Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Brief Commentary on Changing Races in Comics

Originally two posts from my Facebook page.

This is, apparently, offensive to some people.
  If I may rant a bit. Should DC, or really any entertainment entity (such as the movies with the new FF cast) stop changing things for diversity? No. That's my simple response. The reason for this is because most of the characters were created back when the default setting for a character was "white male". Nearly every major character came out of the white guy machine and into the comic universe leaving women and other demographics relegated to stereotype, bit players or comedy sidekicks. So, yes, it is important to modernize comics. As a white guy I'm spoiled for choice when it comes to role models in the comic world. Someone who isn't a white guy and is looking for role models is going to be hard pressed to find one that is popular, well known and well written.

As for changing favorites? Yes, they should. They should because otherwise nobody latches on to the characters and they get pushed to the side. By changing Wally West to make him more diverse they take a character and thrust him into the front stage. He now has to be used, he has to be made to work and now we have a major character, a big player, who represents diversity. Otherwise what we have is a bunch of fanboys whining about how their favorite character isn't getting enough panel time because of some "PC bullshit, affirmative action character" who then gets slowly phased out.

This isn't about being PC, it's about inclusion. It's about included everyone and providing a role model for all kinds of people, it's about providing escapism for all people. That's what comics are about, when things are crappy or when you need someone to look up to you have that world and it's important to be able to see yourself in that world. What kind of statement is being made if you have to tell someone that the only way to escape, or the only way you can look up to someone, is if they first imagine themselves as a completely different race or gender? What if when you were growing up the first thing someone said to you was "Alright, first imagine your aren't anything like you are. Step one is you have to picture yourself as a white male because being a black woman isn't good enough. Now have you completely disassociated yourself from everything you are both physically and culturally? Good, because those things mean that you'll never be as good as this white guy. Now that you are distanced from everything you actually are, here enjoy these stories about all the white people better than you." That's kind of a bullshit position and if you hold that position you maybe need to re-evaluate some things.

Finally it seems fans or, at least, a vocal minority of fans, want zero change. They just want everything to be the same always. If that's the case then read the old stories! They aren't gone, they're still there. They'll always be there. They'll never go away. That's the beauty of a print medium. If you're so invested in the status quo just read the old stories. That's basically what you're doing anyway. Why force a brand or creators to write the same shit over and over to appease your fear of change? Just stick with the old stuff you like, shut up and give other people a shot at finding a beloved character.

  To me here's the circular argument you get into when it comes to changing race or gender of a character using Wally West as an example:

"Wally can't be black."
"Does race affect the character?"
"No, that's why he should stay white."
"If race doesn't affect the character then it doesn't matter if he's black. Why can't he be black?"
"Wally can't be black!"

And it just goes and goes. Race can't both be something unimportant to a character but also be vital to a character. Either race/gender don't matter and you can make anyone anything or it is the only thing that matters and they have to stay what they are, which is mostly white.

As for the "They don't make Luke Cage/Black Panther white!" argument. Many ethnic characters were created as a commentary on race or specifically for people of other races. They had to be or they would have been pooped out of the white guy machine. So you can't do that to them BECAUSE race would severely affect that character.


  1. It really doesn't bother me that they're changing the ethnicities of characters, but, I dont think they get what diversity is. "Let's make spider-man, flash, human torch and kingpin into black guys, make thor and captain marvel girls and make a middle eastern green lantern and ms marvel. There now our comics are diverse. Actually. Let's make captain America black and add cyborg to the Justice league, just for good measure". That's what they think diversity is. Why not make some characters Mongolian or something a little more rare in the comic world? I really believe they just don't want to put the effort into making a completely new racially diverse or female character good enough to be have their own comic series or be a main JL or avengers member, so instead they just get some pre-existing characters and change their race or gender. It's just laziness if you ask me.

    1. I know it's hard to judge sarcasm on the internet but I want to sincerely say that THIS has been the best, most logical and well written response to this argument I've seen. So thank you for taking the time to respond =).

      You do raise a point I didn't consider and now that you mention it I do agree, it is lazy. I understand why they use pre-existing names (or "brands" in this case) because it's an easy backdoor into acceptance. Flash fans will buy Flash comics no matter who's got the name or who's behind the mask, so it's a good way to safely introduce some diversity while still making money. I think they don't create new characters for the same reason the WWE doesn't push new wrestlers. Because pushing proven money makers is so much safer and creating a brand new character, creating a paying fanbase for that character and expanding said fanbase is an incredibly difficult, time consuming and money consuming effort. It's easier and safer to change the big names (if you follow wrestling I think the recent rebranding of Kane or Undertaker's "American Bad-Ass" phase) than it is to start from scratch. Then you pepper the established names with side characters and see who or what catches on. It's a slow process and often handled poorly. But, I think, it's better than sticking with the status quo. I'm a white guy and I'm kind of sick of seeing white guys in all my media. It's also kind old that every big hero is a 20/30 something white, affluent/middle class, orphan. I'm open to seeing new things and being told different stories.

      The other interesting point you mention is not only is it lazy but they seem to have a misconception at what "diversity" is. I would agree on that as well. I think "diversity" is a word like "feminism" where no one seems to truly understand what it means and how to apply it. They say "Look we have women beating up bad guys!" and they think "Feminism accomplished!". It's sort of the same thing with diversity. They say "Look we have Cyborg on the JLA!" and they think "Damn look how diverse we are!". They don't really "get" it and I don't think they will. I think the next group of people will though.

      We probably won't see real change, real diversity, until the next generation of people grow up on this introduction to it. It's kind of clumsy now but it's a start, it's a necessary start so that it can evolve into something real. Which I hope it does. I think it will, when you read the cookie cutter stories they used to do compared to what they do now storytelling in comics has improved incredibly as each generation digests the the good and the bad from the previous one. But it has to start somewhere.

      That was a really long response! But your comment really made me think and I had all day to think about it so this is the culmination of all that. Thanks again for reading and taking the time to comment!

  2. Thank you for responding! I was afraid you had abandoned this article or something and I've been searching the internet for someone who gives more than a 1-dimensional answer and resorts to anger as soon as you disagree with anything they say.

    Now that you say it, changing already existing characters makes alot of sense from a business standpoint. I do think they should try and make a few, more diverse characters. If they start them off as a badass supporting character I'm sure it would help in the sales of these new character. I do realize though that it will take much more effort than selling something like a green lantern comic, but I know it's not impossible. All characters at one point were new, and some even became iconic. Now it is true that people have become heavily attached to these icons and would much rather read about spider-man or batman than a completely new character, but Im sure with enough effort they could do it, eventually.

    Once again, thank you for replying!