Comics Alliance Presents The Harvey/Renee Index of Superhero Diversity
We like diversity here at ComicsAlliance. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. We’re also big fans of superheroes, and that probably goes without saying.
We especially like diversity with our superheroes. Diversity broadens the genre’s reach, encourages respect and understanding of people’s differences, and gives minority audiences more chances to see themselves in fiction, and those are all great things. Because of this, we’ve come up with a new way to look at diversity in superhero comics – particularly team books. We call it the Harvey/Renee Index.
The Harvey/Renee Index is a simple idea; a landscape view of demographic representation on superhero teams. It looks at one specific question: Are straight white men over-represented at the expense of other groups?
One in three Americans is a straight white non-Hispanic cisgender male. That’s an estimate based on 2010 census data. The actual number is probably lower, and sliding. But if we take that number as a starting point, we can say that any team that’s more than 33% straight white non-Hispanic cisgender men is over-representative of that demographic category. A realistically representative team would be two-thirds made up of people of color, and/or women, and/or lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people, and/or people who represent any combination of those identifiers.
In the index, for ease of reference, we call the straight white non-Hispanic cisgender men “Harveys,” and we call everyone else “Renees.” So the U.S. population has one Harvey for every two Renees.
The Harveys, of course, are represented by Harvey Bullock, a straight white non-Hispanic cisgender man in the Gotham City Police Department in DC Comics’ books. The Renees are represented by Renee Montoya, his erstwhile partner and a queer woman of color. The Harvey/Renee Index is named in honor of their demographically binary partnership as depicted in the Batman books (and explored, post-break-up, in Gotham Central).
The Harvey/Renee Index doesn’t distinguish between the different types of Renees. Any character who can be identified with one or more groups that are currently marginalized based on race, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender is a Renee. Anyone who is white, non-Hispanic, cisgender, straight, and male is a Harvey.
We think the Harvey/Renee Index is a great place to start a conversation about inequalities of representation, but it shouldn’t take the place of a conversation. Nor should the index be taken to mean that every team should be demographically representative. We know critics will call this a quota system, but it’s not; a quota system would be boring and impractical, and we’d lose minority teams like the Birds of Prey or Mighty Avengers, and erase the few existing lesbian, gay and bisexual characters on existing teams (because they are statistically marginal), and leave no vacancy for transgender characters. (As we’ve noted before, superhero comics are long overdue some true mainstream transgender superheroes.)
The Harvey/Renee Index can be applied to non-superhero teams, and to teams from publishers other than Marvel and DC, but for this article we decided to run the numbers on all ongoing books at Marvel and DC that feature a defined central team of three or more human or near-human members. (Cancelled books and books that haven’t launched yet were excluded.) We found only four books where Renees are over-represented when compared to US demographics; two that were neutral or balanced; and seventeen where Harveys are over-represented.
AVENGERS (AVENGERS/AVENGERS WORLD)
10 Harveys: Cannonball, Captain America, Hawkeye, Hulk, Hyperion, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Starbrand, Thor, Wolverine.
10 Renees: Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Captain Universe, Falcon, Manifold, Nightmask, Shang-Chi, Smasher, Spider-Woman, Sunspot.
Because all Renees are grouped together, the Harvey/Renee Index should only be viewed as a broad measure of representation. It is not a substitute for detailed analysis. For example, look at the biggest single team in comics right now. The main Avengers book and its spin-off, Avengers World, currently draw on the same pool of 20 characters.
The Index shows us that Harveys are over-represented in this team by three heads; it doesn't show us the extent to which women are under-represented. They account for only 25% of the roster.
The black line in the graphic shows where a demographically representative team would split between Harveys and Renees. Avengers has three Harveys to the right of that line, so it scores +3 Harveys.
BIRDS OF PREY
4 Renees: Batgirl, Black Canary, Condor, Strix.
A representative four-member team would have one Harvey, but three members of this team are women, and the one male, Condor, is Native American, so they're all Renees. The Birds of Prey score +1 Renee.
3 Harveys: Mr Fantastic, Human Torch, Thing
1 Renee: Invisible Woman.
Some teams ought to be Renee-heavy and some teams ought to be Harvey-heavy. The over-all landscape ought to offer balance. For example, the Fantastic Four is always going to default to a Harvey-heavy line-up because it's built around an established family dynamic.
It would be difficult to introduce diversity to the comics version of the FF. But having a few Harvey-heavy teams isn't a bad thing, so long as there are also a few Renee-heavy teams. It's when the whole landscape tilts towards Harveys that it arguably looks bad.
5 Harveys: Captain America, Havok, Thor, Wolverine, Wonder Man.
4 Renees: Rogue, Scarlet Witch, Sunfire, Wasp.
In the current storyline some of these character are dead or inactive, but we suspect that's only temporary.
8 Renees: Blue Marvel, Falcon, Luke Cage, Power Man, Ronin (not pictured), She-Hulk, Spectrum, White Tiger.
Kicking Spider-Man off the team means that it now has no Harveys at all.
6 Renees: Rachel Grey, Jubilee, Karma, Monet, Psylocke, Storm.
Note that Birds of Prey, Mighty Avengers and this X-Men roster are all Renee-heavy because they were designed and pitched to readers as minority-dominated teams. Only one team book features a Renee-heavy roster that hasn't drawn much attention:
1 Harvey: Cyclops (not pictured).
10 Renees: Celeste Cuckoo, Irma Cuckoo, Phoebe Cuckoo, Benjamin Deeds, Emma Frost (not pictured), Goldballs, Hijack, Magik (not pictured), Tempus, Triage.
This count assumes that Magneto has permanently left the team, though another recent departure wasn't counted in case it doesn't stick. Brian Michael Bendis's new X-Men recruits include one woman (Tempus), three persons of color (Goldballs, Hijack, Triage), and one gay man (Benjamin Deeds). The team also includes five previously established female characters.
Of course, this team and title currently shares real estate with another X-Men team, one that almost cancels out its diversity.
ALL NEW X-MEN
4 Harveys: Teen Angel, Teen Beast, Teen Cyclops, Teen Iceman (not pictured).
3 Renees: Teen Jean Grey, Kitty Pryde, X-23.
The cast of All-New X-Men is inevitably less diverse because it's built around the five original X-Men from the 1960s, who were 80% straight white men. On aggregate, though, Bendis's two X-Men teams still emerge with a score of +1 Renee.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA
3 Harveys: Green Arrow, Hawkman, Steve Trevor.
4 Renees: Simon Baz, Catwoman, Katana, Martian Manhunter, Stargirl, Vibe.
This count is based on the assumption that Martian Manhunter still presents as a black male in his civilian identity. We're not actually sure he has a civilian identity in the New 52, so that may be incorrect -- but the team would still be balanced if we discount Martian Manhunter and count this team with eight heads instead of nine.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
2 Harveys: Drax, Star-Lord.
2 Renees: Angela, Gamora.
Other: Groot, Rocket Raccoon.
This may be a good time to explain some methodology. How do we categorize characters who don't have a typical human appearance? We've decided that if a character has an alternative human identity, we should categorize by that identity, whether it's an identity they've chosen, like Martian Manhunter, or one they were born with, like the Thing. (Chosen identities are prioritized over birth identities.)
How do we categorize characters who appear human but aren't, such as aliens, Atlanteans, or robots? If a character presents as a white, non-Hispanic cisgender straight male, like Namor, Black Bolt, or Thor, he's a Harvey. If a character presents in a way that would allow readers who are female and/or LGBT and/or people of color, to identify with that character as a woman, an LGBT person, or a person of color, the character is categorized as a Renee.
Rocket Raccoon and Groot of the Guardians of the Galaxy do not pass either test. They're both presumed straight and male, but they have no recognizable human racial identity. Rocket Raccoon and Groot are thus set aside, and the six-person Guardians of the Galaxy roster is counted as a four-person team.
2 Harveys: Guy Gardner, Rankorr.
1 Renee: Bleez.
Other: Skallox, Zilius Zox.
Supergirl recently became a Red Lantern, so if she joins this particular team of Red Lanterns it will have two Harveys and two Renees, which doesn't change its score. Both a three-person team and a four-person team should average only one Harvey.
2 Harveys: Gambit, Quicksilver.
2 Renees: Polaris, Danger.
X-Factor's new roster is still expanding issue by issue.
RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS
2 Harveys: Red Hood, Arsenal.
1 Renee: Starfire.
3 Harveys: Phil Coulson, Hawkeye, M.O.D.O.K.
3 Renees: Black Widow, Nick Fury Jr., Spider-Woman.
3 Harveys: Beast, Iceman, Wolverine.
3 Renees: Firestar, Northstar, Storm.
Nightcrawler formerly presented himself as a white man when using an image inducer, but he long ago ceased doing so, and we have no way of ascertaining his actual race. He was born blue, and his father is a demon and his mother is a shapeshifter.
JUSTICE SOCIETY (EARTH 2)
4 Harveys: Batman, Flash, Jimmy Olsen, Sandman.
5 Renees: Aquawoman, Doctor Fate, Green Lantern, Red Tornado, Mr Terrific.
This still feels like a very loosely affiliated team, so this should be considered a rough count.
5 Harveys: Justice, Nova, Scarlet Spider, Speedball.
4 Renees: Haechi, Hummingbird, Sun Girl, Water Snake.
Another roster that's still settling, but we've now met all the characters in the team.
JUSTICE LEAGUE DARK
4 Harveys: John Constantine, Deadman, Frankenstein, Swamp Thing.
4 Renees: Black Orchid, Nightmare Nurse, Pandora, Zatanna.
You might be thinking, "Wait a second; isn't John Constantine bisexual? Doesn't that make him a Renee?" It would, but as far as we can ascertain the New 52 version of John Constantine has never been established as bisexual. Characters will be presumed straight and cisgender until established otherwise by the text, regardless of author intent or reader interpretation.
5 Harveys: Aquaman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Superman
2 Renees: Cyborg, Wonder Woman.
This team still scores +3 Harveys if one includes reserve members Element Woman, Firestorm, and Other Firestorm.
4 Harveys: Captain America, Jim Hammond, Namor, Winter Soldier.
5 Harveys: Deadpool, Punisher, Red Hulk, Red Leader, Venom.
2 Renees: Elektra, Mercy.
The Thunderbolts roster includes one character from a minority group that we're not including in the Harvey/Renee Index. Venom, aka Flash Thompson, is a person with a disability, having lost his legs in combat.
We looked at including people with disabilities in the index, but it was difficult to find real world data that would allow us to understand how that should be represented, and even harder to work out how to quantify disabilities in superhero fiction, which allows characters to manage disabilities using advanced, alien, or mystical technologies not available in the real world. If you have thoughts on how we might address this, please leave a polite message to let us know in the comments.
(We also excluded religion from the index because so few superhero characters present as religious.)
ILLUMINATI (NEW AVENGERS)
6 Harveys: Beast, Black Bolt, Mr Fantastic, Iron Man, Namor, Dr Strange.
1 Renee: Black Panther.
It's probably not a shock that a group that calls itself the Illuminati should be the most Harvey-heavy. Marvel could probably invite some women and a few more people of color into its big brain club.
2 Harveys: Cable, Fantomex.
3 Renees: Marrow, Psylocke, MeMe.
This book appears to score Harvey/Renee neutral based on its most recent issue. We don't know much about new X-Force member MeMe right now, but we know she's female, so she qualifies as a Renee.
THE FINAL TALLY
The final tally is +9 Renees... and +31 Harveys. These superhero teams combined have a Harvey population of 46%, compared to 33% for the U.S. population. The final tally in Marvel books is +8 Renees and +24 Harveys across 16 teams. The final tally in DC books is +1 Renee and +10 Harveys across seven teams.
(To the best of my knowledge, neither the New Guardians nor the Green Lantern Corps have three or more qualifying members -- a defined central team of three or more human or near-human members -- but working out the rosters of those teams was challenging. If you think we got that wrong, or if you spot any other mistakes in our assessments, leave a polite note in the comments. We will ignore and probably delete the impolite ones.)
DC and Marvel have both made good faith efforts to publish more books with heroes of color, female-led casts and LGBT leads, but straight white non-Hispanic cisgender men are still significantly over-represented at the expense of other groups in the titles where diversity is easiest to achieve.
Some readers may be OK with that. They may believe that superheroes should honor their roots as a genre largely established before the Civil Rights Movement, Second Wave Feminism, and Stonewall. Other readers may prefer to see diversity that is, at minimum, representative of the country that produces and consumes these stories. Some readers may even prefer representation that showcases Renees at the expense of Harveys, as a form of redress for past imbalances or as a representation of the world outside the U.S.
But this data isn't meant to tell you what to think. It just tells you how it is. This data also doesn't show us if the way these characters are written is nuanced, balanced, or positive. It only shows us that, right now, these fictional worlds fall short of the diversity of the real world.
We'll be checking in regularly to see how that landscape changes.
Harvey and Renee graphics by Dylan Todd, using artwork drawn by Michael Lark.