Why We Need Minority Heroes in Superhero Comics
When I read science fiction, or fantasy, or superhero comics, I want an ideal. People mistake this for escapism, but it’s not true; I don’t want to be whisked away from reality, I want to see a roadmap to the kind of future I want to imagine. Whether it involves ice trolls and death knights or wormholes and supernovas, what I love about this stuff — hell, what I love about fiction in general – is its ability to guide people through the transmission of ideas. All stories are propaganda, and everything has an agenda. The key is to think it through.
Here’s the thing: I love this stuff — comics — and I want to share it with everybody. I realize tastes aren’t universal, but when really good stories are held back from finding a mass, multicultural audience by the whitebread nature of the protagonists, it’s depressing. You can’t just change race of major icons, sure, but the world around them should still reflect the world we live in, because otherwise it’s alienating. I don’t want to read, and enjoy, comics that alienate other people for unnecessary reasons — it’s depressing, and it kills my enjoyment, too.
I don’t want to read comics about superheroes — or about the future — or even about an imaginary, heroic alternate fantasy world where that’s the case, particularly since it goes against everything I find so appealing about the genre. It’s not that I need my heroes to be perfect. I just want the world they live in, and the people they are, to represent the reality outside my window, and the reality I’ve experienced throughout my life.
Growing up in Auburn, Alabama in the ’90s, there was a total black/white social divide, sure, but it’s not like black people didn’t exist. That’s what it feels like sometimes, reading superhero comics — if you’re in the Marvel Universe, for example, you’re considerably more likely to find a mutant (of which there are 198) in any kind of starring role than a black guy or gal. And yeah, mutants are inherently superpowered, but it’s still a pretty jarring discrepancy.
Awesome nightmare-dystopian-future-archetype storylines aside, superheroes are an inherently utopian concept, dating back to Superman’s first incarnation as a liberal firebrand. It’s 2010, and they should still be that way. It’s been 72 years since Superman since first pledged his allegiance to the American Way, and what that stands for hasn’t changed since the Siegel/Shuster dream; he’s a champion of America, its ultimate immigrant, defending the world’s most successful refugee camp from horrors abroad, both overseas and overstars. Immigrants come from elsewhere. Immigrants are different. Difference should be celebrated in stories about honorable men and women with special gifts who stand apart with nobility.