Since DC has publicly stated that its line-wide relaunch is partially to increase the diversity of its line, it’s worth asking how the relaunched titles stack up in this regard, including some hard quantitative analysis (hey, kids, charts!).
When people think of diversity, they usually think of racial and ethnic diversity first, rather than gender or sexual diversity, so let’s address that first.
Of 52 titles, four by my count star non-whites. An additional two co-star non-whites. Non-whites also appear in a few team books, but don’t at least initially look to be taking prominent roles in them. That might sound bad, but it’s a definite improvement.
Of the various ethnicities depicted, blacks seem to be doing the best:
- The new series Batwing stars a black man, and DC’s description trumpets this fact, calling him “the first black character to wear the Batman mantle.”
- Mister Terrific, who’s black, also gets his own series.
- Static Shock stars a black character who was originally part of the all-black Milestone Comics.
No one would have anticipated any of these three titles, and of them, only Static has had an ongoing before. It may only be three titles, but it’s certainly something.
In another surprising move, Cyborg’s in the new Justice League, right next to six of the team’s founding seven, having replaced Martian Manhunter. Critics have pointed out that Cyborg’s been in the League before, and that’s certainly true. But replacing Martian Manhunter with him, putting Cyborg in such an exclusive group, is a move that certainly shouldn’t be minimized.
Jason Rusch, who’s black, is now fused with Ronnie Raymond as half of Firestorm. As arguably the two most prominent alter egos for Firestorm over the years, fusing them is a smart idea (as I’ve said previously), and it does have the nice side effect of making a black a co-star.
Green Lantern John Stewart is black, and he shares top billing in Green Lantern Corps. DC doesn’t get points for this one, though, since Stewart’s been around forever; in fact, he was introduced, back in the 1980s, as Hal Jordan’s replacement as Earth’s Green Lantern. He’s stuck around since, even headlining his own solo ongoing (the quite good Green Lantern: Mosaic in the early 1990s). Given the immense popularity of the Green Lantern titles, it would be surprising if he weren’t made at least a co-star in a single title.
Other groups don’t seem to be doing as well. The Hispanic Jaime Reyes stars in Blue Beetle. DC has put a lot of effort into this character, even after his ongoing series was cancelled, after three years of publication, in early 2009. He appeared in back-ups in Booster Gold and also appeared in Justice League: Generation Lost. Restoring him to ongoing status might have been for reasons of diversity, but no one can fault DC for failing to support the character.
Asians don’t fare very well. August General in Iron, from China’s Great Ten, is in Justice League International. And that’s it, as far as I can tell.
It’s worth mentioning that not every character’s race or ethnicity is clear. For example, there’s no indication whether the new Captain Atom will be white or not. The same may be said for the new Voodoo’s human half. And to be fair, some teams, most prominently the Legion of Super-Heroes, include different-looking aliens who, while not representative of human minorities, deserve some mention for at least being non-white.
DC’s score on women is a bit healthier, but female super-heroes have always been more palatable than ethnic minorities. Females headline seven of the new DC comics.
The Batman family accounts for four of these: Batgirl, Batwoman, Catwoman, and Birds of Prey. These account for the majority of the Batman family titles for the first time, but the titles themselves aren’t shocking, even if their presence at the same time is historic.
Catwoman’s had long runs in the past, and Birds of Prey was running prior to the relaunch, so it’s simply getting renumbered. Both have had quasi-feminist leanings at certain points in the past, especially Birds of Prey, which is an all-female team book with a changing roster.
The eagerly-anticipated Batwoman isn’t surprising; it’s been much-delayed, and its most recently announced launch date is in line with the line-wide relaunch. But it’s worth noting that Batwoman stars a character who’s not only female but a lesbian, giving it the honor of being the only title to star an LGBT character. (Stormwatch features two previously gay characters, though it’s unclear if this orientation will be carried over into the relaunch.) It’s also worth mentioning that it’s expected to be fairly sophisticated, which is perhaps as important as starring females or minorities in the first place.
Batgirl is a special case because it stars Barbara Gordon, who’s previously been the disabled hero Oracle. As I’ve discussed previously, this means that DC gains one quite popular female starring character but also loses one of its most prominent characters in another, even less well-represented set of minorities. It’s worth mentioning that Batgirl will be written by Gail Simone, who previously wrote Birds of Prey but won’t after the relaunch, but who remains one of comics’ few female writers — creative diversity being another subject in and of itself.
Beyond these four Bat-titles starring women, there’s also (of course) Wonder Woman and Supergirl, neither of which are particular surprises.
The seventh female star is Voodoo, previously known as part of WildStorm’s Wildcats team, who now gets her own ongoing solo series for the first time.
Beyond these seven titles with female stars, the Dove of the new Hawk and Dove series is female, which should count as a full co-starring role, parallel to the role of the black characters in Firestorm or Green Lantern Corps.
And naturally, female characters also appear in several team books. Wonder Woman’s in the Justice League, but that’s nothing new. Justice League International features Fire, Ice, and Vixen, out of a team of nine. Wonder Girl’s in the Teen Titans. The Legion of Super-Heroes, in both its main title and in Legion Lost, have female members. And Madame Xanadu stars in Justice League Dark, alongside three male cast members. Of the four most prominent Green Lanterns, none are female. Female co-stars will surely appear in Green Lantern: The New Guardians and Red Lanterns. Starfire appears in Red Hood and the Outlaws. Though the line-up of Suicide Squad is likely to change somewhat (if its predecessor is any indication), Harley Quinn is part of its initial team. And it looks like there’s at least one female team member in Blackhawks, although this is a war book, so it’s no surprise that the lead seems to be male.
The new I, Vampire seems to star a male character — which is surprising, given that the current vampire trend, as seen in Twilight and True Blood, is intimately associated with female leads. A woman does appear on the cover, but apparently she’s the “Queen of the Damned” whom the male protagonist must negotiate as he tries to save humanity from his fellow vampires.
In total, DC’s 52 titles include 33 solo titles (Action Comics; All-Star Western; Animal Man; Aquaman; Batgirl; Batman; Batman: The Dark Knight; Batwing; Batwoman; Blue Beetle; Catwoman; Detective Comics; Captain Atom; Deadman’s initial run in DC Universe Presents; Deathstroke; Flash; Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE; Green Arrow; Green Lantern; Grifter; I, Vampire; Mister Terrific; Nightwing; O.M.A.C.; Resurrection Man; The Savage Hawkman; Static Shock; Superboy; Supergirl; Superman: The Man of Tomorrow; Swamp Thing; Voodoo; and Wonder Woman). Of these 33, four (12%) star racial or ethnic minorities and seven (21%) star females.
Of the 52 offerings, four are two-character team books (Batman and Robin, Firestorm, Green Lantern Corps, Hawk and Dove). Of these, 2 (50%) co-star racial or ethnic minorities and one (25%) stars a female.
Counting these as half the value of a solo title, out of 37 titles, racial or ethnic minorities have the equivalent of five titles (13.5%), while females have the equivalent of seven and a half (20%).
Of the 52 offerings, 15 are team books (Birds of Prey, Blackhawks, Demon Knights, Green Lantern: The New Guardians, Justice League, Justice League Dark, Justice League International, two Legion titles, The Men of War, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Red Lanterns, Stormwatch, Suicide Squad, Teen Titans). It’s harder to compute these, but one (Birds of Prey) entirely stars women. Only Stormwatch shows no signs of including a single woman; several show no sign of including minorities. The most prominent (Justice League) stars one woman and one minority (14% each).
So what’s the takeaway?
The DC Universe will indeed be a more diverse place after its relaunch. It will definitely have more titles starring minorities and women. It won’t be enough to satisfy some, but DC’s to be commended for taking the matter seriously and for making progress.
Of course, this figures show that we’re still a long way from minorities and women being as represented in the DC Universe as they are in real life. But of course, this is hardly unique to comics and is true in other media as well.
Most of these books are super-hero titles, and that’s a genre with a disproportionately male audience. It’s probably roughly equatable to action movies, but comparable statistics aren’t readily available for Hollywood action films.
Of course, these numbers only say so much. For example, as alluded to above, they don’t address the percentage of female and minority creators, let alone readers. Creators are a bit easier to tally, and it seems that the entire relaunch has only two female creators, writer Gail Simone (on two titles) and cover artist Jenny Frison on I, Vampire #1. Simone has tweeted her frustration at the pressing need for more female writers.
Equally important is the style of narrative employed and the philosophies expressed, which exhibit relatively little diversity. In this respect, Promethea should be seen as far more diverse than, say, Catwoman.
Also, the above numbers can’t address how these characters are treated. Of course, no one wants to go back to the 1970s, when minority characters were almost exclusively treated in such a way as to make their ethnic status their only defining feature. Nor does anyone want female characters to be treated only as victims or only as sexual objects.
On the other hand, it can sometime be silly to make minority and female characters interchangeable with white men. The worst examples are probably female action stars, who are commonly depicted in ways simultaneously erotic and incredibly out of touch with biological reality; a woman biologically isn’t likely to look thin and curvaceous while a world-class martial artist, and certain elements of female biology make the best female martial artists unlikely to compete for strength (though not endurance) with their male counterparts. Wouldn’t it be better to address this, in a way that actually raises consciousness of gender differences, rather than creating endless clones of Lara Croft or the movie Salt (originally written for a male actor)?
But those are questions best left for other days. In the meantime, it’s important to understand the limits of the above quantitative analysis, even as these are useful figures.