Rock, Paper, Scissors: Choosing between Race and Gender in Comics

By Guest Contributor Cheryl Lynn Eaton, cross-posted from Digital Femme

Comics, completely consumed by superheroes, has only two active fandoms—Marvel and DC. Given that my budget allows for only one ongoing series and I don’t feel right illegally downloading comics, I’ll have to pick one fandom in which to participate.

I’ve chosen my comic. It’s Wonder Woman. I’ve chose my fandom. It’s DC.

I feel horrible. I feel like I’ve just chosen my gender over my race.

I picked Wonder Woman because the preview pages I read intrigued me. I’ve never been a big fan of Wonder Woman, but I have been a huge fan of ancient Greek myths since I was a child. The way that Azzarello and Chiang have handled the Greek pantheon has drawn me to the book. Also, quite a few people whose opinions on comics I hold in high regard have spoken fondly about the comic. Last, but certainly not least, a new universe allows me to get in on the “ground floor” of Diana’s life. All three of these elements were necessary in Wonder Woman being the series for me. That new universe free of any history to untangle is what led me to pick Wonder Woman over Wolverine and the X-Men (which also appears to be a quality book given the previews provided).

But Idie. Oh, how I love Idie. Each snippet from Scans Daily I read featuring this character makes me want to crawl into a comic for the sole purpose of buying her toys and ice cream. The awkward and uneasy interaction between Wolverine and Oya is wonderful. (Wolverine buys the child her first doll ever and it’s white with long, straight hair? How lovably stupid. I can’t wait for Cecelia to call him on it.)

And though I haven’t been interested in the Amanda Waller role Marvel has foisted upon Misty Knight, I adore the character of Misty Knight and hold out hope that she will return to her Daughters of the Dragon incarnation in her next series—or perhaps something even more interesting. I’d gladly drop Wonder Woman for a comic featuring Misty Knight as the lead character in a female-focused series.

DC? DC doesn’t have a Misty Knight. DC does not have an Oya. Moreover, it seems as though they have no interest in developing one. And that’s why I’ve regretfully chosen gender over race. DC’s development of its female characters of color is abysmal. Though can it be abysmal if there is no development?

Unlike Marvel, black women in the DC universe are merely window dressing—objects for the actual hero(ine) of importance to struggle against or deliver a quip to. Agent Fallon, not the animalistic Voodoo, is the competent, no-nonsense heroine of Voodoo. Skitter is the unattractive, unpleasant monster who’ll skulk around Wonder Girl’s pedestal in Teen Titans. Amanda Waller is merely a supporting character providing intense action for others to engage in. The character’s role could easily be fulfilled by one panel of a Suicide Squad member listening to orders on an iPod. And though Vixen is in a better position than her peers, I certainly don’t hold out hope for the character. Look at her promotion compared to characters such as Cyborg, Batwing, Mr. Terrific, Static, and Green Lantern. If Vixen wants to be a major player in the DCU she’d better start on hormone therapy and seek out a quality surgeon.

And this goes beyond just black women. Where’s Cassandra Cain? Where’s Talia al Ghul? Where’s Rainmaker? Does anyone really believe Katana will receive the same promotion and panel time as Black Canary or Poison Ivy? Does anyone believe that Element Woman will receive the same attention as Wonder Woman or even Mera? I certainly don’t. And I don’t believe they’ll receive the same attention as the Atom, Robin, or Blue Beetle either. For all the extolling of DC’s female-led ongoing books and all the talk concerning DC’s female-friendliness compared to Marvel, no one is talking about how that friendliness only extends to certain women.

So, one weighs the pros and cons and makes the best choice from what’s available. DC offers a lower price, a fresh start, an active fandom, and a quality creative team. Marvel offers an active fandom, a quality creative team, and female characters of color that play an important role in the Marvel universe. Four beats three and I opt for DC.

Yet, I can’t help but want it all.

  • Lonnie

    One reason I think it’s transphobic is that we’re not accounting for the entire lack of transgender characters in comics, so even if a character were a trans man, I doubt they would be recognized by a large publisher like DC since LGB characters are rare, and T characters… are there any?

  • Lonnie

    One reason I think it’s transphobic is that we’re not accounting for the entire lack of transgender characters in comics, so even if a character were a trans man, I doubt they would be recognized by a large publisher like DC since LGB characters are rare, and T characters… are there any?

  • Lonnie

    One reason I think it’s transphobic is that we’re not accounting for the entire lack of transgender characters in comics, so even if a character were a trans man, I doubt they would be recognized by a large publisher like DC since LGB characters are rare, and T characters… are there any?

  • Roy Harper

    ” …no one is talking about how that friendliness only extends to certain women.”
    Untrue. DC’s routine, awful whitewashing is railed against routinely on this blog and many others. The problem is no one is listening – least of all DC.

  • Roy Harper

    ” …no one is talking about how that friendliness only extends to certain women.”
    Untrue. DC’s routine, awful whitewashing is railed against routinely on this blog and many others. The problem is no one is listening – least of all DC.

  • Roy Harper

    ” …no one is talking about how that friendliness only extends to certain women.”
    Untrue. DC’s routine, awful whitewashing is railed against routinely on this blog and many others. The problem is no one is listening – least of all DC.

  • Roy Harper

    ” …no one is talking about how that friendliness only extends to certain women.”
    Untrue. DC’s routine, awful whitewashing is railed against routinely on this blog and many others. The problem is no one is listening – least of all DC.

  • SunlessNick

    “And this goes beyond just black women. Where’s Cassandra Cain? Where’s Talia al Ghul?”

    For that matter Wonder Woman herself usually looks remarkably more pale than she ought.  While the Amazons were a Greek legend, they weren’t *from* Greece according to it.  Wonder Woman should look more Turkish or Armenian.

  • SunlessNick

    “And this goes beyond just black women. Where’s Cassandra Cain? Where’s Talia al Ghul?”

    For that matter Wonder Woman herself usually looks remarkably more pale than she ought.  While the Amazons were a Greek legend, they weren’t *from* Greece according to it.  Wonder Woman should look more Turkish or Armenian.

  • SunlessNick

    “And this goes beyond just black women. Where’s Cassandra Cain? Where’s Talia al Ghul?”

    For that matter Wonder Woman herself usually looks remarkably more pale than she ought.  While the Amazons were a Greek legend, they weren’t *from* Greece according to it.  Wonder Woman should look more Turkish or Armenian.

  • Jessica Isabel

    Wonder Woman is my favorite hero of all time – especially after her badass portrayal in Justice league: New Frontier. Things got even better with the 2009 animated movie, which I highly recommend. In general though, I think Marvel gets race right more of the time.

  • Jessica Isabel

    Wonder Woman is my favorite hero of all time – especially after her badass portrayal in Justice league: New Frontier. Things got even better with the 2009 animated movie, which I highly recommend. In general though, I think Marvel gets race right more of the time.

  • Jessica Isabel

    Wonder Woman is my favorite hero of all time – especially after her badass portrayal in Justice league: New Frontier. Things got even better with the 2009 animated movie, which I highly recommend. In general though, I think Marvel gets race right more of the time.

  • Anothercomicnerd

    I too was upset to see that Cassandra Cain was not in the new universe. She was actually my favorite incarnation of Batgirl and I got my hopes up when the briefly brought her back as Black Bat. Both Marvel and DC have had their share of racefails, but Static Shock has in own comic finally and Cyborg is now going to be a full member of the Justice League. Keep the faith.

    Also, Batman transcends race, gender, and class, so stick with DC.

  • Anonymous

    Hey, nothing wrong with wanting it all. Queen wrote a song about it and everything!

  • Comic Book Colorist

    Can race and gender be separated? Honest question, I’m just wondering. When I look on my life experiences, it feels obvious to me that my whiteness and my femaleness are intertwined and couldn’t possibly be separated. If I were a woman of color, I know for sure that my experiences would be as different as if I were a man. 

    I completely agree that in comics women of color are secondary characters. They are never fully developed as human beings and are just there as fillers. I hate that. I would totally buy and read a comic staring a woman of color. I could only hope that it was written by one too.

    Fantastic post! 

  • Comic Book Colorist

    Can race and gender be separated? Honest question, I’m just wondering. When I look on my life experiences, it feels obvious to me that my whiteness and my femaleness are intertwined and couldn’t possibly be separated. If I were a woman of color, I know for sure that my experiences would be as different as if I were a man. 

    I completely agree that in comics women of color are secondary characters. They are never fully developed as human beings and are just there as fillers. I hate that. I would totally buy and read a comic staring a woman of color. I could only hope that it was written by one too.

    Fantastic post! 

  • Comic Book Colorist

    Can race and gender be separated? Honest question, I’m just wondering. When I look on my life experiences, it feels obvious to me that my whiteness and my femaleness are intertwined and couldn’t possibly be separated. If I were a woman of color, I know for sure that my experiences would be as different as if I were a man. 

    I completely agree that in comics women of color are secondary characters. They are never fully developed as human beings and are just there as fillers. I hate that. I would totally buy and read a comic staring a woman of color. I could only hope that it was written by one too.

    Fantastic post! 

  • Anonymous

    i read this at digital femme when it was first posted and i’m glad that y’all have posted it here. more exposure will lead to a more nuanced and accurate discussion

  • Anonymous

    i read this at digital femme when it was first posted and i’m glad that y’all have posted it here. more exposure will lead to a more nuanced and accurate discussion

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1274377806 Tek Gomez

    lower price >=female characters of color?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1354247011 Troy Hunter

    “Comics, completely consumed by superheroes, has only two active fandoms—Marvel and DC.” Wow. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say…something else. There are TONS more fantoms in comics, not only around publishers but individual titles, artists, genres…