ByFelipe Oliva Arriagada, writer at
I'm a journalist/writer with some free time who loves comics, books, movies, sports, social issues, and talking about them. I love watching
Felipe Oliva Arriagada

Superheroes were created with a purpose of integration and empowerment, and for that reason, they have stayed relevant and have survived to this day--even if sometimes we overlook the underlying political and social lectures in favor of fun and wishful thinking. But ever since the day Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster--both of Jewish heritage--turned an "illegal alien" from Krypton into a symbol of hope for the hard working people of America in 1938; or Joe Simon and Jack Kirby transformed an ill little kid--son of Irish immigrants--into the American golden boy that would lead the US troops to victory in WWII; or Jack Kirky and Stan Lee introduced us in 1966 to the mythical country of Wakanda and it's legendary ruler, Black Panther; or when a little earlier, in 1963, these same two presented us with the X-Men as an allegory of the social rights movements--which has evolved into an allegory of the LGBTA+ struggle--superheroes have always carried deeper meanings and their constructions never have been exempt of political ideologies.

Superheroes have always been a statement of integration, diversity, and acceptance, so it is in that direction that we must keep moving. All these contributions were groundbreaking in their times, but that was a long time ago, and things have changed. You look at the heroes of the silver age and you see a hegemonic look barely altered by the scarce presence of the very few characters that don't fit the very specific criteria of the times, criteria consisting of very simple attributions like having white skin and a heterosexual male cisgender identity. Storm, Black Panther, Miss Marvel, The Wasp and The Falcon are few superheroes that escape the mold, and while iconic, they're hardly enough.

Today, we have a much more diverse look in the superhero landscape (comic-wise, not movie-wise or even close) with Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel, America Chavez, Patriot, War Machine, Starfire, John Stewart and many others, but they still are minor comic characters that don't have nearly the same impact (at least not yet) in mainstream media and pop culture that the classics do. Not all of these heroes together could amount to one [Captain America 3](movie:994409) or [Thor 3](movie:956858), let alone a Batman or a Superman. Don't even get me started on the media treatment, or lack of it, of [Wonder Woman](movie:45787). With dozens of TV shows and movies, and a firm presence in the collective imagination of today's society, superheroes are as famous as any historical figure, celebrity, sports player, fictional character or deity. While they're on top, (e.g. Superman, Batman, [The Amazing Spider-Man 2](movie:508593) and [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](movie:293035)) they can celebrate enormous success while the more diverse section of characters is still in the shadows, so I think it's time to balance the stakes.

  Miles Morales, Spiderman.
Miles Morales, Spiderman.

Many superheroes have been re-casted. DC did it with Batman, replacing the iconic Bruce Wayne's secret identity a few times; did it with The Flash; and added more Green Lanterns to the team, but that was never to the extent of what Marvel did with Miles Morales, challenging deeply rooted racial stereotypes in comics and strong racism among the intended audience when they decided to place him, instead of Peter Parker, as the star of Spiderman--the second most popular and best selling superhero in the world after Batman--not as a new Spiderman, not as the black Spiderman, but just as Spiderman, your friendly neighbor.

So what's the outcome? Well, I'm no expert, but media is one of the strongest tools to boost self-esteem. An aspect that can be explored are children who need role models to portray to them a world where it is possible for them to achieve success. Children need role models to guide them and teach them all they can accomplish, to teach them they matter, to assure them that people like them--that look, talk and act like them; that come from where they come; and have names like theirs, have gender identities and sexual orientations like theirs--are capable of great things, but so far most role models for children have a homogeneous look and heritage, and that does not go unnoticed by anyone.

When most heroes were created, (they were/are consciously constructed to fit certain ideals) they were created as metaphors, allegories, and symbols of empowerment, but they failed to reach the last step. For example, X-Men as an allegory of the social rights movements in the 60's, yet most are white; and X-Men now as an allegory of the LGBTA+ struggle, yet most of them are heterosexual and cisgender. See what I mean? Today they could go that extra mile and more. The old heroes have done their time and accomplished all they can, because let's face it, what other adventures are left for Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne? How many reboots and recreations and parallel universes can you make until you run out of ideas? You got to stop some day, right?

So that's where diversity comes in because "re-casting" these iconic superheroes and turning them into something new--with new experiences and new worlds--would instantly hatch new stories to tell, each of them with different perspectives, thus giving both new individual and social approaches to them. That's why I think it's time to follow the Miles Morales path and re-design the line up of classic superheroes to give them a new and fresh point of view. It's one thing to have the perfect blue-eyed, blonde haired Steve Rogers--whom I love very much--as Captain America, the guy that looks what Western media and Eurocentric beauty standards tell us how we should look, but another thing to see that position of power and public influence occupied by a Native American warrior whose different upbringing, background, looks, name, and heritage would immediately change the setting of the story, the value and meaning of their words, and the reaction of the media and the public to them. It would also be an amazing opportunity to expose a crude and unfair history and deal with how that history--and latent present--affects all of us.

We need more variety. We need more diversity. It's not just a craving, it's a necessity and is also something I personally want. All mythical and iconic heroes are white males, so the value of giving those names and stories to a new and more diverse generation would be immeasurable. Just imagine Captain American passing on his iconic shield to a Native American warrior and telling them that he trusts they will do great and make him proud; a Latin kid finding out he's worthy of Mjölnir and getting the blessing of Thor to continue his work; a little geeky and totally genius Asian girl becoming the heir of Stark Industries and fighting as the brand new Iron Gal/Iron Machine/Iron Dash (we can pick the name later); a white Russian boy who grew up admiring Black Widow, and then trains to be just like her (because women can be role models for men too!); a transgender man or woman as Superman or Wonder Woman. Yes, Laverne Cox would be a great pick for a movie, but I'd settle for Gina Torres, which would still be groundbreaking.

Kamala Khan, Miss Marvel. 
Kamala Khan, Miss Marvel. 

There is amazing potential in re-creating the iconic line of superheroes as a new iconic and diverse team that appeals to the diverse structure and landscape of our entire world. A team of young heroes who can then join Kamala Khan and Miles Morales as Avengers, and save the world a countless amount times from old and new foes. A new Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman who can then join a bisexual Oliver Queen and Black Canary in the Justice League and successfully defend Earth again and again because these new heroes of diverse races and gender identities have all the capabilities of the old ones they grew up admiring so much. Because, lets face it, there is NO such thing as forced diversity in media as some people complain, but there is such thing as a false hegemony and inaccurate representation of the world we inhabit.

This is not arguing in favor of creating new imaginary worlds where things are different from ours. Quite the opposite, this is arguing in favor of better representing this existing reality of ours. Those old heroes are our heroes, and what they've done for us could never be repaid--I will never forget them, no one will. We owe them our lives, childhoods, and dreams, but it's been a while and it's time for something different. We can make all the new superheroes we want, but they will never be as big because these heroes were created in a different time and survived it to become an integral part of our culture, so it's only fair that this time around our culture(s) become part of them.


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