Comic geek culture is whitewashed, lacks people of color

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The world of comics is undeniably, overwhelmingly white.

“It can get boring, reading about the same guy over and over,” Joel Foster, Manhattan resident, said. “The heroes are all from basically the same background. You can probably find more aliens than minorities. Off the top of my head, the only minority I can even think of is Storm.”

Looking at the best-selling comics in recent months, it is hard to find anyone who isn’t white. In the popular teams, X-Force has the Native American Forge, The Avengers have Falcon and the Justice League has Cyborg. Black Panther shows up during Marvel’s “Infinity” event, but hasn’t had his own series in a few years. Miles Morales, successor to the late Peter Park as Ultimate Spider-Man, seems to be the only hero of Latino origin, and Jubilee, currently in Brian Wood’s all-female “X-Men,” is the only comic with a visible Asian hero.

“I don’t cosplay, but if I did, there aren’t a lot of options for a black cosplayer,” Xavier Gavin, senior in interior architecture, said. “I’ve got Mace Windu and Lando from Star Wars, and basically no superheroes but Cyborg, one of the Green Lanterns and The Falcon, who is a third tier Avenger at most.”

Gavin pointed to a commonly cited reason for the whitewashing in geek culture – a lot of popular titles and tropes are left over from days past.

The most popular superheroes were popularized in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. “Star Trek” first aired during a time when it was groundbreaking to show an interracial kiss on TV. The first “Star Wars” came out in 1977, but the Golden Age space operas that inspired it rose to prominence during World War II.

“I don’t really need diversity to enjoy something, but I appreciate it when it’s there,” Gavin said. “But it only works if it’s done well. The character has to have some development besides their race.”

Gavin said “The Dark Knight” did it well. He said Morgan Freeman was there because he has that authoritative sort of sage wisdom, and he can add something besides diversity. He said there was also a cop Ramirez, who isn’t a huge role, but she has a story arc and betrays Commissioner Gordon over a believable family issue.

He also said “The Avengers” movie was mostly white, but it still had Samuel L. Jackson with his own arc of trying to bring the team together. Gavin said he is not there for his race so much as his “Samuel-L-Jackson-y-ness.”

The lack of diversity does seem to be improving. The aforementioned Miles Morales, son of a African-American father and Latina mother, has shown readers a Spider-Man experience markedly different from that of Peter Parker. Right off the bat, we see Morales go to a lottery for a chance to go to a charter school, a familiar sight to anyone who has seen the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” It gives a glimpse at Morales’ rougher, inner city background that didn’t always offer him a chance at a good education. Seeing Morales’ old neighborhood sink into chaos during the “Divided We Fall” storyline gave us a wider, darker glimpse.

Of course, the introduction of a Spider-Man of color did spark controversy, and even attracted the attention of Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck. It is easy to see why a race change attracted attention. Conservative commentators don’t like to see political correctness, and comic readers don’t like to see change of any sort, but the fans have warmed up to Morales.

Other characters who have seen race changes transitioning to the big screen, like Kingpin in Daredevil, Heimdall in Thor and Nick Fury in all of the Marvel movies, based on the black Nick Fury in Marvel’s spinoff Ultimate comics, have generated fairly little controversy. Samuel L. Jackson’s popularity has actually led to a bizarre race change in the mainstream Marvel comics – the white Nick Fury has been replaced by his long lost black son, also named Nick Fury. In the case of 2004’s “Catwoman” movie, controversy over casting Halle Berry would have been the least of the movie’s problems.

Non-superhero comics, not bogged down by the long running continuities of Marvel and DC, have been more reflective of our diverse world. Recent titles like Chew, The Walking Dead and most anything published by Vertigo, all have reasonably diverse casts. Even 100 Bullets, a comic inspired by the classic ’50s noirs, includes a good number of minority characters.

“It’s getting better over time,” Gavin said. “As our generation grows up and starts creating our own properties, of course you’re not going to see these worlds entirely populated by white people. That’s just not the world we’re growing up with.”

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