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Sat Jan 11, 2014, 03:17 PM

Who Gets To Be A Superhero? Race And Identity In Comics

"The X-Men are hated, feared and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason than that they are mutants," Chris Claremont, a longtime X-Men writer once said. "So what we have here, intended or not, is a book that is about racism, bigotry and prejudice."

In many stories, those themes are underlined and circled using language from the real world. The X-Men's leader, Charles Xavier, and Magneto, his nemesis, are on opposite sides of an ideological debate over whether they should try to integrate with humans or not. They're referred to by writers and fans explicitly as analogs to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. In the first second X-Men movie, a teenager revealed that he was a mutant to his parents in a scene that was framed as a kind of coming out. ("Have you ever tried...not being a mutant?" his mother asks.)

But an artist named Orion Martin noted that the X-Men comics have skirted around the depiction of the people on the receiving end of much real-life discrimination: the main lineup in the X-Men team has been mostly straight, white dudes. Martin nodded to the work of Neil Shyminsky, an academic who's written about the X-Men's complicated relationship with real-life racism:

[He] argues persuasively that playing out civil rights-related struggles with an all-white cast allows the white male audience of the comics to appropriate the struggles of marginalized peoples ... "While its stated mission is to promote the acceptance of minorities of all kinds, X-Men has not only failed to adequately redress issues of inequality it actually reinforces inequality."


Wasn't there some whining about white male privilege here recently? As in there really isn't any?

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Reply Who Gets To Be A Superhero? Race And Identity In Comics (Original post)
ismnotwasm Jan 2014 OP
Mike Nelson Jan 2014 #1
ismnotwasm Jan 2014 #2
exboyfil Jan 2014 #3
ismnotwasm Jan 2014 #4
Blue_Adept Jan 2014 #5

Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Sat Jan 11, 2014, 03:28 PM

1. I liked the Legion of Super-Heroes diverse line-up better...

...most were "white"-looking - but there were green, black, orange, blue prominent members... and they were from all over the universe. They had a gay member - Element Boy - but it wasn't overtly stated - and a lesbian couple, too. I think the point aim was more that you could imagine the X-Men or LSH being diverse if you anted to, but it was supposed to be kept vague.

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Response to Mike Nelson (Reply #1)

Sat Jan 11, 2014, 03:38 PM

2. I think the industry is moving toward diversity

Which is a great thing to see. When comics became a "thing" it was before the civil rights movement, before 2nd wave feminism, in other words it was created for little white boys. It's evolved since then.

I'm re-reading "Preacher" right now, while the protagonist is white, a Texan good ol' boy even-(chasing down God-- also white) I like that the issues of race and gender are met head on, even though they're not "the point" of the story

And I agree with the multicolored heroes, you have to wonder if it was one way to inject something besides straight white males.

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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Sat Jan 11, 2014, 04:46 PM

3. One of the most beloved characters was Storm

Original lineup did have a blue guy after the transformation (smile). They had a native American for four issues I think. Bishop was of African descent. Forge was native American. Sunspot was Brazilian, Sunfire was Japanese, Nightcrawler was???? (German).

Yes I guess they are right - most of the X-Men were of European descent. Also the major villians. It always seems that after you get past Storm most non-European characters seemed somewhat forced. DC also has its problems. Cyborg from Teen Titans now JLA. Black Lightning? Right. John Stewart always had to contend with Hal Jordan being the real Green Lantern (they could not even change that after Jordan became a planet killer). Tyroc from LSH? Dawnstar from LSH (Wildfire's unrequited love interest - it is tough being a ball of energy). Aliens don't count.

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Response to exboyfil (Reply #3)

Sat Jan 11, 2014, 06:10 PM

4. Heh!

"Aliens" don't count. true that.

Especially true for comic books and race, and gender, but sme of the best gender benders I've seen are with aliens in Sci-Fi-- really interesting when you can have completely different cultures, even though it's hard to stay away from the Anthropocentric -very hard to do, because all we have for a speaking culture is human references, but in the insect or animal world, especially in different environments, behavior is definitely different.

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Response to ismnotwasm (Original post)

Sun Jan 12, 2014, 09:14 AM

5. Diversity

The comics in general got a lot more diverse in the 90's, but let's be honest. Like most science fiction from the golden age, comics from Marvel were created in the 60's and have been largely stagnant in a way since. Created by white and often Jewish men, it was simply the way things were done.

The 80's brought in more variety with the black and white boom in independent publishing with all kinds of stories and characters. But even then, it was largely white male creators.

The 90's had the Big Two adopting more diversity, though there's still plenty of struggles.

Origins and context is important. As well as knowledge of how the industry has changed since those days. The Big Two aren't about creating new characters so much these days because of ownership issues, lawsuits and so forth. if a creator cuts his teeth working for them, he then goes independent/creator owned to make his own thing. Those are getting a bit more interest in things like adaptations these days, which is good.

That's not to say that the comics field can't do more, especially the Big Two. But they're bound by interesting market forces and an aging demographic. I simply dislike the whole aspect of pointing out that a group that was created 50 years ago, and is chock full of a lot of diversity overall that doesn't get recognized in the mainstream, gets painted as a problem.

Yes, I grew up on comics. I still read some from a range of different people and companies and a lot of them are quite diverse in story, character, race and gender. But like we see with so many things, there has to be some context put into it. Asimov gets grief for not having much in the way of strong women in his books that were written in serial form in the 40's. It's true, but you have to look at the time it was written and take that into account. The same here.

I wish US comics were done similar in gender approach to how it is in Japan, though not completely. There's such a large focus on girls and women's comics there that are fantastic and amazing (check out Princess Jellyfish sometime) that it completely shames what we do here. But culturally, we're simply too different in terms of accepting print comic material as adults.

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