While I appreciate any effort to make comics more inclusive and the determination to represent everyone (of any given race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.) in them, I still believe there is a right way to do it and a wrong way. The right way should feel organic and natural, and should create the feeling that, in spite of everything, the character was always heading towards a given direction, even if it was intentional or not. Good writing can achieve this gradually in degrees and will find a way to make it work. The wrong way feels like a cash grab. It clashes with a readership through its abrupt and trumped up nature.
As a person of color, I think it’s wonderful that DC comics are making the effort towards a more racially diverse universe. Being in my mid-twenties makes me look forward in my life from time to time. It would give me nothing but the most fulfilling, equitize pleasure for my children to have characters that reminded them more of themselves; characters that would re-affirm their roots and give them a sense of pride. I vividly remember thinking as a child that I couldn’t be Superman for Halloween because he was white and I was not. Granted, there was the time I was Batman that one year (A child’s logic, right?). Regardless, the push in mainstream comics for a diverse and prominent stable of characters is a exactly what should be happening, its just the how that bothers me.
With the announcement of the new 52, DC captured me. I had been out of comics for a long time and thought the idea of a clear cut starting point was great. Granted, a lot of gems fell by the wayside (can I PLEASE have Booster Gold in his own series again?) but some great things happened too. I had never so much as heard of Animal Man and now I’ve gone through the entire Vertigo run in addition to his current run. One thing that struck me as odd about the reboot, however, was Justice League.
The addition of Cyborg to the team did, and still does, rub me the wrong way. I always knew Cyborg as a Titan, I loved Cyborg as a Titan. As a Leaguer, though, he doesn’t seem to fit in quite right. He feels forced to me, tacked on for the sole purpose of having a Black guy on the team. Even as an element to further the story, I don’t feel he works. Nine times out of ten, he’s relegated to being little more than tech support for the league. Yes I know that his abilities make him naturally suited for that role in the team but Batman had always been their tech guy. Stripping a role away from one character just to justify the presence of another is lazy writing to me. What, exactly, kept John Stewart off the team? A generation of kids and young adults grew up with the excellent Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoons a few years ago, why not nurture that seed and give something familiar to that key market you’re trying so hard to attract? The argument for them is that Cyborg is the 21st century superhero, augmented by that technology the kids just go gaga over but it reeks of being dated and out of touch. To believe that a character works because of such a tenuous connection shows a barebones understanding of the market they’re bending over backwards to please.
Also, if the Justice League is supposed to be more diverse, could we get more than just ONE lady on the team? Just thinking out loud here…
What adds to my questioning of the logic behind DC is Batgirl. Now, I read Batgirl. I like Batgirl. I don’t love it, but I like it (it’s fun if ya ask me). With the plethora of different Batgirls to choose from, why would you possibly pick Barbra Gordon? DC asserts that because she is the most widely known Batgirl, then she should bring in new readers easier than a relatively unknown Batgirl. This is problematic for me for one, simple reason: if the goal of DC is becoming a more diverse brand, then why undo the most powerful addition to the characters backstory? After “The Killing Joke,” Barbra’s assumption of the role of Oracle became a powerful and inspiring statement. Her character grew and demonstrated that in spite of the loss of the usage of her legs, she was never a victim. Barbra Gordon flourished and became a deeper, richer character, more inspiring and more engaging than anyone before hand could have imagined. Undoing this vital part of her career is a step away from what DC strives to achieve. While comics have a tendency to undo any given event (still waiting on Ted Kord), undoing this one left a bad taste in my mouth. Becoming Oracle felt natural, and that paid off in years of wonderful, compelling stories. Unmaking Oracle felt awkward and has left a void that I desperately want to see filled.
Characters like Renee Montoya (The Question), Kathy Kane (Batwoman), John Stewart (Green Lantern), Jamie Reyes (Blue Beetle), Ryan Choi (The Atom) and Barbra Gordon (Oracle) were already doing what DC has decided to do now: they were enriching the DC universe, adding depth to a world where it has now been deemed imperative to do as such. It feels counter intuitive to pick and choose who stays and who goes just to do it over again, just to run the risk of alienating the very people DC is so actively trying to court.
The latest DC announcement of an established, “iconic” character coming out of the closet troubles me greatly. I love the inclusion of LBGT characters (can’t tell you why but Bunker in Teen Titans brings a smile to my face every issue) in DC and believe it’s a step in the right direction but how it’s done is key. To shoehorn something that is important to so many people into a character that doesn’t lend themselves to it is not only a bad move for whoever is writing this, but it cheapens something that is greater than just moving a few more comics.
By forcing themselves to appear diverse, DC does little more than dilute their brand and reduce their target audience to a marketing device. This will not help sales, this will not yield memorable stories. As a comics reader, I want these initiatives to succeed, but I don’t want them to be cheap ploys. If DC truly wants to showcase a diverse world, hire talented writers who can create this world naturally. Don’t toot your own horn for doing something you should be doing anyway. It’s unbecoming, really.
If DC really wants to have something for everybody, maybe they can be talked into a Blue Beetle/Booster Gold buddy time-cop ongoing? I mean, I’m an everybody. Oh well, I can hope right?