Race + Comics Notes: Black Panther & DC Comics Update

By Site Lead Arturo R. García

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DC Comics went back to the racial well this week in an interview with Comic Book Resources, which featured this exchange between CBR News Editor Kiel Phiegly and DC co-publisher Dan Didio:

CBR: There’s been a lot of discussion – and a lot of angry discussion, I’d say – coming out of some of the recent DCU storylines, specifically the death of Ryan Choi in the “Titans” Brightest Day launch…

Didio: And if I could jump in here for a second, I’d ask “What past that?” There seems to be a concern about us pulling back in diversity, and we identify Ryan Choi, but we don’t identify what more than that. If you’re talking about a single character, we can’t run backwards from the way we act and behave with our characters because we’re afraid of addressing characters of different race or putting them in stories that are bigger or more exciting, I’m sorry to say. This is an interesting thing to me, because since I’ve been here, we’ve been extraordinarily aggressive in trying to bring racial diversity and diversifying our cast of characters as much as possible. That’s been part of our agenda for the last five to eight years since I’ve been here. We’re talking about a single character with Ryan Choi, but I’d love to know about examples past that, because at the same time that we’ve got Ryan Choi, we’ve got a Great Ten series running. If you look at every team book and everything we’re doing, we go to extraordinary lengths to diversify the casts and show our audience in our books.

One wonders if DiDio’s idea of “racial diversity” is in line with Ian Sattler’s definition of it. In any case, both the Comics Alliance’s Chris Sims and myself have provided other questionable examples in the past. But this has to be said: Phiegly completely neglects to mention any of them in his next question (links provided here by the Alliance’s Laura Hudson):

CBR: Well, I think for some that the focus gets put on characters that fail one way or another. At the same time as this has been going on, there’s been a lot of positive talk of Jaime Reyes as Blue Beetle getting a push for live action. How do you view your role in terms of making sure that successes are carried through in a long term way?

Didio: We’re always going to be exploring different ways to go. One of the things I think Grant Morrison did extraordinarily well with “52″ and “Final Crisis” was to really show that it’s not just that the heroes are U.S.-centric. The introduction of the Great Ten and the introduction of the Super Young Team are things that Grant brought that we constantly build out from.When Dwayne McDuffie was writing “Justice League of America,” we had an incredibly diverse cast of characters as we worked the Milestone characters into the DC Universe. So again, we’re taking great steps to show that we as a company reflect the audience that’s out there for our books. When we go to conventions, we look at the audience, and we see that it’s an incredible blend in terms of race and gender. Men and women read our books. We have a wide breadth of books and things going on, and to focus on one thing is inappropriate, in my opinion. It’s a mistake, because if you look at one book, you have to realize that DC Comics puts out nearly a hundred books each month, and to focus on one book, one issue, is doing a true disservice to the company, the comics and to the industry.

So, because of the work of a black writer whose run was continually interrupted by company crossovers, a series about Chinese characters which was canceled before it wrapped, and the fact that Milestone heroes Static & Hardware have been “allowed” into the DCU, raising race questions is “inappropriate.” Rich Johnston at Bleeding Cool also noticed Phiegly dropping the ball:

The interviewer then changed the subject rather than saying “Dwayne McDuffie on JLA, the man who you wooed with promised of integrating the Milestone characters into DC continuity, only to drop them all, and give him the JLA for as long as he wanted – until you fired him for talking about the writing process on your own companies boards which you were happy to keep up for none months until other people noticed? The same Dwayne McDuffie who saw his Milestone Forever books micro-edited for legal concerns over using quotes which a) weren’t a legal concern and b) you owned one of the quotes? And the JLA who, as soon as Dwayne had been fired off the book, saw minorities all but ethnically cleansed from the team?”

“And Great Ten, the book that received more criticism for stereotypical portrayals of foreign citizens than Banshee in the X-Men? And the series that you canceled early anyway?” “Those are the examples you use to proclaim DC’s commitment to diversity? Books DC no longer want to publish?”

In any other industry, DiDio’s comments might be cause for public censure, or some sort of disciplinary action. But because the comics business insists on having it both ways – promoting and pricing itself as Real Entertainment while hiding behind the veneer of escapism – and outlets like CBR continue to let them skate on these types of questions by dismissing them as the focus of an unnamed “some,” it won’t happen.
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panther1 In less FAIL-ridden news, today marks the U.S. release of that Black Panther animated series we asked about four months ago. Funny thing, though: it won’t be airing on BET, as had been originally planned.

“Who Is The Black Panther?,” adapted from the comic-book by Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr., will instead be available on iTunes, Xbox Live, Microsoft Zune and the Playstation Network. The nice thing about this is that it’ll allow the Panther (voiced by Djimon Hounsou) to interact with other Marvel characters, like The X-Men (Jill Scott will voice T’challa’s eventual bride, Storm), Captain America and the Juggernaut. And yes, Stan Lee will also have a guest role. Here’s a look at the show’s opening credits: