The Crisis of Comic Book Nerds

tumblr_nabpamQG2B1rsex6lo1_1280It must be hard to be a nerd these days. Look what’s happening in the not real world! Captain America is now Black, Thor is now a woman, Wally West is Black (one of the many version of the Flash), there are two Black Supermen flying around, a  Muslim Green Lantern, and the crux of this whole thing is that damn Miles Morales, the Ultimate Spider-Man. Who said it was OK to have all this diversity in comic books?

Wait. Let me fix the first sentence. It must be hard to be a white nerd these days.

The socially awkward have a problem with the broad brush stroke of diversity that also includes feminism. These are big words that get thrown around in the comic book worlds because (surprise, surprise!) current comic book audience includes women and men of all races. So it would only make sense that Marvel and DC would make books (or at least characters) to address their changing readership.

Before I even go any further. I need to point out that I’m not addressing how well or poorly these companies actually represent people of color. I’m not going to address how horribly these companies portray women in their porn like renditions of variant covers or how they contribute to overall debate on standards of beauty when in reality most these fans boys just want to fantasize and masturbate to some form of super heroine.

Justice-League-of-America-Vol.-1-200-1982This is more about the nerds who are used to the norm. They are used to the role playing games in which they imagine a world of trolls and elves in which everyone is white (thank you Peter Jackson for the reinforcement). Do you know how hard it is to find a picture of a Black woman, Ranger class? If it exists then I wouldn’t know about it. These fan boys are used to a world where the the only diverse version of the Justice League of America is when Martian Manhunter was on the team.

So why are they up in arms? Their world is crashing in around them. The “minorities” are taking over their space. They are used to the one Black friend. Do you know what I’m talking about? Let me list the one Black friend in comics and beyond: James Rhodes (Iron Man), The Falcon (Captain America), Lando Calrissian (Star Wars), Cyborg (Teen Titans/Justice League), and John Stewart (Justice League/Green Lantern). Those just from the top of my head. Please notice that Cyborg and John Stewart are rarely on the same team at the same time.

comics-the-multiversity-1But now, we have books like Multiversity that depicts worlds of black superheros (I will not mention the plethora of independent books that have entire worlds dedicated black superheros…or maybe I will) and we have Marvel that is pushing the envelope in their cinematic universe as well as comic books. People are losing their minds in comment sections all over the internet that is reserved for them. Donald Glover is the voice of Miles Morales in the 3rd season of Ultimate Spider-Man. Just one episode and the fans boys have lost their 20 sided dice.

Why is this important to them? It is that impossible to see a diverse face in a comic? Neither comic book company has really scratched the surface. Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans are barely represented. Women are still portrayed with huge boobs and impossible outfits to fight crime. But you dare put pants on Wonder Woman? You dare make Green Lantern gay? You have the nerve to have Michael B Jordan play the Human Torch? You’ve just ruined comics forever.

I call it progress. Although real progress has already occurred.

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Title image by John Jennings

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The (lack of) Black Experience in Comic Books

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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 luke-fox-asks-if-hes-batwing-because-hes-blackexperience 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.

1298402248When 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.