Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Diversity in the DCU

I suppose I should comment on Ian Sattler's comments in a Q&A at HeroCon that have been sliced and diced across the comics blogosphere (no links because I can't remember all the places I've seen them).
A serious topic came up about how characters who are minorities who happened to be legacy characters like Ryan Choi are killed off so their caucasian counterparts can return and how they feel like they are being cheated or sidelined out of their roles. Sattler took a more serious tone. "It's so hard for me to be on the other side because it's not our intention. There is a reason behind it all. We don't see it that way and strive very hard to have a diverse DCU. I mean, we have green, pink, and blue characters. We have the Great Ten out there and I have counter statistics, but I won't get into that. It's not how we perceived it. We get the same thing about how we treat our female characters."
Now,  I'm going to be charitable here. I'm going to assume that no malice was intended. I'm doing to assume this is simply (and yes, I know the risks I run when I make assumptions) a case of someone just not getting the point.

I believe he's sincere in thinking they're doing nothing wrong. And I believe there's a real story/plot point behind the deaths and the chosen resurrections. It may all end up being one helluva story that we'll be talking about for decades and that we'll all love. Maybe. But that does not negate Sattler's misreading of readers/fans' concerns.

Bringing fictitious ethnicities into the discussion, the blue and green people, while ignoring the many shades of actual humans who are not properly represented both on the pages and in managerial positions, let alone in the talent producing the books is a disingenuous response at best. There are no pink people, no green or blue people walking around our wonderful planet, so mentioning the ones walking around the DCU isn't going to win you new readers. Kids usually want to read about people like them. Sure, a polka dotted alien is cool and can be entertaining, but after a while, you want to see a mocha complexioned woman who speaks like a real person and dresses as someone other than a slut.

Because, women make up half the population, but not half the comic heroes, and that issue is usually brushed aside.

Sure, we've got some great female characters right now and many are headlining their own books. Batgirl has been amazing. Birds of Prey is back. Supergirl has turned into a super book and Power Girl got off to a great start. Wonder Woman has been as good as she and we deserve her to be and I hope that continues. We've got the Batwoman book coming and half of the Secret Six have been female. But do these books represent half the DCU superhero books? Not even close.

There is no reason why characters like Ryan Choi have to die to bring back Ray Palmer as the Atom. There is a whole Corps of guys running around as Green Lanterns, for frak's sake. And wonder of wonders, one of them is actually black, named John Stewart. We've got a bunch of Flashes. We've had some names swapped out without a concern that people would be confused. Nightwing becomes Batman while someone from Kandor becomes a new, different Nightwing. Did anyone worry that we readers would mistake the new Nightwing for Dick Grayson, or that we'd mix up Dick as Bats with Bruce as Bats? No. So call Ryan Choi Mr. Atomic or something and let him live. He was wonderful and far more entertaining than Roy Palmer ever was or likely ever will be.

But none of that matters, not really. They're just characters. Same as with the killing of Lian Harper (a mix of Caucasian and Asian, btw), it's just comics. They're fictional characters, not real people. What really matters is the attitude of people like Sattler who make the decisions. They need to understand how those decisions are perceived. They need to learn how to better read and communicate with their audience. They need to own up to their failings, to own their mistakes, and vow to do better. It's a lesson so many companies don't learn until too late, if at all. They think denial or sidestepping an issue will make it go away or reduce its significance. They're wrong. That just makes it worse, especially in this age of instant, viral communication.

Mr. Sattler, you should have taken your lumps, said your mea culpa, promised to do better, then actually do better. Ask what we'd like to see more of. Ask for suggestions. Suggest ways we can get our concerns to the rest of management. Etc. But don't act like the wounded party. Really, it isn't becoming.

I'll still read the comics that entertain me. And I'll continue to write my opinions of them. But don't expect me to love everything you do because you think it's wonderful. I was going to say that's not how to develop a lifelong reader, except in my case, it sorta was. Because back in 1960 when I read my first comic, there was even less diversity and here I still am. But times have changed. Please make sure the DCU keeps up. Your readers, present and future, will much appreciate it.


  1. This is the same guy who, when confronted with the fan outrage over Lian Harper's death, said: "I'm happy it upset people because it means that the story had some weight and emotion."

    Conclusion: Ian Sattler is a MORON.

  2. I cannot argue with that logic. Yes, he is a moron.

    And he clearly can't differentiate between, "that story moved me to (fill in the emotion) because it was good" and "that story sucked and I'm upset by it."

  3. Beautifully, beautifully said. I have to admit that I feel just the teensiest bit sorry for Mr. Sattler, if only because he seems to be COMPLETELY clueless. I fear for his safety in knowing when to come in out of the rain, or remember to keep breathing when he's asleep.

  4. Thanks, Sally. Yes, clueless is just the word.