Race + Comic-Book Notes, Part 1: Comics Alliance Speaks Up

By Special Correspondent Arturo R. García
atomchoi1

Remember when we asked, “Will Jim Lee Take After The Brave And The Bold?”? Apparently the answer is no. But we have to give props to Chris Sims at ComicsAlliance for also noticing this.

Late last week, Sims published a column calling out DC Comics after another round of white-washing its’ primary cast – in this instance the most recent Atom, Dr. Ryan Choi, was killed off, allowing his Silver Age predecessor, Ray Palmer, to don the red-and-blue mask – another nod to the penchant for nostalgia Lee and Geoff Johns are overseeing at the company:

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing — I’m certainly not an exception to fan culture, and there are stories that push my “Oh hey, I remember that” buttons as hard as anyone else’s — except that the form it takes ignores that much of what made Jack Kirby or Cary Bates or Alan Moore or Frank Miller so exciting wasn’t what they were doing, but that they were doing things that hadn’t been done before. Instead, we’re in an industry right now that wants to constantly reset itself, running on nostalgia rather than innovation, moving backwards instead of moving forwards, and while I complain about it both often and at length, it seems to be what the majority of comics readers want, no matter how wrong-headed I think it is.

The switch of Palmer for Choi comes on the heels of the company’s latest event, Blackest Night, and another change, involving Firestorm. For the past few years, the character’s primary alter ego was Jason Rusch, a young black character who went from his own short-lived solo series to being included in the Justice League of America. (Indeed, there was a brief stretch during Dwayne McDuffie’s run writing JLA where the team included not only Rusch, but Vixen; Kimiyo Hoshi as Doctor Light; and Green Lantern John Stewart. Compare that line-up to this somewhat less diverse team.) At the conclusion of Blackest Night, though, we learned that Rusch and his own white predecessor, Ronnie Raymond, would have to bond to form the flame-headed hero – but that it was Raymond providing their shared body’s “default setting.” These decisions look even more questionable when you factor in the following:

* The heavy promotion given to problematic “retro” stories like First Wave.
* The replacement of Cassandra Cain as Batgirl for Stephanie Brown.
* The “off-camera” killing-off of a half-Asian child character, Lian Harper, in the critically-reviled Cry For Justice miniseries. When questioned at a convention about the decision to kill Harper off, DC Senior Story Editor Ian Sattler said, “I’m happy it upset people because it means that the story had some weight and emotion.”
* The lack of attention given to the Milestone Universe characters aside from Static, and issues with McDuffie’s Milestone Forever mini-series.
* The cancellation of the Great Ten mini-series before its’ conclusion.

batb1Add these developments up, and DC Entertainment’s animated offerings almost look like products of a rogue operation: the Brave And The Bold cartoon actually played out a Raymond/Rusch union first – but with Rusch supplying Firestorm’s skin color – and has consistently featured Choi as The Atom and Jaime Reyes as the Blue Beetle (the series’ only misstep has been re-imagining Katana as a Silent But Deadly Asian character type). Also, the company’s newest animated offering, the soon-to-debut Young Justice, features a new Aqualad, a black character, at the very forefront of its’ promo photo:

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And as Sims notes, these revisions extend beyond the heroes themselves:

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.

Most damningly, Sims illustrates his point with a team portrait of Johns’ take on the “classic” Legion of Super-Heroes, a group which ostensibly represents a more united humanity as part of a larger group of worlds in the 31st Century:

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Damn, I guess we didn’t make it to space after all!

There’s a disappointing epilogue to Sims’ story over at Comic Book Resources: In previewing Titans For Hire, where the people who killed Choi get to star in their own series, Jeffrey Renaud brought up the question of Choi’s death with writer Chris Wallace:

Renaud: Do you have a message for the twitterati and fans of the character that are angered/saddened/upset by his death, because some are even saying this death was racially motivated?

Wallace: Only that I, too, will miss Ryan. He was a great hero all the way until the end, and that’s how I’ll always remember him. I hope others will, too.

In this characterization, anyone who objects to Choi getting killed off for the sake of boosting Slade Wilson – yet another white character – is some Other on Twitter, i.e. “not a Real Fan,” and wondering about the racial implications here is clearly the work of a conspiracy theorist. Meanwhile, Wallace ducks the question entirely with a homogenized “eulogy.”

In his conclusion, Sims notes possibly the best part of Choi’s character: his super-hero ID wasn’t derived from his ethnicity. In part two, we’ll look at some of Marvel’s newest characters; some fit that description, and some most assuredly do not.

About This Blog

Racialicious is a blog about the intersection of race and pop culture. Check out our daily updates on the latest celebrity gaffes, our no-holds-barred critique of questionable media representations, and of course, the inevitable Keanu Reeves John Cho newsflashes.

Latoya Peterson (DC) is the Owner and Editor (not the Founder!) of Racialicious, Arturo García (San Diego) is the Managing Editor, Andrea Plaid (NYC) is the Associate Editor. You can email us at team@racialicious.com.

The founders of Racialicious are Carmen Sognonvi and Jen Chau. They are no longer with the blog. Carmen now runs Urban Martial Arts with her husband and blogs about local business. Jen can still be found at Swirl or on her personal blog. Please do not send them emails here, they are no longer affiliated with this blog.

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