Race + Comics: DC Comics Monkeys Around Yet Again

By Arturo R. García

It’s bad enough to screw up. But DC Comics can’t even say nobody warned them in advance of its’ latest faux pas.

The map above, posted by DC this past Friday, shows the lay of the land in its’ latest crossover story, Flashpoint, a limted series set on a screwed-up version of the current timeline.In the first issue, we get some of the particulars behind the map shown above:  this version of Earth is in danger of being overrun by a war between the Amazon nation of New Themsycira, led by Wonder Woman, and Atlantis, ruled by Aquaman.

In America, an ad-hoc alliance of heroes and villains gathers to discuss how to face the growing threat, only to splinter apart when this world’s Batman – no spoilers here – doesn’t join up. While the series will center around Barry Allen, aka the Silver Age Flash, it was at least good to see Cyborg in a position where he could figure into the bigger outcome. Maybe.

The premise is questionable enough on its’ own – “it’s telling that the only independent nation of women in the superhero mainstream is here being associated so definitively with sexual abuse, to say the very least” writes Colin Smith at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics, “and, once again, organised mass violence.” – but what really set some readers’ antennae off Friday was the notation under Africa: Ape-Controlled.

The ape in question is Gorilla Grodd, who will headline his own Flashpoint spin-off in June. Like Allen, the character pre-dates the Civil Rights era, debuting in 1959, making him one of The Flash’s longest-running (no pun intended) enemies. So in canon, the idea that Grodd would finally come to power in a world without a Flash to stop him makes some sense. But, as seems to happen often, the execution is lacking, especially compared to a couple of other examples from the map:

  • Asian Capital (Protected by The Great Twelve): Since a team derived from The Great Ten is involved, it’s fair to assume that this universe’s China has gone Red Dawn on its’ neighbors.
  • Black Adam Protectorate: Here we see the Middle East dominated by Black Adam, the counterpart to Captain Marvel. In “regular” continuity, Adam once controlled his birthplace, the fictional nation of Kahndaq. Here he’s back on the throne, and previews have him slotted to take on the strongman of India, the mysterious Outsider.

In each case, readers get at least some sort of in-story explanation for what’s going on. Was placing a note on, say, Johannesburg with the note, Capital City, Allied States of Grodd or something similar really that difficult for DC’s editorial staff? As Emmet O’Cuana summed up the situation, “Just call it the Dark Continent and get it over with.”

Of course, 4th Letter’s David Brothers was telling DC how to avoid the whole mess two months ago:

Seriously DC Comics: get a black friend. Male or female, it doesn’t matter, just get one. We’re easy to find. Get one and then ask him if it’s cool to have Africa ruled by a monkey. Just run it by them, real casual-like. “Hey man, what do you think about this?” If they give you the gasface or their eyebrows narrow… change your plans.

How come Africa is always the one continent that someone gets to rule ALL of? No one rules an entire continent in the real world, and Africa has dozens, if not hundreds, of distinct peoples and cultures. I get that treating it as something other than a homogeneous Dark Continent would require, I dunno, opening Wikipedia or something, and that it’s just easier to make up a country with an African sounding name.

Of course, as Brothers also notes, that would involve DC caring about that audience. ‘Cause it has such a good track record in that arena.