Race + Comics: DC Promises A ‘More Diverse’ Do-Over On Infinite Earths

By Arturo R. García

Once again, let’s take a comic-book company’s statement and compare it to what’s being presented. Our subject this time is Bob Wayne, Senior Vice-President of Sales for DC Comics. Here’s an excerpt from a letter he sent to comics retailers Tuesday:

In the time I’ve worked at DC Comics, I’ve witnessed any number of industry defining moments. But today, I bring you what is perhaps the biggest news to date.

Many of you have heard rumors that DC Comics has been working on a big publishing initiative for later this year. This is indeed an historic time for us as, come this September, we are relaunching the entire DC Universe line of comic books with all new first issues. 52 of them to be exact.

In addition, the new #1s will introduce readers to a more modern, diverse DC Universe, with some character variations in appearance, origin and age. All stories will be grounded in each character’s legend – but will relate to real world situations, interactions, tragedy and triumph.

Here’s the punchline: the statement was released the same day as the picture posted above: an almost all-white cast for a new Justice League comic. So right off the bat, this “more diverse” DC Universe looks like those “more colorful” NBC ads. But there’s other reasons Wayne shouldn’t be crowing just yet.

Now, it’s good to see Cyborg remaining a part of the JLA; in the now lame-duck regular continuity, Victor Stone “graduated” from the Teen Titans to being in the League last year. And, his membership does support my theory that he’ll be deeply involved in Flashpoint, the mini-series supplying the in-canon impetus for this universe-wide reshuffling. But if DC’s Chief Creative Officer, Geoff Johns, who’s writing both Flashpoint and the new JLA book, understands the character, he doesn’t show it in this statement to USA Today:

“He’s a character I really see as the modern-day, 21st-century superhero,” Johns says of Cyborg. “He represents all of us in a lot of ways. If we have a cellphone and we’re texting on it, we are a cyborg — that’s what a cyborg is, using technology as an extension of ourselves.”

So congratulations, dear readers. If you have any combination of a cellphone, internet connection and a video-game system, Geoff Johns probably thinks you’re a Terminator.

Does this really look like a “more modern” League? Not so far. First, the book may be new, but this line-up sure isn’t: not only is Cyborg the only character here who doesn’t pre-date the Civil Rights era, but this entire roster was featured on the Super Powers: Galactic Guardians animated series 26 years ago:

Second, if the picture is supposed to show us the entire JLA,  it disproves Johns’ statement:  this is actually one of the least diverse incarnations of the team in years: Cyborg and Doctor Light were in the most recent version, as written by James Robinson; Brad Meltzer’s heavily-hyped writing 2006 stint on Justice League of America included Vixen and Black Lightning; and Dwayne McDuffie’s truncated run on the title featured Vixen, Doctor Light, Cyborg,  Jason Rusch, and the Green Lantern featured in the Justice League cartoon, John Stewart. Instead of Stewart, this new JLA features one of Johns’ pet characters Hal Jordan, in a pose seemingly taken from his upcoming film.

There’s still no word on what DC’s reboot will mean for POC heroes like the ones mentioned above, or Blue Beetle, The Great Ten, and the multi-cultural cast Grant Morrison has been assembling in Batman, Incorporated. But once again, the company – particularly Wayne and Johns – is too busy telling readers it’s doing something inclusive to show just that. Let’s hope the next set of announcements avoids that trap.

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  • http://twitter.com/Melanism Sean Campbell

    One sign of diversity (I guess) is Mister Terrific will be getting his own book in the relaunch. He’ll be the second African-American character in the DC Universe to have his own ongoing book (Black Lightning being the other)

  • wewantsora

    So does that mean Damian wont exist? Will this reboot make Tim canon gay? Will Tim even exist? Or Jason or Dick even?

  • Lincoln

    Why does this Cyborg guy look so much like Hardware from the Milestone comics? Is it just impossible to find different ways to draw black superheros, even if the way they do their thing is similar?

    • Juan

      Not sure if you realize but Cyborg existed before Hardware, but yeah there is that tendency to make non-white characters to look the same. Sure it can be said for white characters but with so few characters who aren’t white it becomes more noticeable.

      Plus there was that brief period in comics where it felt like EVERY black male character had one of three different hairstyles: bald, shaved/fade, afro. Now with the induction of dreadlocs in recent years we’re up to four. *sarcasm*

  • Drhiphop85

    I wonder how many POC work behind the scenes at DC. I know other companies (even Marvel) actually employ a wide variety of people (Marvel has a very strong Latino presence and quite a few up-n-coming female writers and artist), so I wonder what it looks like behind the scenes at DC.

  • Anonymous

    As a longtime comic book geek, I’m really dismayed by this.

    Not to go all nerdrage (well, OK, maybe a little), but I’m really tired of Geoff Johns’ vision of the DC universe (aka, the Silver Age).

    Despite the claims of “more diversity” (supposedly the current Blue Beetle and Batwoman will still be around, I read), that just doesn’t jive with the ’60s nostalgia that drives so much of Johns’ work. He is the wrong person to try to “revitalize” DC.

    I mean, the number of comic book readers in their 50s and 60s (the ones who have all this fondness for “the way things were”) isn’t going to grow, no matter how many series you relaunch with a shiny No. 1. And what appeals to them just doesn’t appeal to people like me — who started reading in her 20s in the ’90s.

    That’s the real problem, honestly. Comics is a fast-shrinking market but what the fans who have been reading for 50 years want (the classic Big Seven in the JLA only) is not going to grow the audience.

  • PocketteRocket

    Hey, hey, hey…  There’s a lot of diversity in DC’s stuff.  I mean, look at that picture of the new JLA…  There’s BOTH a woman and a person of color.  IN THE SAME PANEL!  That’s a major improvement!

  • Geoffrey Thorne

    LOL. Seriously. Stop drinking the koolaid. These people have no interest in diversity and no ability to present it. The best thing you can do with DC comics is ignore them totally. 

  • http://twitter.com/SonofBaldwin Son of Baldwin

    Additionally, I think we need to be clear on what diversity means to us and what diversity might mean to DC Comics, the comic book industry, and perhaps non-minorities in general. 

    For DC Comics and crew, diversity might mean 95% white heterosexual male and 5% other, whereas us Others might view diversity as a 50/50 arrangement. 

    I’ll be curious to see how this pans out.

    • Anonymous

      Given there history I’m thinking there might be some green, blue and pink Justice League members to address the lack of POC.

    • Xeginy

      That’s true. “Diversity” (used in this kind of situation) is usually just another word for “tokenism.” Sure, there’s a lot of white guys in that picture, but there’s also a lady and a black guy, so…diversity!

  • Kendra

    And on a side note: They JUST announced that they’ll be rebooting Babs as well (pretty much the most well known disabled comic book character around) and getting rid of her paralysis. 

    I just can’t even with DC right now. This morning I was singing their praises because of the amazing Static Shock oneshot, and now this…

    • Youngshields

      Its an unsubstantiated announcement from Bleeding Cool who are shitting out rumours like no man’s business as the moment. Wait until it actually happens/is announced from an official source.

      • Anonymous

        Actually, that pic of the team came straight from The Source.

        • Youngshields

          I’m talking about Babs being bat girl again

  • http://twitter.com/SonofBaldwin Son of Baldwin

    I’m with Sean Campbell.  Actions speak louder than words.

  • http://twitter.com/Melanism Sean Campbell

    I’ll believe it when I see it.  Maybe they’ll finally integrate Milestone characters into the DC Universe like they said was going to happen two years ago.