For years, the comic book industry has marginalized black people through offensive depictions and underrepresenatation. It is a part of comic book culture that fans are uncomfortable with acknowledging. Beginning with the creation of Superman in 1938, American superhero comics have provided many a way to escape the burdens of reality and into worlds of superpowers, fantasy and pseudo-science. But while black comic book readers fell in love with superheroes like Batman and Spider-Man, black superheroes and other heroes of color remained isolated within a white male comic book industry. Why is this the case?
One possibility is that fans think characters of color are uninteresting. However, there is much evidence to dispute this claim. Another argument is that the absence of black writers impact the amount of exposure these characters receive. There are numerous accounts from black writers that highlight the prejudices within the comic book industry that suggest this is the case. The formation of black owned businesses such as Milestone Media characterize the outrage that these creators endure.
Milestone, an imprint of DC Comics, was founded in 1993 by a group of passionate black writers and artist including Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis and Derek T. Dingle; who sought to diversify the comic book genre by creating original characters of color. In addition to introducing new characters, Milestone provided a home for black creators. With original characters like Static, who starred in his own animated series in the early 2000's, they wanted to show the world how great black heroes can be. After the sudden death of Dwayne McDuffie, who many saw as the pioneer of this movement and was responsible for the inclusion of black characters such as John Stewart in the Justice League series, Milestone lost its way. Fortunately, last month Milestone announced their return as Milestone 2.0— promising a brighter future.
Inarguably, Marvel and DC Comics, the two leading publishers in the industry, have the most influence on this issue. Yet history shows that they have been reluctant to change. In their early days, they victimized people of color through blatantly racist content. As they created new characters, only a few were black. Starting from the Lambert Hillyer's 1943 Batman through this year's Fantastic Four, Marvel and DC have produced approximately 65 films. Out of that number only five have primarily starred protagonist of color. This means that only 8% of these movies have mostly non-white lead characters while the other 92% caters to the white male demographic. When including the imprint properties and other films featuring characters from independent companies like Hellboy and Spawn, the results become even more disproportionate. It doesn't help that many fans are unaware of the rapidly changing statistics that show that both film and comic book audiences are no longer primarily white males.
Marvel and DC have made some recent changes by featuring more heroes of color in comics and other media including the appointment of Kamala Khan as the new Ms Marvel,Falcon as the new Captain America, the inclusion of multiple women of color in Marvel's Secret Wars all female A-Force title, Tanya Spears as the new Power Girl and two new web series featuring Vixen and Static. Before its abrupt cancellation, DC also made progress with Young Justice which included a diverse cast of young heroes and received rave reviews from fans. Cinematically, Marvel's long awaited Black Panther is set to hit American theaters on November 3, 2017, while DC's Cyborg and Green Lantern, which many have suggested will feature John Stewart, plan to premiere sometime in 2020. Even the casting of Hawaiian actor Jason Momoa as Aquaman is an effort from DC, and respectively Warner Brothers, to break from the "white male superhero" status quo. This is good news, but it is not enough.
People of color currently comprise of about 40% of the American population, but that number is growing. The world is rapidly changing and it seems the comic book industry is struggling to keep up. Race is important because it ties us to unique cultural experiences. Yes, we are all human, but we cannot ignore our differences and the unique challenges each of us facehat is harmful. We should celebrate our individuality instead of expecting others to conform to a single way of life. That is what makes us interesting. Marvel and DC should take note.