Diversity in Comic Books

I have a confession to make. I have no idea what’s going on in the current comic book continuity.

I should be ashamed, probably. I watch a lot of comic book movies and television shows. I’m a self-professed comic book nerd. But, the truth is that the height of my nerd-dom—at least as it relates to comics—was somewhere in the period between the early 1970s and early 1980s. And a portion of that at the beginning was devoted to Archie Andrews and the Riverdale gang, Casper, Richie Rich, and the like. I was eight or nine-years-old before I graduated to super hero comic books, and was twelve-years-old before my primary consumption switched from DC to Marvel, because that’s what my junior high friends were into.

For many years, especially after high school, I put aside comics as childish things. In the early ’90s I was drawn back into the fold in a minor way with such high-profile events as the death of Superman and the Claremont/Jim Lee relaunch of X-Men. I briefly jumped in with both feet as Image Comics started up. It was new and exciting. I was initially a big fan of Spawn, Youngblood, Savage Dragon, and WildC.A.T.s. Then, I wasn’t, as the initial promise seemed to never pay off. I remained peripherally aware of what was going on in comics, as I am now, but was never again an avid reader or follower of any particular titles.

Don’t read this as a denunciation of comic books. Not at all. I still believe that comics are a powerful and important storytelling medium, and a valid art form deserving of respect. I’m making my way through The Walking Dead backlist, and I’ve collected many trades over the years, including the Mass Effects and many of the Buffy the Vampire Slayers from Dark Horse. Oh, and several Angels from Dark Horse and IDW. My love of the Flash television show on the CW led to my purchase of the Flashpoint and Flash Rebirth trades. A recommendation from my youngest brother introduced me to The Killing Joke. I devoured all of the Ennis/Dillon Preacher trades. And Watchmen, of course.

Some day soon, I will do a deep-dive into Brian K. Vaughan’s work, particularly Y: The Last Man and Saga, which have earned so much praise. I didn’t care much for what he did to the show Under the Dome, but his other bona fides seem solid. He worked on Lost, after all.

All of which leads to here. And now. I’m a comic book fan, but not a fanatic. My heart belongs to the classic comics and artists, but I’m open to new things as well. I’m not really sure what’s going on currently at Marvel or DC. Not in the books.

But, I hear things, and I read things on the Internet.

Just the other day, I read a post quoting the artist John Romita Jr., in context I hope, about diversity in comic books. He was criticizing Marvel for replacing current heroes in the name of diversity. I’m not sure about the details on what he’s talking about, although I’ve heard about the female Thor, the black female Iron Man, the female Captain Marvel, etc. None of that bothered me. I also read something about Sam Wilson, who was the Falcon back in the day, taking over for Steve Rogers as Captain America. I was okay with that as well. Miles Morales is a name that’s bandied about a lot, and he sure isn’t Peter Parker.

But, who cares? I don’t read any of the current comics, not really. I’m sure some of them are great, but I no longer have any interest in the continuity. All the classic comics are still there, and I haven’t even read all of them.

Here’s the thing: Marvel (and DC, Image, IDW, Dark Horse, whoever) will continue to publish whatever sells. And that’s great. Not to get all Gordon Gecko here, but greed, in this case, is good. The public will decide what they want to read, voting with their dollars. I vote with mine.

The truth is that diversity has been needed in comic books for a long time. In my youth, it was rare to see a hero who wasn’t Caucasian, and in most cases, wasn’t male. The times were a-changin’ even then, and the process continues today. And that’s great.

Romita was somewhat chastised in the media for some offhand comment he made about there being no transgender heroes yet. I’m certain he meant no offense. And, he and I both know that there will be transgender super heroes eventually if they’re not out there already. Maybe we’re not the audience for this, but I applaud your right to read these books if that’s where your interests lie.

I find myself in the somewhat awkward position, however, of having to agree with JRJR (whose Iron Man run I remember fondly from the late ’70s). I believe that replacing current heroes with people of other genders, races, sexuality, whatever other individual traits we use to divide ourselves into separate groups, is the wrong decision. Let’s introduce new heroes instead. Like a War Machine counterpart to Iron Man, maybe. Or a completely separate hero with his/her unique identity. Miles Morales may be your Spider-Man, but mine will always be Peter Parker, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

In complete contradiction to what I just said, it didn’t bother me when Nick Fury became Samuel L. Jackson, or when Jimmy Olsen became a black James Olsen. I’m flexible and applaud diversity.

If anything should bother me, it should be the Jimmy Olsen thing. That was a blow to all of us gingers out here. Oh, well—-

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