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Where Are My Heroes?

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It’s here! Comic day!

I open up my package containing the list of comics that I have grown to love.  My hands sort through the comics, and I’m smiling as I pick out the titles I want to start with first. I will admit that I am a Marvel fangirl and I find myself reading those titles before I move onto the others. However, even in my happy world of comics, I notice that something is wrong. Something I don’t like to think about as I watch Wolverine tear through his enemies or watch Andera struggle to stay alive with Rick and the other survivors of the Walking Dead or even, when I watch Kamala Khan don the Ms. Marvel outfit.

Where Am I?

I don’t see myself in the comics. Granted, I don’t lurk in the night or leap buildings in a single bound, but when I look in comics, I would expect to see more than women who walk around posed in skintight outfits with boob jobs that would force someone to have back problems. And while women (and men) clad in spandex or skimpy loincloths can be a guilty pleasure, they hide the issues that one finds in the comic book industry. The fact that I don’t see people like me.

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While I’m talking about people of different body types (yours truly has a few pounds she’s been trying to shed for years), I’m also talking about the fact that there are hardly any LGBT*Q characters who haven’t been shoved into a closet or have appeared in a canceled series. Too often their sexuality is just a shiny carrot used to get followers to buy a book, then barely mentioned again.  And while this is concerning, it’s also troubling that the heavyweight publishers of the comic world (DC & Marvel) barely have any people of color in their own comics or lead roles.

Where We Stand Now

Now, before people go jumping down my throat about comic history, such as how there have been many persons of color, or that we have seen queer characters, or even that there are minorities in leading roles, I understand. While it’s true that the The Comics Code Authority managed to keep many LGBT*Q characters out of comics from the 1950’s to the early 1980’s when its power was absolute, it’s strange that in our modern age that we do not have more LGBT*Q characters in comics. As I began to write this article, I could only name 12 characters off the top of my head who identify as something other than heterosexual.  Nine of these characters are in Marvel. Most are in the current X-Men comics, such as Mystique who’s appeared in several of the newer X-men titles. Three are from the series Runaways and have yet to be seen from again and one belongs to DC (Batwoman), and one is in the The Walking Dead, which is published by Image.  At one time the series had two gay men together but one was killed in an attack. So that drops the number down to 11.

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Not a very impressive list when you look at it. And while I’m thinking on it, I turn my attention to another group that have barely had people on on comic front covers. As I think about people of color or Indigenous people who are the headliners of their own comics, the number is even with that of the stats I think of for LGBT*Q characters. It boils down to five. And four of them are Marvel titles.  And one is made by Image and called Saga.  As I sat there looking at my list I thought to myself that those numbers can’t be right. So it was time for some research as I headed to the Internet to gather data on the publishers that I am missing along with their characters.

The Industry at Large

As of now there are only two major publishers that dominate the industry, Marvel and DC. To supplement the need for something other than super heroes, several independent publishers, such as Dark Horse Comics, Image, IDW Publishing, Boom! Studios, and Dynamic Entertainment, sprouted up. No matter how much you try, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with every single title they release.  I managed to find out that despite the fact that people of color make up more than 50 percent of the world’s population, they only make up .01 percent of characters in comics, both in terms of background characters & characters who are given dialogue.

MsMarvelPanelOkay, but the picture can’t be all that bleak right? The role of Captain America is going to taken over by Falcon, an African American superhero. Kamala Khan is a Pakistani American superhero who is Ms. Marvel and has her own comic. The mutant Storm (who is an African woman)  is headlining her own comic coming out in October. In the Ultimate Universe, Spider-Man is an African American teenager and in the series Spider-Man 2099, the hero is a Latin teen named Miguel O’Hara and we also have Robbie Reyes, another Latin teen, who takes up the mantle of Ghost Rider in All New Ghost Rider.  These are all steps forward. But only from one company. At the moment DC has no people of color who are headlining their own comics. Image Comics has Saga, which features people of different races and are also coming out with several new series including Under the Mountain, which will have a large cast of people of color. There’s also a new graphic novel series coming out titled Legend of the Mantamaji, which features an African-American male coming to terms with his magical abilities.

While these are great first steps for Marvel and Image, I couldn’t find much (or anything) else for the other publishers about having characters other than white people headlining in their comics. Maybe I would find more titles of non traditional heroes when I looked to see if there were any characters who headline their own comics that are gay.  And while I could browse the manga section and find dozens of titles that have LGBT*Q storylines I want to read good old fashion comics. And surprisingly, I couldn’t help but be disappointed in offerings on the comic stands today. Only one title from DC Batwoman has a lesbian woman in the lead (who was denied from marrying her fiance by DC’s president) . Marvel’s series Painkiller Jane has a bisexual lead and in 2012, they had mutant Northstar marry his long time partner Kyle.

And while both DC and Marvel along with other publishers  have several gay characters running around in their universes (which is great, I’m all for it), only two of them have a starring role in their own comics.  It’s frustrating to see many characters who are great characters kept to the back burners and not given a chance to shine.

As I stare at my stack of comics going through the titles, I can’t help but wonder if someday I’ll be able to see a superhero who is just like me and other members of the LGBT*Q or for people of color and Indigenous people as well.  Until then, all fans like me can do is let the publishers know that we want more of heroes who are like us or perhaps, we should start creating our own comics featuring people who are like us, except they have secret night jobs that require a cape and cowl.

5 Comments

  1. Denise Escamilla

    February 17, 2015 at 1:45 am

    I confess I’m not much into graphic novels/comics, but I enjoyed your article very much. I found this numbers quite appalling. You would think that in the year 2015 things would have moved faster and evolved more towards true diversity in the comic world too. I was wondering if you have checked out The Legend of Bold Riley yet. Someone recommended it to me a while back, but I haven’t read it yet. It looks interesting though.

    • Jen

      February 17, 2015 at 1:51 am

      Things are slowly starting to change. I just read that DC is finally allowing the character of Cyborg to star in his own comic coming in July. The issue with the comic world is that sadly, most of its readers are white males between 15-late 40s, they tend to be very entitled and very singular in their tastes.

      • Denise Escamilla

        February 17, 2015 at 3:04 am

        Go figure! Although I think every time there are more female readers joining their ranks. Hopefully the numbers will shift eventually. Probably not much for now, but lets hope it’ll get better in the future.

  2. Maja Sukeile

    February 18, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    I am not very familiar with Superheroes but have been very curious to learn more lately.

    Having a character to truly identify with is important and everyone should be able to experience that.
    But even the people who feel that they can currently identify with the preexisting characters would benefit from seeing more variety in perspectives and points of view of a character with a different background or identity than they are used to.
    That is at least one of my favorite parts of fiction, to be able to get insight into a life other than my own.
    I hope the industry keeps moving in the right direction, it could be really wonderful!

    • Jen

      February 18, 2015 at 9:56 pm

      I recommend if you want to learn more, Wikiapedia is going to be your best friend. It has a lot of information on there about both Marvel and DC and the indie publishers as well.

      I agree! I think that’s what has drawn me into the literary field, is that connection you make with characters and how their stories can influence you and help you grow. It’s always fascinated me as well. Hopefully it does! I feel like with the movies and shows being made and a new audience introduced to comics, the industry is slowly starting to move forward.

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