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Unintentional whitewashing in comics 
6th-May-2010 04:26 pm
dead racists
I don't know how many people here are comics fans, but Chris Sims has an interesting article that's somewhat relevant to our movement here.

For anyone not too familiar with comics, or DC comics, they have a lot of "legacy characters". There may be a superhero with one name, who dies or just disappears or the comic gets canceled, and they come up with another character who takes up the torch--they get the same powers and take up the same name. So there have been several Flashes, several Green Lanterns, a couple Blue Beetles, several Starmen, some Firestorms, etc. A lot of the original characters were white (they were created mostly several decades ago, so ethnic diversity wasn't really considered), but some of the legacy characters have become more diverse. So we had a black Firestorm, a Hispanic Blue Beetle, etc.

Mr. Sims's article is about the tendency of comics writers to basically kick the new character by the wayside and go back to the "original" character--which results in an unintentional whitewashing, because the newer character gets sidelined, or replaced entirely by an older, established white figure.
But now, the idea of a legacy character is being totally subverted. They're not roles that are passed down anymore, they're roles that are passed back up.

And much of the time -- not always, but enough that it's more than notable -- they're being passed back from a non-white character to an Aryan ideal. Jason Rusch is still part of Firestorm, but it's back to being Ronnie Raymond's Caucasian body. Kimiyo Hoshi is still Dr. Light, but that name's been permanently soured by "Identity Crisis" and the fact that James Robinson had the original Dr. Light threaten to rape her children on the Justice League Satellite. Even the regressions of ostensibly white characters often have racially charged consequences: Wally West's interracial marriage to Linda Park has been sidelined in favor of on-the-go suburbanites Barry Allen and Iris West, and Kyle Rayner (who was created as an Irish-American but later "revealed" to be the son of a Mexican-American CIA agent) has suffered the strange fate-worse-than-death of a fictional character who gets demoted from a starring role to a supporting one. He's still a Green Lantern, but he's not the Green Lantern.

It's a well-written article, and amazingly enough, almost all of the comments (as of the time I'm writing this) are supportive.

[Edit] A picture of a recent example of this (Firestorm reverting to the dead white guy instead of letting the alive black guy continue in the role) as depicted in cartoon format, by the same author:

You can see the whole thing here.
6th-May-2010 09:13 pm (UTC)
Cracked.com has The 5 Most Unintentionally Offensive Comic Book Characters along the same lines...
6th-May-2010 10:11 pm (UTC)
Oh. Boy.
6th-May-2010 10:26 pm (UTC)
Or The 5 Worst Comic Book Sidekicks of All Time, including Wing and--*sigh*--"Whitewash Jones".
6th-May-2010 10:49 pm (UTC)
aw no. Cracked is almost as bad as TVTropes. Now I'll never get my homework done ;-P
6th-May-2010 10:04 pm (UTC)
I agree with this. It's also incredibly sad. But bigger than racism in comics is sexism. Have you heard what they did to Stephanie Brown before? God, that was awful. And Black Canary! WTF, guys.

On something more on-topic, the comic-book industry is just really bigoted sometimes. It's a form of mass media that feels it doesn't have to live up to certain standards.

There are only a few stories I'll read at the moment, but even Runaways got pounded. DAMN YOU, MARVEL.
6th-May-2010 10:14 pm (UTC)
Oh God, the sexism in comics.... O___O

I love Linkara's take on this.

I finished the first volume and started the second a while ago, but heard Runaways really wasn't the same after Vaughan and Alphona left.
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
6th-May-2010 10:26 pm (UTC)
That was a really, really cool article, thank you for the link. The comment thread is amazing, I can hardly believe it's an actual Internet thread. Only one person making with the bingotastica. Wow.
6th-May-2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
The comment thread is amazing, I can hardly believe it's an actual Internet thread.

I know, I was astonished! I tentatively peeked at them, fearing the worst... then I kept reading comment after comment of "Great article!" and "You said it!"
6th-May-2010 11:07 pm (UTC)
I'm very very new to comics - as in, Blackest Night was the first comic series I bought in an actual store, while it was still being published, rather then waiting around for a few years and then getting the TPB.

But this is something that even I, as someone totally new to comics, have noticed. Legacy characters keep being made, but then completely over-looked in favor of the original. For instance, a clerk at the comic store I go to managed to convince me to buy Flash: Rebirth. It's not a bad comic - the writing is pretty good, I like the characters, art is nice - but I just felt so weird when I read it, because I KNOW The Flash has a huge legacy, but here they are, just ignoring the newer characters. I think part of it has to do with how, nowadays, the inmates are running the asylum (warning - that's a tvtropes link), as far as writers go. They're nostalgic for how comics were in their youth, so they bring back dead heroes and ignore legacy characters. As someone new to comics, with no nostalgia about these older characters, I get annoyed by this, because I kind of want to read about new, fresh characters that don't have decades upon decades of baggage. It just doesn't seem fair to these newer characters, who were in many cases created because the originals were too dull.
6th-May-2010 11:12 pm (UTC)
They're nostalgic for how comics were in their youth, so they bring back dead heroes and ignore legacy characters.

That's definitely the general assumption I hear from a lot of comics readers. It's certainly true that most of the current comic writers were comic readers in their youth.
(Deleted comment)
7th-May-2010 12:00 am (UTC)
I love John Stewart as well, omg.

I liked Kyle Raynor well enough as well, but Hal Jordan always struck me as a bigtime jerk, in all his incarnations.
6th-May-2010 11:46 pm (UTC)
He makes good points.

When white characters are replaced by CoC, accusations of "they're just trying to fill a racial quota" fly. Take a look at the Green Lantern boards on the official DC Comics site, and any discussion that involves John Stewart. Or the Justice League boards when more than one black character made it on the main team.

Those racefails by fans was enough to make me leave the DC comic book boards permanently, because snide remarks about CoC popped up everywhere in totally unrelated threads - even about characters of color that were not legacy character replacements. They (the comments) were depressing even when I hated the replacement character (Jamie Reyes as Blue Beetle, for example), because it was like they were telling me - a POC - that any representation of myself and other PoC in comic books are a fluke. A quota.

I went back there a few months ago to see if things had changed. Nope. There was a thread in the Captain Marvel/Shazam forum filled with whining as to why DC won't reprint old Captain Marvel issues, and how Steamboat Willie should not offend PoC anymore. Yeah.
6th-May-2010 11:57 pm (UTC)
that any representation of myself and other PoC in comic books are a fluke. A quota.

This, precisely.

how Steamboat Willie should not offend PoC anymore

*BOGGLES* WHAT. And then they WONDER WHYYYYYYY there aren't a lot of PoC fans in fandom/in the industry. It must be because people of colour are talentless hacks and just not interested in comic books? Yeah, that's it!

*face smack*

And dude, you're the first person I've seen who dislikes the Jaime Reyes version of Blue Beetle! Everyone else has given me nothing but glowing reviews of that comic book. :D

Edited at 2010-05-06 11:57 pm (UTC)
7th-May-2010 02:18 am (UTC)
Aww, I love Jaime as BB. Maybe because he was the first BB I read, but hey. Different strokes and all that, but why didn't you care for him?

Edited at 2010-05-07 02:55 am (UTC)
7th-May-2010 01:45 am (UTC)
Chris Sims is by far, one of my favorite progressive bloggers on comics. He writes on feminist angles, sexual orientation, race ext and does it very well. Mixes humor and a deep knowledge of all things geeky to put it in perspective and I think he hits the nail on the head.

I've always liked the John Stewart Green Lantern since his animated version was the first to really get me to like the character of the Green Lantern. For most non comic fans, John Stewart is the Green Lantern.

Race has always been an odd thing in comics. Like with Asian characters who often look just like white people with yellow toned skin...
7th-May-2010 03:29 pm (UTC)
Like with Asian characters who often look just like white people with yellow toned skin...

LOLLL many mainstream comicbook artists are notorious for their inability to draw anything beyond WHITE MALE MUSCULAR superhero and WHITE FEMALE UNREALISTIC MALE-FANTASY FIGURE superhero. Children end up looking like weird old troll things, old people look like young people with a random lines on their faces, teenagers look like body builders, and people all have the same facial features, regardless of race.

It's sad, given that comic books are just another form of media that influence kids (and adults).
7th-May-2010 03:36 am (UTC)
Oh man, am I late to the party. I just submitted a post on that same Chris Sim's article! I love that, he's got a great track record with issues like this.
7th-May-2010 03:41 am (UTC)
Great article. I haven't been following much comics news or opinion lately, but I'm definitely looking forward to future pieces by Mr. Sims.

The way DC is concentrating their energies on a constant stream of over-the-top events and recreating the "good ol' days" of the Silver Age is so unproductive, both financially and creatively. God forbid that they try to sell books by simply telling good stories or promoting new, different characters instead of continuing with more of the same and this regressive focus... because hey, they might accidentally pull in some new readers that way!

I became a DC comics fan precisely because of a book starring a minority legacy character - Cassandra Cain, aka Batgirl IV. At one point, DC published a financially successful monthly series with an Asian heroine as its lead. Plus, she became part of the mythos surrounding one of the most iconic figures in the DCU. For this Asian American girl who'd grown up watching Batman the Animated Series, there couldn't have possibly been a more perfect entry point into comics than the 1999 version of Batgirl.

Then DC started its event mania and mucked up her character so badly that they eventually gave up and replaced Cass with yet another white teenage blonde...

Don't get me wrong, I like Stephanie Brown almost as much as I like Cass, and the new Batgirl book is a lot of fun... but it's just plain sad that for DC to finally do right by a character who's been on the end of horrendously sexist treatment, they had to boot out a PoC heroine in the process.
7th-May-2010 06:00 am (UTC)
AMEN. Agreed on all parts!
7th-May-2010 09:51 am (UTC)
The way the got rid of her was completely senseless too. It's understandable that continuity sometimes gets lost when you bring multiple writers to a character or series, but one of the most famous stories surrounding Cassandra Cain as Batgirl dealt with her loyalties, and why she became Batgirl in the first place. The very statement she makes to Stephanie Brown to explain her decision to walk away from the job is completely, absolutely, in contradiction with that story.

Frankly I find Cass one of the most undervalued DC characters too. Considering her skill level, it really makes little sense that she would not be more involved or relevant in major events and happenings in the DC Universe.

Instead, the company just demonizes her or forgets about her.
7th-May-2010 03:09 pm (UTC)
Too true. As much as I love Stephanie Brown, it would have been way more awesome to have her AND Cass Cain enfolded into the Batfamily. I don't get it - Cass was WILDLY popular as Batgirl, and yet they still destroyer her character and then dragged back Stephanie in some sort of half-hearted apologetic retcon for fridging her.

You know DC writers, you don't HAVE to replace one female hero for another. Two of them CAN exist. And one of them CAN be a PoC. I know! Gasp! Surprise!!
7th-May-2010 03:50 pm (UTC)
I love both Steph and Cass, and it really bothers me that I can't be happy about Steph getting a push as Batgirl without feeling like I'm endorsing DC's institutionalized racism.
8th-May-2010 12:37 am (UTC)
With a side order of Disability! Fail; Jericho comes to mind as another speech-impaired character who got an arbitrary raw deal from the writers.

(You might be interested in this Thai action film; although the heroine came by her Disability Superpower by a different route--she's a natural kinesthetic autistic savant--it gives some indication of how Cass might be well handled cinematically: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjUyu9c8Ng )
9th-May-2010 03:30 am (UTC)
While as expected many comments are full of race!fail, perhaps it is a bit of good news in the same vein as Race!Fail 09 in that Sims' article is getting a lot of people talking nonetheless.

Dwayne McDuffie Forums have a thread going.

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