Monday, July 21, 2014

If you're gonna call people out, do it right

I'm for social justice, for more opportunities for everybody to do great things in life, or to just do ordinary things without being harassed, threatened, or terrorized.  I'm for comics taking on social justice issues as well, and for giving female and minority characters a chance to shine.  I'm all for calling out the unwillingness to do so as well.  But those call outs need to be based in reality, and shouldn't reflect a lack of knowledge about what good things have been done over the years, whether they be decades ago or more recently.  And right now we're getting a whole lot of stupid on this front.  There's a piece in WIRED titled "Giving us a female Thor and black Captain America Isn't Enough'.  And it reeks.  It starts off by blaming comic diversity problem on "the comic book industry’s reluctance to enrage a conservative fanbase or disrupt its own nostalgia-based appeal.", not really.  I know a good bit of comic book readers and to call them conservative is beyond incorrect.  I'm not saying they all run out and vote Democrat in November, but take one walk around at a Comic Con and I don't think you'll be seeing a pool of future recruits for the GOP.  Now if you mean conservative as in resistant to change, that's not true either.  For every change that gets comic fans bent out of shape there are a multiple that they accepted without so much as a whimper.  Are they hypocritical about change?  Sure.  A run through of everyone that has wielded Thor's hammer over the years would show that the latest upcoming change doesn't seem like much to get crazy about.  That some readers haven't taken to it well isn't a sign of conservatism it's one of not liking how a certain thing was changed.  And as far as nostalgia, please.  Nobody's clamoring for return to the days when Batman comics were more like the Adam West television show.  There's a big difference for wanting to stick with characters you've grown close to for twenty years and not wanting their stories to reflect today's world.

But that's not it.  There's a whole lot of nonsense when discussing the flaws in the Sam Wilson as Cap storyline.  One thing is "the uncomfortable weirdness around an African-American Cap working for a white master."  Just stop already.  White Steve Rogers has been working for a black man, the modernized Sam Jackson-resembling Nick Fury, for some time now.  Not to mention that even though Sam and Steve have been partners for decades of comic stories, Steve was always the lead.  But wait, there's more.  Here's some more stupid for you - "Not only are they, by definition, replacements—forced to live up to legacies established by white male characters both in the fictional worlds they inhabit and the minds of the fans reading the comics—but they both got the job because of the failings of their white predecessors rather than on their own merits." I guess Dick Grayson didn't have the same issues when he filled in for Bruce Wayne or James Rhodes for Tony Stark.  Dick Grayson got the job a few years ago because Bruce Wayne got zapped back to the beginning on time, not because looked at him one day and said "you got it Dick, time for me to hang it up and you deserve it".  The fill-in hero ALWAYS gets the job because the regular is incapacitated or otherwise unavailable.  But to say the Sam Wilson didn't get the job on his own merits is crazy.  Virtually no one I spoke to has any problems with him getting the job or found him undeserving, because he's been by Steve's side all along and has proven his mettle at fighting bad guys. In the eyes of the readers the longtime partner be it Dick Grayson, James Rhodes, Sam Wilson, Bucky Barnes or anyone else is almost always deserving; the reason they don't get the job is that no one is really clamoring to see the main guy gone for good.

When you talk to actual comic book readers, and not people who just write thinkpieces based on what somebody else told them, the consensus is real simple.  Create new characters or give the existing female/minority ones bigger roles and better stories.  That's where the real diversity problem lies.  Nobody wants to read a monthly series about Wilson or Rhodes cleaning up the B-list enemies of their senior partner/mentor just like no one wanted to see Dick Grayson beating up the henchmen of the Joker.  The recently ended Nightwing was good because Grayson got to have his own adventures and deal with adversaries of his own that weren't second rate.  Another piece, this one from had this to say:

When I heard Marvel’s twin announcements, I felt something it’s rare for a black comics nerd to feel: I felt like I belonged. Call it pandering to demographics if you like, but as one of the demographics being targeted here, I have to say that it feels good to have an A-list character that looks at least a little like me. 

This makes sense if we were in 1974 and not 2014.   Right now in DC we have two Green Lanterns who are African-American, an African American with his own series (Batwing), and a new Black Superman (on Earth 2).  We also have a long standing character in Cyborg who got promoted from the Teen Titans up to the Justice League.  And we haven't even gotten to supporting characters who are known as the intellectual support behind a lot of the action like Lucius Fox and Cyborg's scientist father.  And there's also the reality, unacknowledged by a lot of the people pushing this issue, that even us African American readers were perfectly fine reading comics that starred white men.  I don't need a black Bruce Wayne to enjoy Batman, and I no hangups when my son and I were Batman and Robin for Halloween a few years ago.  That doesn't mean I don't want more and better stories/roles for black characters; of course I do.  But I'm not asking for stunt casting or overturning decades of established character development that we've already accepted.  If that's your angle please take it elsewhere.

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