Sunday, 10 July 2011

On Gender & Race In "Fear Itself" # 4 & "Flashpoint" # 3 :- "Don't Say That's Just For White Boys."

      
1.

I can’t help myself and I don’t think that I want to. I adore the great company-wide crossovers. Yes, it can’t be denied that most of the never-ending procession of such “events” since the laughable “Secret Wars II” of almost 30 years ago have been woeful, but then most of everything’s woeful, and the more impossible the task, the greater the degree of woefulness. Yet even when a crossover collapses under the weight of its poor design and the inadequate craftsmanship of those executing it, there’s still a great deal that’s fascinating and informing about the whole process.

Beyond the essential business of whether a crossover’s comics are entertaining or not, what’s perhaps most enthralling is the matter of what the publishers involved are saying about themselves. For all that investment of time and money and effort that’s pumped into each event constitutes, of course, a statement of what a company, and indeed a corporation, thinks of itself, its product and its consumers. The grand line-wide crossover event is the closest to a detailed and tellingly revealing manifesto that a reader can ever get their grubby little consumer’s paws upon. The likes of “Fear Itself” and “Flashpoint” don’t just tell us what kind of story and storytelling the Big Two think will most appeal to their readers. They also allow us to see what kind of audience the Big Two are thinking of when they frame their grand commercial designs for the coming season, and, of course, they let us know what kind of ethical agenda Marvel and DC Comics are concerned to promote in their books. With the huge capital and creative investment that’s put to work in these events comes a statement of intent: this is the form and content of comic book which we think sells, this is the audience that we’re trying to sell to, and these are the moral principles which our product is designed to reflect.

           
2.

One of the most puzzling and confounding aspects of Marvel’s “Fear Itself” # 4 concerns the social representations which don’t appear in anything other than the most cursory fashion on its pages. In this, I think it’s safe to finally say that no-one at Marvel has remembered to care a whit about the fact that their audience does include groups other than white males. Similarly, the corporation has clearly succeeded in ignoring any responsibility to shape "Fear Itself" # 4 in a way that promotes anything other than a picture of America which would have been mostly comfortable to a died-in-the-wool social conservative of 40 and more years ago. In short, the evidence of this book, designed as it is to be read by pretty much everyone buying into the Marvel brand this month, shouts that it’s produced by folks who simply aren’t thinking too much about anything beyond those very big explosions and those costume money-shots and those Marvel-mythos moments.

Given how much ruckus there always is on the net whenever anyone raises the question of social justice and the Big Two’s products, it might be useful here to simply fall back on a few telling statistics. Yes, Dilke was right to remind us that there are indeed lies, damn lies, and statistics. But there’s also at least the grounds for a debate to be found in the fact that the few women who appear in “Fear Itself” # 4 have been given but 7.5% of the approximately 1134 words to be found in the story's speech balloons and quote-carrying narrative captions. Now, I may well have slightly mis-counted those words. In fact, I’d say there’s a chance that I’m maybe 10 or 20 of them out one way or another. (Are “Hah.” or “Aaaaaaaaa -- !” words or sound effects? In the end, I decided to count anything that comes out of a character’s 

      
mouth as speech.) But I don't think that my counting's so poor that I've obscured any truths with that figure of 7.5%. Or, to put it another way, of the 1134 words “spoken” in “Worlds On Fire”, only 87 are attributed to women. In addition to that, it’s worth saying that women are only shown speaking in 6 panels out of a total of 93, with Sin having a “voice-over” of four words in one other frame. So, not only don’t women get much to say, but they don’t get much space to say it in either, being given but 6.5% of the book’s panel-time to talk in. Of those panels, only 2 contain nothing but women, or should I say, a woman, namely Sin, who admitedly few but a fan would recognise in those shots as being female in any way at all. Put simply, only 2% of the panels in this book don’t feature men but do star women, and those aren’t very big or important panels at all. In terms of the 22 pages of story in “Fear Itself” # 4, only a fraction more than a single page, or 5% of the total,  is given over to scenes with women speaking.

Further evidence that no-one at the ranch was paying any attention to social justice, or, as we call round it here, “good manners”, can be found in what the only three women in this book with speaking roles are actually doing and saying in their brief appearances. Sin, being thoroughly bad, is plotting to kill Captain America; no-one could label her's as being a traditional feminine role, given that she’s been powered up into a great Hulk-like, hammer-swinging super-prize fighter. The Black Widow, however, is portrayed as a distraught and bitter woman driven by the loss of her lover Bucky Barnes to berate Nick Fury and Tony Stark for

             
their lack of foresight and planning where the current crisis is concerned. In that, she’s the only irrational, emotional individual on show in the whole of “Worlds On Fire”. More wearisome than that, she's then shown hugging Nick Fury in despair before, yes, bursting into tears, sheltered in his comforting arms. As impossible as it is to believe in 2011, the Widow’s function here is to hiss, break and weep under the trauma of the loss of her man. In terms of her character's situation, it's a perfectly justifiable act. In terms of the comic's overall portrayal of woman, it's a regrettable stereotype, and I for one would've been far more interested to see old Nick Fury shed a tear over the loss of one more comrade from the war while a brave Natasha comforted him.

Finally, where a woman’s lot is concerned here in "Fear Itself" # 4, there are 2 tiny panels given over to a cameo from an unnamed and strangely decidedly beautiful female SHIELD operative, who’s given but the following 7 words: “Commander! You’re gonna want to see this.” Her job, it seems, given the absence of anything but men speaking elsewhere in the narrative, is to play the key role of the woman who brings Nick Fury not the essential plot-furthering information that he'll need, but the warning that such information, whatever it is, is available. A cynic might suggest that using a woman to do this and showing her frowning with concern as she does so is a deliberate ploy to make the heroic men in this tale appear stronger and more able in the face of world-breaking jeopardy. But I’d find it impossible to believe that anyone involved even noticed the matter of the role of women in this comic at all, let alone calculated the way in which such traditional representations could b put to use.

           
3.

Yet, if the representation of women in this comic is every bit the opposite to heartening, then the position of people of colour in “Fear Itself” # 4 is nothing short of astonishing. For there’s but one speaking role for a non-white character in the whole book, and that involves a single panel and just 6 words. (*1) The speaking role, unsurprisingly, is given to Luke Cage, and his on-panel time consists of his responding to Captain America’s question “What’d I miss, Avengers?”with a pithy “End of the world. Samo-samo.”

And that’s that. No, I’m not making this up. In the whole comic, people of colour don’t even appear as background characters beyond two individual panels where (1) they’re shown as both victims and perpetrators in the civil disturbance of a supermarket looting in Illinois, and (2) as a group of 5 Chinese children clustered in the snow being saved from freezing by that nice Iron 

      
Fist. Luke Cage, representing as he is the entire population of people of colour in the MU, is given 1 panel of speaking time – or 1% of panels and 1.5% of page-space – to utter 6 words – or 0.5% of the speaking done by comic’s cast. And, more insensitively yet, in the one insignificant panel that he is presented in, Luke Cage is seen as occupying a distinctly junior position in the super-heroic ranking system of the MU to Captain America, the clearly superior superhero. Cage is, in this particular narrative, a foot-soldier who's reporting back to his boss, who's been doing his best with the worst of things, but who can now let the really big gun take control and put things right.

If there'd been more people of colour in "Worlds On Fire", or if Luke Cage had had more of a substantial role to play, then the above interpretation couldn't possibly have been offered even for the sake of argument. But when a story is composed of quite literally 98.5% of space featuring white heroes and nought else, then what's left carries a meaning which it was obviously never intended to, namely that the one Black guy is relying on the White guy to take charge and save him. It's not what was intended, but in the context of this story told in this way, that's how it reads, and that's why folks have to take more care with what they might be seen to be arguing. Whatever else Luke Cage is in the MU as a whole, and nobody could argue that he's anyone's doormat there, in this particular narrative, here he's been reduced to a token of the superiority of Marvel's line-leading white superheroes. If we'd been shown just one other hero who isn't white and who is in a position of some authority, or had Cage been shown to be more than Cap's question-answering battlefield sidekick, then the role of any person of colour in the story would stand for nothing other than the behaviour of an individual character. But it can't be read solely that way if Cage is the only one from outside the white boy's club that we ever see, and then but briefly. And given that "Fear Itself" is a book which, we must presume, Marvel wants to use to entice casual readers into buying more of their comics, then it's an unfortunate way of presenting the MU's status quo where race and ethnicity are concerned, let alone gender. After all, Marvel must want to, and intend to, speak and sell to a greater number of non-white males than it currently does, mustn't it, just as DC surely must too.

Nobody, I think it’s safe to say, cared enough about such things to notice that if you’re not saying something substantially inclusive and positive about the folks who aren’t male and white in your story, then you’re saying something else entirely, something which no-one at Marvel would ever want to be associated with.

         
4.

Women received just 7.5% of the wordage in “Fear Itself” # 4, but that's a third more of the total percentage of speech given to the female characters in the third issue of “Flashpoint”, where just two non-male figures receive but 5% of the comic's speaking time. Of 1817 or so words allocated to the folks appearing in chapter 3 of DC’s summer event book, just 113 are given to women, who are lent but 7 out of the story’s 134 panels  to express themselves in. (That means that women speak for just 5% of “Flashpoint” # 3’s panels, and those frames occupy approximately 4% of the page-space of this issue.) Shocking to think that DC could actually exceed Marvel's disinterest in representing women here, but I promise you that, given or taken a few miscounted words, those facts are pretty much what’s on the page.

Equally telling are the roles given to the two female speaking roles here. One is that of Barry Allen’s mother, given 24 words and 1 panel to exhort him to try to get romantically involved with “that nice girl in your lab” while serving him mountains of breakfast. More daring is the part given to Lois Lane, where she’s shown as a spy fleeing from Wonder Woman’s forces in the ruins of London and transmitting vital data back to America. There’s no doubt that

   
she’s portrayed as brave and resourceful, but she’s also locked into the traditional role of damsel in distress, running for her life while reporting to her male superior and requiring a male-led super-team to rescue her. There’s something distinctly ultra-traditional and unpleasant about her first encounter with the “Resistance” led by the hyper-macho Grifter, with his deeply-worrying whole-face mask and his exceptionally big and unavoidably phallic gun. His team does contain two female members, but they’re silent in the scene where a terrified, collapsed Lois is shown cowering and flat on her back while face-to-face with her rescuers, and in particular Grifter's great projecting gun. In comparison to “Fear Itself” # 3, it’s barely a more progressive document, though Lois is shown to be considerably more pro-active and daring than any of the women on the side of order are allowed to be in “Worlds On Fire".  Yet, if DC does slightly edge ahead of Marvel in terms of female representations in these particular summer crossover issues, it’s really not by much at all, and neither showing is anything other than shoddy when it comes to representing 51% of the human race, or, it might be added, 51% of the potential market for superhero comic books.

         
5.

Finally, DC does win a measure of praise for the portrayal of Cyborg in “Flashpoint” # 3. He’s the third most important character in the whole chapter, carrying 15% of the dialogue, or 266 words out of 1813, and he speaks in 14% of the book’s 134 panels. More than that, he’s constantly portrayed as powerful, ethical, sympathetic and politically important. In the Flashpoint time-line, he is America’s most respected and powerful superhero, a confident of the President himself.

But there’s two problems which compromise what on the surface is a laudable intent towards diversity in this tale. The first is that Cyborg is the only person of colour in the whole comic. There’s not a single other non-white face in the book if we discount the appearance of a few stray superhuman aliens. As such, Cyborg inevitably becomes not just a character in his own right, but a statement about people of colour and their place in the DCU as a whole. (There’s not even, for example, a single non-white face in all of the soldiers of the Superman Project in the book’s climatic sequence.) Mixed with the problem of Cyborg being positioned not just as an individual but as a statement as regards race and ethnicity is the role he’s given in "Flashpoint" # 3, for it’s a far more compromised one than it at first it appears. This is not to say that anyone has been anything other than fair-minded in how they’ve put the character to use, but, as is typical, the staff at

    
DC haven’t truly thought through what their text is apparently saying. And so, it’s notable that the Flashpoint time-line is one which is presented as being wrong, as a debased and corrupted shadow of the "real" continuity, which is constantly referred as standing for the way things ought to be. Cyborg is therefore the greatest hero of a malformed and inadequate DCU, where the greatest heroes have been taken out of the timeline by the Reverse-Flash. As a result, Cyborg is the superhero who’s the best of what’s left when all the really significant white folks have been removed from the equation. As a consequence, it's his role is to support the white men who are trying to return the DCU to a state where he'll no longer be the greatest of the heroic classes, because his betters will have returned to rightfully displace him. This doesn’t diminish the valour and dignity which has been ascribed to Cyborg, but it does place the character in an invidious position in this chapter. Because everything we see declares that he’s simply not good enough, and that he’s in truth failing to save the Flashpoint DCU from itself. At every point, the narrative screams that Cyborg is a good egg, but he isn’t the superior Superman, and if we’re to read Vic Stone's role and status as a positive gesture towards social justice in this comic, then we’ve also got to notice that once again the hero of colour is reduced to serving as Tonto did. Cyborg’s narrative role is to be a noble inadequate, and to prove himself a splendid chap who's at best John the Baptist to Kal-El’s savior. In that, it's telling that it's Cyborg who's placed at the back of the three protagonists portrayed on the cover of "Flashpoint" # 3. He's the also-ran that held the line when the stars of the team were injured, and no matter how well he acquits himself, and no matter how prominent his JLA membership role will be in September, he can only ever be the second-division superhero who fought hard to keep the absent Superman's seat warm.

         
And, sadly, that is how the events of this issue play themselves out. The tale opens with the American President declaring that Cyborg’s attempts to pre-empt a war by raising a superhuman paramilitary force have failed, causing the leader of the greatly diminished free world to inform Stone that he's been “... relieved from duty.” (The DCU's Superman would, of course, been followed into Apokolips and back, and his presence hangs over Cyborg's failings like that of an inadequate if hardworking son's brilliant and world-famous father.) As if that's not enough where Cyborg's underachievement is concerned, he's then manipulated by the Thomas Wayne Batman into helping the Flash and he break into "Project Superman", which merely caps Victor Stone's role as a well-meaning but second division superhero. As if the narrative itself can't bear to pretend that he's of any great importance once Superman's cell has been broken into, Cyborg then gradually disappears from the tale as both a speaking role and lead player. What's left of the Flashpoint Earth's greatest hero dissolves into a sidekick of Batman and Flash, the third most important superhero in an ad-hoc superhero team of three. It's a change in his status that leaves Cyborg with little but 7 words to utter in the 8 pages following the discovery of Kal-El's underground prison cell, and it results in him becoming nothing more than a silent tank there to do little but wordlessly protect his supposed compatriots, who never do care to tell him the secrets of the Flashpoint time-line.

And so, where the matter of representations of race is concerned here, it's two steps forward, but at least one-and-a-half steps back, for DC. For there is a Black superhero supposedly at the heart of events in "Flashpoint" # 3, but he's really just a shadow of a far more important, far more iconic, character, and this story can only end by the real hero returning to re-take his crown as the character who most everyone else is second-best to.

       
6.

I suspect that we’re all good folks, creators and publishers, fans and editors, and that we’ve all got exceptionally good intentions. But what counts isn’t what we believe, but what we do. And in both these comics, in both “Fear Itself” # 4 and “Flashpoint” # 3, the message is as clear as it was surely entirely unintended. Women and people of colour can be noble and self-sacrificing and profoundly useful, but they don’t count like those heroic white men do.

But of course people of colour and women do count every bit as much, and they should be seen to do so too.


       
.

92 comments:

  1. Hi Colin: Perhaps you'll get the usual amount - one almost wants to say "the usual quota" - of whining about this, but I'm glad you're doing this, and in particular I appreciate your observations about the role of Cyborg.

    One related gripe: Much as I love Greg Pak's and Fred Van Lente's work on Incredible Herc/Hulk, and I enjoy the character of Amadeus Cho, it always bugged me when Cho was described as "the seventh smartest man in the world." Is intelligence ranked separately by gender, like the Olympics?

    Even if we're using "man" in the sense of "person" or "human being," which is a bit retro, most attempts at ranking Marvel Universe brainiacs tend to be heavy on dudes like Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, the Mad Thinker, Doctor Doom, etc. I wonder who would be the seven smartest *women*? (That's maybe less of an issue for DC, which doesn't seem to fetishize intelligence as much.)

    Thanks, and keep up the good work! -- Mark

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello Mark:- thanks for your kind words. Perhaps the kind of folks who get all shirty about these matters will just not bother this time? I can't see I'm worth it, and perhaps they'll agree and find someone to rant at and about :)

    I so agree with you about the ranking of intelligences. Having struggled to half-master many different theories and many different IQ tests in order to teach it all, I have to say it's all so silly. IQ isn't fixed, it isn't a single quality, it doesn't just refer to 'science', and you can't rank it in absolute terms. Yet by doing so and linking that to the status of certain characters, the companies DO end up with the white guys at the top of the scale. DC, for example, have been seeling Mr Terrific for the reboot as something like "The World's Third Smartest Man". I ask you, who would buy a book for the world's bronze medal in IQ? When that's linked to Mr Terrific as a major Black American hero, it just becomes daft as well as insulting. It's not intended to be. I can see how it connects to those old Lee/Ditko/Kirby pages showing how heroes compare to each other in strength and agility. But it's silly.

    And yes, why aren't women shown to be as smart? I love the idea of seperate scales for women. That would show up either how silly the rankings are or how lacking the company's are in terms of equal representations.

    It's grand to cross paths again. I hope the world is being as kind as it might, and if it isn't, then I hope it soon will be :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ha! That's great; the Flashpoint universe is so fucked that CYBORG is its greatest hero! Which of course, uh, proves why he belongs on a "big 7" Justice League the very next month...

    I suppose Johns and Lee felt that they "had to" have a black guy on their team, but of course Johns couldn't possibly have John Stewart, despite JLU, so instead we get Cyborg. Perhaps, indeed, his obvious lack of stature relative to the "icons" (his name for one is so generic. Cyborg? Which cyborg exactly, there are so many?) is probably reassuring to them and their main fans, while someone like John is more of a threat and less of a "one of these things does not belong."

    Oh, and Jonathan Hickman recently stated he didn't feel comfortable writing black characters due to his ignorance about black people, as he didn't want it to come off as "fake" or something. So I guess when he writes the next megacrossover, you won't even see Luke around at all! Something to look forward to.

    In terms of intelligence ranking, Colin, DC is clearly acting out of environmental concerns. After all, consider the flack you get, and then think of the forests that would be killed if DC dared to suggest Mr. Terrific was the smartest man in the DCU and therefore, GASP, smarter than Batman!! This of course explains why DC's "smart black guy" ranks higher than Marvel's "smart Asian guy"* (whereas you'd expect the opposite, considering how many stereotypes are dutifully followed in both universe); Marvel has more "smart" characters with seniority in their universe, and seniority of course comes along with whiteness. It does make you wonder if Cho has some shot at moving up the ladder as he gets older; luckily for those white dudes, he (or they) never will.

    As for women, it does seem like most women superheroes are more known for raw power. Of course there's Oracle, but who knows if she'll still have the same mental qualities in a few months. Okay, now my brain is hurting.

    *In case you were unaware that "Asian" connotes East Asian in our country whereas it usually connotes South Asian in yours? Obviously all the terms we use for race are sloppy and ridiculous, from an "objective" viewpoint.

    (Who is the second smartest man in the DCU, anyway? I randomly googled a message board and they are suggesting Luthor. I should probably stop before it's too late, though.)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello Carl:- yes, poor Cyborg, king of the heap only when it really is a heap! Somebody didn't think that through, did they, or perhaps we're all being set up for a "didn't-see-that-coming" moment.

    I find that hard to believe about Mr Hickman. By which I don't mean that I don't believe you, Carl. Of course I do. But, what is research there for as a concept, and what about actually meeting some folks as Paul Cornell did when he wanted to write a Moslem superhero for Cpt Britain and MI-13? No, that all sounds very strange.

    I love, both playfully and in terms of fanboy thinking, the whole idea of promotion and relegation from the various leagues of superhero IQ. How might Brainaic 5 do, for example, if he travels back in time. Does everyone get bounced down a place? And if Modok gets a seriously good upgrade, does he get some kind of face-off with Stark, for example, to decide who's the baddest?

    If the folks involved knew what clearly Ms Simone and a few others do, they'd know that emotional intelligence as well as qualities of improvisation and strategic thinking as highly prized. Because 'intelligence' means 'the ability to build ray guns or growing serums', the many contributions that different kinds of intelligence can play get obscured. Which isn't to say that Oracle isn't ferociously bright in a traditional sense too. Just that her qualities are far too complex for the one table ..

    Second smartest man in the DCU? Well, let's start with Gardner's theory of multiple intelligence and the 8 basic intelligences he argues for. We'd need to measure everyone - somehow - in all 8, control for their relative value relative to their superhero tasks and then .... and then I'd lose the will to live too .... :)

    Grand to hear from you, Carl. I hope all is well for you on this evening.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ejaz Farooqui11 July 2011 00:44

    Hi Colin,

    After reading this post a number of things occurred to me.

    It really is disappointing to see all white crowd scenes in Fear Itself considering Marvel's (arguably) excellent history of fighting racism and early inclusion of minorities. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby specifically included not just black supporting characters and superheroes, but black people in the crowd scenes which I think is just as important. This is without even getting into 'Sgt Fury and the Howling Commandos' which really lays out Stan's (and presumably Jack's) strong antipathy to racism and desire towards inclusion for all. (I read somewhere that Stan secretly thought of one of the Howlers as gay, but given his notorious memory who knows)

    When I saw the Thor film (which I really enjoyed) I noticed a similar thing. In crowd scenes in Asgard there were only white people. This makes the fact that Heimdall is black with no explanation very strange to me. Either there is a multitude of races that make up Asgardians or Heimdall is just a token black guy, both for us and Asgard. Which in a way (perhaps only in my twisted mind) validates the racists criticism of making the character black. Namely that it had no point other than as a sop to liberals who feel guilty that there are no faces other than white. (I don't include Hogun since he was clearly a feature of the CGI background)

    As a final note, I was wondering if Sin can even be counted as female considering she's possesed by and powered up by a male. (earlier the Serpent refered to Sin as son)

    Cheers, this was a really great post.

    ReplyDelete
  6. What a great... and disturbing, synopsis of the roles of women and people of color in the two big comic events this year. (I shudder to even wonder about what this means for women of color). It nicely justifies my rationale for ignoring both Marvel and DC's big crossover events this year, and sticking with such titles as Birds of Prey, X-Factor, Legion of Superheroes, Secret Six and others that feature women, and in some cases people of color much more prominently.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Luke Cage might only get 6 words but I don't understand a third of them. I Googled "Samo-Samo" and looked it up on the Urban Dictionary - is it a reference to Santa Monica High School (perhaps where the action is set)? Is it a reference to Sammo Hung martial artist extraordinaire? I'm going with that last one personally, but I must assume it means "Same Old Shit" which seems a little naughty for Marvel, so perhaps it is just an abbreviation of the term the kids use "same old, same old."

    "As for women, it does seem like most women superheroes are more known for raw power. Of course there's Oracle, but who knows if she'll still have the same mental qualities in a few months. Okay, now my brain is hurting."

    This does highlight a fundamental issue doesn't it? Try and rank the top ten smartest women in the Marvel and DC Universe...

    Marvel: Sage and...

    DC: Oracle and...

    I'm sure with a bit of time and effort we could come up with 5 each but it is clear female characters are rarely discussed in terms of intelligence.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Ejaz:- thanks for your generous words. They're really appreciated.

    You make a good point about Marvel's record as regards people of colour. And in many ways Marvel has been a progressive and laudable force. The degree of that at different times would be - has been! - a debate which I doubt anyone would ever close where everyone's opinions are concerned! And yet I always associated with Marvel while growing up in the Seventies, for example, a commitment to social justice which I saw little of in much else of the mass media I was exposed to. The Black Panther, Mantis, Storm, Shang Chi, Luke Cage; these were characters which I'm sure did a considerable amount of good, no matter how problematical they can be seen to be. There was a sense that difference was very much on the agenda then which I don't always recognise now. That's not to say that there aren't great books, great characters, great stories dealing with race and ethnicity; but it is to say that there are significant areas of today's books where the whole matter doesn't seem to be regarded with any urgency. Certainly no one producing Fear Itself # 4 seems to have been thinking about these representations.

    I'm waiting for the DVD of Thor - I know, I'm the only one - but I think you're quite right to point out that one character of colour will be read as tokenism, no matter how well-intentioned. That there should ever have been a debate about Heimdall in 2011 quite baffles me. This used to be the future, didn't it?

    I wondered about Sin too. But I wanted to be as absolutely fair to Marvel as possible and so any doubts there went the way of the benefit of the doubt. I've found when these topics get discussed, the detail of them can sometimes obscure the broad arguments. So, because I wanted to a fair to a company and its creators whose work I've so enjoyed, and to avoid "You've left out a woman" quibbles from folks who didn't actually want to talk about race and gender, I added Sin to the tally. And she is an interesting female character in how she mixes different gender characteristics. (I'm struggling to remember female characters who've killed male ones in hand to hand combat.)

    I shall be thinking of your words when Thor appears on my TV screen, Ejaz. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Hello Michael: - thank you for emphasising the fact that there ARE books from the Big Two which have, to a greater or a lesser degree, a far more engaged and heartening attitude to difference and the common humanity which underlines it. I think I ought to have signed that up more in the piece and I'm grateful that you've made the point here.

    Thanks also for your kind words. I hope the day goes well with you.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hello Emperor:- though it won't look like to any of the adepts should they by chance pop over, I was trying to be as absolutely fair in the above, and in doing so, I decided not to add a mention of the fact that Cage appears to be the only one using slang in the whole book. Again, of COURSE he would as a character, but do we need another person of colour as our voice of the street guest visitor? In the end, because I too struggled to nail down his words as slang of any sort at all, I thought I'd let the other evidence carry the argument. But I shared - and share - your "Wha? Huh?" moment!

    Yes, the women and intelligence argument is both enlightening - THANKS MARK - and worrying - WHY DIDN'T THAT SCREAM OUT AT ME? Mark's point has shamed me by providing a context for thought that shows how such was absent in my wooly head before.

    Which is why this blog remains a good thing for me, and why, as always, I appreciate you making me think :)

    I guess I should've called this blog, as I've said before; "And another thing I was wrong about ..."

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Colin: I'm just glad I've been able to give us all another nerdy conundrum to gnaw upon! The plight of the female egghead in the superhero comic could perhaps stand a bit more scrutiny.

    That said, I think we may have more candidates for our "smartest women" category than one would suspect. At Marvel, we have mutant experts Moira MacTaggert and Kavita Rao; at DC, there's Veronica Cale and Poison Ivy, although the latter seems to be one of those comic-book geniuses who only ever invents one thing.

    As for female characters who've killed male ones in hand combat, the first case that pops into my mind is from the old-school Legion of Superheroes: Queen Projectra vs. Nemesis Kid! Now those were the days.

    All the best, and excelsior to you!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I've not supported every argument that's ever been made under the auspices of 'social justice', but my sympathy for the broad point you're making here is summed up by your reference to 'social justice, or, as we call round it here, "good manners"'. Likewise, I'm not a fan of most conceptions of intelligence - whether traditional, emotional or multiple. But the fact that when you think of the MU and DCU's biggest brainboxes, the list consists mostly of white blokes - yeah, I can see the problem with that.

    There are lots of thorny issues you get into when you tackle these problems. For example, the difference between REPRESENTING and REFLECTING society and its constituent groups, and the question of whether what you're depicting is documentary (what is) or aspirational (what ought to be), not that the two approaches have to be mutually exclusive. Also, between getting it 'wrong' and getting it 'right' is a fraught area that others above have alluded to - tokenism backfiring, the fact that it's as offensive never to have an ethnic minority villain as it is always to have an ethnic minority villain, etc etc.

    The only way to tackle these things is to jump in at the deep end, maintain a healthy dialogue with your readership (respecting their opinion but daring to disagree with it on occasion as well), and use good faith to mitigate the fact that you'll inevitably come unstuck at times. Going by the evidence you've presented here, I don't see much of that going on at the big two. Either they're scared to go near these questions, or they just don't care. (The former, while not good, would be slightly more forgiveable.)

    Alex S

    ReplyDelete
  13. Hah!!!

    Here's the Marvel portrayals of intelligent women, as they occur to me, an old fan who's been quite occupied for much of the past two decades, c' est la vie.

    Among villains, you have Moonstone, introduced as a psychiatrist.

    It takes objective intelligence (and occasionally a canny knack for psychology) to become an attorney, as Jennifer "She-Hulk" Walters did.

    Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel) had to be well above average intelligence, as a special forces officer and journalist.

    Sue Storm, in the Ultimate Universe, was a scientist. Come to think of it, Kitty Pryde's an electronics genius.

    There's a handful of supporting characters---women in lab coats were plentiful in the seventies and eighties comics---like Maya Yinsen in Iron Man and Carli in Amazing Spider-Man, not to mention Moira MacTaggart in X-Men---who are valued for their minds. The qualities of leadership in Wasp and Storm as I knew them were signs of intelligence, and Storm developed a kind of gutsy no-win decision making role in her time, especially.

    I don't want comics artificially constructed for politically correctness alone, but there's absolutely no reason great stories according importance to women and people of color (aren't we all?) can't develop. They have all the elements necessary for great drama, too.

    Passing your argument along to IMWAN forum. Peace, Colin!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi Colin, great article. As with your last Flashpoint article I commented on, I do wonder if DC is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. The bulk of superheroes, at least among DC's stable, were created between the forties and the sixties. The early sixties, not the radical and open-minded late sixties, mind you. The result is a cast whiter than... well, something that is white. Being entirely honest, in those early days, there were few major characters of other ethnicities, save when the ethnicity was a "quirk" of itself. Consider the amount of heroes from the sixties and seventies who adopted "black" as part of their codename.

    And, of course, comic book characters are stuck in a rut. Creators like characters they grew up with, and fans have proven time and time again that they'll refuse to buy "minority" books (unless you consider Dick Grayson's seldom-mentioned Roma heritage as an example of fans flocking to a minority). I don't think fans are turned off by the fact the hero is of a different race, but because it isn't the hero they grew up with. it just so happens, for historical reasons, the hero they grew up with was white.

    The key poitn is the sad fact that the only way to get a character promoted to the "big leagues" as Cyborg is here, is to make them the centre of some giant event and then push them front and centre coming out of it. I'd love to think that editorial could just rectify the situation by... you know, simply pushing a deserving character front and centre, but you'd get all manner of offensive "WTF? Cyborg?" responses from fandom. It's very sad that a retcon is a better way to change a fictional universe, in its creepy Orwellian "we were always at war with Eurasia" sort of way, than honest-to-goodness progression.

    So Cyborg needs to be front-and-centre of this event and the supposed re-write of history (in much the same way the Wildstorm characters are), because it feeds into the sense of continuity. Even if the "wrong" Cyborg is a leader, that seems to be (sadly) treated as more concrete character development than the "right" Cyborg actually growing into the role.

    ReplyDelete
  15. It's sad that the only way to incorporate minorities (and still not nearly enough, it must be said) is to re-write the fictional universe (like this reboot, or the Ultimates, or the movies) instead of developing and expanding it. Hm. I think there might be a post there. Or something.

    I like it. You always get me thinking.

    That said, I'm not sure I buy your "it's a messed up world, therefore a black superhero is messed up" logic (sorry, I mangled it, but you know what I mean, I hope). I rather see it as a chance for a character to reach their full potential. The best thing about alternate universe stories is they tell us something about the characters we already know.

    Sure, I could have done without Aquaman and Wonder Woman here, but have you seen that wonderful alternate cover for Batman: Knight of Vengeance #3? It's perhaps the most eloquent illustration I have ever seen of the idea that Bruce was the victim in Crime Alley, while the series contrasts Thomas' anger and vengeance as a mourning father against the optimistic by comparison escapist fantasy of his son. But I digress.

    It's terrible that it takes this set of circumstances to make Cyborg a hero, but I think the point of the miniseries is that he was always a true hero at heart, it's just the worst that brings out the best in him - a sort of grace under pressure and inherent itnernal strength that is less obvious in a world populated by heroes. I want to see how the Kal-El bit plays out (current issue not withstanding), because I suspect that Johns will make the same argument about Superman - even after decades of suffering, he still has a pure and good heart. But it's too early to judge on that one.

    It's a nice idea, but that still leaves the problem of how it reflects on Aquaman and Wonder Woman.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hello Mark:- you have indeed set the nerdy conundrum of the month, if not year. It's notable that all four of the women you mention are concentrated in areas of science with are traditionally more associated with women; medicine, biology and so on.I've wracked my brains for more and could only drag up the splendidly professional Dr. Jenet Klyburn from S.T.A.R. labs.

    Good call on Queen Projecta's killing of Nemesis Kid. I always try not to think of that, given that I'm one of the few who liked Kirate Kid, having bought his solo book in the mid-Seventies. Mr Giffen's compulsion to wipe that character off the board was one of the few things he's done re: the LSH that hasn't endeared his work there to me. (By which I don't mean to excuse my forgetting it. Just that I harbor the last embers of negative thoughts re: the whole business.)

    But there I am rambling, perhaps to disguise the fact that this is a nerdy conundrum that's quite escaped me :) If there was prize, you'd win it, Mr M.

    Excelsior!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Hello Alex:- you make an excellent point about the difference between representing and reflecting society. And the more those issues are thought about, the more difficult it is to frame a criticism of a text. Which is a good thing, of course, a debate which short-circuits knee-jerk responses.

    My starting point is always a simple one. It goes back to my own experience of being an outsider in an unwelcoming community as a lad, as well as my years of teaching students from communities which weren't represented in any respectful way in the media. When I pick up a superhero book, I either want to see it operating as an inclusive text which recognises diversity or I want to see a really good reason why. Because I'm exceptionally aware that one of the way in which folks are diminished and excluded is in the art they share, or can't share, with others. Try to introduce 2000ad or Action Comics to a class of Muslim Media Studies students and then come face with face with what social inclusion means. Of course, you'll know that I'm not for quotas or anything of the sort. I just want text which claim to have a humane meaning to deal with difference and inclusion. I want to be able to bring a superhero book into a class of sixth form sociology students and have them recognise something kinder and more decent-hearted that macho muscle-men belting each other.

    And I SO agree with you about the matter of dialogue. I always return to Paul Cornell being in touch with a group of Muslim women when he wanted to create Faiza Hussain. It's not just the readership that can be engaged with, is it? As long as it's OK not to do the research, not to bother, then most folks won't. And the comics will cover the same old ground and sell to the same limited readership and THINK ABOUT THAT FUN WE'LL BE MISSING OUT ON.

    Well, that's how my argument goes. As you can see, not emotional and impressionistic at all :)

    ReplyDelete
  18. Hello Cease Ill! – Just seeing your name in my ‘waiting for moderation’ list made me think of the Defenders, which reminded me that Steve Gerber’s Red Guardian was a very fine doctor and, if memory serves, surgeon too. There’s another example, although it doesn’t fit into the model for ‘intelligence’ which seems to power Marvel and DC’s ‘brightest’ lists.

    You give a fine list examples of women of Marvel who’re smart individuals. We might add examples such as Clea – running a dimension takes intelligence, to say the LEAST, Medusa, who’s political skills seem extraordinary even if she’s the Inhuman’s second in command; yes, there’s lots of able and intelligent women in the MU.

    But there’s not so many of the super-brains, are there? Reed, Tony, the Leader, the Wizard, the Mad Thinker, Egghead, Professor X; the hyper-intellects are nearly all men. In fact, though I know I’ll be corrected, I can’t think of one who’s framed in such terms.

    ”I don't want comics artificially constructed for politically correctness alone, but there's absolutely no reason great stories according importance to women and people of color (aren't we all?) can't develop. They have all the elements necessary for great drama, too.”

    Oh, I hope you don’t think I do, Cease Ill. I am no fans of quotas or political correctness, although I do believe that there are social situations where quotas are a necessary evil. (Political correctness always escapes me, but then so does the reactionary bigotry it was originally devised to counter.) It’s not a PC comic’s world I want, but one which reflects the humane values which have so often been both implicit and explicit in the superhero book. Or, as I said in the piece, “good manners”.

    At its heart, and as I know I’ve discussed this many time, the superhero book concerns the struggles of the powerless against the powerful. The superhero has traditionally been seen to line up on the side of the powerless. I’d like to see that being better remembered today, so that folks who aren’t white and male have the opportunity to feel that they’re invited to the party too, and that they’d enjoy coming as well :)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hello Darren:- thanks for popping in and adding both agreement and debate. It's a generous spirit that brings both pros and cons presented so good-heartedly and I'm grateful for you doing so.

    It's true that DC has a long history of white characters. Marvel too. The current Big Guns of the MU are the trinity of the Avengers and it's understandable that Marvel would want them in play in "Fear Itself". But that's all too easy given that we live in a time - like all times, it must be said - where we surely ought to care enough about such matters to work harder at what the narrative says, and doesn't say.

    I was thinking about the very business you raise of a white-top-heavy pantheon of characters as I wandered the Hound Supreme this morning. You're right to say that it shouldn't take a reboot to raise a person of colour to this position, especially since people of colour are still somewhat under-represented in Flashpoint # 1's line-up of superpeople. Yet thinking about the matter, what surprised me was how many people of colour both companies actually have at their disposal. DC, f'heaven's sake, has the whole Milestone Universe to draw off of. If neither company can convince their readers that a hero of colour is as worth their attention as a tried and trusted icon, then they can at least have their characters act as if they believe the likes of Storm and Icon are of central importance.

    Your point about Cyborg being pushed forward is a good one. I wonder if it all wouldn't have better dealt with if Cyborg, or whoever else filled that position, couldn't have been aware to some degree of the change in the universe, and of the need to change it back. To have Cyborg working to return the tie-line to normal would be a different thing to his being the not-quite-good-enough replacement for the DCU's Superman. It would be the mark of a hero willing to sacrifice a great deal for the common good, and given Cyborg another layer of tragedy which would've helped make the character stand out as something more than Superman's almost-good-enough stand-in.

    And of course, all that might yet be put right in the coming two chapters. But if so, given that these books are read in monthly installments, the matter ought to have been foreshadowed in the earlier episodes. These individual chapters can't afford to leave moral issues of this kind open for month upon month.

    Or at least; in my opinion. I'm sure many folks would regard that as a ridiculous statement, but there we are. It's my blog and I guess I'm going to have to make an idiot of myself on it :)

    I see your point about the messed-up-world = messed-up-superhero argument. I will have to go back and tidy that up, because I must have phrased that really badly. Thank you for the catch. I meant that Cyborg will always be second best not because of the Flashpoint universe, but because (1) he's the top-dog in a corrupted universe where all the most powerful superheroes have been taken off the board and (2) because Superman will inevitably replace him as top of the heap. In that, Cyborg EXISTS in Flashpoint to be noble, but not good enough. And that's SO regrettable. As I said in the last words of the piece above, people of colour ARE presented here as being heroic and noble, but they don't COUNT quite like the white folks do, both in terms of the arc as we've seen it and in terms of the hand Cyborg's been given to play in the narrative itself.

    cont;

    ReplyDelete
  20. cont;

    And of course Cyborg will be a JLA'er after the reboot, and with WB corp's encouragement where diversity is concerned, I fully expect that Cyborg will be a very big fish! Huzzah. But in this title, he's the one person of colour and though he's admirable and able, he'll never be good enough. He can't be. He's not Superman, he's not Superman by birth. Which feels .... dodgy to me ...

    I hope that makes more sense, even though I wouldn't ever expect it to prove compelling. As you'll know, I believe, I'm not out to convert anyone! But I do, selfishly, benefit from folks weighing in on both sides of the debate. Thank you for doing so. It's very much appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Re: female (and non-white!) scientists in non-stereotypical specialisms, how about astronomer Kimiyo Hoshi, AKA Dr Light?

    Of course, the fact that the character as originally introduced only managed to become a successful astronomer by being obsessively driven to the point of having a horribly unpleasant personality might be a sign of the problems we're discussing here. Those Japanese, they're so ruthless and driven, you never see them hanging out with the rest of us schmoes, it's like they think they're too good for us or sumpin', etc...

    Alex S

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hickman's situation is not unique, Pat Mills collaborated with Alan Mitchell on comics when he needed authentic black input, but even there it is tricky as you'd be saying that there is a "black British voice" when there is would be a lot of difference between someone whose family have been in the UK for 100+ years, compared to someone whose family are second or third generation Afro-Caribbean or they have recently arrived from Nigeria. So you might be digging yourself further into the hole. I suspect it comes from overthinking things too much because otherwise a white male UK/US writer would never use a female or a French one or someone from Cardiff and God knows how you'd write about an alien.

    Your example of Faiza Hussain is a good one - there are lots of areas a writer doesn't know about, part of the fun of writing is the research, and then using your imagination to bring people to life. If you are touching on a sensitive area it is always wise to check with people to make sure it is authentic but you'd do that if you were writing seriously about the Holocaust or about cheese-making in Cheshire. It should all be commonsense, really, however, it does partly explain the problems of representation it doesn't excuse it. I also think that online critics can make a writer very wary of stepping outside their comfort zone as there are people ready to tear your work apart, analyse it in forensic detail and, thank to social media, they are happy to track you down and show you their working. Just have a nose back through Gail Simone's Tumblr account for how everything kicked off and got out of hand, leading to her essentially leaving the site, and she is one of the writers you'd hold up as championing representation in comics - if she gets it in the ear, then not too many writers are safe. Not that that is an excuse, but it is understandable while some might play it safe.

    That though is just the writer angle, I really can't see why an artist might not be a bit more representative in what they show, other than the fact that they really haven't thought about it (or perhaps the pesky colourist is whitewashing everyone ;) ). I can imagine it happening once before an editor says something like "you've shown a group of soldiers who are all white, even though black people tend to make up a slightly higher proportion of the US army than the general population" (caveat: it is around 20% compared to 12% in the general population, although I read somewhere that they are more likely to be in support roles, and it is definitely true for prison populations, but that is a tricky area too, as an artist might feel they didn't want to push it).

    ReplyDelete
  23. You make some great observations, and it's all very indicative of some of the problems with capes comics today, but the most frustrating thing about it is when it's brought out in the open, the usual answer is "It's not racist/sexist, people need to quit finding racism/sexism where there is none." We're witchhunters looking for the boogeymen of social inequality: conversation over. Bringing up issues of inequality always brings out the the word 'sexism,' or worse, the big 'R' word, which ignores the fact that for whatever reason, there are a lot of people being excluded from this 'white boys club.'
    And if it's not racism or sexism, then the it must be ignorance, which is basically what those two are without the animosity. The problem with calling it ignorance though is implies that the people guilty of it can be taught the truth. And it would be lovely if the people guilty of this did take these words at heart, but like I said, when they are confronted, it turns into "No, I'm not sexist, I love and respect my wife/mother/daughter/etc very much!" or "I'm not racist I [insert anecdote to exonerate person of racism here]." This happens *every time* I see issues like this brought up. So, these ignorant people are confronted with their ignorance and refuse to learn from it, but it's not racism or sexism since they lack animosity, so it must be stupidity.
    And I'm not calling these people dumb, but smart people are still capable of doing stupid things.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Hello Alex:- yes, Dr Light, who've I've not seen for ages, is a fine example of a female associated with the hard sciences. And you're also right to point out the problems with her original character, in that she existed largely alone as a Japanese character and therefore was carrying too much weight for such a relatively slight, if intriguing, supporting character.

    I've just been reading some material this very afternoon on white American responses to the internment of Japanese-Americans in the Second World War. It made me think how incredibly complicated business of representing any community is, and how hard it is to do. Yet that's how fiction works, there's no way round it, techniques have to be devised to try to ensure that good intentions work out as well as possible. And Dr Light was a genuine attempt to broaden out DC's ranks of non-American heroes.

    Yet I rack my brains thinking of a Japanese hero/non-villainous character from the Silver and Bronze eras who was just a pleasant person, beyond Rising Sun from the Super-Friends .... I'm not making any daft accusations about those characters. I'm just suggesting that folks found it hard to engage with a warmer picture of the Japanese than they might have.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Hello Emperor:- “Hickman's situation is not unique, Pat Mills collaborated with Alan Mitchell on comics when he needed authentic black input, but even there it is tricky as you'd be saying that there is a "black British voice" when there is would be a lot of difference between someone whose family have been in the UK for 100+ years, compared to someone whose family are second or third generation Afro-Caribbean or they have recently arrived from Nigeria. So you might be digging yourself further into the hole. I suspect it comes from overthinking things too much because otherwise a white male UK/US writer would never use a female or a French one or someone from Cardiff and God knows how you'd write about an alien.”

    Yes, the problem is that anyone writing comics mustn’t feel they’re writing the equivalent of a 19th century cosmopolitan novel, complete with State Of The Nation detail and phonetic dialogue. There are a fundamental differences, for example, between the Anglo-Caribbean and the Black British population of African descent, as you say, but unless that’s germane to a story, it’s not necessary to have any more than a general grasp of the situation. It’s the fact of the representation and the recognition of inclusiveness and difference that counts. Given that huge amounts of all communities are middle class, there’s a simple point to start. I mean, everyone knows folks of different races and ethnicities, don’t they? Perhaps when students or in terms of being neighbours? And when in doubt, spend a weekend reading books and get in touch with a few folks on the internet. Good for Pat Mills for choosing a collaborator. That’s extra work and less pay, which shows that’s he’s an egg for the craft.

    ”If you are touching on a sensitive area it is always wise to check with people to make sure it is authentic but you'd do that if you were writing seriously about the Holocaust or about cheese-making in Cheshire.”

    I recall writing a piece – for my own pleasure – about a superhero living in Leicester. It was a challenge, I wanted to try to reflect something of the communities I’d known in my year spent there. Even knowing no-one would ever read my scripts, was I aware that I was writing about communities that I didn’t know in any way intimately. Well, YES. But I can’t help but feel that one of the responsibilities of writing about today is actually WRITING ABOUT TODAY. And there are models, for example, which might help White American writers think about Black America. Why not start with The Wire, for example? Seriously. Start with the Wire and then kick in whatever specific research is needed. The Wire shows Black Americans as individuals and members of groups, it seems entirely authentic and functional. Now, of course, that’s only one aspect of Black American life. But I was actually thinking of the Black professionals in the series rather than the gang members. It’s just folks, isn’t it?

    “I also think that online critics can make a writer very wary of stepping outside their comfort zone as there are people ready to tear your work apart, analyse it in forensic detail and, thank to social media, they are happy to track you down and show you their working.”

    Oh, God. Is that me? I must admit, I’m at the point where I can’t tell if I’m part of the problem or the solution. And, no, that is NOT a pathetic conversation opener, but rather a statement that I’m desperate not to be, or to have been, an internet bully. Though this is not anything other than a mention of that concern, and certainly not any desire for a pat on the back, I hope that you and everyone who comes to this blog will kick me SO incredibly hard if I go from being wrong-headed to wrongheaded and unfair.

    cont;

    ReplyDelete
  26. cont;

    “Just have a nose back through Gail Simone's Tumblr account for how everything kicked off and got out of hand, leading to her essentially leaving the site, and she is one of the writers you'd hold up as championing representation in comics - if she gets it in the ear, then not too many writers are safe.”

    I’m horrified by how Gail Simone is often spoken of, and even to, on the Net. I didn’t know anything of the Tumblr problem, but I wish …. We have so few highly skilled and great-hearted writers in this industry. It seems to me that a fair number of folks are driven by prejudice and ignorance where she is concerned. She doesn’t need, and most certainly wouldn’t want, my respect or support in a playground spat. But I’ve read a few things by chance this weekend and it saddened me that anyone, even a little self-reinforcing cabal, could be so unfair and so stupid. *!$* ‘em.

    “That though is just the writer angle, I really can't see why an artist might not be a bit more representative in what they show, other than the fact that they really haven't thought about it (or perhaps the pesky colourist is whitewashing everyone ;) ). I can imagine it happening once before an editor says something like "you've shown a group of soldiers who are all white, even though black people tend to make up a slightly higher proportion of the US army than the general population" (caveat: it is around 20% compared to 12% in the general population, although I read somewhere that they are more likely to be in support roles, and it is definitely true for prison populations, but that is a tricky area too, as an artist might feel they didn't want to push it).”

    Yes. And there you raise the issue I’ve been thinking of right the way through your thought-provoking comment. This is where the editors come in. The editor has to have the social conscience and the social knowledge. They’re the only one in the chain of command who can shape the product, or at least, we hope they are.

    Great stuff, Emperor. Thank you :)

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hello Joe:- To take your last comment first, you’re SO right - as of course you’ll know :) – to say the smartest of us do stupid things. It’s just the way the species is put together. And the most dangerous thing about our psychology is it functions to legitimise that stupidity when a large number of people come to believe in it. I just know as I write this that I must have the most incredible number of blind spots, of stupidities, and I’m never going to know until folks point them out to me. That’s just the way we are. Yet how to open a debate – not close it, but just OPEN it – when there seems no way to do so. The very act of raising these questions tends to bring down the wrath of certain small areas of the comics-blogosphere down, although it worries me that questions of race tend to be far more ignored whereas debates of sex and gender promote open nastiness. In a sense, at least folks will get openly annoyed about questions of gender in these books, meaning that it’s easier to see a little of where the worst of the opposition lies. (By that, I mean the worst of it. I don’t mean to imply the creators of the above comics fall into any such category in any such a way.) Raise the issue of race and there’s a comparative silence. Thank heavens for the gracious folks who visit this blog and the many others who deal, most often in a far more effective way, with the situation, who do pop in and discuss, in a generous and undogmatic fashion, the issue.

    "It's not racist/sexist, people need to quit finding racism/sexism where there is none." We're witchhunters looking for the boogeymen of social inequality: conversation over. Bringing up issues of inequality always brings out the the word 'sexism,' or worse, the big 'R' word, which ignores the fact that for whatever reason, there are a lot of people being excluded from this 'white boys club.'

    In teaching, you’d always hear from folks who worked in largely white schools that there was no problems with racism there. Those of us who worked in schools with a broader mix of folks would see the conflict, but the all-white schools would have cause to see the latent problems in action. And, of course, schools with a majority of non-white folks would have their prejudices too. (No school, of course, ever thought it had a problem with homophobia, but then, that’s because the kids and the culture around them policed that one into silence and terror long before it broke out into the open.)That’s just what people do. And so, you’re so right, the whole business of claiming that a witch-hunt is going on misses the fundamental fact that groups of people inevitably create in-groups and out-groups. If we were all clones, the clones that lived by the hill would start getting snotty about the clones living near the trees, and vice versa. The only way round it is a dialogue, and as pathetic an attempt as it was, I thought producing some stats as well as a discussion might create just the slightest grounds for one.

    cont

    ReplyDelete
  28. cont

    ”And it would be lovely if the people guilty of this did take these words at heart, but like I said, when they are confronted, it turns into "No, I'm not sexist, I love and respect my wife/mother/daughter/etc very much!" or "I'm not racist I [insert anecdote to exonerate person of racism here]." This happens *every time* I see issues like this brought up. So, these ignorant people are confronted with their ignorance and refuse to learn from it, but it's not racism or sexism since they lack animosity, so it must be stupidity.”

    I always see the whole issue in incredibly simple terms. The whole shebang, the whole world as seen in reality or in comics, is a birthday party. Is everyone welcome? Is everyone welcoming? Is anyone left outside because they’re not one of us, or fun? Are there folks who won’t come in because they think they’re better than the party-goers? As naive as it is in terms of representations, I’m just for everyone getting an invite to the party, and not just to man the kitchen or clean up afterwards either; “No-one wins unless everyone wins”.

    Thanks for dropping in, Joe.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Thanks for explaining how the experiences in your youth and your teaching helped inform the starting point for your consideration of these issues, it really helps to make it clear where you're coming from. I think what people sometimes worry about (with SOME justification, particularly if they've got scars from the US culture wars, although I do agree with the thrust of your argument) is becoming mired in formal, bureaucratic, jargon-laden and censorious forms of identity politics. But if we let identity politics scare us away from engaging with the rich tapestry of human life, then that's a shame, for a whole variety of reasons. More dialogue not less is undoubtedly the way forward here.

    If I can make a brief detour into something utterly ridiculous, I'm reminded of the hapless presentation about ethnic diversity that Father Ted gives to make amends after inadvertently offending the Chinese population of Craggy Island. The presentation consists of slides of the Great Wall of China, Mao Zedong, Mr Miyagi (who was actually played by the Japanese-American actor Pat Morita, who spent several years of his childhood detained with his family in an internment camp), Cato from the Pink Panther, and Ming the Merciless. Obviously we laugh as Ted makes a fool of Basil Fawlty proportions of himself, but we also laugh because we are Ted, raised on dodgy cultural representations and liable to put our foot in it when it comes to navigating cultural differences. All we can do is approach others with good faith and an open mind, and try our best to learn about the past and present of other peoples and places (which is always a worthwhile thing to do in any case).

    It's interesting that you're looking at US attitudes to the internment of Japanese-Americans. A few old episodes of the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman show (the first season of which was set in WW2 and the second and third seasons of which had a contemporary 1970s setting) tried to address the thorny subject of Japanese/American relations, and actually didn't do too shoddy a job, given the pop context. The first season two-parter Judgment From Outer Space (which is basically an uncredited remake/ripoff of The Day the Earth Stood Still) mentions the internment camps, and although it doesn't push the boat out too far (the Allied cause is ultimately proven to be just according to some tenuous objective measure) it still makes for interesting viewing. The second season episode 'The Man Who Could Move the World' is even better, dealing with a disenchanted (and telekinetic!) Japanese-American man who had been in an internment camp, and blames Wonder Woman for the death of his brother.

    Alex S

    ReplyDelete
  30. Hello Alex:- I think you're so right to point out how easy it is to let the fear of political correctness obscure the need for sheer common decency and good manners. Which is why I use those terms; not to try to be sentimental and thereby somehow sidestep debate, but in order to fix the terms of the argument in terms of something other than quotas, tea party liberties, political correctness and so on

    I always love being reminded of the splendid Ted, but of course Ted's ignorance is funny because, as you say, we're struggling to think of what OUR next slide would be if we'd ever been daft enough to start on such a process. But then, Ted's failing isn't his ignorance, it's his inability to grasp that he ought to have asked for help. And it's hilarious because our culture just doesn't encourage anything of the sort. It's supposed to be embarressing, and an admission of weakness. It's difficult, it's easier to do nothing. It's easier to show the great wall of China.

    Mind you, Ted could've avoided THAT window and THOSE unfortunate hand gestures too :)

    Gosh. I've never actually seen anything of the WW TV series beyond the first episode of the first series. But obviously, given what I'm reading, I'm fascinated. Pop culture CAN inform without resorting to a party line. The existence of those concentration camps first came to this Brit's attention in a Roy Thomas Invader's issue. Now, I believe that Mr Thomas is something of a conservative, though I'm happy to be proven wrong there; why do I mention that? Because his work shows that a concern for social justice isn't reserved for the polemics of the left. By which I mean, social justice in these books doesn't have to serve the party political cause of left or right, but just a decency common, we'd hope, to every democrat. Again, why write anything so obvious and guileless. Well, I fear that a concern with social justice has and is being associated with 'socialism' and 'worse' in certain quarters, and there's a wearisome sense that simply pointing out that some folks aren't getting invited to the party gets painted as a counter-intuitive challenge to decency and tradition.

    Mr Thomas's work did have a political dimension which, for all that it's broad and lacking in detail, is kind-hearted and far more engaged than most of what we see today. Hurrah for Mr T, then, I say :)

    Thanks for popping over and engaging in this discussion. It is much appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  31. First, regarding Simone. I used to have her Tumblr on my RSS reader (and still follow her on Twitter) believe what Emperor is referring to is not the hate she takes "from the right," so to speak, but rather "from the left," specifically those who decided her representation of disenfranchised groups was not perfect enough. It's awkward territory surely, as I've never actually witnessed a more privileged person under siege on the Internet from less privileged people and felt that she (or he) was being targeted unfairly. (Of course, Emperor will correct me if I've got it wrong).

    Now, I'm sure that critics "from the right" are a bigger problem, but I imagine she also doesn't much care what they have to say, so that must be easier to deal with at least.

    Second, regarding Hickman; I certainly should have "shown my work" on that one. David Brothers, a while ago, linked to this podcast and quotes... oh wait, no, more like "glibly paraphrase[s]" him as saying “I’m not completely comfortable writing black guys because I feel like a faker, and that’s not the kind of writer I want to be”)” Brothers then sayshe can "respect" that but "at a certain point, you gotta man up, man." (Hmm, what's manliness got to do with it again? But anyway).

    So I guess if either of us really wants to get to the bottom of this Hickman thing, one of us would actually have to listen to the podcast. Sigh.. why can't people just write anymore (or in this case, transcribe).

    ReplyDelete
  32. Hello Carl:- Thank you for helping me to get to grips a little more efficiently with these issues. It's much appreciated. I never thought to imagine that Ms Simone would face the wrath of the left, as your shorthand so effectively puts it. I guess I'm going to have to pop over and dig back into that Tumblr so that I can best understand the situation. It's actually easy to see from your report why creators might choose not to engage in social issues. Sigh and Sigh again.

    I hope it didn't appear that I was questioning the attribution to Mr Hickman you made. I have absolute faith in your reporting, I just found the fact itself shocking. But I will be the one to 'man up' and listen to the Podcast. I'm absolutely fascinated now, and I can't wait to hear that conversation. After all, if you don't want to feel like a faker, er, don't fake, research, rather than excluding folks from your work. Or anyway, that's how I feel according to the summaries. Now it's time to see how the actual conversation goes!

    Thanks, Carl! Your guidance is much appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Great post! And remember when the JLA was lead by a black woman?? Ah, those were the days??

    ReplyDelete
  34. Hi Colin, thanks for the clarification above. I didn't mean it as an attack or to insinuate that you weren't clear (and, on that, I think the fault, dear Brutus, lieas not in our stars, but in myself).

    I do think, though, that a corrupted universe is sadly the only place Cyborg could really be launched to top place in DC's hierarchy because of the bland homonogeny of comic books. Superman has always been top dog, and probably will be - because the characters don't change because fans don't want them do, and the company doesn't want them to, either. And superheroes are always tiered like that.

    It takes a major upset to change that (at least it has since the eighties). Superman and Wonder Woman, I'd argue, have done little to justify two of the top three spots, but will hold them forever because of "tradition". No matter how high Aquaman, Flash and Green Lantern are pushed, they'll always be "the other guys from the Justice League" and never part of the Trinity. And that structure reinforces itself all the way down.

    I think Teen Titans and X-Men were the last books to really come out of nowhere and move from d-list to a-list at either major company. And that was a while ago. So, I'd argue, making Cyborg a really key player - and not a supporting or ensemble player - would always have involved taking a few key pieces off the board. It's terrible, but it's how the totem pole works. I don't really see him as a "substitute" Superman so much as a "could be" Superman here - I think his leadership and heroism here reflects back on his mainstream counterpart.

    Of course, it as, as with anything, highly subjective. You see Cyborg here as a "he'll do" sort of fill-in temp Superman - and to be honest, I can see a lot of that too. But I also see "this is how awesome he could be if he didn't happen to be created decades after any of our more iconic and marketable properties" Cyborg. I do think, as ever, that the debate isn't about being right or wrong (because I don't think there is a right or wrong... unlike "Ape-Controlled Africa" - man, I really hope somebody got a talking to about that one).

    That said, I think we can both agree that it really shouldn't take anything as radical as this to make an interesting character a big name. It could be done organically and relatively fluidly in the mainstream continuity, but superhero comic books are far too conservative fro such a shift. You'd get fan protests about why Iconic Old School Hero #1 is "jobbing" to Cyborg, and - more importantly, I suppose - evidence sadly suggests fans literally wouldn't buy it.

    Part of me does, however, think it's just an issue of bad timing (though, to be fair, you also seem to agree there's no malice involved), simply because of where Cyborg fell on the Geoff Johns "Wheel of Reinvention." The Flash was pushed front-and-centre during Blackest Night (he effectively go-headlined the main miniseries) and Aquaman during Brightest Day. Cyborg, unfortunately, got the first opening available, which happened to be this story.

    Thanks again for taking the time and effort to reply. It's always great to discuss this sort of stuff with you. I always leave feeling just a little bit differently about something.

    ReplyDelete
  35. You know, you're scary sometimes.

    I did the same thing from a straight storytelling perspective. Panel counts (93 to 136 if you can believe it)- word counts - page turns and largely left the issues of race and identity to more knowledgeable heads (yourself and the other good folks in the thread as it turns out. I'd started writing this huge comment many days ago.)

    Below - The Highlights

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiLjuRG3hoE

    And after all God can keep my soul
    England have my bones
    But don't ever give me up
    I could never get back up when the future starts so slow

    At the beginning of this vid The Kills principal members Jamie and Alison share a little pre-gig ritual showing depth of years and affection. It passes in the time it takes to tell but so much is conveyed in that moment it throws a veil over the entire song - album - and life. It's quite incredible.

    Little moments leave big footprints.

    For example, I'll never forget the butterfly landing on the servant's face in Watchmen.

    The point I make is that comics often can do more with less than a lot of great media. It's too bad the medium also excels at making the most of the big splash. It's too easy a button to press when you're working with talented people. The concern is that it takes away a multitude of opportunities to grow narrative, and character by simply monopolizing so much real estate.

    Flashpoint has 136 panels over 26 pages averaging 5.25 panels per page. This spaces out the big splashes and provides a sense of pacing that a legacy / classic comic artist like Kubert can really thrive in. Look at the way he draws in expressions, the way his eyes "talk" and fill the frame. Flash checking out history books in Wayne's library while waiting for the computer to boot up, for example?

    His characters are so much more expressive even in smaller panels and tighter layouts. I'd argue the best moment of the book comes on an 11 panel page (16 if you're scoring at home) where Barry asks Thomas Wayne, "Did it EVER matter to you?"

    In that tiny panel, which is then reversed and displays Batdad's reaction, you get a read on that whole character. It tells you why Bruce has made a better life for himself by actually caring about the world and having a broader mission than vengeance emerge from the tragedy that fell upon the Wayne family in crime alley.

    Thomas knows it and we SEE that because we're given more opportunity. We have more panels. More chances to have problems solved and characters grow in the hands of capable writers and artists.

    Panel count provides opportunity.

    By direct contrast Fear Itself gives you fewer panels in more static layouts (93 total 4 panel per page average). In fact, 7 of the last 9 pages are delivered in 4 panel grids of varying complexity. If we were given more opportunity to see Black Widow grieve speak or emote beyond a grimace and a single tear it might not feel so ham handed when she calls her dead and desecrated lover...Bucky (and, to be honest, since Brubaker only had her call him James for something like a million issues this seems particularly grievous and sloppy). Fraction might also find a way to have her not appear to be a caricature of womanly grief within the space of two pages if given more than nine panels to do so. Caricature interrupted, of course, to have her rather busty silhouette greet Thor with a "Welcome back, BIG MAN."

    Also, since film costs money (wait, it's a comic book) we're treated to Iron Man and Thor trading witty barbs in the same room as a dead man. How casually and cavalierly they dismiss this character. The decency of a shroud before smearing his name, perhaps? No? How awful.

    And the last thing I'll say - Forgive me for being Pedantic with a capital P but to have Steve Rogers say, "Where are we AT?" made me whip the book across the room.

    Just...crap.

    More care, comics. A little peck on the cheek is all I ask.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Wow, so many points I want to address...

    1.
    Let me start off by saying there is no doubt in my mind that the Big Two are "issue-deaf" when it comes to gender and race representation. Editorial, my frequent scapegoat, just doesn't get it and rarely if ever mandates such representation. White artists are drawing white people and not noticing the lack of variety. White writers are writing white people and, same story. At their worst, Marvel and DC editorial have seen nothing wrong with issuing sexist sculptures of Mary Jane Watson or unceremoniously killing minority heroes for shock value or to make way for the return of a white counterpart. Noticeably, minority writers and artists have done better in this regard, but they are minorities, after all.

    2.
    That said, DC at least seems to want to reverse this trend with claims of more variety in the post-Flushpoint DCU. Latino Blue Beetle, gay Batwoman, black Mr. Terrific, African Bat-Wing, Cyborg in the JLA, etc. But hold on...

    3.
    Does DC (and this goes for Marvel too) have the right toolbox to make this happen? This is the main point I wanted to make (and Darren touched on it) - by virtue of the era they were born into, both superhero universes have a white male history. The problem with that at this point is that you can't easily push variety without it being tainted in some way. Your Cyborg is #1 analysis is just such an example. Another can be found by looking at my above list of post-Flushpoint headliners. Notice anything? That's right, they are all based on white non-minority stars of the DCU. The inference is that minority superheroes cannot craft their own identities and need a boost from older, non-minority heroes.

    The strategy used with Cyborg is to make him the center of a big event to generate popularity. The strategy in the case of all those others is to make them piggyback on name recognition earned by another character. And the problem is that you can't actually generate popularity - it's quite out of the creator's control (even if some strategies do give the character a better chance at being seen). Superman, Batman, etc. already have their popularity locked up. They will always be well remembered by the person on the street, and enjoy strong sales. If you don't "push" a minority character (which obviously had to premiere later than the core heroes of these decades-old universes) in some way, he or she will have a hard time making it. And when you do push them, it may look like a stunt.

    4.
    It's a vicious cycle, but companies sometimes like to blame the readership's demographics. Female or black hero books don't sell very well (even Wonder Woman is notorious for barely surviving) in part because there are few female and black readers. But then, why would there be when these groups don't feel represented by the comics. And I do mean "represented" rather than "present", because while I find there are a lot of female characters about, too many comics tend to focus on the cheesecake (to put it politely) or make them out to be damsels in distress (your Black Widow example is a keen one, seeing as that is NOT AT ALL how she has been characterized in the last few years). But then, Wonder Woman and Power Girl won't sell well despite their physical attributes. Are male readers turned off by strong women (in which case, I must be in the minority) even as the sexiness of it turns off female readers?

    The truth may be that female readership of superhero books has never been high. They have never been marketed to successfully, and perhaps the superhero genre is so totally male empowerment fantasy that it is unlikely to. (A trend that may reverse itself judging by movie reception, but I have a hard time believing that girls will get into comics at the right gateway age at this rate.)

    Oh geez, I've gone and written another novel, haven't I?

    ReplyDelete
  37. Thank you for your analysis, Colin. This is exactly the kind of socially conscious comics blogging that I've been looking for and I'm really glad that Robot 6 linked to this post. I think there's a large base of fans who dearly love mainstream comics but also enjoy those books through critical eyes, incorporating critical race theory, feminist theory, etc. into their reading. I'm always thrilled to see kindred spirits on the internet that are bringing thoughtfulness to the discussion.

    My wife is a social worker by trade and a sociologist by background and on the occasion that I can get her to look at one of my books, it almost immediately sparks a discussion about the representation of minorities. Her help in engaging critically with these books actually increases my enjoyment and helps me to be more selective in what read. I wish more fans could see that engaging with these issues can enhance the overall experience while elevating the art form they love.

    To the point of your article, I had a fascinating conversation with Greg Rucka a few months ago at my local shop. I told him that what I loved most about his Batwoman was that her sexuality seemed to exist for her, not for the reader. She could be sexy without the book being titillating. He agreed and said that he believes the Big 2 are motivated to build multimedia franchises and that independent publishers are the ones that he is looking to to provide more balanced representation. Ironically enough, he went back to Marvel a few weeks later to take the reigns on the Punisher.

    I'm still hopeful that we will see better representation in the Big 2-hopefully with characters that, like Batwoman, seem to have an authentic self rather than a contrived, tokenistic selfhood. We need more thoughtful writers like Rucka and Cornell, but hopefully we'll see a new crop of diverse voices like G. Willow Wilson or Alan Heinberg as the Big 2 continue to evolve. I'll be waiting anxiously and checking back in at your blog!

    ReplyDelete
  38. Hello Brainy Pirate:- it's good to hear from you again. I hope you're well.

    Sadly, and this well may be because I'm getting old, but I can't remember that at all. I fear the memory may have been wiped from me in a continuity revamp :)

    ReplyDelete
  39. I know--and her leadership was only a few years ago, just before Robinson took over the JLA. I'm not sure it even lasted 12 issues. Sigh....


    I was thinking more about your comments about Cyborg, and maybe you said this in your post and I just forgot it, but it seems to me that the story wouldn't necessarily read as it does (black man becomes hero only because white heroes have screwed up) had DC been better with diversity prior to flashpoint. That is, there's no way any minority character could come off well in Cyborg's situation because of the lack of diversity in the pre-Flashpoint universe. Is that fair?

    ReplyDelete
  40. Hello Darren:- you certainly didn't give any such impression, and if you had, I'd've taken it in the spirit it was intended and taken the opportunity to put things right. The fault is always in ourselves, isn't it :)

    These 'trinities' are odd things, aren't they? They lent their members such status, and of course the characters started off with enough in the first place, that it becomes impossible to think of in anything other than a sentimental way. But as you say, that means that the characters at the top of the tree will always be there, which is understandable, in terms of tradition and marketing, and yet there is a sense that there's only a little at the top and very little space left over to move into.

    I do feel that DC did a good job in making Cyborg a far more impressive character. And yet he's still the not-Superman. Let's hope it's him that brings about the big change into the DC's future form; it was foreshadowed in issue 4 when Barry talks about how changing timelines leads to at best minor changes. If nought else, I'd love to see Cyborg save the day, even if that brings Morrison's Superman back to the top of the heap. And I do agree with you that this redesign of Mr Stone, and the simple fact of the air-time he's been given, will reflect well upon his next incarnation. A looser in comparison, perhaps, but a far more admirer second-stringer. The trick will be to see to role that Victor has in the new JLA. If they can find a role for him that no one could fill, and which lends him a great deal of status, then he'll of course be no second-stringer at all. And I'll of course be pleased for that. I still recall buying the DC Presents issue in the early Eighties in which Cyborg first appeared.

    You speak well of the motivation behind the reworking of Cyborg. I suspect another reason for the change, though I've no evidence to back up the suspicion. I suspect that the word than WB wanted more diversity had come down. I mean this in no other sense that it seems to fit with the commercial strategy for the post-Flashpoint universe. If so, there's a cruel irony in any critcism that DC gets for Cyborg's role. I suspect that their heart was in the right place here, but that their heads didn't quite think things through where at least the first three issues is concerned.

    Thank you for popping back. I always finish our conversations bearing at the very least a twist on what I was thinking before, and often something more. I'm certainly feeling alot more positive about the 'new' Victor Stone. My thanks for that.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Hello Siskoid:- thank you for popping in. You’re most welcome.

    ”Let me start off by saying there is no doubt in my mind that the Big Two are "issue-deaf" when it comes to gender and race representation. Editorial, my frequent scapegoat, just doesn't get it and rarely if ever mandates such representation.”

    You put your finger on the issue. There has to be editorial oversight here. It shouldn’t be possible to forget that America isn’t a white boy’s club to this degree. I don’t believe that anyone means any harm, but that’s often when a great deal of harm is done. All it’ll take is an editor or two making a point of saying something like “good manners” to the creators concerned.

    “ Noticeably, minority writers and artists have done better in this regard, but they are minorities, after all.”

    It’s a shame, isn’t it? I just KNOW that everyone at Marvel and DC would be appalled to really grasp how a lot of their work comes across. I can only conclude that they just don’t get it. Why that should be escapes me, but what with WB pushing diversity in the DC relaunches, a change is a-going to come. (Ah, Sam Cooke …)

    ”That said, DC at least seems to want to reverse this trend with claims of more variety in the post-Flushpoint DCU. Latino Blue Beetle, gay Batwoman, black Mr. Terrific, African Bat-Wing, Cyborg in the JLA, etc. But hold on...”

    It’s true, and yet I dread some of those books. Bat-Wing alone seems to be a real hostage to fate. But if it’s good, fantastic!

    ”Does DC (and this goes for Marvel too) have the right toolbox to make this happen? This is the main point I wanted to make (and Darren touched on it) - by virtue of the era they were born into, both superhero universes have a white male history. The problem with that at this point is that you can't easily push variety without it being tainted in some way. Your Cyborg is #1 analysis is just such an example. Another can be found by looking at my above list of post-Flushpoint headliners. Notice anything? That's right, they are all based on white non-minority stars of the DCU. The inference is that minority superheroes cannot craft their own identities and need a boost from older, non-minority heroes.”

    This is where the craft of comicbook storytelling comes into play. There’s lot of bright and able creators at the Big Two. Let’s home they realise that you can't achieve diversity by shuffling the existing pack while leaving all the old structures in place.

    ”The strategy used with Cyborg is to make him the center of a big event to generate popularity. The strategy in the case of all those others is to make them piggyback on name recognition earned by another character. And the problem is that you can't actually generate popularity - it's quite out of the creator's control (even if some strategies do give the character a better chance at being seen). Superman, Batman, etc. already have their popularity locked up. They will always be well remembered by the person on the street, and enjoy strong sales. If you don't "push" a minority character (which obviously had to premiere later than the core heroes of these decades-old universes) in some way, he or she will have a hard time making it. And when you do push them, it may look like a stunt.”

    It’s true, it is so true. The only thing that’ll make a character ‘work’ is fine creators. Alan Moore can make Swamp Thing a top-rank book, can make Miracleman – Miracleman! – something wonderful. Yet what if the right creators aren’t put in place? My fear is that perhaps the re-shuffling won’t take and the conclusion at some level will be that difference doesn’t sell. The truth is that the best creators can make anything fly. And DC in particular does have the Milestone characters, who are splendid in themselves. Bring out Icon, for heaven’s sake, and the Syndicate.

    cont;

    ReplyDelete
  42. cont;

    ”It's a vicious cycle, but companies sometimes like to blame the readership's demographics. Female or black hero books don't sell very well (even Wonder Woman is notorious for barely surviving) in part because there are few female and black readers. But then, why would there be when these groups don't feel represented by the comics.”

    And they won’t be won over by a cosmetic change to things either. It’ll take years of hard work. There’s no quick bucks to be won from markets long turned off comics. Yet wouldn’t it be brilliant to see comics fandom suddenly made up by far more women, by far more people of colour, by far more difference? It’d be so much interesting!

    “And I do mean "represented" rather than "present", because while I find there are a lot of female characters about, too many comics tend to focus on the cheesecake (to put it politely) or make them out to be damsels in distress (your Black Widow example is a keen one, seeing as that is NOT AT ALL how she has been characterized in the last few years).”

    The degree of cheese-cakery is still appalling. I’m looking forward to seeing how that issue is dealt with. I’m also curious to know if we’ll ever find out why so many creators have been so enthusiastic to run with the cheese-cake. After all, they’re grown men. What was the appeal beyond the obvious? Or is that it?

    “But then, Wonder Woman and Power Girl won't sell well despite their physical attributes. Are male readers turned off by strong women (in which case, I must be in the minority) even as the sexiness of it turns off female readers?”

    My feeling is that Wonder Woman has been crippled by editorial constraints, daft ideas, grim over-seriousness, and the shoe-horning of her into a pseudo-realistic superhero universe. There’s so rarely a sense of joy in WW. (I loved Ms Simone’s troop of gorilla soldiers, for example.) I suspect a broader audience might allow the character to kick off the grimness. After all, Wonder Woman’s cool.

    ”The truth may be that female readership of superhero books has never been high. They have never been marketed to successfully, and perhaps the superhero genre is so totally male empowerment fantasy that it is unlikely to. (A trend that may reverse itself judging by movie reception, but I have a hard time believing that girls will get into comics at the right gateway age at this rate.)”

    I share your concerns, but I inspired by the huge number of female readers not just enjoying fantastic fiction, but involved in its various fandoms. I really do believe that if the publishers put their back into the business of producing splendid stories for a good few years, they’ll win the audience that’ll support the industry in return for years to come.

    ”Oh geez, I've gone and written another novel, haven't I?”

    Good for you! We positively welcome novels on TooBusyThinking!

    ReplyDelete
  43. Hello Kirk:- thanks for leaving such a generous and interesting comment. And my best to your wife too, if I may. My wife is teacher who works as a solutions focused counselor with educational psychologists and she’s been very good for helping me too see even more clearly just what’s going on in the pages of the comics before me.

    “This is exactly the kind of socially conscious comics blogging that I've been looking for and I'm really glad that Robot 6 linked to this post. I think there's a large base of fans who dearly love mainstream comics but also enjoy those books through critical eyes, incorporating critical race theory, feminist theory, etc. into their reading. I'm always thrilled to see kindred spirits on the internet that are bringing thoughtfulness to the discussion.”

    It was an absolute honour to be linked to twice by CBR today. Like everyone else, I enjoy visiting the site pretty much every day. There’s no downsides to the process at all. And my experience is the same as yours; there’s lots of folks who read comics and who enjoy thinking about them in a variety of ways at the same time. I’ve never thought that wondering about who’s the strongest Avenger and being concerned with social representations were anything other than part of the same process of reading comics.

    ”Her help in engaging critically with these books actually increases my enjoyment and helps me to be more selective in what read. I wish more fans could see that engaging with these issues can enhance the overall experience while elevating the art form they love.”

    Absolutely. I remain baffled, absolutely baffled, by folks who believe their beloved books will be better, will be more interesting, if they’re as thin and facile as they can be made to be.

    ”To the point of your article, I had a fascinating conversation with Greg Rucka a few months ago at my local shop. I told him that what I loved most about his Batwoman was that her sexuality seemed to exist for her, not for the reader. She could be sexy without the book being titillating. He agreed and said that he believes the Big 2 are motivated to build multimedia franchises and that independent publishers are the ones that he is looking to to provide more balanced representation.”

    I absolutely adore the Rucka/William’s Batwoman. For one thing, you’re quite right to note that Batwoman doesn’t exist for the gaze of the leering reader; she has her own world and her own way of engaging with her sexuality. I hope that DC’s intention to publish a variety of non-franchise books in the re-launch mark a limit to the process of the creation of franchises that’s so marked the company recently. It undoubtedly sells book to the faithful, but to the rest of us, it’s crushingly boring.

    ”I'm still hopeful that we will see better representation in the Big 2-hopefully with characters that, like Batwoman, seem to have an authentic self rather than a contrived, tokenistic selfhood. We need more thoughtful writers like Rucka and Cornell, but hopefully we'll see a new crop of diverse voices like G. Willow Wilson or Alan Heinberg as the Big 2 continue to evolve.”
    I’ve expressed my guarded but sincere optimism for the DC reboot. It could just be what the industry has been waiting for. And if it produces comics which I can share with my wife without embarrassment or shame, then I’ll be really grateful to the company for doing so. There are as you say good writers doing splendid things at the moment. I’d add Mr Gillen and Ms Simone to the above list, and I’m sure there a dozen more writers I’ve forgotten. But, yes, it would be good to feel hopeful and have that faith rewarded, wouldn’t it?

    Thanks for popping in. I hope the day is treating you kindly.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Hello Brainy Pirate:- it's absolutely fair. It was a point I discussed far more in connection with the represnetation of Luke Cage in Fear Itself. If there's no-one but Luke, he becomes a representation of all the folks who've been left out. The more difference there is, the more Luke can stand for a character rather than a whole class of people. And the same is absolutely true for Cyborg, I totally agree. I still think that the whole problem of his being the not-quite-ready-for-Superman's-role player would've remained, but the whole context in which that problem sits would've been moderated by the presence of a few other people of colour. Static, Lightning, Icon, Hardware, the Blood Syndicate, Vixen .... there's enough folks out there who could've been drafted in for the job. I'd've been pleased to see them. I bet you would've been too :)

    ReplyDelete
  45. Thank you Colin! This was the first time I've read your blog. I got a link from a Robot Six posting on Comicbookresources. Anyhow, I don't have much to add other then to reiterate the point that this issue continuously needs to be addressed. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  46. Hello there! I really do appreciate you popping in, just as I do Robot Six for posting the link. Generous words and cheerful 'hellos' are always thought highly of here, I assure you, and you'd be welcome over this way if you should be passing on the blogosphere.

    Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
  47. Race & super-hero comics: ugh. Not the topic, mind you, but the dispiriting lack of successes. I have a few semi-connected observations, based on hearsay and my own opinions:

    1. I have a cursory understanding of the area around my school (urban Boston, almost exclusively minority) and some of the people within. Based on that, I can note that any black or Latino character whose mode of dress and speech looked or sounded dated would be laughed at. The minority characters couldn't use slang or wear clothes on the out. Authenticity is key. Therefore, I can understand Hickman's reticence, even if I think it would have been better had he not voiced it.

    What Hickman and others who feel as he do might really mean is that they don't feel they can write "street" characters. Storm, for example, should pose no real problems. "Regal" characters like Storm, Namor, Wonder Woman at times, and Thor have their own set of character tics and speech patterns. There's a danger in making a slang-using character come off as a buffoon. Of course, having a ll your minority characters be perfect is, as you and others have pointed out, not wise.
    Christopher priest, Dwayne McDuffie, and the few other minority writers who have worked in the industry had more leeway in regards to how minority characters were portrayed, but there aren't many in the industry.

    2. It is more than possible to bring a minority character to prominence as long as he or she does not replace a long-standing, popular super-hero. Black Superman or Spider-Man are out, at least for now. Comic book readers generally hate replacement characters and tokenism.

    3. Luke Cage, however, can be leader of the Avengers and a compelling character in his own right. In fact, I give Bendis all the credit in the world for making him an A-lister out of nowhere. Similarly, Tony Isabella wrote an excellent Black Lightning, and Marv Wolfman created a popular black character in Cyborg. John Rogers & Kieth Giffen made Jaime (Blue Beetle 3) Reyes a fan-favorite. White writers shouldn't be afraid to write minority characters with the (admittedly few) positive examples out there.

    4. Geoff Johns has contributed to making Mr. Terrific a viable character and making Jakeem Thunder tolerable. While he stumbled in his demoting the gay Obsidian to background status in Justice Society, his track record with other minority characters indicates that any problems with Cyborg's role and presentation are unintentional. That said, there's no reason John Stewart, Vixen, Steel, Bronze Tiger, Amanda Waller, the Milestone characters, or Black Lightning couldn't show up.

    5. Women in super-hero comics: double ugh. There's no reason Wonder Woman, Power Girl, Spider Woman, Supergirl, or Ms. Marvel can't be good series. There's no reason the female X-People or Avengers can't be more prominent. None. It's inexcusable. Also, there's no reason super-heroines should be super-aggressive and display traditionally masculine traits.

    6. Good writers can work with characters that do not reflect themselves. Peter David made Betty freakin' Banner a good character! Roger Stern turned The Wasp from baggage to a leader. Among the best characters in Runaways was Molly, an 11 year-old girl written by an adult male. When it comes to ethnicities that are not the writer's, Claremont's outrageous accents, "Sweet Christmas!" and everyone having a black best friend don't work.

    7. There are so few remarkably intelligent women in super-hero comics it's ridiculous. Seriously, I had to wrack my brains to come up with Nightshade, Cecelia Reyes of the X-Men, the Ultimate Mad Thinker, Shakti of X-Men 2099, FF supporting character Alyssa Moy, and the woman whose name escapes me who cloned Magneto to make Joseph in the '90s X-comics. Not the strongest list.

    Good discussion all around, as per usual for this blog.

    - Mike Loughlin

    ReplyDelete
  48. One of the few things Brad Meltzer did well was give us a JLA with both Vixen and Black Lightning on it! Then McDuffie came along and, although his run was famously crippled by editorial, still managed to restore John Stewart (first added back in the Kelly run) and add Firestorm (Jason Rusch). Now, of course, we will just have Cyborg, who I for whatever reason find less interesting than any of the above characters. Ah well. Glad to see the rest of you seem to be bigger fans of Cyborg, perhaps something good will come of this?

    ReplyDelete
  49. Ejaz Farooqui13 July 2011 12:47

    Hi Colin,

    I just listened to Hickman talking about about writing black people, it's the first Word Balloon podcast (about an 1 hour and 13 mins in) and I have to say, it really was one of the dumbest things I've heard from a person I consider to be intelligent and talented. (He's probably my favourite contemporary writer) It really is how it's quoted in the above comment.

    He says that he doesn't want to sound phony and is sick of people talking as though their opinions are 100% correct and the right thing. (I can sympathise with the latter) This is all in the context of a conversation about the revolutions in the Middle East.

    However he directly says he isn't comfortable writing black characters because he doesn't know how to write them.

    I have real a problem with this. I'm actually offended by the complete laziness in this statement. In the case of black people (and presumably all other ethnicities) it is not difficult to find out the information he is supposedly lacking. Like reading literature by black authors, or TALKING to black people to find out that they put their shoes on one at a time like everyone else. (Marvel can't stick him on the phone with a black person for advice?) Or just doing it and getting feedback in the letters page (which he has in the FF at least) gaining experience through trial and error.

    I have personally found Hickman to be a very intelligent writer and I'd hate for him to fall into the hole alot of comic creators fall into of only writing what they feel comfortable with.

    Looking at SHIELD in hindsight it's mildly disturbing that for such a globe trotting story, the overwhelming majority of characters, including major historical figures, are white. (Even the Ancient Egyptians in the beginning look quite pale considering they're, you know, Egyptian)

    cont...

    ReplyDelete
  50. Ejaz Farooqui13 July 2011 12:48

    The sad thing about foolish comments like this is that it can colour (hah!) otherwise excellent stories that I love. Can I read FF or SHIELD now without some voice in the back of my head pointing out the lack of ethnic minorities in his stories? Thinking back, I can't recall a single non-white character from his run on The Fantastic Four.

    I'd disagree with Siskoid that Marvel is issue-deaf on issues like this. My previous comment went into Stan's emphasis on inclusion and his overt humanism in things like the Silver Surfer, Spider-Man and FF was one of the things that drew me to Marvel (my Mum had old reprints when I was a kid) I'm not the hugest fan of Bendis' work (for various reason) but on The Avengers I feel one of the most important things he did was push minority and female characters (Luke Cage, Maria Hill, Victoria Hand, Jessica Jones, Ms Marvel, Spider-Woman, Elektra) to the forefront which can only be a good thing.

    As to non-caricartured Japanese characters from the silver age, I can't think of anyone. There was Jimmy Woo, who of course isn't Japanese but Chinese-American but was a hero on the level of Nick Fury which is nice.

    Obviously I'm an ethnic minority (very minority being mixed White-Pakistani) and I don't need loads of ethnic characters to enjoy stories but the regression of the DC Universe to 1950's white guys has been kind of disturbing to me. (Barry Allen in paticular has to be one of the most boring characters I've ever read) I want to emphasise that I don't think this and the Hickman issue is down to racism, I think it's down to laziness and comfort zones. Which is sad.

    One thing about Bendis which I love is that he's always trying something new, even if it doesn't always work. He's not happy resting on his laurels and I can appreciate that in a writer.

    This is something I personally feel is a problem with Geoff Johns' work. In my opinion all his stories are very (comics) conservative. It all too often boils down to bloody gore; continuity shenanigans and man-crushes on Hal Jordan and Barry Allen (and how everyone else loves them). If I read once more about Jordan's memories of his dad dying in that crash and his feeeear, I may just give up on his comics.

    Cheers, your perspective on these issues, like others is fascinating.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Two more things, Colin, (and I almost feel bad because you are graciously making it a point to respond to almost every post in a thoughtful manner, which must take up quite a bit of your time!)

    First, please add Moondragon to the list of female characters who is at least stated is one of our most talented and brilliant geneticists. When she was first introduced in Iron Man and Daredevil, she had been responsible for creating a series of supervillains (one was Angar the Screamer -- can't remember the others) through her genetics research. It's sad that as her character evolved, writers decided to focus on some of her more... negative characteristics like her insecurity and egomania... which ended up being some of her more defining traits. True, in many ways, it has made her a more complex and, for me at least, fascinating character, but I wish some writer out there would remember that she's supposed to be brilliant.

    Also, in terms of the lack of books featuring female characters corresponding to a dearth of female readership, I'm not sure that matters completely. Batwoman certainly, and to a lesser extent, Birds of Prey, have proven that there is an audience out there for female-focused comics. I think the writing and art matter so much more, and a great story with great art will draw an audience regardless of the sex of the character in the lead role.

    Now, in my more cynical moments, I do go to that place where I think some comic creators/readers actually despise women deep down and think it's uncool to like them, but if I dwell on that too much I get depressed.

    Michael C.
    Superheroine Advocate

    ReplyDelete
  52. Hello Mike: “Race & super-hero comics: ugh. Not the topic, mind you, but the dispiriting lack of successes.”

    I know. I often feel so dispirited by it that I think there’s a temptation to look elsewhere for topics. The same with gender. And then I think of the comments I’ve received about “PC quota’s” and, I kid you not, white folks being the last oppressed minorities, and I think, OK, this IS worth talking about.

    “ I have a cursory understanding of the area around my school (urban Boston, almost exclusively minority) and some of the people within. Based on that, I can note that any black or Latino character whose mode of dress and speech looked or sounded dated would be laughed at. The minority characters couldn't use slang or wear clothes on the out. Authenticity is key. Therefore, I can understand Hickman's reticence, even if I think it would have been better had he not voiced it.”

    It’s true. If you’re going to do ‘street’ then you have to get it, if not right, then at least get it done in a way that respectful and enjoyable and relevant. Comics have a terrible record where such stuff is concerned.

    Now, I’m still trying to find the Hickman quote. But I do hope that he’s not implying that all Black people are young, street folks. Well, he can’t be. The idea that ALL Black Americans come from some distinct sub-culture is quite ridiculous. Aren’t there Black Americans working at Marvel? (Well, of course there are.)

    ” There's a danger in making a slang-using character come off as a buffoon. Of course, having a ll your minority characters be perfect is, as you and others have pointed out, not wise.”

    Oh, absolutely! And of course, the more characters you have who aren’t white, the more they can stand as individuals and not symbols of any group beyond themselves. It means that comics can become richer, doesn’t it, because EVERYONE can be a character.

    ”Christopher priest, Dwayne McDuffie, and the few other minority writers who have worked in the industry had more leeway in regards to how minority characters were portrayed, but there aren't many in the industry.”

    Oh, why aren’t there? I know it’s a daft question, but it’s 2011. And if there aren’t that many in the industry yet, where are the programmes to encourage them? (Perhaps they exist. I don’t know. I’d love to know.) And where are the attempts by creators to research and represent folks beyond themselves? Alan Moore knew nothing of America at first-hand when he took over Swamp Thing. Doesn’t seem to have too shoddy a job, ah?

    ”It is more than possible to bring a minority character to prominence as long as he or she does not replace a long-standing, popular super-hero. Black Superman or Spider-Man are out, at least for now. Comic book readers generally hate replacement characters and tokenism.”

    Of course, this means that there’s a terrible problem, in that inventing new characters who’re white that sell has proven a problem, so how more difficult will it be for characters who’re perhaps less comfortable for some of the audience? Still, that’s the challenge, that’s what needs to be done. If the creators are good enough, they’ll crack it, and I believe they are.

    Cont;

    ReplyDelete
  53. cont;

    ”Luke Cage, however, can be leader of the Avengers and a compelling character in his own right. In fact, I give Bendis all the credit in the world for making him an A-lister out of nowhere... White writers shouldn't be afraid to write minority characters with the (admittedly few) positive examples out there.”

    You’re right. There’s plenty of good examples out there. Denny O’Neil in particular made a fascinating character of James Rhodes, and John Stewart in his JLU guise is one of my favourite characters EVER. Now, I know those are people of colour in roles established by white characters, but I think both have superseded that influence at key moments in their history. And anyway, your point is THE pointl it’s been done, let’s get it done again.

    ”Geoff Johns ...track record with other minority characters indicates that any problems with Cyborg's role and presentation are unintentional. That said, there's no reason John Stewart, Vixen, Steel, Bronze Tiger, Amanda Waller, the Milestone characters, or Black Lightning couldn't show up.”

    Yes, agreed re: Mr Johns. And I do believe no one is consciously doing these things!

    But look at that line-up in your above. I’d kill for the chance to write a team composed of those characters. At what point wouldn’t that be a great book to read? I know I’m extending your point into suggesting a Black JLA, but my point isn’t that DC SHOULD do that, and more, well; what a fascinating set of characters. Looking at it without even considering race and ethnicity, those are GREAT characters.

    ” Women in super-hero comics: double ugh. There's no reason Wonder Woman, Power Girl, Spider Woman, Supergirl, or Ms. Marvel can't be good series. There's no reason the female X-People or Avengers can't be more prominent. None. It's inexcusable. Also, there's no reason super-heroines should be super-aggressive and display traditionally masculine traits.”

    Hear hear. Nothing speaks worse of DC’s stubbornness than its never-ending to make WW a miserable character full of grim’n’grit.

    ”Good writers can work with characters that do not reflect themselves. Peter David made Betty freakin' Banner a good character! Roger Stern turned The Wasp from baggage to a leader. Among the best characters in Runaways was Molly, an 11 year-old girl written by an adult male. When it comes to ethnicities that are not the writer's, Claremont's outrageous accents, "Sweet Christmas!" and everyone having a black best friend don't work.”

    But …. But …. But … It’s all so true! How can there be any doubt of it? How can you and I be here playfully fuming – and still in some ways fuming – and yet the company’s not get it. Turning things around would require a longterm investment to attract audiences that want more than WhiteMan and his sidekick WhitebBoy, but with time and money and effort it’ll fly. If it’s too much work, then the company’s are just saying that they’d rather make money from dubious work. I can’t believe they believe that.


    “There are so few remarkably intelligent women in super-hero comics it's ridiculous ... Not the strongest list”

    I’ve been reading comics for around 43 years, Mike, and I couldn’t match your list. Which means somethings really not right! I will say that the scientific boffin in Britain’s “Dan Dare” was Professor Peabody, the smartest woman in Spacefleet. Now, she and the strip first appeared in Britain in 1950! And if I’m not mistaken, she trumps in the importance of her role as the big brain of the strip everything the superhero comic has thrown out in the 61 years since. I can’t think of a single major strip where a woman is THE ‘hard’ scientific wonder as well as being a central member of the cast.

    Surely not.

    Thanks for popping in. And you’re right, the contributions of the commenters have been fantastic. We’ve been swapping words for a good while now, so you of anyone will know how sincere I am when I say that. All the best :)

    ReplyDelete
  54. Hello Carl: and thank you for reminding me that Mr Meltzer has been responsible for considerably more than the unfortunate business of Identity Crisis. I've just been discussing that comic ass part of a conversation that'll go up elsewhere and I think I just needed reminding of the good things too.

    We have been told that they're be 12 members of the JLA, and that it'll eventually expand to constitute a kind of JLU. Or at least that's what some of rumours and snippets have suggested. Perhaps we're being told that Cyborg is now one the central characters in the JLA rather than one of the lesser lights. And perhaps there'll be three or four examples of diversity in the other members. It would be heartening.

    But if it's just Cyborg, then that would be regrettable, especially as you quite rightly say,. there were genuine steps forward on display in the Meltzer and McDuffie reigns.

    Ah, well, fingers crossed, ah? Fingers crossed ..

    ReplyDelete
  55. Hi Ejaz:, “I just listened to Hickman talking about about writing black people, it's the first Word Balloon podcast (about an 1 hour and 13 mins in) and I have to say, it really was one of the dumbest things I've heard from a person I consider to be intelligent and talented. (He's probably my favourite contemporary writer) It really is how it's quoted in the above comment.”

    Gawd! I’ve been listening to the podcast and I can’t find it! I must be the stupidest blogger ever. I’ll go back and listen again.

    ”He says that he doesn't want to sound phony and is sick of people talking as though their opinions are 100% correct and the right thing…However he directly says he isn't comfortable writing black characters because he doesn't know how to write them.”

    Well, I’m lost too Ejaz. You know, you’d think that Mr Hickman had never met Black Americans, that he didn’t grasp that they are first and foremost human beings. There’s a HUGE Black American middle class. If Mr Hickman’s nervous writing about Black Americans, he might start there while he’s doing some research about others he shares his nation with. After all, the podcast reveals a modest and bright man, and he speaks movingly of his family, which illustrates that this is no cold fish. Perhaps he just didn’t express himself well, or perhaps he ought to get out of himself and do the research.

    ”I have real a problem with this. I'm actually offended by the complete laziness in this statement. In the case of black people (and presumably all other ethnicities) it is not difficult to find out the information he is supposedly lacking. Like reading literature by black authors, or TALKING to black people to find out that they put their shoes on one at a time like everyone else. (Marvel can't stick him on the phone with a black person for advice?) Or just doing it and getting feedback in the letters page (which he has in the FF at least) gaining experience through trial and error.”

    I think folks would be touched if he made his worries plain and worked to overcome them. I was always TERRIFIED of mispronouncing the names of my Anglo-Asian students. I saw them constantly being mangled by other folks and I got scared I found myself hesitating before speaking. I do know that fear of not wanting to offend. But it’s not where the problem stops, but where the solution begins.

    ”I have personally found Hickman to be a very intelligent writer and I'd hate for him to fall into the hole alot of comic creators fall into of only writing what they feel comfortable with. “

    Hear hear to the first point and to the second too.

    ”Looking at SHIELD in hindsight it's mildly disturbing that for such a globe trotting story, the overwhelming majority of characters, including major historical figures, are white. (Even the Ancient Egyptians in the beginning look quite pale considering they're, you know, Egyptian) The sad thing about foolish comments like this is that it can colour (hah!) otherwise excellent stories that I love. Can I read FF or SHIELD now without some voice in the back of my head pointing out the lack of ethnic minorities in his stories? Thinking back, I can't recall a single non-white character from his run on The Fantastic Four.”
    I’ve been the same! I was almost at the end of the SHEILD hardback earlier this week and now I’m stuck on chapter 5 wondering about these issues. I shouldn’t be worrying about the degree of nervousness Mr Hickman underwent showing the historical Asian characters. You might ask whether I’d have noted the problem if he’d stayed quiet. Sadly, as can be seen by the topic above, as an ex-social science teacher, I always note those things. And yet, to hear this business of why the comic is so thin on certain representations just makes it harder to read on.

    cont

    ReplyDelete
  56. Cont;

    ”I'd disagree with Siskoid that Marvel is issue-deaf on issues like this. My previous comment went into Stan's emphasis on inclusion and his overt humanism in things like the Silver Surfer, Spider-Man and FF was one of the things that drew me to Marvel (my Mum had old reprints when I was a kid) I'm not the hugest fan of Bendis' work (for various reason) but on The Avengers I feel one of the most important things he did was push minority and female characters (Luke Cage, Maria Hill, Victoria Hand, Jessica Jones, Ms Marvel, Spider-Woman, Elektra) to the forefront which can only be a good thing.”

    Can I just say that I think that you’re BOTH right here. In that, as I’ve argued myself recently, Marvel has been radical in some ways, and yet, as I’ve also argued, it’s not been as radical as it might. I think the truth is to hold to both POVs at the same time; I don’t mean that in anything other than a sincere way. I’m tremendously grateful to Marvel for a great deal of what they’ve done. I also believe that they haven’t done nearly enough, especially, with notable exceptions, in recent years.

    ”As to non-caricartured Japanese characters from the silver age, I can't think of anyone. There was Jimmy Woo, who of course isn't Japanese but Chinese-American but was a hero on the level of Nick Fury which is nice. 2

    Yes, Jimmy Woo was exceptionally cool, and of course remains so. I’m pushing for anyone else. Even Asian/American-Asian representations figures like Stuff and – ugh – Chop Chop in the Golden Age were terribly racist.

    ”Obviously I'm an ethnic minority (very minority being mixed White-Pakistani) and I don't need loads of ethnic characters to enjoy stories but the regression of the DC Universe to 1950's white guys has been kind of disturbing to me. (Barry Allen in paticular has to be one of the most boring characters I've ever read) I want to emphasise that I don't think this and the Hickman issue is down to racism, I think it's down to laziness and comfort zones. Which is sad.”

    Culture, Ejaz, it’s all culture, it has to be. Culture reinforces behaviour which allows people to be rewarded without extending themselves. I will not believe that these creators are anything other than smashing people. It’s up to the institutions of Marvel and Dc to rise to the challenge and help their creators to fulfil their potential and indeed their responsibilities.

    ”One thing about Bendis which I love is that he's always trying something new, even if it doesn't always work. He's not happy resting on his laurels and I can appreciate that in a writer. “

    I’ve got some stick on this blog for saying the same thing, Mr E! Mind you, he deserves stick for Moon Knight!

    ”This is something I personally feel is a problem with Geoff Johns' work. In my opinion all his stories are very (comics) conservative. It all too often boils down to bloody gore; continuity shenanigans and man-crushes on Hal Jordan and Barry Allen (and how everyone else loves them). If I read once more about Jordan's memories of his dad dying in that crash and his feeeear, I may just give up on his comics.”

    Well, I might suggest in mitigation that GF has done some deeply touching work on the issue of loss and uncertainty. There he’s definitely doing something which few superhero creators have done before. I’m not fond of his work recently; he’s spread too thin. But maybe if he reduces his commitments, he can up the quality of what he’s doing. I mean, “Flashpoint” # 3 is, the problems we’re discussing aside, not a bad comic at all. I know; can you push such issues aside? Well, no, and yes. This is the have-my-cake-and-eat-it blog!

    ”Cheers, your perspective on these issues, like others is fascinating."

    Thank you. I’ve enjoyed talking to you.

    ReplyDelete
  57. Hello Michael: “ ..and I almost feel bad because you are graciously making it a point to respond to almost every post in a thoughtful manner, which must take up quite a bit of your time!”

    Thanks for saying so :) In truth, I do feel that if I’m going to discuss these things, I should also learn from the process of chatting the issues out with folks who kindly drop in. In short, it’s a pleasure. This blog won’t go on for that much longer, a year at the most, so I want to get the most that I can get out of it. And given that it’s unlikely that, for example, you and I would never get to swap ideas under other circumstances, well; it’s worth the time it demands. I wish that the far fewer folks who’d sent comments in that were objecting to the above hadn’t done so in the rude and objectionable fashion they did. I’m only going to delete those posts, and I’d have welcomed a civil discussion. There’s something about this topic which brings out the worst in some folks.

    ”First, please add Moondragon to the list of female characters who is at least stated is one of our most talented and brilliant geneticists. When she was first introduced in Iron Man and Daredevil, she had been responsible for creating a series of supervillains (one was Angar the Screamer -- can't remember the others) through her genetics research.”

    Yes! I’ve just done four pieces on DD/BW and I should’ve remembered her. And I agree about her later depiction. For my money, Steve Engelhart nailed her character in his Avengers issues between 137 and 151. He never made her easy to like, but she was strong and admirable all the same.

    “True, in many ways, it has made her a more complex and, for me at least, fascinating character, but I wish some writer out there would remember that she's supposed to be brilliant.”

    Hear hear! Brilliant is the word.

    ”Also, in terms of the lack of books featuring female characters corresponding to a dearth of female readership, I'm not sure that matters completely. Batwoman certainly, and to a lesser extent, Birds of Prey, have proven that there is an audience out there for female-focused comics. I think the writing and art matter so much more, and a great story with great art will draw an audience regardless of the sex of the character in the lead role.”

    It’s a point of view I wedded to. Yes, I do think that the publishers need to produce work of such quality that it attracts a broader female readership so that such books can really gain the numbers they deserve. But Ms Simone’s Secret Six sold well, we’re told, in collected form, proving that average numbers in the comic shops doesn’t tell the truth about the existing audience at all. (Secret Six may not be a predominantly female book, but women were presented in number and as distinct and interesting individuals.)

    cont;

    ReplyDelete
  58. cont;

    ”Now, in my more cynical moments, I do go to that place where I think some comic creators/readers actually despise women deep down and think it's uncool to like them, but if I dwell on that too much I get depressed.”
    I suspect some readers do, Michael. There are folks with dodgy personal prejudices everywhere and by the law of averages they must exist in comic shops too. But you know what, I don’t think that we’re dealing here with anything more than the weight of culture and its traditions, which has acted over long decades to limit what a tiny marketplace will apparently accept. But I think most folks connected to comics are splendid at heart, or at least they are if they’re in a situation which encourages it. (If not, then as Zimbardo says, if folks associate with monsters, they tend to become monsters.) Is that terribly naïve of me? I hope not. I’m not a good writer, I can’t express things as well I should, but this little piece still brought in 1 000 folks to this blog in about 40 hours and stimulated a discussion which on the whole was sympathetic to the issues brought up. It’s not a representative sample of readers, but I’ve found a broad agreement and civility most everywhere the argument has travelled. Of course, I’m only lining up behind hundreds of comics fan who’ve made these points before. But my point isn’t how important this piece is – I know my place – but how much of a chord it can strike even in its own little pond.

    I think there’s ground for optimism, I really do. I suspect there’s a wait ahead, but I also think things will get better. I hope that doesn’t sound stupid. But given that better representations are ethical, story-enhancing and potentially commercially advantageous, well; culture does tends to become modified when those pressures are at work in it.

    Of course, there I’m not presuming to suggest how you should feel. I’m really trying to get myself feeling positive. It’s been a long day. But it feels OK now :)

    Thank you for popping over & contributing. I hope the day is treating you kindly.

    ReplyDelete
  59. I'm not sure I can add anything to the discussion that hasn't already been covered in one way or another, but I'd just like to say that I thought this essay was brilliant and articulated many of my very own concerns about the medium.

    I enjoyed this essay so much, that I forwarded it on to Phil Jimenez and Gail Simone.

    Thank you, Mr. Smith, for sharing this.

    ReplyDelete
  60. Hello Son of Baldwin:- it's really good to make your acquaintance. I'm a genuine admirer of your blog and have missed it while you've been on hiatus.

    Thank you for your generous words. You've certainly cheered my evening up. I hope the day is going kindly for you too.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Hi Colin, it seems to me, given all the examples above, that the DC and Marvel Universes already have many strong women and minority characters, and the capacity to include them in stories as well. Both universes have a huge range of characters and settings, and it is unfortunate that many writers don't seem to take advantage of that and stick to a narrow range (I wonder if editorial mandates regarding team memberships and characters being used in events has anything to do with that - Duffie's JLA would seem to point to that for sure. To some degree it does seem to come back to writers being allowed to write the story they want to write rather than the story editorial wants them to produce. Editorial presumably "knows what sells" * and would tend to the known quality.

    Ostrander's Suicide Squad had characters from all over the DCU, and what's more he managed to give the impression that they didn't simply exist to team up with the Squad occassionally.

    The above notwithstanding, both Marvel and DC are still small enough, and have the talent and resources to just quietly acknowledge these issues of how they depict gender and race and to then do something positive - and I don't mean they have to proclaim form the rooftops that they have 'seen the light', or have a universe shaking event to initiate it either ;-P)
    It is not like the two companies are supertankers that take two miles to stop and another four miles to turn around, as DC's 52 proves.

    Maybe their company cultures are too much like boys' clubs to expect any change...but, it can be done.

    *as an aside, Jim Shooter in his blog made the lovely point that in 1977, everyone at Marvel knew that SF didn't sell. :-) and I think Pat Mills has made the same comment regarding IPC.

    As a further aside, although I'm sceptical that the same people who made DC what it is over the past ten years can sucessfully remake the company, I have to give them credit for at least admitting the need to do so (even if it may have been under duress from Warners).

    kiwijohn

    ReplyDelete
  62. Actually Colin, I wouldn't go so far as to say that Meltzer's JLA was "good," just that I liked the line-up (minus Geo-Force of course). My "one good Meltzer" comic would be "Straight Shooter," a 6-issue arc on Green Arrow that followed Smith's run. How funny since we were just discussing that as the "one good Smith comic." Perhaps the common thread is that they were both propped up by Phil Hester... nah, let's be charitable here! (But it can't have hurt, at least).

    ReplyDelete
  63. Hello Kiwijohn: “it seems to me, given all the examples above, that the DC and Marvel Universes already have many strong women and minority characters, and the capacity to include them in stories as well. Both universes have a huge range of characters and settings, and it is unfortunate that many writers don't seem to take advantage of that and stick to a narrow range”

    It’s true, isn’t it? That’s something which these comments have really brought out for me. You think of all the diversity in AH’s Young Avengers, for example, and it’s hard to see what the company’s should be doing so relatively badly on the issue

    “To some degree it does seem to come back to writers being allowed to write the story they want to write rather than the story editorial wants them to produce. Editorial presumably "knows what sells" * and would tend to the known quality.”

    I love that word ‘presumably’. Yes. Editors in every field of entertainment have a TERRIBLE record of knowing what’ll sell. Hollywood is just the most obvious example. Editorial knows what sold yesterday, and not always then. As Goldman says, “Nobody knows anything”. Most of the big brealthrough books have surprised everyone involved. From the Punisher and Wolverine through Miller’s Daredevil, through Watchman, Dark Knight Returns and Sandman, and on until the stagnation of the modern-era, many of the most important books have been anything but line-leaders at launch. Now, that doesn’t mean that comics editors don’t know that franchises secure certain fan’s pennies, or that crossovers work for hardcore fans. But that’s about a tiny, dying market. Getting out and breaking wider markets isn’t something which they’ve proven very good at at all.

    ”Ostrander's Suicide Squad had characters from all over the DCU, and what's more he managed to give the impression that they didn't simply exist to team up with the Squad occassionally.”

    Yes! And there’s always a mix of gender and persons of colour right from the book’s start. All those women, all those folks who aren’t white. And that’s a quarter of a century ago. That’s just depressing ….

    ”The above notwithstanding, both Marvel and DC are still small enough, and have the talent and resources to just quietly acknowledge these issues of how they depict gender and race and to then do something positive - and I don't mean they have to proclaim form the rooftops that they have 'seen the light', or have a universe shaking event to initiate it either ;-P)”

    Who would think less of them for saying so and setting themselves out on a five year programme to really work on these issues. Nothing rash, nothing tokenistic, nothing putting creators immediately into unfamiliar waters, but a genuine and lasting commitment. (I can’t myself see why creators can’t just sort it out tomorrow myself, but experience says that even medium size ships take time to turn around.) The fact is that a simple hand in the air saying “We could at times have done better, and we will from now on.” would win INCREDIBLE good will. Yes, some would snipe. Well, %*!£ them. On the whole, a quiet and sincere statement of regret matched with genuine commitment nearly always pays. And f’gawd’s sake, why wouldn’t the Big Two want to broaden their market appeal anyway?


    cont

    ReplyDelete
  64. cont

    ”It is not like the two companies are supertankers that take two miles to stop and another four miles to turn around, as DC's 52 proves.”

    Ah. This is what happens when I answer a comment as I go. (Well, it makes it feel like a conversation!) Everything I’ve studied about organisational change and entrenched unconscious attitudes suggests that change is something which, on a fundamental level, does take time to take effect. But you’re absolutely right that real developments could happen now. Let’s hope DC’s discussion of diversity in the reboot will do just that.

    ”Maybe their company cultures are too much like boys' clubs to expect any change...but, it can be done. “

    Absolutely! Hear Hear!

    ”*as an aside, Jim Shooter in his blog made the lovely point that in 1977, everyone at Marvel knew that SF didn't sell. :-) and I think Pat Mills has made the same comment regarding IPC.”

    Hah! We ARE singing from a similar if not the same hymn sheet. You’ll forgive me, it’s affectation that makes me start answering from the top because it does feel more like a chat. In future, I shall read all the way down before starting :)

    ”As a further aside, although I'm sceptical that the same people who made DC what it is over the past ten years can sucessfully remake the company, I have to give them credit for at least admitting the need to do so (even if it may have been under duress from Warners).”

    It’s all been rather quietly expressed though. A public statement by DDD would go a long way on these issues. Why diversity and why now?

    ReplyDelete
  65. Hello Carl:- "Actually Colin, I wouldn't go so far as to say that Meltzer's JLA was "good," just that I liked the line-up (minus Geo-Force of course)."

    Fair point. I meant that I needed to recognise that he did good things as well as creating that awful IC situation, and you did remind me to do that. There are good moments in IC, of course. The first visit to the villain's satellite is REALLY unsettling, for example.

    Hey! I like Geo-Force. Or rather, I liked the character in the first few years of Mr Barr and Mr Aparo's Outsiders. The second Outsider's Christmas story in which Brian and Superman clash is a GREAT story. But as he's been shown since? Fair enough. I'm not sure that many American writers know WHAT to do with any one that's royalty, I really don't.

    "My "one good Meltzer" comic would be "Straight Shooter," a 6-issue arc on Green Arrow that followed Smith's run."

    I'll second that. It really was a highly enjoyable comic book. I have the hardback somewhere. I must go renew my acquaintance.

    "How funny since we were just discussing that as the "one good Smith comic." Perhaps the common thread is that they were both propped up by Phil Hester... nah, let's be charitable here! (But it can't have hurt, at least)."

    Perhaps I ought to go dig out the editor's name. You're right to see a common thread there. And quite right to note Mr Hester's work there too. I've been re-reading the Millar/Hester Swamp Things and I can't say I'm fond of his storytelling there. But no matter what I think about 1995/6's work, I'm a genuine admirer today, and have been for years. Huzzah for Mr Hester.

    All the best, Mr C :)

    ReplyDelete
  66. Hmm. I want to give DC a little benefit of the doubt, and that they didn't intentionally slight Cyborg. Although I kinda feel like there'd be a big crater where Metropolis used to be if Superman wasn't around; DC needed to show Cyborg stepping up, not just tell. But with DC's history of legacy characters, they do a little better job with the idea that if Superman or Batman or whoever wasn't around, somebody would step up; be it man, woman, black, white, or Rex the Wonder Dog.

    I do wonder if comic fans will do the same, though: there's a lotta talk about wanting more diversity, and more female characters, and less big stupid crossovers. Yet the crossovers are what sells, and I wonder if say, Mr. Terrific or Voodoo don't sell, will DC take that as a sign? (Regardless of any other factors, like quality, name recognition, or throwing a bunch of books out at once.) Fans have to vote with their dollars, but it's like voting in a two party system: they may have to support the best one available, not the best possible.

    ReplyDelete
  67. Hello Googum:- You're comment gives me the opportunity again to say that I'm absolutely sure that DC in any shape or form wanted to slight Cyborg. In fact, if I had to bet my life on it, I'd invest all of it on a guess that DC felt that it was actually boosting Cyborg, helping to turn the character into a more significant and powerful hero. And, as I said above, it has worked to a degree. But the whole structure of the narrative just undercuts what they've done. Perhaps later issues will show they've a way of the structural mess they've unwittingly created. I hope so.

    I think it's a dead good point to make, to point out that there seems to be a contradiction between what alot of fans say they want and they what they seem to buy. Several ideas come to mind; I'm not sure how many characters who aren't white get the creators with the greatest pull working on them, and I'm also not sure that, pull or not, a lot of the books featuring women and people of colour have been all that good. We'll know whether the market really will swallow a considerable more difference when the publishers really start to put their muscle behind a range of products which reflect diversity. DC say they're going to do this. I hope they will.

    Of course, I suspect the other truth is that the company's need to seek out new markets. They need to create products which are so fine that they entice in folks who are white, male, died in the wool fan-buyers. It's possible that the current fanbase just doesn't want anything more than more of the same. Well, that in itself will kill the industry anyway. Time to start investing in reaching out to new audiences then.

    But as you say, DC must, must, must stick by their good intentions. I don't think there's a hope Mr Terrific or Voodoo will sell. I'd love to be proven wrong, but in this market, with the way the books are being sold, I think they'll be dead in six months time. But if DC are serious, then they'll come back harder, learn from the challenges they've faced and have another go. The stakes are too high, commercially and ethically, to do anything else.

    Fingers crossed, ah?

    ReplyDelete
  68. Smitty- I’M MORTIFIED!!!!!

    Blogger has changed its design and now it no registers comments it decides to dump into the spam file. It just dumps them there and doesn't declare it's done so. Which means that blokes like myself, who relied on that information, now find themselves missing out on replying to comments which they never would have ignored EVER. I’m so sorry it’s taken so long to respond to this. Trying to track down how to contact you did take me to your Tumblr; I couldn’t leave a message there, but I like what you’re starting to do there.

    So, look, my sincere apologies. You’re one of the very oldest of this blog’s friends and you couldn’t be more valued as a correspondent here. I’m sorry if I’ve inadvertently caused you any offence. Nothing could have been further from my mind/

    “You know, you're scary sometimes.”

    Yeah. Everyone tells me that. I’m rally not at all sure that it’s a good thing.

    I did the same thing from a straight storytelling perspective. Panel counts (93 to 136 if you can believe it)- word counts - page turns and largely left the issues of race and identity to more knowledgeable heads (yourself and the other good folks in the thread as it turns out. I'd started writing this huge comment many days ago.)

    ”At the beginning of this vid The Kills principal members Jamie and Alison share a little pre-gig ritual showing depth of years and affection. It passes in the time it takes to tell but so much is conveyed in that moment it throws a veil over the entire song - album - and life. It's quite incredible. …Little moments leave big footprints.”

    Yeah, great point. As an old hand who crashed through the Punk Rock end of the 70s, the likes of James Taylor and Carly Simon meant nothing to me. But I caught by chance a gig they did a few years ago on BBC 4 a night ago. And watching how they caught each other’s eyes as they played, a nod to indicate a solo coming, a smile at a fondly regarded line; well, I was quite blown away by their fondness and craft.

    ”For example, I'll never forget the butterfly landing on the servant's face in Watchmen.”

    “The point I make is that comics often can do more with less than a lot of great media. It's too bad the medium also excels at making the most of the big splash … The concern is that it takes away a multitude of opportunities to grow narrative, and character by simply monopolizing so much real estate.2

    It’s a tremendously good point. I’ve been bemoaning the loss of the opportunity for depth of narrative. But there’s also that loss of opportunity where telling detail is concerned, the “little moments” you mention leaving “big footprints”.

    ”Flashpoint has 136 panels over 26 pages averaging 5.25 panels per page. This spaces out the big splashes and provides a sense of pacing that a legacy / classic comic artist like Kubert can really thrive in. Look at the way he draws in expressions, the way his eyes "talk" and fill the frame. Flash checking out history books in Wayne's library while waiting for the computer to boot up, for example?”

    I have to say, as I have above, that this issue is the best of the Flashpoint issues so far, and in places it’s a fine little romp. And the point you make – of a staccato rhythm of crowded pages followed by grand splashes does create both detail and spectacular moments. It’s a similar technique to that used by BMB in Scarlet’s second issue last year, for example. The work has storytelling problems which concern me, but there are genuine moments of value here, I'd certainly agree.

    Cont;

    ReplyDelete
  69. cont;

    ”His characters are so much more expressive even in smaller panels and tighter layouts. I'd argue the best moment of the book comes on an 11 panel page (16 if you're scoring at home) where Barry asks Thomas Wayne, "Did it EVER matter to you?" …. Panel count provides opportunity.”

    And I’d agree with you. (I love the way we’ve attacked the text in a similar and yet parallel fashion!) I’d still say that there are moments where the exposition is CRAMMED into the panels; certainly the library scene in places is just bogged down in the weight of words, just as in places it shines. I can’t help but believe that a kindly editorial hand might have recommended that the information-light final scene of the escape from Project Superman was rendered using less space, meaning that there’d been more space earlier on.

    But none of this challenges the point you made, or the good moments in Flashpoint which arise from it.

    ”By direct contrast Fear Itself gives you fewer panels in more static layouts (93 total 4 panel per page average). In fact, 7 of the last 9 pages are delivered in 4 panel grids of varying complexity. If we were given more opportunity to see Black Widow grieve speak or emote beyond a grimace and a single tear it might not feel so ham handed when she calls her dead and desecrated lover...”

    The low panel count in Fear Itself # 3 was even WORSE. It was so bad that I didn’t dare write about it in any direct way for fear of expressing blogger’s froth. It was shamefull. Lovely art by SI, of course, but lovely and story aren’t synonymous.

    “Bucky (and, to be honest, since Brubaker only had her call him James for something like a million issues this seems particularly grievous and sloppy).”

    That’s a CRACKING point. I wish I’d caught that. Yes, you’re right; sloppy.

    “Fraction might also find a way to have her not appear to be a caricature of womanly grief within the space of two pages if given more than nine panels to do so. Caricature interrupted, of course, to have her rather busty silhouette greet Thor with a "Welcome back, BIG MAN."

    Urgh. I had to control myself in discussing all the points in both books where insensitivity rose its head, because it would have made me feel as if I had a personal beef with the world rather than a specific concern. Here you are mentioning points that I hadn’t considered, which in combination with my unmentioned ones, racks up a pretty depressing tally of problems.

    ”Also, since film costs money (wait, it's a comic book) we're treated to Iron Man and Thor trading witty barbs in the same room as a dead man. How casually and cavalierly they dismiss this character. The decency of a shroud before smearing his name, perhaps? No? How awful.”

    How terrible that the traditional vengeance of a lover is superseded here – or at least apparently so – by the vengeance of a best friend because the Widow is a woman and Cap is a big iconic male hero. You can’t imagine that if Sharon Carter had been killed, Nick Fury would’ve been tasked to fight her killer while Cap stayed home weeping.

    ”And the last thing I'll say - Forgive me for being Pedantic with a capital P but to have Steve Rogers say, "Where are we AT?" made me whip the book across the room.”

    There’s been some comic throwing around our way recently too, Mr S,

    ”Just...crap. More care, comics. A little peck on the cheek is all I ask.”

    I agree. I hope you caught the piece earlier this week celebrating a Dr Who strip which did just that.

    And I do hope you’re reading this. I’ve had a great time reading and responding to your words and I’d hate it if chance and ill-luck has ended that conversation unnaturally early. Do, if you will, let me know if you’ve caught this :)

    ReplyDelete
  70. I disagree with a few points here and there but the overall thrust and thesis/analysis/conclusion is spot on.

    Too bad nobody in the Two Towers is willing/able to solve this. If they're able, they seem not to be willing and, if they're willing, sadly, not able.

    Status Quo again (though I give Marvel a large win margin over DC vis a vis diversity. The two aren't even close.

    Also, you can't judge Marvel by FEAR ITSELF but FLASHPOINT et al do accurately describe DC, making the latter the diversity loser it has been for the duration of my and my parents' lifetimes.

    Kind of sad, really. And, of course, ugly.

    ReplyDelete
  71. Hi Colin. Yet another thoughtful article. Please do not get discouraged by any negative comments. You raise imporant issues, and they need to be dicussed more, not less.

    I can't help but wonder, do the creators not realize the message being sent, or do they just not care? I say that their only interest is in making money, which means putting the Silver Age heroes (i.e. white male characters) at the center of the action.

    Eric

    ReplyDelete
  72. Hello Eric:- that's a really kind and much appreciated comment. I'm so glad you expressed yourself in the way you did, so my thanks. Because I do want to 'raise' issues rather than declare them closed, and to have them 'discussed' rather than appear to be telling anyone else what to think. I'm tremendously glad - tremendously glad - it seems that way.

    I honestly don't think the creators who make these mistakes see the problem, Eric. I think they're absolutely committed to things such as anti-sexism and anti-racism, I really do. I just think it can be hard to realise for folks to realise that some of the things of the do don't reflect what they believe. And I think with time and debate on a mass level, folks will come round. Their hearts are in the right place, I honestly believe it.

    But it doesn't look that way sometimes, I agree. And that's a shame as well as something of a scandal. Oh, well, Fingers crossed, the revolution starts now :)

    ReplyDelete
  73. " I wonder if it all wouldn't have better dealt with if Cyborg, or whoever else filled that position, couldn't have been aware to some degree of the change in the universe, and of the need to change it back."

    That sounds a bit like the plot of Emperor Joker, an incredibly flawed but fun story, though with Steel instead of Cyborg. I did like the idea that the way he and Superman figured out there was something wrong with the universe is that they both independently remembered formulas for the laws of physics. The whole story is one that revolves around both of their intelligences rather than simple strength.*

    Someone (maybe Chris Sims?) pointed out that unlike affirmative action in the real world, which could at least theoretically result in some deserving people missing out on employment, keeping things balanced in the comics doesn't actually involve giving or taking jobs from actual people. If (as in Young Justice) Aqualad is black, that doesn't mean there's a white Aqualad out there on the street corner. It's all about telling good stories.

    * Regarding weaknesses, where to start? The place still seemed quite orderly for a Joker-controlled universe, and by far not as much fun as I'd imagine it could be. Would fish falling from the sky, Bizarro in the Justice League, rule by martial law, and Aqualad replaced by Aqualung-lad** be the entire extent of his effect on the universe? It seemed not quite ambitious enough in scope- but of course, the idea of anyone commandeering the universe is so ambitious, I wouldn't know where to begin. 
    But for the record, I'd imagine a day in the life in Joker Universe would start with waking up, having to play carnival games to get your morning coffee (which would be filled with snakes) having to drive bumper cars to work... you know, that kind of thing, instead of just "there's armored guards everywhere and fish raining from the sky!" Joker's universe was just kind of... lame. Which might be a statement itself, but I don't think the intended one. ***

    ** I thought that was pretty clever, I'll admit. 

    *** The cartoon Batman: the Brave and the Bold did a pretty good Emperor Joker episode, which kept only the basic premise, and worked better, including a nice Harley Quinn role, but still suffered from a not-grand-enough scope. I just can't imagine the Joker wouldn't do more with universe-altering powers. ****

    ****God, I'm sorry for all the tangents!

    ReplyDelete
  74. I'm no Catholic (although I do aspire to be catholic with a small 'c'), but I believe the Catholics I know would tell you that sins of omission ARE sins in the theological sense :-)

    Alex S

    ReplyDelete
  75. Oh, Alex, you're so right and I'm so wrong. That's not what I meant to say at all. I meant to say that not intending to commit a sin still is one. And in doing so, I meant to emphasise that although I believe that the creators of these books ARE anti-racist and so on, they're still betraying their principles by not making sure they put their principles into action.

    That's a really good catch and I'm in your debt. I will pull that and edit it, but I will also say I expressed things INCREDIBLY poorly too.

    I'm in your debt, Alex. I believe I've used those terms appropriately elsewhere in this blog several times. But that means nothing where such a stupid example of carelessness is concerned. I should be less concerned with giving offense to professionals and more concerned with not writing complete tosh.

    Pah to me. Hurrah to you.

    ReplyDelete
  76. Hello Geoff:- this is the second take on a reply to you, given that, as you see above, Alex was kind enough to point out that I was managing to arguea SIN of omission as not being a SIN. Brilliant work on my part, I do not believe, and all my cries of 'I didn't mean that' won't carry the slightest of weights. Mea culpe.

    So, here's the reply as someone who isn't an idiot would've phrased it;

    Hello Geoff:- I must admit, being that I've had a few days to mull over the above, there's a few points that I disagree with too in the above. In that, as you'll of course know, most arguments start to fall apart long before they're finished. But I'm glad that there was some kind of value to the overall theme. Thank you saying so.

    There have been moments in both company's history over the past few decades where they've seemed to be making substantial progress in the areas. Steps forward, steps back, as if the political will just wasn't there over a period time to get the ball rolling and keep it turning. As I say, I can't believe that it's a sin of commission, but a sin of omission is still a sin, and, as you say 'Kind of sad .... and, of course, ugly."

    Well, with the issue so very much on the table as regards DC's diversity-in-September announcements, there'll be little wiggle-room for the home of Superman where this issue's concerned then. Perhaps these kinds of books will become far less common by then. I'd like to think so.

    ReplyDelete
  77. Relax Colin, your original meaning was clear!

    I'm the person who once gave a presentation AT UNIVERSITY about the poetry of 'Kelley and Sheates' without realising what I'd done until halfway through, who once conflated Nepal and Tibet in a political argument and thereby automatically lost it, etc. I think it's Robert Fripp of King Crimson who says 'there is no mistake, save the failure to learn from our mistakes'.

    Alex S

    ReplyDelete
  78. Alex, you're a mensch. Unless that's somehow politically incorrect, in which case you're an egg.

    If that's unPC, I'm struggling.

    But thank you for reminding me that we all make mistakes :)

    ReplyDelete
  79. DC's "DIVERSITY" is, was and shall probably always be composed of equal parts lip-service and sham.

    NONE of the "diversity" books will be around in two years. Some won't be around next year.

    It's a joke, at best and, at worst, business as usual with lies folded in.

    I'm dumb, I admit it. I gave DC the benefit of the doubt for decades despite the fact that they NEVER ever failed to fail. And this "initiative" will fail too because, at the end of the day, no one is really trying over there.

    By contrast, though Marvel certainly stumbles and occasionally REALLY does something amazingly stupid vis a vis diversity, their track record is not only clear on this front but, compared to DC, stellar. There is no comparison really.

    Just take a quick spin over to the DC chat boards and see why. Until that mass of racists and sexists dies off DC is a lost cause.

    At this point, if DC was burning, there isn't a fluid in my body I would use to put it out.

    ReplyDelete
  80. Hello Historyman:- I’m sorry I delayed publishing this. I thought it part of the comment you left with your contact details.

    "That sounds a bit like the plot of Emperor Joker, an incredibly flawed but fun story, though with Steel instead of Cyborg. I did like the idea that the way he and Superman figured out there was something wrong with the universe is that they both independently remembered formulas for the laws of physics. The whole story is one that revolves around both of their intelligences rather than simple strength.*”

    Ah, now I’ve read part of the collection of the central issues of EJ and I found it very, very dull, an unforgivable sin for a Joker book in particular. But I do like what you describe, and it does remind me that Steel is a fantastic character and one who’s been poorly treated and who is much missed. He’s not defined by his origins in the Superman franchise, as it appears the up-coming Bat-Wing will be, and he’s one of those characters that I’m convinced could succeed with the right team.

    ”Someone (maybe Chris Sims?) pointed out that unlike affirmative action in the real world, which could at least theoretically result in some deserving people missing out on employment, keeping things balanced in the comics doesn't actually involve giving or taking jobs from actual people. If (as in Young Justice) Aqualad is black, that doesn't mean there's a white Aqualad out there on the street corner. It's all about telling good stories.”

    It’s a good call, isn’t it, and it has the ring of Mr Sims’s common sense too. It’s a good point.

    ”Regarding weaknesses, where to start? The place still seemed quite orderly for a Joker-controlled universe, and by far not as much fun as I'd imagine it could be. Would fish falling from the sky, Bizarro in the Justice League, rule by martial law, and Aqualad replaced by Aqualung-lad** be the entire extent of his effect on the universe? It seemed not quite ambitious enough in scope- but of course, the idea of anyone commandeering the universe is so ambitious, I wouldn't know where to begin.”

    Ah, now you started off by selling this to me. Now you’re putting me off :) You might not know that there was a Batman/Hulk tabloid-sized team-up in the Seventies in which the Shaper Of World’s granted the Joker the wish to reshape the universe. Memory tells me that was rather more fun, perhaps, than the scenario you describe.

    My vision of a Joker-verse? Utterly insane, with capricious cruelty and death descending on everyone just at the very worst moment. I seem to recall Morrison’s Martian Manhunter finding it impossible to control the Joker’s madness for anything more than the slightest moment in time. I don’t think there’s much good to be found there.

    ”I just can't imagine the Joker wouldn't do more with universe-altering powers.”

    Try the Wein/ Lopez Hulk/Batman crossover. It’s mad.

    ”I'm sorry for all the tangents!”

    No probs. They’re a tradition on this blog, I assure you.

    ReplyDelete
  81. Hello Geoff:- “DC's "DIVERSITY" is, was and shall probably always be composed of equal parts lip-service and sham. NONE of the "diversity" books will be around in two years. Some won't be around next year.”

    Heaven knows, I do understand exactly where you’re coming from. Or rather, I believe I do, and my disappointment about previous false dawns – the killing off of the last wave of ‘diverse’ characters – very much dented my faith in DC and provoked no less exasperation on my part.

    “It's a joke, at best and, at worst, business as usual with lies folded in.”

    And yet. While I admit that I simply can’t trust to company spiel, there are SOME positive signs. There are creators involved in the reboot who are and always have been committed to diversity; Ms Simone and Mr Cornell come immediately to mind. Secondly, we’re hearing that it’s WB who’re pushing for diversity, which, although it may only result in a TV-level degree of representation, would STILL be better than the norm at the moment.

    That’s a worst-case scenario. Perhaps WB are really pushing the issue. Mr Cornell has already said that Stormwatch will be in part about an openly gay couple. Perhaps that sensibility will extend elsewhere. And as I say, books like ‘Secret Six’ have really done great things over the years, month in and month out.

    ”By contrast, though Marvel certainly stumbles and occasionally REALLY does something amazingly stupid vis a vis diversity, their track record is not only clear on this front but, compared to DC, stellar. There is no comparison really.”

    You know, I’ve never thought of the matter in those terms. And it’s a really interesting hypothesis. By which I don’t mean that I don’t believe you, but that you’ve inspired me to try to sort out where I stand on that matter. Thank you.

    ”Just take a quick spin over to the DC chat boards and see why. Until that mass of racists and sexists dies off DC is a lost cause.”

    I will admit that there was some horrible stuff aimed at Ms Simone when I was last there. Indeed, it was aimed at me too for daring to say she’s a fine writer. I’ve not been back. Life is too short.

    ”At this point, if DC was burning, there isn't a fluid in my body I would use to put it out.”

    I retain my faith that there are good folks there who have fought the good fight, and that the others will if they’re given a mixture of the carrot and the stick. But I will admit that where both the Big Two are concerned, I’m desperate to see something more substantial than a few heartening books and some well-intentioned public-speak.

    Time for some putting up and putting up some more. That’s the only way this debate will be closed. A protracted policy of good manners and respect. That would be good to see.

    ReplyDelete
  82. Ejaz said: "I'd disagree with Siskoid that Marvel is issue-deaf on issues like this. My previous comment went into Stan's emphasis on inclusion and his overt humanism in things like the Silver Surfer, Spider-Man and FF was one of the things that drew me to Marvel (my Mum had old reprints when I was a kid) I'm not the hugest fan of Bendis' work (for various reason) but on The Avengers I feel one of the most important things he did was push minority and female characters (Luke Cage, Maria Hill, Victoria Hand, Jessica Jones, Ms Marvel, Spider-Woman, Elektra) to the forefront which can only be a good thing."

    If only Luke Cage wasn't written as Shaft, eh? It's a strange writing shortcut is all I'm saying. I of course don't mean to say that everything in both companies' output is issue-deaf, but that most of it is, and that it springs from editorial laxity (if the creators don't think of it, well, then, no editor will mention it). Examples of Marvel's deafness include Quesada denying there was anything wrong with the Mary Jane doing the laundry statue, as well as the Heroes for Hire "Hentai" cover. I'd also throw in there the sheer absurdity of Black Panther and Storm marrying, two completely unrelated characters who tie the knot suddenly because... well, it looks like it's because they're both African (not from the same country though). Black Goliath's gratuitous sacrifice in Civil War is another.

    Creators (by which I include Editors, and not without some irony) don't have to be malicious, but I should wish them to reflect on what message they're sending before actually sending it.

    ReplyDelete
  83. Hello Siskoid:- I find myself torn on this point, and I hope I don’t come across as a blogger who sits on the fence. On the one hand, I do recognise that there have been a host of positive contributions from both companies. And I did want to recognise that in these responses. It strikes me that it’s important not to let this argument slip into any statements of absolutes, of ‘they’re good’ or ‘they’re bad’, though of course neither you or Ejaz have done that. You’ve both recognised that this is anything other than a simple issue.

    Yet at the same time, I’m also *!$* furious that this situation is STILL going on, and to whatever degree in 2011. It’s such a simple situation to put right, and who wouldn’t want to?

    The problem is, as you express, that there’s been so much that’s just awful. And it often seems as if the best decade for representations was, for all its problems, the Seventies. That can’t be right. And I can find nothing which you discuss in your examples that doesn’t worry me.

    And yet Ejaz isn’t in any way wrong. I really mean that. There ARE a broad range of characters representing difference in the MU. It often doesn’t feel like that. There are all these Fear Itself-like stories and the lack of very many stories that reflect any kind of engaged political agenda. There’s a sense that nobody really cares, that Marvel would prefer to pretend that there are no debates, and no urgency to them.

    I think that’s where I’m most concerned. Trying to think of why I can agree AND disagree with both Mr E and yourself actually very much helped me realise one of the things that really worries me. There’s so little sign that anyone cares in so many of today’s books. It’s not just the sexism, although that’s bad enough. It’s the passivity, the lack of intensity, the absence of a sense that THESE THINGS MATTER. Not in the sense of ‘relevancy’ or lectures. But in the kind of emotional and commitment that marked the best of the books of the past. With the collapse of narrative options, that just becomes all the more problematical, because the focus becomes more and more on what happens rather than what people think and feel.

    In fact, Mr S, you’ve inspired me to feel that I might as well kick this all into touch and go writing about Late Antiquity or Soul music. Then I think of a few of the more hopeful books, the more intense ones, such as Gillen’s “Breaking Point” in Uncanny X-Men, and I think, Oh, well,I’ll give it a few more months.

    "Creators (by which I include Editors, and not without some irony) don't have to be malicious, but I should wish them to reflect on what message they're sending before actually sending it."

    Yes. Hear hear.

    But it would be heartening if there was more evidence of caring too ....

    ReplyDelete
  84. Interesting post! I heard about you through the Savage Critics Podcast, and thought the look here was very interesting. I do agree and disagree with some of what you said about Cyborg, though I think my main point would be this: Each superhero here is different due to some new tragedy which occurred in their life. I think what is so interesting about Cyborg that, despite whatever happened to him (I'm guessing it has some relation to his father, due to the brief remark he makes), he still turned out good. Cyborg is someone of such great character that, despite the hardships and the new world, he is the one person who still hopes and tries to make the world a better place.

    And, well, maybe this is just me only getting into comics in the last 6 years, but I just don't see how Marvel is that much further along in terms of diversity than DC is. Geoff's comments just come off as weird to me, considering the last couple years.

    I mean, we talk about DC killing off legacy characters, but the only one I can really think of is Ryan Choi (Who I pray to any God who will listen is the Atom in the new JLA book). Perhaps Freedom Beast, though he was nearly 20 years old by the time he was killed off (And I'm guessing he'll be back, since it looks like Cry for Justice won't be). Perhaps I'm missing a couple which are earlier than this, though I don't think I am.

    Was either of their deaths that much worse than killing off a rather well-established character like Black Goliath or Wasp (Both versions)? Out of the four characters who came back (Aqua Man, the Atom, Green Lantern, and the Flash), only one booted a new minority character: Wally and... whoever the new Aquaman was both got booted, while Hal coming back isn't as disruptive since it's easy to have multiple Green Lanterns.

    Say what you will, but since I've started reading DC Comics I've seen them push hard for their minority characters take root and be accepted. Jaime Reyes is a poster boy for this: he's been pushed hard not only in his own comics (where his run, as well as Ryan Choi's, was extended by editorial mandate despite the sales), but he's been a guest star in a LOT of different comics and has made multiple appearances on Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

    ReplyDelete
  85. Hope this isn't a double post, but trying to work off what I had for part 2 here...

    In fact, there have actually been decent amount of minority characters in their new shows: for Brave and the Bold, you have Bronze Tiger, Black Lightning, the Blue Beetle, the All-New Atom, Katana, Firestorm (Jason Rusch & Ronnie Raymond), the Batmanga story, and Fire. In the new series, one character is African-American while another is half-Vietnamese. I think this big push shows that DC's diversity isn't just lip service and that they are willing to make interesting changes in media.

    But to use one of my favorite comics ever as an example, look at the diversity within Checkmate. Yes, it is an international organization, but for the majority of the run the two highest-ranking Americans are driven, intelligent, and dynamic African American characters. I could name more, but I think this goes well to prove my point.

    Beyond bad plots and poor character-use, which goes beyond ethnicity and affects all characters, I think the biggest flaw DC has in its push of minority characters is its inability to fully integrate the Milestone characters. I think this is in-part due to the passing of Dwayne McDuffie, as well as just a lack of good times to integrate them properly in. Hopefully this reboot will do well for that.

    I also think DC deserves credit for having a larger and, IMHO, a stronger group of female heroes. Birds of Prey alone should be enough to show this off, but I think DC has many more females who can support an ongoing title than Marvel does, though this might be the fact that Marvel has a lot more team-based characters than DC.

    Sorry if I'm sounding defensive, but I feel like Marvel gets a free pass way too much. I understand that they moved first when it came to minority characters (or at least, in a more meaningful way), but I think they deserve as much criticism today for their actions as DC does.

    Finally, if we are going to name good writers, why haven't we named Grant Morrison? His Man-of-Bats book was utterly fantastic, striking the tragedy of Native American life today with the hope of what one man can do, even if they don't have the wealth of Bruce Wayne. Morrison's love of globetrotting has really added a great many new characters from diverse backgrounds, even if they haven't been fully used yet: the Great Ten, Super Young Team, Big Science Action, the various new Batmen around the world, his reinterpretation of the 4th World... he's one of the few writers in comics who looks past the idea of "American Superheroes" and just sees "Superheroes".

    Hope I don't come off half as uninformed as I think I might be. Thanks for the nice read!

    ReplyDelete
  86. Ah hell, I knew I forgot something, or at least express something a bit better. To put something in better words:

    On Johnathan Hickman, I think the fear is that he'll get the same criticism that Gail Simone got over Ryan Choi; That he's a white character in Asian clothes. However, Gail tried to make right and went to her critics to ask what she could do to change this. I think if Hickman were to be willing to do the same (learn from mistakes), he would do well in not only expanding his writing skills, but to help break something that a lot of white writers fear. Paul Cornell, as mentioned above, did well in breaking that sort of fear by using research and his own personal interest, and I hope that Judd Winick will do something similar with his Batwing comic.

    ReplyDelete
  87. Hello Kristopher A:- “I think what is so interesting about Cyborg that, despite whatever happened to him (I'm guessing it has some relation to his father, due to the brief remark he makes), he still turned out good. Cyborg is someone of such great character that, despite the hardships and the new world, he is the one person who still hopes and tries to make the world a better place.”

    Oh, absolutely. And I did write in the above piece that there were real steps forward with the character as presented in Flashpoint in certain ways. But the broader circumstances, the very structure of the comic, seem to me to mean that the situation is, as I wrote, two-and-a-half steps forward and one-and-a-half steps back.

    ”And, well, maybe this is just me only getting into comics in the last 6 years, but I just don't see how Marvel is that much further along in terms of diversity than DC is. Geoff's comments just come off as weird to me, considering the last couple years.”

    It’s a debate which I’ve been keen to sidestep in this post, Kristopher, because I fear it might derail the central issue, which is that neither company is doing nearly enough. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t raise the issue, as indeed others such as Geoff have. But the reason why I focused on Flashpoint and Fear Itself, and the reason why I focused on the STATS for those books as much as anything else, was to try to make sure that I stayed focused on one issue, for the situation is so regularly poor from both companies that it doesn’t matter who’s better or worse according to any criteria at any one time. I think there’s a point where the difference between 7.5% and 5% of dialogue given to women in each company’s crossover just isn’t great enough to count. And there’s such a tradition of company loyalty and company disputes where the fans are concerned that it’s possible to loose the focus if a piece like mine – and here I’m talking about my piece and not your comment – gets bogged down in specifics. This is especially true when you’ve been reading comics as terribly, unbelievably long as I have. Oh dear. I’ve been reading comics for almost 46 years and I’ve seen the pendulum swing backwards and forwards with the years, with Marvel pushing the envelope in its superhero books and DC in its war books long decades ago. But shockingly the situation at Marvel in 1976 was in SOME ways far, far better than that at either company today, and because so little progress has been made in many ways, the key question for me isn’t who has done better during a specific period, but why both companies have done so comparatively little.

    ”Say what you will, but since I've started reading DC Comics I've seen them push hard for their minority characters take root and be accepted. Jaime Reyes is a poster boy for this: he's been pushed hard not only in his own comics (where his run, as well as Ryan Choi's, was extended by editorial mandate despite the sales), but he's been a guest star in a LOT of different comics and has made multiple appearances on Batman: The Brave and the Bold.”

    cont;

    ReplyDelete
  88. cont;

    It’s absolutely true what you say in the above, and in the other paragraphs of your argument too. But I can’t say that that’s progress, because there’s so little that’s laudable on show. I think we should be aware that the third Blue Beetle exists and will be returning. Huzzah! But I don’t think that should obscure the overall problem. If we argue over Luke Cage and Blue Beetle, Black Goliath or Ryan Choi, we risk fisty-cuffs between ourselves. A look at tomorrow’s new comics list should put those fisty-cuffs to rest. For a 21st century slate of comics, they don’t look very heartening to me in terms of their representations at all. Small mercies aren’t enough anymore, and they’re not really to anyone’s credit in 2011, regardless of their limited achievements.

    But, having said that, I really DO love the Jamie Reyes Blue Beetle. Argh! Look, I'm trying not to slip into specifics, but Reyes IS endearing as a character. Let's hope there's so many more characters who reflect difference and diversity in the near future that we barely think to notice them, because they're just not rare and so-often peripheral anymore.

    ReplyDelete
  89. Hello Kristopher:- I don't think you came across as uninformed at all, and I in my turn very much hope that I didn't seem disrespectful in how I explained the way in which I approach this debate. I'm glad you followed up your first piece. I can follow your lead now;

    “In fact, there have actually been decent amount of minority characters in their new shows: for Brave and the Bold, you have Bronze Tiger, Black Lightning, the Blue Beetle, the All-New Atom, Katana, Firestorm (Jason Rusch & Ronnie Raymond), the Batmanga story, and Fire. In the new series, one character is African-American while another is half-Vietnamese. I think this big push shows that DC's diversity isn't just lip service and that they are willing to make interesting changes in media.”

    Well, I hope so. I’ve been stating over and over that I’m up for trusting DC and hoping they’ll deliver. But I’m not sure I would want to keep up with the company’s products – any company’s products – if this year passes and nothing changes. And as you can see from above, I quite agree with you about the characters the companies might use. There’s SO many, and great creators could really ensure that all that promise appealed to the audience.

    ”Beyond bad plots and poor character-use, which goes beyond ethnicity and affects all characters, I think the biggest flaw DC has in its push of minority characters is its inability to fully integrate the Milestone characters. I think this is in-part due to the passing of Dwayne McDuffie, as well as just a lack of good times to integrate them properly in. Hopefully this reboot will do well for that.”

    Hear hear. I loved the Milestone books when they were out and miss characters such as Rocket and Icon with a nostalgic, fond “aahh”. With all that potential at their fingertips, you’d think DC would be diving in to make use of those characters. Let’s hope they do

    ”I also think DC deserves credit for having a larger and, IMHO, a stronger group of female heroes. Birds of Prey alone should be enough to show this off, but I think DC has many more females who can support an ongoing title than Marvel does, though this might be the fact that Marvel has a lot more team-based characters than DC.”

    Well, I’d not only agree, I’d add Secret Six to the list. The diversity of colour, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality in that book was impressive, especially as it was all put to use in story terms and never presented as affectation.

    ”Sorry if I'm sounding defensive, but I feel like Marvel gets a free pass way too much. I understand that they moved first when it came to minority characters (or at least, in a more meaningful way), but I think they deserve as much criticism today for their actions as DC does.”

    Yes. And now I feel daft for not realising that you had this second part of your comment coming, because that’s of course what I concluded above too;

    ”Finally, if we are going to name good writers, why haven't we named Grant Morrison? His Man-of-Bats book was utterly fantastic …., even if they haven't been fully used yet: the Great Ten, Super Young Team, Big Science Action, the various new Batmen around the world, his reinterpretation of the 4th World... he's one of the few writers in comics who looks past the idea of "American Superheroes" and just sees "Superheroes".”

    It’s an unarguable point. In my defence, I’ve just not been captured by Mr Morrison’s recent work and so don’t follow it closely. But I certainly should’ve recalled Super Young Team. Mea culpe. It’s a good shout.

    ”Hope I don't come off half as uninformed as I think I might be. Thanks for the nice read!”

    Exactly the opposite, K, and I’m very much heartened that we arrived at the same spot. Both company’s have their own successes, neither are doing enough, both have considerable resources to draw upon, both need to get their act together.

    I’m with you. Let’s hope the Big Two are with us :)

    ReplyDelete
  90. K:- On Mr Hickman: I've received quite alot of material privately from Americans saying that they understand and sympathise with his worries, even though they all wish as you do that Mr H would just take the plunge and put his talent to use in concert with a measure of research. This makes me wonder whether I can quite understand, from this side of the pond, how some if not indeed a great many Americans make sense of the question of race and ethnicity. It seems to me that though Britain is surely no better than the USA, we may have slightly different ways of seeing things at times. Not different, not worse, but there's perhaps just a little less fear about 'getting it wrong'. I shall have to look into the matter. I was talking to a correspondent today who expressed similar concerns to Mr H, but who had come across the Cornell example and felt inspired by it. Well, Mr Cornell is an inspiring chap, I can't help but feel. And the only way through this, as you say, is for good will and curiousity to lead to research and daring and the acceptance that mistakes will be made, and put right too.

    Fingers crossed for a touch more bravery in general, and, when it happens, for a perhaps more supportive readership too.

    ReplyDelete
  91. Hello Mr. Smith. After reading this posting, I've realized a few things: that I have a lot to learn about both the Marvel and DC universe and that my fandom of the Marvel universe has been waaay too naive. I was wondering if you would read a posting I did about a comic research idea I have and provide ideas and feedback about how better to think about and pursue such a thing.

    I am a fan but not an owner of very many comics, Marvel or DC (in fact the only complete series I've ever owned was Lone Wolf and Cub and Cowboy Bebop). So my ideas surround the proposed project are nothing more than observations had of my limited interactions with Marvel and DC. So, please be merciful with your feedback is what I'm trying to say. Here is the link to my very new blog. http://aloe-jade.blogspot.com/2011/07/research-ideas.html

    I look forward to hearing from you!

    Be well,
    Aloe-Jade

    ReplyDelete
  92. Hello Aloe-Jade – well, of course I’ll not be nasty! I was a teacher for too long not to realise how precious and nerve-wracking research proposals are.

    But having been a teacher for so long, and a student both before and during that period, I’m all-too aware that I’m just not enough of an expert to advise you here. It used to drive me mad when my own students would receive very precise and detailed advice from folks who, whether they knew what they were talking about or not, pontificated when they didn't know anything about the context of it. This wasn’t because I didn’t appreciate my students getting help. In fact, I always thought that was a brilliant business. But the problem was that most - actually, all - of the 'advisers' knew nothing of the syllabus that the work was being framed in response to. They knew little of work limits, mark schemes, standards, resources, particular models of ethics and so on. Because of that, their advice was usually useless, and often extremely destructive, because the student would, for example, be fired off to undertake grand projects from which they just weren’t going to earn the rewards they needed, and which were inefficient in terms of the effort that was involved in relation to the returns they might expect.

    By which I don’t mean, I don’t want to arrogantly assume that my advice is of any use in practical terms. For example, I may have missed this data, but your site doesn’t say what discipline you’d be producing this work within. Of course, research in English and sociology, Media/Cultural Studies and History, or whatever, is incredibly different. No-one could advise you on a general basis when such a matter is always an absolutely specific one. And I couldn't advise about any of them, because I've no experience of American academia. York Uni, Leicester Uni School Of Education and the Open University in Britain are my old institutions. I'm out of league even there, because I've not been in a class for a dozen years now studying.

    Mixed up with that absolutely vital information is the question of the resources open to you, of the time and funding and access to supervision and support, your specific interests, your particular academic skills and qualifications, the ethical and practical constraints of the research, and so on. For me to feedback on your admittedly really interesting set of proposals would be terrible arrogance on my part. Terrible, unforgivable arrogance, actually. The road to hell really is paved with good intentions, and I’d be paving it myself if I played expert here. I’m not qualified.

    I think that only the folks who have professional experience – as students or tutors – in the course/tradition you’d be following for your post-grad work could advise you. Of course, if there’s specific questions about sources and whatever, I hope this is a blog where visitors would chip in with ideas. But again, even there, the demands of your course are the starting point about what questions you can and should ask.

    Good luck with your proposal and your research. We need all the good research we can get in this area, we really do. And please feel free to ask specific questions of all the blogs you go to, including this one. But this is a job for the professionals. And I’m not even one of them where England is concerned since my early retirement. I really am sorry I can’t help more. But I’d rather seem unhelpful with the best of intent rather than appear to be really helpful and behave unethically.

    The very best of good fortune

    Colin Smith

    TooBusyThinkingAboutMyComics

    ReplyDelete