El Sijo's Blog

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Comic Books in the Internet Era

superhero-internetIt’s my blog’s 2nd anniversary, and appropriately enough, my topic today is Comic Books, which used to be my favorite. For most of my life, I was a comic book collector- until I quit a few years ago, driven out by the cynicism I felt was included in most modern superhero stories. What happened?

That is something I have long pondered- especially when, in other media, more positive takes are still thriving: movies, TV Shows, cartoons, toys- with some exceptions, most seem to recall that superheroes are meant to entertain and inspire. Not be “realistic”.

But today I came to a realization. What had changed in our society that could have such influence?

And then it came to me:

The Internet.

It used to be that creating comics was an insular process, done by an editors and his staff. The only feedback they got was from letters fans wrote. And those were usually written by those who really cared about the comics.

But in the Information Age, anyone can leave a spur-of-the-moment, often meaningless reaction- yet the companies, bombarded by such messages, tend to be eager to respond to them, on the mistaken belief that they represent their true audience. This may be the reason why in recent years, Marvel has replaced nearly every major hero with a substitute of a different color or gender, completely missing the point- that’s not diversity, that’s tokenism, as I discussed in another article.

It’s a little known fact for example, that back in the early 2000’s Warner Brothers pretty much rearranged DC’s editors in order to have them “update” their heroes for the times. This is why for example, Superman no longer wears red shorts. Like the rest of his suit isn’t silly.

At least, some of the success of the non-comics material seems to be filtering back. DC is currently in the middle of bringing back a more “traditional” approach to their comics (supposedly) with their Rebirth event. Similarly there are rumors Marvel will be restoring their original characters sometime this summer.

I sure hope so.

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Diversity and Superheroes

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Diversity is a hot topic these days; minorities want more representation, and the world of entertainment has tried to provide it. Now that superheroes have become a fad, it is only logical they follow suit. But the way it’s being done, honestly, baffles me. For the most part, instead of giving more exposure to characters of diverse genders, ethnicities or religions that they already own, they are changing existing characters to fit those roles!

For example, Thor was replaced by a woman (and not by Lady Sif or the Valkyrie, long-time supporting characters of his, as you’d expect) who just called herself “Thor”; Jimmy Olsen was hinted as being a Transvestite- never mind that all the times he had dressed as a woman were as disguises (and those stories were intended to be humorous) and later reinvented as a Black Man on the Supergirl TV show! Batwoman was reintroduced as a Lesbian, never mind that the original version was most definitely straight (why not give the identity to Det. Montoya, an existing lesbian character instead?) and there was a controversy over whether Daniel Rand (Iron Fist) should be made Asian for the live action TV show, simply because some people think the “White Guy who masters Kung Fu” stereotype is offensive. Honestly, this feels like tokenism to me: “why use the actual minority characters when you can change more popular ones to fill in for them?” Besides, you know that, in most cases, these characters will return to their original status. Does anyone believe The Falcon will remain as Captain America?

Admittedly, Non-WASP characters are few and rarely as well known as most major Comic Book characters. But if no push is done, their situation will never improve. After all, there were times no one had heard of Superman or Spider-Man! I’m pretty sure if they wanted, DC and Marvel (and their parent companies) could find ways to make them popular. Make them members of famous teams, then give them their own spin off series, movies or shows. Most people agree Marvel screwed up in not giving Black Widow her own movie by now, despite being one of the most popular characters in the Avengers movies, for example. Sure they might fail, but if they never try, how will they know?

Also, if they feel they don’t have diverse characters who are strong enough to support their own series, or fear the ones they have are too stereotypical (which admittedly was a problem with many) then create new ones! The new Miss Marvel, a Pakistani-American teenage girl, has been very popular in the comics, and I bet she would transition very well to TV.

All I’m saying is, if the big companies really want to gain the support of minorities, they need to give more than a token effort. One of those “obscure” heroes might very well be the next Big Thing.