. Who knows, in twenty years, they could be as big as Wonder Woman, fighting injustice, and taking a stand against racism, hatred, and bigotry.

What do you think? Am I off base? Are the characters good enough? Or do we need new blood? New heroes to cheer for?