This journey that I have taken as a writer sometimes makes me think about my past. In my high school days I created an entire universe filled with characters. My friend and I created so many super powered heros and villains that the list stretches for pages. Neither of us could draw very well so the focus was very much on the characters themselves. I was very proud to come up with back stories and histories along with story arcs. The name of my favorite hero was Supernova aka Philip Maldonado.
I bring this up because, as I look back at it, there was a need for me to see myself in the super hero genre. Growing up all the comic books I read were of white men saving the neighborhood or the world. If I was lucky enough I would get to see a person of color being drawn or even in costume. In any case, I never thought I was bothered by this. I just collected comic books for the sake of reading about my favorite super heros like Firestorm, Spider-Man, The X-Men, and the Justice League to name a few. Yet with hindsight being 20/20, I realize now that I created an outlet for myself with the understanding that if it was up to me, whatever universe I create would be filled with heros and villains of all colors, genders, and creed.
This brings me to the Big Two (Marvel and DC) and how there is a serious lack of black experience in their characters. This points to the lack of diversity in both companies. I’m quite sure there is a thought that all heros are cut from the same cloth and are some how homogeneous. So someone like Mr. Terrific could act like someone resembling Tony Stark but there is no sense of the baggage the comes from being an African American. It is not ok for Batman to assign the Luke Fox (The new Batwing) to Africa simply because he’s black (the first Batwing was African) without much push back from that character (and laugh about it when it is brought up).
The point is many of these Black/Latino characters are one dimensional because of the lack of diversity from the Big Two. While it can be a good thing for Marvel to have a few books featuring black characters as the lead (The Mighty Avengers, Fearless Defenders), the characters themselves become bland because there is no real depth to them. That lack of depth shows in sales which ultimately leads to the cancellation of books like Mr. Terrific, Static Shock, and Blue Beetle. The only book that has been the exception to all this has been Miles Morales (the Ultimate Spider-Man) and that is because he is getting the complete backing of Marvel to be the hero for that comic line.
When it comes down to it, the Big Two have no idea what do with theses characters besides using them as a market tool. I tend to use DC in these examples because they seem to fail the most in just about everything except animation, which brings me to my other point. Cartoons like Justice League and Young Justice has done very well with a broad audience and for the most part, that has to do with the late Dwayne McDuffie. It was his development of John Stewart and Hawkgirl that really made the show what it was and by extension Young Justice’s diversity is linked to Milestone Comics, which he was one for the founders of, but I will circle back to that.
There is no way for us to expect any less from the Big Two or any other comic book company that follows the exact same formula. Sure you can create a Black super hero but then what? Do you de-power them or never use them to their full potential? I love how Cyborg has the potential to like Brainiac but will never get there because that would make him a little too powerful. Or we can talk about how DC has a virtual pantheon of characters from their “deal” with Milestone that they are willing to use for a cartoon to draw us in but never use them in the books. That is why it becomes imperative to join a new movement of independent titles created by people of color.
Generally when I think about black comic books, my thoughts revert to Milestone and how those individuals lived the dream of doing it themselves. Their success is a reflection that there is an audience for this but we need to be prepared to support each other. That is why for this month I have invited some independent comic book creators to appear on this blog and talk about their work. It is time show everyone that there are alternatives to the mainstream comics books out there. We deserve better.
One thought on “The (lack of) Black Experience in Comic Books”
Great post! I grew up a big comic book fan as a kid. My uncle used to collect them and ended up giving me his collection. I have over 2,500 comic books stored away in storage. As a kid I liked X Men,Spider Man,JLA,Superman,Batman and Flash. But of course I was a big Black Panther fan! I have hundreds of Panther comics. I bought some of the Milestone comics as well. But I definitely agree with this post. There are quite a few black artists out there doing their thing. They just have try a little harder to get the same attention that other mainstream artists. Have you heard of Chris Miller? He’s a very talented brother. Here’s the link to his site. I think you might like it.