An ordinary, white male with a tragic backstory miraculously gains super powers to save humanity. Sound familiar? Classic comic books have traditionally followed this story line, and these stories have almost always been well-received. This is especially true in the form of movie franchises. But as the general public becomes more and more vocal about the various forms of oppression in society, the entertainment industry has also begun to put the oppressed (e.g., people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community) in the spotlight. Many appreciate this progressive movement in pop culture, but there is a concern as to how some of these new characters are being depicted.
Ed Cambro’s analysis of modern comics calls attention to the way comic publishers, such as Marvel and DC, are introducing new characters. They are making diverse characters but through the use of old story lines. So why would they reuse established comic book characters instead of allowing a new face to emerge with a new name? Western comics have clapped themselves on the back for all the ‘color’ they have recently brought to black and white pages, but they seems hesitant about releasing these characters independently. Because it’s more convenient to sell a story people already love, the comic industry is afraid that writing new stories with a diverse cast (that nobody knows anything about) won’t sell. What with the image of white men in capes saving the day for so long, substituting the “classic” superhero with a minority or female character seems like a potential risk. Therefore, in comic book logic, it is safer to cast them in superhero roles we already know. However, Cambro argues that these reboots tend to confuse or even anger the readers more, which is why the focus should not be on recycling our superheroes but creating brand new characters.
Another rare gem in the comic world is the use of strong female superheroes. Although comics have evolved to become more diverse, many of the female characters have continued to struggle with one problem: sexualization. Our tough ladies cannot save themselves from being sexualized because of the way their costumes and body shapes are portrayed. To highlight the extreme body build of women in comics, Bulimia.com edited their images to look like real bodies (Nunes). I have previously seen the Disney princess edits as well, and the drastic difference was shocking to me. As a child, I never noticed how scarily thin their waists were, which is why I hope to see more female characters with realistic bodies. In Entertainment Weekly’s exclusive on the upcoming Wonder Woman film, the costumes are described as “show[ing] off the women’s ripped shoulders and toned legs . . . and, yes, even the high heels” (Sperling). It amazes me how in a film composed of mainly female characters, instead of designing costumes that give the air of female empowerment, there is a focus on sexualization yet again. Future generations should not have to grow up believing their favorite female characters dress or look the way they do to please anyone but themselves. After all, how is it realistic to have a superhero fight in high heels? I highly doubt it would be pleasing to her.
In more positive news, I enjoyed reading The 99 Beginnings. It was refreshing to see a diverse group of superheroes from all around the world. The distinct costume that each hero wore was interesting to observe. Unlike Western superheroes, many of them wore clothing with cultural values, which helped me understand more about where each character came from. The most challenging part for me was the flow of the story. I enjoyed reading about the origin of the Noor stones, but the ongoing introduction of new characters was a little overwhelming. But as an overall story, The 99 provided what many Western comics today lack: true diversity. I saw a good mixture of boys and girls, all of whom came from backgrounds drastically different from the minorities depicted in popular comics. Perhaps other comics will eventually grasp onto this aspect of diversity. Marvel could learn a thing or two.
Cambro, Ed. “The Good and Bad of Diversity in Comics.” Sequart Organization. N.p., 5 Apr. 2015. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://sequart.org/magazine/56401/the-good-and-bad-of-diversity-in-comics/>.
Nunes, Madison N. “Finally, Comic Book Women Get A “Real Bodies” Makeover (Spoiler: They Look Healthy, Awesome, And Badass).” BUST. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://bust.com/arts/13798-finally-comic-book-women-get-a-real-bodies-makeover-spoiler-they-look-healthy-awesome-and-badass.html#.VvHVqR5ZwCk.facebook#.VvHVqR5ZwCk.facebook>.
Sperling, Nicole. “‘Wonder Woman’ Exclusive: Meet the Warrior Women Training Diana Prince.” Entertainment Weekly’s EW.com. Time Inc., 24 Mar. 2016. Web. 28 Oct. 2016. <http://www.ew.com/article/2016/03/24/wonder-woman-first-look-gal-gadot-robin-wright-connie-nielsen>.