It happens every day. In fact, it is pretty hard to avoid it. There are some things that can only be understood with a slap on the forehead. Things so mind-boggling that one wonders how humans managed to evolve thumbs while being this mentally inept. Case in point:
Every time I see an article like this I want to tell the author, “Fiction doesn’t work like that.” Far too many liberals think that fiction should represent the real world. They assume that because a group of people exist in the real world, every work of fiction must include that group’s experiences and stories. Failure to include them is bigotry and discrimination.
For liberals the issue is not actual diversity but pushing politics. It does not matter whether the stories are interesting, the characters likeable and empathic, or the reason for the characters’ existence plausible. All that matters is the political statement made by the characters existing.
This is how Andrew Wheeler winds up with a list of contrived ideas that would create such superficial, unreadable crap that Marvel and DC would lose the bulk of the audience — including liberals like Wheeler — if they were stupid enough to use them.
For example, Wheeler suggests that in order to correct the lack of women of color in comics, Marvel and DC should resort to a quota system:
There are about 18 straight white dudes in the Avengers when you look across all the Avengers titles. By the end of 2014, we want to be able to say there are at least twice that many female heroes of color starring in Marvel and DC superhero titles.
Wheeler does not do the math, but that amounts to 36 titles across the Big Two. Split evenly, that would be 18 new titles for by both companies. This seems like a good idea until you realize that most comic book readers do not support new characters. With rare exception, books featuring new characters fail within the first year. Why? It happens because people want to read about Batman, Spider-man, and Wolverine, not Ms Marvel, Captain Marvel, or Manhunter.
Some of you may think of Batwoman as an example of a female character whose book succeeded. Well, that is not entirely true. Her ongoing series succeeded, but her prior mini-series bombed. It was the creative team on the ongoing series that kept the book alive. With them gone, the book’s sales will likely drop.
Yet there is another issue here: what about the existing titles? Marvel and DC limit how many ongoing series they publish. In order to include 18 new titles each, they will likely need to cancel existing titles. How likely is it that fans of the cancelled titles will support the new ones?
Wheeler’s second issue is the local specialty; i.e. characters based on ethnic concepts:
The era when every other non-white character was voodoo-themed, or kung-fu themed, or native mysticism-themed, or jungle-themed, or jungle cat-themed, or jungle god-themed, is behind us. It produced some good characters, some great characters, but it’s time to move on. Characters can and should embrace their identities and their heritage, but they shouldn’t be defined by it. There’s only one Captain America in the Avengers; his teammates aren’t Pilgrim Man, Applepie, and Founding Father.
Resolution: One national hero per nation. All existing national heroes get grandfathered in. All the other heroes get to choose their identity from a full canvas of options.
Why can there only be one national hero? These people are not mascots. They are superheroes representing their country. Since when is only one person allowed to represent their country?
Secondly, when did voodoo, kung-fu, mysticism, and nature become representative of one’s nation? I am sure there are forests in places other than South America. Likewise, there are plenty of European myths that include the above mentioned elements. Are those off limits? Can we not have any Viking Berserkers dressed as bears?
Wheeler starts to show his liberal bias here. His suggestion makes no logical or story sense. It also makes it impossible to fulfill Wheeler’s first request. Imagine that DC decides to make a comic about Lady Shiva. How would they create new martial arts-themed characters without violating Wheeler’s rule?
However, it becomes silly when Wheeler tackles the lack of GLBT characters in the Avengers and JLA. Wheeler writes:
Avengers editor Tom Brevoort was recently asked on Tumblr, “if we can expect any gay members on the Avengers?” His response: “Who says you don’t already?” And the answer is, anyone can say we don’t if Marvel hasn’t presented it. […] We take Tom Brevoort’s remarks to mean that there are imminent plans to establish a serving Avenger as LGBT, and we’re excited to see it. We hope the JLA follows suit.
That is not what Brevoort implied. His statement implies that the character or characters may exist and have not come out yet, which makes Wheeler’s suggestion about having at least one GLBT character on both teams moot.
That brings us the next aspect of the GLBT issue:
Romance is part of the soap of superhero comics. Boy meets girl, boy falls for girl, boy keeps secrets from girl, girl gets abducted by super villain, boy angsts over terrible life choices, something something, kissing?
But it’s almost always boy-meets-girl. When it’s two guys, they seem to fall in love somewhere in the gutters. (In the comics sense, not the puritanical sense, nor the Oscar Wilde sense.) Gay characters step off the gay boat in pre-set pairs, and we never see any courtship.
Most superhero comics today do not focus on the romance element anymore. Those that do avoid the classic tropes Wheeler mentioned. Why? Most likely because everyone knows them and finds them silly and pointless. This is why every recent superhero movie has the hero revealing his identity to his love interest.
As for why we do not see the courtship between gay characters, that likely happens because of the potential backlash from liberals like Wheeler. Imagine if Marvel decided to have Wiccan and Hulking hook up over the course of Young Avengers. Their relationship was not immediate, but something built over several story arcs. Liberals would accuse Marvel of being afraid to commit to an open gay relationship. Marvel could not play it out like they did with Cyclops and White Queen or Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy or Mary Jane Watson. They definitely could not give it the Superman and Wonder Woman or Batman and Catwoman treatment.
They would have to show it immediately or face accusations of homophobia. Want proof? Look at the online reaction to DC’s refusal to allow Batwoman to marry her girlfriend. Liberals pitched a fit over it, despite DC refusing to allow any of their characters to marry and dissolving the marriages (literally making them never happen) of existing couples. DC even went so far as to break up Lois and Superman. If DC’s first couple cannot marry, why would Batwoman and her girlfriend be allowed to marry?
Yet Wheeler demands:
No more motorcycle-and-sidecar gay couples. Let’s see some single LGBT heroes fall in love. Prodigy. Starling. Julie Power. Bunker. Ben Deeds. Show, don’t tell.
There is a problem: these are not romance comics. They are superhero comics. The vast majority of people who read these books are not buying them to see characters hook up. They buy them for the adventure, action, and silly concepts. If writers are more worried about making sure that Bunker has a boyfriend, how will they have time to write the next convoluted, pointless crossover event that people will love to hate?
This brings us to the “T” in GLBT. Wheeler writes:
We need to see transgender superheroes in the Marvel and DC universes. We don’t mean mutant shapeshifters, gender-ambiguous aliens or magical tricksters. We mean a person assigned the wrong gender at birth, who is either transitioning to their correct gender or has already transitioned. And we don’t mean a supporting cast member. We mean a hero.
Young people struggling with gender identity need heroes, just as lesbian, gay and bisexual people need heroes, just as people of all races need heroes. Superhero comics were so slow, so shamefully slow, to accept that LGBT people belong in general audience comics. That has changed at a rapid pace, but the T in LGBT is still in the margins.
I cannot express how sad it is that anyone must explain this to a person who reads fiction, yet I must do it: superheroes are metaphors. Very few people look like those characters, and that is not their point. You are supposed to be able to identify with the themes and concepts represented by the character regardless of what the character looks like.
I do not look like Batman. I do not have his money, his height, his intelligence, or his skills. My parents are very much alive. I do not collect little boys to become my colorfully dressed walking target sidekick. Yet I identify with the character because of how he turned his hurt and pain into something to help other people. It is what he did and how he behaved that made me identify with Batman.
If a character must look like you in order for you to identify with them, the character is not the problem; it is your lack of imagination.
Wheeler also does not like “under-dressed” female characters and suggests:
For every male character with a revealingly sexy costume or a scene of gratuitous disrobement, there can be one female character in a similar costume or circumstance. Right now the only male character in a sexy costume is Namor, so you get half…
Wait, no, he put on pants and a vest. Right now there’s no-one.
Um… yes, there is. There is the Hulk, Iceman, Human Torch, Silver Surfer, Hercules, and this guy. Ironically, Wheeler’s own site shows plenty examples of sexy costumed male heroes. So there should not be a problem with a woman showing a little thigh.
The accepted wisdom is that superheroes aren’t for girls. Game designer Anjin Anhut recently wrote a piece explaining why marketers fear the female geek. The summary version: Marketers often get strong returns when they exclude women from their audience and create the impression that men are superior to women. In comics that manifests as male leads and male stories; hyper-sexualized female characters; women as plot devices. The strategy was effective for generations.
I plan on addressing Anhut’s article in another post. The gist of my response is that businesses respond to their market. If women fail to buy the product, businesses will not market to them. Comics do not exclude women with the intent of making men look superior to women (I cannot recall any recent advertisements beginning to suggest that). Comics market to the audience that buys their product, and creates more of the products that the audience buys. The same thing happens in industries that target women. It is not a conspiracy; it is smart business.
As for Wheeler’s first comment, who says it is accepted wisdom that superheroes are not for girls? What we tend to see is that girls do not read or watch the same stories that boys do. There is nothing wrong with that. Girls may want to read about superheroes, but may not be interested in the adventure or action element as much as they care about the character interactions.
However, this does create a problem for companies like Marvel and DC because in order to win over girls, the companies will have to sacrifice their male audience. For obvious reasons, the Big Two do not want to do that, so they do not typically market to girls.
Yet when they do market to girls, no matter how left-leaning, progressive, and feminist the story, the books do not sell well. They end up cancelled because the female audience people like Wheeler claim exists did not buy the books and neither did the existing male audience. Again, this is not a conspiracy; it is simply business. If people do not buy the product, why continue to make it?
Things change. The focus on adolescent male interests helped push superhero comics into a shrinking ghetto; recent efforts to diversify by publishers like Image, Marvel and Dark Horse have seen the genre audience grow.
Um… no. The focus on adolescent male interests helped keep the comic book industry alive well passed its expiration date. These interests continue to bring in tons of money and create new and diverse fan bases. Want proof? Look at the fans of Naruto, One Piece, Soul Eater, Attack on Titan, and Bleach. All of those books and shows focus on adolescent male interests and yet share huge female followings.
Likewise, Image, Marvel, and Dark Horse have not published scores of female-driven books. Image and Dark Horse do publish more diverse genres, and as a result appeal to a broader audience. Coincidentally, Japanese comics do the same thing. They offer far more genres to choose from, therein appealing to more people.
The issue is not the absence of politically correct diversity; it is the single-minded focus only on superhero stories. If more publishers, particularly Marvel and DC, published more titles in different genres for different age groups, they could easily increase their fan base. The problem, however, is that the existing fan base, even those demanding more variety, do not support those books. They continue to only buy books with Superman, Batman, Wolverine, and Spider-man, resulting in the other books’ cancellations.
Secondly, the vast majority of modern stories are written for adult males, not teenage boys. So Wheeler’s sexist attack on teen boys makes no sense. Yes, he scores points with liberals and feminists for portraying boys’ interests as stupid, bad, and rapey, but he completely misses the point. The reason the industry has become a “ghetto” is because the Big Two spent the last 15 years appealing to people who read Crisis on Infinite Earths when it was originally published. They sacrificed my generation and my godson’s generation, resulting in lower sales as we moved on to manga and other mediums to get the kinds of stories we like. Taking away the few remaining stories we like will not make the situation better.
Wheeler cannot be concerned with things like that. Instead, he wants another quota:
A modest goal would be to say that at least 50% of superhero product should neither alienate women, nor marginalize them, nor rob them of their agency, nor reduce them to sex objects.
Let’s set a more ambitious goal. At least 50% superhero comics should appeal to women directly. It should feature female heroes and female-led storylines. Let’s see where we are in a year.
The fix is not to demonize male interests, take away their favorite characters, or create a quota system. It is to add various types of stories and genres so that the overall audience can grow again. However, making comics a bastion of liberal political correctness will only make things worse. You will turn off much of the existing fan base and run into the huge problem of trying to please liberals who have no idea what they actually want.
Wheeler also does not like the lack of a recent female superhero movie:
All right, this one isn’t really up to the comics industry, but it needs to be repeated; let’s get a solo female hero on the big screen.
What is the rush? Other than Wonder Woman, what female character are people clamoring to see a movie about? It makes more sense for Disney and Warner Brothers to bank of their most popular characters rather than play politics. Why? Doing so gives them a built in fan base.
About Wonder Woman:
And DC? Just make a goddamn Wonder Woman movie already. Sweet Hera, what the hell, guys? Marvel doesn’t have a female hero equivalent to Wonder Woman, but I’m willing to bet if DC gave Marvel the rights they’d have made two Wonder Woman pictures by now.
And they would both suck. The reason Warner Brothers is taking so long to make a Wonder Woman film is because the character is fairly difficult to work with. She has no interesting rogues gallery, has a boring origin story, and outside of the WWII and bondage elements, she has little to offer story-wise. Wonder Woman’s call to greatness is solely that she is the first well-known superheroine. Unless Warner adds in some of Brian Azzarello’s changes or changes her origin story, it will be a pretty dull movie about a perfect feminist woman beating the crap out of some men, like a movie version of the TV version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Speaking of beating up men:
Let’s bring Scarlet Witch back to life and have her say, “No more straight white men”. We can keep all the ones we already have, but at this point straight white men are so over-represented in superhero comics that we literally do not need any more. Not one. Not a single, solitary one.
This is going to bruise some people’s feelings. “You’re oppressing us,” they’ll say, “You’re fractionally diminishing the extent to which we are culturally dominant!” That’s not what oppression looks like, but how would they know when they’ve only ever seen it from the other side?
Yes, there is nothing like supporting racism and sexism in comics to start an argument for ending racism and sexism in comics. It makes it even better when one mocks the people who will complain about one’s open bigotry.
Straight, white and male is the default assumption of an industry that has always been dominated by straight white men. It’s a lazy habit that comic creators need to break, so let’s go cold turkey.
Um… no. It is not a lazy habit; it is a natural human tendency. Let me explain: Wheeler notes that most creators are straight white men. Those creators, like most people, write what they know and what interests them. In their case, they write about other straight white males. Granted, there is an element of bias that does prompt some editors to refuse to publish stories about black people, women, gay people, and other groups. Nevertheless, most white male creators do not set out to exclude anyone. They simply write what they know.
Wheeler can call that lazy, but he will have to say the same thing about gay writers who only write gay characters and female writers who only write female characters.
But Wheeler takes it a step further:
Resolution: No new straight white male characters in superhero comics in 2014. (And no more time-displaced versions of old ones either.)
Right… suddenly no other straight male characters will develop powers, put on costumes, or time travel. Only gay white men, women, and ethnic groups can become heroes now? How is that not racist and sexist?
The only place Wheeler begins to make a decent point is in his closing, but still drops the ball:
These resolutions aren’t ordered by importance, but if superhero publishers only make one pledge in 2014, this one matters most; we need more minority creators in the industry. More editors, more pencillers, inkers, colorists and cover artists, and, perhaps most importantly, more writers. If the people making comics are as diverse as their potential audience, the comics they make are more likely to reflect and appeal to that audience.
Um… no. The most popular work of fiction after the Bible is A Tale of Two Cities. The vast majority of fans of that work are not Victorian English writers and critics. Again, fiction does not work like that. Comics do not need to be created by people who look like their audience in order for the audience to like them.
Wheeler has a point that it appears that the Big Two make no effort to include minorities in their talent pool. That is a legitimate issue because it is hard to believe that there are no women or minority creators who work at the level the Big Two want.
However, there is a potential explanation for this lack of diversity: a lack of name recognition. Most of the creators the Big Two hire can sell books on their names alone. Creators without that appeal will have a harder time getting work.
The best thing Marvel and DC can do is actually open their doors to new talent. Neither company accepts unsolicited submissions anymore, so the only way to get any notice from them is to get work published at smaller publishers and make a name for yourself. That is incredibly difficult to do on its own, and when one adds in potential bias from readers towards minority creators and their stories, it makes it virtually impossible.
Where I disagree with Wheeler is on this:
People in the majority tend to assume that any effort to extend an invitation to minorities – any action that affirms their welcome – is unfair. In fact it’s a fair and equitable corrective to decades of institutional affirmation towards the majority.
In simpler terms; any publisher who says “we’re just looking for the best talent” without making an active effort to court minority talent is really only looking for the best straight white male talent, because they’re the people who know the industry has a place for them.
That simply creates a quota system in which the minority groups are favored over straight white males. That is unfair. The judgment should be on who brings the best skill and talent to the story, not what they look like. We should not encourage anyone to refuse a white man for a job who they think is perfect because a black lesbian wants the same job. If she is not going to bring what Marvel and DC wants, that black lesbian should not get the job. If she does, then they should pick her. If both would be great, they should pick the person they think they would work best with or hire them both and find another project for the extra person to work on.
The comments below the article show how blinded people are to the basic problem. They are so wrapped up in the politics that they do not see that the ultimate issue is them. Every time the Big Two do what people like Wheeler demand, it fails or barely survives. Feminist-themed comics tank, gay-themed characters fail to move books, minority-focused books slip into cancellation.
It is not that the books are poorly written or drawn. Quite often the books have the diverse creative teams Wheeler wants. Yet they still bottom out. Why? They bottom out because people like Wheeler and those commenting on this article do not support the books. They do not buy them. Sure, they buy the first issue, maybe the second. Then they find out the truth: there is nothing to the story or the character.
It is the ultimate tokenism. It is the character created not because he is interesting, not because he has problems to overcome, not because he is fighting for truth and justice, but only to “prove” that a company is not bigoted.
This is the stupidest reason for creating a comic book, and usually results in forgettable stories that no one wants to read, a fact proven by the scores of books the Big Two published that no one wanted.
The fix is not to take away the things the existing fan base likes. It is not to mock and demonize them. It is to actually make the books people like Wheeler claim other people want to read. They do not need Marvel and DC to do that. There are plenty of public domain characters people can use and nothing stopping anyone from creating their own superheroes.
Some people balk at that suggestion, but I think it is the best one because it will prove to the Big Two that there is an audience for these kinds of stories. Write them, draw them, publish them, and buy them. Show the Big Two that there is an audience for black lesbian transgender heroes and the companies will copy the idea to make money.
But you must show there is a market for these stories because that is ultimately what they are telling: stories. The Big Two are not preaching politics; they are entertaining. You need to show that people will be entertained by these concepts. Otherwise you are stupidly playing politics with an industry and a fan base who could not care less about your agendas.