LOS ANGELES — From superhuman superheroes to super-funny black female comedies; from the whiteness of the late-night comedy landscape to the importance of representation onscreen and behind the scenes, diversity was a hot topic in the first few days of the Television Critics Association summer press tour. As the broadcast and cable networks and streaming services… [Read more…]
Comics are finally becoming more representative of the real world
Some make the argument that the landscape for people of color, women and members of the LGBT community in the world of comic books has definitely changed.
Fans are anxiously awaiting new episodes of Marvel’s “Luke Cage” and “Jessica Jones” to be downloaded onto Netflix and characters Northstar being openly gay (and married to boot) in the comics, it’s hard to remember that it wasn’t always this way.
But it wasn’t.
“‘Lion Man’ was the first black superhero to have his own comic, and it didn’t last long,” said Thomas Strange, one of the hosts of the Thinking Outside The Longbox podcast. “Stores in the South wouldn’t stock it. ‘Black Panther’ started out as part of the ‘Jungle Action’ series.”
Strange and his fellow members of the Longbox podcast—Josh Opper, Michael Manning and Thomas Boucher—recently joined Victor Dandridge, president and CEO of Vantage: InHouse, and creator of the comic “The Samaritan” as part of a discussion on stereotypes in comics at the WizardWorld comics convention in Philadelphia. They were part of four panels that focused on social justice issues earlier this month during WizardWorld, which also featured panels with the stars of Captain America: Civil War, Thor, Arrow, Back to the Future and the recently cancelled ABC series Agent Carter.
Panelists discussed ways that people of color, women and the LGBT people have been portrayed in comics through stereotypical characters including “Go-Go Gomez,” “He-She,” “Pie Face” and the “Rawhide Kid.”
And then, there’s the depictions of female characters like Batgirl, whose crime fighting is sometimes derailed by a broken fingernail or ruined stockings.
But one of the more cringe-worthy of these portrayals is that of Big Bertha, a mutant who fights as a member of the Great Lakes Avengers, a group of superheroes whose job it is to protect the Midwest. She has been a part of the Marvel Universe since 1989.
By day, Bertha is Ashley Crawford, Milwaukee’s most famous supermodel, a constantly sought after figure who turns down assignments from all over the world in order to be there when her fellow Great Lakes Avengers need to answer the call.
But when that call comes, Ashley becomes the 285-lb Bertha, able to deflect bullets, leap long distances and other feats of strength. When she’s done saving the day, she reverts to her supermodel form.
How? Well, she goes into a bathroom and purges, or put simply, she throws up.
“It’s not everyday that you see a superhero with bulimia as a superpower,” Strange said.
Attempts to make the comic marketplace more reflective of the real world has been slow. DC Comics, for example, was once home to Milestone Comics, an imprint launched in 1993 by a coalition of African-American artists and writers (namely Dwayne McDuffie, Denys Cowan, Michael Davis and Derek T. Dingle) who believed that minorities were severely underrepresented in American comics. Milestone Media was their attempt to correct this imbalance.
Milestone was discontinued in 1997, but a reboot was announced at the 2015 ComicCon in San Diego.
More creators understand that comics have to be universal, Dandridge said.
“You have to be able to find yourself in a comic as a comic book reader,” he said.
If it’s not Marvel’s best movie, Captain America: Civil War sits high on the very short list of their best. This is what the Avengers movie Avengers: Age of Ultron should have been.
It’s a four star flick and I will be going to see it again, and I never go see movies a second time. Marvel’s Captain America series is the first where each film improves on the previous installment.
Comic book writer Mark Millar loves being offensive and shocking for the sake of it. While Civil War was neither, it was poorly written and executed for the most part and sent Marvel Comics into a never ending series of big events that reset their universe. Thank god Marvel said, “like the idea, hate everything else.” It spared us the sorry sight of a Thor clone brutally murdering a fourth-rate nobody called Black Goliath. “Who?” you ask? Trust me when I say this: Nobody cares.
In the comic book version of Civil War, black superheroes are stiff and contributes little more than scenery. In the movie version, they play essential roles in the story, and they are more than just diversity hires.
I’m saying all this not to review the movie, because there’s more than enough of those all over the web. What I want to point out thought is how much I appreciate how COOL it is to see a superhero movie with not one, not two, but THREE black superheroes in it.
Don Cheadle’s War Machine is back and so is Anthony Mackie as The Falcon. No insult intended (okay, a little insult), but War Machine and the Falcon are sidekicks to Iron Man and Cap. That’s just who they are. So if you’re Cheadle and Mackie fans, don’t hold your breath hoping for a standalone movie because they are strictly back-up guys. Ask Hawkeye how that works.
Now that might not mean a lot to some viewers, but I bet to a young Black kid geeking out on it, it means everything.
Even if it’s only in another super-hero flick, I’m hyped to see Lupita Nyong’o in a live-action film instead of doing voice-over work in Star Wars: The Force Awakens or The Jungle Book. Since blowing up the spot in 12 Years A Slave and winning a well-deserved Best Supporting Actress Oscar, she’s since rarely been in front of the camera because Hollywood has no clue what to do with a black actress.
As for who Nyong’o plays in the upcoming Black Panther movie, I’d rule out Storm completely. Though the X-Men’s favorite wind-rider married T’challa in the comic book version, it’s unlikely Storm will show up in the movie version because, as an a X-Man character, she’s the exclusive property of 20th Century Fox. Plus, considering the cold war between Fox and Disney, I wouldn’t count on Storm flying over Wakanda anytime soon. It could happen, but it probably won’t.
Ryan Coogler is directing Black Panther and since he’s done two of my favorite movies of the past five years (Fruitvale Station, Creed), I am very interested in what he’ll do with a super-hero movie. I can only hope Marvel overlord, producer Kevin Feige, and the other executives at the Mouse House aren’t too heavy-handed in throwing in shout-outs to future films in the pipeline. One good sign is this from Feige about the Black Panther’s diversity: “That will be amongst the best ensembles we’ve ever had. And 90% of the cast is either African or African-American.”
It’s not as though there haven’t been Black super heroes in movies before, but not since the release of Blade 3 in 2004 has one been featured in their own movie. Not even an academy award-winning Halle Berry could get a Storm franchise out of development hell and into pre-production. Maybe the “Falcon” or “War Machine” could. If Ant-Man can get made, why not? And Ant-Man sucks.
There’s a lot riding on “Black Panther’s” Vibramium-padded shoulders. Marvel has had it’s fair share of underwhelming films (Iron Man 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and both entries of Thor) but even Ant-Man made money. If it hadn’t, it wouldn’t have been a fatal wound to Marvel. Paul Rudd would just be sent back to the bench until the next Avengers entry. Let the Black Panther tank and we’ll wait another dozen years for Hollywood to try that again.
With Michael B. Jordan looking to reunite with Coogler and possibly playing a villain (Killmonger? The White Wolf?), I’ve got reasons to be even MORE hyped. A predominantly black cast in a film with Coogler, Nyong’o and Jordan? Hey, The Black Panther is shaping up to be something special.
Jeff Winbush is an award-winning (honest!) freelance journalist and former editor of The Columbus Post in Columbus, Ohio. He has written for a number of publications including The Columbus Dispatch, ALIVE, Urban Trendsetters, The Daily Voice, allaboutjazz.com, and TheRoot.com. He blogs regularly at jeffwinbush.com