I loved comics growing up, as any youngster would. I thought the X-Men was the coolest superhero team. I thought Spider-man stories were compelling and enjoyable to read. And I thought that Superman and Batman were a couple of badasses that were the alpha and omega of the comic world.
I also remember a comic book series called Spawn. Long story short, the story centered on a black male military assassin (Al Simmons) for the U.S. government who was killed because he started questioning the authority. He ended up in Hell and became a Hellspawn, an undead anti-hero with a costume that became a part of him, literally. He fought against many street thugs and gangs at the beginning and lived among the homeless in alleyways as their “king” and protector.
I didn’t think too much of the fact that a brotha had to go straight to Hell in order to become a superhero, or in Spawn’s case a super anti-hero. I thought the comic was exciting. I thought the animated series based on the comic was sweet. And I thought the movie, staring Michael Jai White, was very well done.
It was the only superhero comic that featured a black male that I heard about most often, especially in mainstream publications such as Wizard, a magazine about comics and the industry. There was also Storm from the X-Men, but she was overshadowed by the likes of Wolverine. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like the quick-tempered, short Canadian with feral facial hair, self-healing powers and his trademark claws. But, in the animated series, Storm seemed to have been treated better there than in the comics, at least I think so.
I heard about the Black Panther, Cyborg and Steel. But they were always second bananas to heroes like Captain America, Superman, Batman, Iron Man, Thor, the Incredible Hulk and any other white male superhero you can name off the top of your head. They were never in the same spotlight as the aforementioned heroes who still possess the Mainstream throne. Again, I have nothing against that as I like them too, but still, the entertainment industry would sooner produce a series staring a anthropomorphic duck from a different dimension than to make a Black Panther, Midnighter or even a Wonder Woman movie.
Female superheroes were also mostly absent from mainstream success with the possible exception of Wonder Woman who was played brilliantly by Lynda Carter during the 1970’s. Other than that, heroines such as Batgirl, Supergirl, She-Hulk (Notice how these ladies are based on their male counterparts.), Vixen, Rogue, Black Canary, Zatanna, etc. were hardly given any attention at all, again, as opposed to any white male superhero you can name off the top of your head.
One could say that there were movies that featured heroes of color and female heroes like Steel, Supergirl and Elektra, but they didn’t do well in the box office. Thus, the excuse is made that those kinds of movies won’t sell and that it’s best to stick to white males and continue catering to white fanboys. Yet, you had movies like Blade and Spawn that were box office hits.
Sadly, there haven’t been any superhero movies where an LBGT member was the protagonist. And I fear that if there was one, or ever will be one, the wrong people will be in charge of putting together something they really don’t want to do, call it a movie and expect the LBGT people to shut up and be happy.
Even though there are indeed comic books with female heroes, heroes of color and gay heroes, they are always – always given much less attention and admiration from the comic and entertainment industries. Why is that? Because both industries are dominated by straight white males who are coddled by other straight white males to entertain mostly, you guessed it, straight white males. And it is out of choice and not based on financial knowledge, social and historical realities or natural engineering. It is not because those stories sell more as opposed to “other” stories, as some would want you to believe. It is because they adore straight white male heroes, and they want the world to look up to them too, even if it’s done terribly.
Remember the Green Lantern movie starring Ryan Reynolds? There was a huge uproar from fan wondering why GL was white and not black like the animated Justice League’s version which was John Stewart and not Hal Jordan. Still, people gave the movie a chance, much to their deep regret, and the movie bombed at the box office. Maybe that was only one example, but then again, you also had Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, Batman and Robin and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. (See what I mean?) So, straight white male superheroes are not always definite box office wins.
I’m starting to ramble, but there’s a lot that needs to be said about the direction the entertainment-based media is taking when it comes to who is likely to be seen as the hero. Let me bring it on home by citing what a few comic book legends, all white male, said in regards to diversity.
First we have Mark Millar, the Scottish-born, envelope-pushing, writer behind such books as Kick-Ass, Nemesis, and Superman: Red Son. He is particularly known for injecting rape and sexual assaults into his story lines as plot devices. When asked what he thought about it, Millar replies:
“The ultimate (act) that would be the taboo, to show how bad some villain is, was to have somebody being raped, you know? I don’t really think it matters. It’s the same as, like, a decapitation. It’s just a horrible act to show that somebody’s a bad guy.
However, Laura Hudson, former Comics Alliance editor-in-chief and Wired’s senior editor, strongly disagrees:
“There’s one and only one reason that happens, and it’s to piss off the male character,” she stated. “It’s using a trauma you don’t understand in a way whose implications you can’t understand, and then talking about it as though you’re doing the same thing as having someone’s head explode. You’re not. Those two things are not equivalent, and if you don’t understand, you shouldn’t be writing rape scenes.”
Then, we have Todd McFarlane, the man behind the Spawn franchise who doesn’t think superhero comic books are made for female viewership according to how he sees his daughters:
“I’ve got two daughters, and if I wanted to do something that I thought was emboldened to a female, I probably wouldn’t choose superhero comic books to get that message across. I would do it in either a TV show, a movie, a novel, or a book. It wouldn’t be superheroes because I know that’s heavily testosterone – driven, and it’s a certain kind of group of people. That’s not where I would go get this kind of message, so it might not be the right platform for some of this.”
Next we have Gary Conway, known as the co-creator of The Punisher who had this to say about diversity in comic books:
“The comics follow society. They don’t lead society…I think it’s a mistake to sort of, like, pigeonhole superheroes, or to add so much to superheroes that you’re missing the fact it’s a genre within itself. It’s like saying, ‘Why are there no medieval stories about female knights?’ Because there was only one, you know, Joan of Arc. It’s not it’s an inherent limitation of that particular genre, superheroes.”
Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress had this to say in response to the comments put forth by Conway and McFarlane which sums up why they are nothing more than lame-ass excuses:
“The production of superhero comics is not actually a biological function determined by whatever bodies we’re born with. A lack of equality in the nobility’s ranks in the medieval military hasn’t kept Tamora Pierce from writing dozens of fantasy novels involving female knights, because that is a thing that you can do in fiction. If superheroes actually existed, and their ranks were exclusively male, writing fantastical fiction to consider how women might handle that sort of power, and how the world might react to their use of it would be a perfectly legitimate subject for superhero fiction to explore.”
This is all the more reason to create our own stories. As long as this kind of mentality exist in mainstream comic book companies, we can not expect a change of heart anytime soon. And it’s not because those within the offices can’t. It’s because they won’t.