The past few articles I have written have been about personal recommendations and gripes I have, and have been geared towards the DCAU (DC Animated Universe) franchise. This article is about something that I hold a far more personal stake in, the diversification of superheroes. It has always been such that a child would look to the sky and dream of touching the stars, that one day when they grow up that they would achieve their greatest heights and potential. Early on in our existence, children would stay up listening to the stories of heroes told around a campfire. Dreams of heroes and their deeds filled the imagination and gave rise to the drive to shape empires, advance human progress, and leave marks on history. Alexander the Great found inspiration in the exploits of Achilles in the Iliad, countless warlords of the age of knights found their inspiration in the tales of gallantry and chivalry from King Arthur, history shows this. In today's world, children very rarely gather around the camp fires to hear these tales of old, but that does not mean they go without heroes performing the impossible. In 1938 we saw rise to the phenomenon of the comic book super hero in Action Comics #1, with a cover page of Superman lifting a car over his head to save a helpless individual from a cruel fate. Since then, we have seen a rise of the superhero genre as a medium, as it rapidly replaced the old heroes from the myths of antiquity with this new pantheon of gods and heroes. Over the years comics have gradually become more and more influential in society, and now they have impacted culture in the same very way that myths of old became bulwarks of their respective societies. However, with a modern society that is far more universal, that calls for a wider range of heroes to identify with the world, the push for these more culturally and sexually diverse rosters of heroes has been a spark for controversy across the board. It begs to question, is pushing these characters a bad thing? No, it is not, if done properly it should act as a spark of inspiration to bridge the gap between people of all creeds, nationalities, and gender world wide.
The question we SHOULD be asking is: how should the comic book companies handle this properly?
As I said previously, diversifying the superhero community with new characters has potential to be a great force in the world, and if handled properly could be nothing but beneficial for the comic book industry in the mission of acting as an inspiration. Now before I get started, I will say that the examples I will be using in this article will be characters from Marvel, as they have had the strongest and most successful push of diverse characters and proper treatment as of late.
The first step to ensuring the success of this push is very simple. Respect characters that already exist, and push new characters. The gold and silver age of comics were so exceptional because of their ability to push for droves of new characters. Creating new characters is difficult, sure, but it is important that there is respect shown for characters that already exist, while exploring the potential for something new. Since the Marvel NOW, we have seen the rise of a whole bunch of culturally diverse heroes that have been amazing. Kamala Khan and Miles Morales, are quite possibly the best examples of creating new characters properly. Now granted, these two characters are taking on the roles of other heroes with a very long and appreciated history, however, going along with that these are NEW characters, and that they are not Carol Danvers or Peter Parker. While how they handle writing Miles is great, the one that captures this notion the best is Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel.
Kamala Khan is a first generation, natural born American from a Pakistani family born and raised in New Jersey. Growing up immersed in American culture and being raised in a Muslim family, there is a lot of identity clashing going on for her. She is an avid fan of Super heroes, and Carol Danvers (original Ms Marvel and current Captain Marvel) is her favorite, and she daydreams about being her idols. However, when her powers manifest by being exposed to Terrigen mist, she gets a taste of what that's like to be her heroes as her Inhuman ability to shapeshift literally changes her likeness to that of Carol Danvers. The experience was awful for her, and described as exhausting. However, after saving a few people it was clear that she was meant for this, she just had to do it her own way. What I find really incredible about this, is that in many ways it is a way of Marvel directly showing us, that this is not going to be some re skinned Muslim American version of Carol Danvers, but instead that she is different, that she is not going to try and be Carol. She is Kamala Khan and that sense of identity is so important to establish for a new character, for that is what gives a character true depth and soul.
Equally important in creating these new culturally diverse characters is to ensure that you transcend race, gender, preference, and etc. A character can have the hardship of those things as obstacles, but should ultimately be defined by the character's actions. In his I Have a Dream speech, Martin Luther King details a day where he hopes that his children's children will one day be judged, not by the color of their skin by the content of their character. This statement rings true throughout comics, and in a recent issue of Spider Man, that is something that is handled beautifully.
The new Spiderman title focuses on Miles Morales' Spider man (spidey of the former Ultimate Universe, and a Spider Man of the post Secret War Marvel). Miles Morales is both African American and Hispanic American, and sure those are parts of his identity as a culture, but that is not what Miles should be defined by. In the first arc he is fighting Blackheart (one of the toughest demons in the Marvel universe) and sends him back to hell. However, during this fight his costume suffers some wear and tear and one of the rips exposes his skin to be brown. A teenage youtuber, freaks out and geeks out over her excitement at the fact that the new Spider Man is an ethnic minority. Miles' reaction to this is amazing. "Why does that even matter?" and "I don't want to be the Black Spiderman, I want to be Spider Man." This might be one of the best moments for cultural progress in comics to date. It might not be as momentous as the first gay marriage in comics (which was in X men), but it's something that seems so casual, but it's such an incredible deal. The fact of the matter is that it should NOT matter what color he is, he is a person and his actions are what should make you glad that he is there.
Miles Morales and Kamala Khan are just two examples of very good characters being brought to the forefront. Sam Wilson, Black Panther, Storm, John Stewart (Green Lantern, and Nightrunner (even though he only appeared in two issues of Batman) are all characters that hold the torch of pushing diversity in comics.
The only things that truly hurts the cause are examples of moments where they break the rules from above. Both sides are guilty of it, Marvel had past Bobby Drake come out as gay, but still have present Bobby Drake as straight (or I guess closeted still, not sure how that works). DC has taken Wally West (a character with close to two decades of great storytelling and a huge fan base) and re-skinned him to be black, and have a pseudo stereotypical sob story of a hood kid. DC has done a whole bunch of taboos with characters they tried to create in the new 52, most notably in Simon Baz (the new Green Lantern) by attempting to make his plight based around his culture thus turning him into a walking stereotype in many ways, as well as a very questionable character design (the man has a ski mask and even though he has a Green Lantern ring, one of the most powerful things in the DC universe, he still carries a pistol). However, while all these problems exist with the push for diversification, the good that can come from it is undeniable. Kamala Khan has been out for 3 years and has had immense cultural impact, and has even affected society in ways that most superheroes haven't ever. Back January of 2015, Kamala was graffitied over anti Islamic bus advertisements in San Francisco to detract from hate and ignorance. A character having that large of an effect on our culture in so little time is immense.
Anyways I hope you enjoyed the article, thanks for the support, and let me know if you have better ideas on how better to diversify, or hell maybe you're a purist and you are sick of pushing all these new characters and just want to focus on your classics. Either way, I hope to hear from you all!