Robot 6

Quote of the day | DC’s Ian Sattler on race in the DC Universe

“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.”

DC Senior Story Editor Ian Sattler on the perception that non-white characters (eg. Ryan Choi) are being removed to make way for their Caucasian predecessors, at the DC Nation panel at HeroesCon.

Take it away, Denny O’Neil:

gl_race_question

(Via David Uzumeri. I thought of this right away, but David Brothers got there first.)

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31 Comments

Retire that panel. Forever.

He shoots and MISSES by a mile. When there are Blue or Green kids reading the comics, then his comments will be valid…but when we see DC taking bold steps to bring in new characters that reflect society only to have them killed off and replaced by the “white” childhood fantasies of a writer given to much control of DC, then its a sad day for DC. ESPECIALLY when the deaths aren’t even used in such a creative way…more of a “SHOCK” and oh, look now the Silver Age character is back. I’m sad to think of the JLA in a year. From having minorities to having the 70’s era group that had Black Lightning turning them down.

I save the world before breakfast on a weekly basis! What, there are only white people in the world? Come on!!!

It’s like the intervening years didn’t even happen. Neat.

“I have counter statistics”? What does that even mean? Does he have numbers of white characters killed by editorial fiat to make way for non-white characters?

“We get the same thing about how we treat our female characters” That’s because you treat them like $#!+! This is the most damning part of the quote. It’s like, “yeah, we hear you, but we don’t care.”

Keep selling overpriced books to the same 70-100K white American males, there, sport.

You know, I’ve got to say, when I saw the hubbub about this on Twitter I really thought the full quote would be a lot worse than this. Yes, the green/blue skin comment is more than a little ridiculous – ESPECIALLY considering this classic story sequence – but if you’ve been to one or two of these panels, you know that a lot of these little asides are meant as jokes that just fall flat, and that rarely comes across even in the best written panel reports.

To the broader issue, it seems that Sattler is trying to say that he feels DC has a comparable number of non-white characters they’re promoting that more than make up for the complaints people have made against Choi being killed. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with him on that, but defending his company’s track record without getting in a “let’s count up all our non-white cast in a column to make sure everybody’s satisfied” is a pretty expected and sensible response if you ask me. No, Ian’s not super eloquent here in getting that idea across, but overall, I don’t take his meaning to be “stop complaining if you don’t like it” or some similar cretinous sentiment.

The guy who should be hanging his head in that GL/GA sequence is Green Arrow, who up until that point had almost exclusively saved rich white people from white criminals — and for all his progressive talk, spent most of the years thereafter saving white people and their money. And hey, let’s all harsh on Batman, too, who beats up more “black skins” than he saves and who was almost completely focused on white-on-white crime at the time.

Green Lantern and Superman save everyone, and on a very large scale. Just a few months before that scene, Green Lantern had capped an exploding offshore oil rig, in seconds. How many livelihoods, lives and so on — for skins of any color — did that save?

I understand the power of that scene, and I understand the subtext is “Pay attention to social issues, not just space opera,” but I always thought the guy had the wrong target.

kdb

Who cares what Sattler’s reasons for saying this are? Trying to deflect legitimate criticism without facts still means he’s wrong.

It’s not about who they save, which is why the panel, while an amusing counter point, is somewhat off. It’s about what it’s like for kids like me, who grew up in a spanish speaking latino household, never seeing someone like me get a chance to save the world. I only ever saw middle to upper class white people get to be the starring role heroes and would wonder “why aren’t any of them like me?”

I get that most comic book readers are in fact, white, middle to upper class males. And they want people they can relate to. Which is why when they do bring in characters outside that range (be that another ethnicity or even women), the titles tank. But it’s a chicken or the egg thing: did comic books characters become so narrow to serve the audience or is the audience so narrow because of the pantheon of characters? I don’t know.

Steven R. Stahl

June 7, 2010 at 10:06 am

The heroes can’t eliminate racism for the same reason that they can’t eliminate poverty, or fatal diseases, or street crime, or organized crime. Interacting with the real world to that extent would force a transformation of American society, especially in terms of technology, that would eliminate stories’ connections to the real world. When megalomaniacs seek to conquer the world or cause death on a massive scale, they’re threatening all races equally; if supervillains are overtly racist, the heroes can denounce racism as they deal with the menace. Racial moralizing that depicts the heroes as out of touch, though, doesn’t help anyone.

If someone is going to argue that DC is being racially insensitive, he should tackle the subject as a social scientist would. Determine which DC characters have had multiple versions over the years, and use statistics to see whether there’s been a pattern or trends in the area of sex and race over varying periods of time.

SRS

Wow. That’s some context right there.

Oh.. and from the panel lets not forget his overwhelming enthusiasm for the Milestone characters. Its not just killing off minorities, its jacking with the ones that are “NEW” and could be used. I never read Milestone but when they appeared in JLA I was very interested. I would have loved to see one or two stay in the JLA.

Andrew Collins

June 7, 2010 at 10:39 am

I’m glad I’m not the only one who immediately thought of this panel when reading Sattler’s comments…

>> I get that most comic book readers are in fact, white, middle to upper class males.>>

I’m not sure that’s as true as people think. It’s probably true on balance, but judging from the half-assed and inconclusive studies Marvel did back in the 1980s, there were more young black and Latino readers and more female readers than would have been guessed — and they were drawn to books about outsider heroes (like X-Men and Spider-Man) and books with large casts with female characters and characters of color (like X-Men and G.I. Joe).

That didn’t seem to be enough to support solo books featuring women of heroes of color, but as has been noted, that’s not a problem unique to those characters — new series starring white male heroes have a disastrous survival rate too.

My POWER COMPANY series had one recognizably-white male hero in it (Bork was also white, but who can tell?). Did it fail because readers didn’t want a book with that many women and people of color? Or because it was new and that makes it harder to catch on? Or because it wasn’t good enough? I think probably all three, but the “not good enough” one is the one that matters most.

Readers of color and female readers aren’t going to automatically buy something just because it has someone who looks like them in it, any more than white male readers will automatically buy GRAVITY. But that doesn’t mean such readers aren’t a market force — I think they’re more of one than most assume, and are a part of the reason books like X-Men enjoy the success they do.

kdb

@Kurt

You make good points, many of which are hard for me to argue against. I’m a Latino and I read more comics than any white guy I know, for instance.

Your three questions are dead-on. Although I actually argue the most important one is, unfortunately, “because it was new and makes it harder to catch on,” followed by quality.

And, hey, it’s not like I rushed out to support Jamie Reyes’ Blue Beetle solo series even though, goddamn, THAT WAS EXACTLY MY LIFE GROWING UP. I mean, they nailed it. And yet I trotted along with my Batmans and Green Lanterns. You know, in retrospect, I really regret that decision.

The X-Men point is an interesting one, though. I’m a first generation American who, despite being raised in one of the most yuppie, stereotypically white neighborhoods in Brooklyn, never felt like an outsider. So I’ve just always craved to see more stuff that was less allegorical for being an outsider and more, literally, some kid who comes home to a slightly different family life and culture than others. I was genuinely always confused about this as a kid: why did they all have to be that kind of American, or alternatively, why wasn’t my family like that at home?

Well it seems I have no idea what my point is exactly other than the issue is significantly more nuanced than who’s saving who or what color people are or whether they’re insiders or outsiders. And killing off minority characters, or worse, not putting more A-list talent on those books instead of the books you know will sell regardless (because of my aforementioned hypothesis that familiarity sells more than quality) is not helping anyone.

Sean T. Collins

June 7, 2010 at 12:58 pm

I promise I’m not trying to say anything deep about Sattler, DC, race, or anything else. I just thought it was funny how directly that line from the quote played into that sequence.

Steven R. Stahl

June 7, 2010 at 1:37 pm

AXM: XENOGENESIS #1 has X-Men travel to Mbangawi, an African country, to investigate strange mutations affecting neonates. The idea isn’t a bad one, but Ellis had the heroes discuss real-world African problems while they’re en route. The references were jarring, and took me out of the story. If Marvel-Earth’s Africa is a near-copy of real-world Africa, then why does Wakanda exist? Why have the heroes allowed HIV infection to run rampant in sub-Saharan Africa, as Ellis even notes in dialogue?

And, having noted how terrible conditions are in Africa, what will Ellis have his mutants do about them? Nothing, presumably, beyond addressing the situation in a Mbangawi city. All the mutants together couldn’t remake the continent if they tried. Bringing up real-world political and social problems if the heroes aren’t going to address them meaningfully is a mistake, a false attempt at realism.

SRS

That panel is the reason why I despise GL/GA with a passion and so do alot of other people I know, i’m Puerto Rican and find the accusations towards DC to be ridiculous. Just because you make a hispanic GL doesn’t mean i’ll read a book about him, I care about characters and stories race doesnt enter into that equation. Maybe DC should have spent more time creating new characters instead of placing minorities in legacy positions that anyone with half a brain could have told you were going to fail.

I think if they kept the characters alive, no would be complaining. Why do the newer characters have to be killed for the older ones to be restored to prominence? One of the main selling points for DC for me personally is the legacy aspect of the characters. You can’t really have a legacy when you kill off the previous generation. Killing off characters just to introduce new ones isn’t good storytelling if it’s constantly used only to bring back or introduce new characters. Ryan Choi could be in the Teen Titans along with Jaime Reyes. He would be a good fit there. I think killing off characters is a one note (semi) permanent storytelling device, when they could be used in future story lines of other titles or series where they could be better fit.

@Mike M

I really see the “legacy” concept as nothing but a problem starter. Sure, it sounds good on paper – a lineage of heroes that see’s mantles passed down among users – but eventually, it comes back to bite you in the ass, as DC seems not to have learned over the years. If you change a big hero, you’re going to piss off the old ones fans and it can be limiting; by putting someone elses costume on a new guy, you’re all but putting a time limit on how long they carry it. It’s even WORSE when an established hero takes over another heroes identity; short term it’s okay, but an established hero has his own established things that lay unused in the meantime.

Again, the concept sounds good on paper, but it’s limiting. Most of DC’s biggest heroes and icons were NOT made through the legacy concept. The couple that were made radical changes to the concept and didn’t usurp the old one, but supplemented it (I’m thinking Flash Barry and Jay and Green Lantern Alan Scott and Hal Jordan). With the legacy concept, you basically have new guys riding on the coat-tails of previous heroes; I don’t find it much coincidence that the replacements that have been the most successful have brought radical change to the concept, but at that point, aren’t they just new characters with an old name? Eventually the old heroes will probably make their way back and their fans would be happy; obviously, fans of the new guy wouldn’t, but wouldn’t the fans of the old guy have as much right to hope their character returns? This is where fan arguments start, bitterness takes over and we find the companies painted into a corner with the only way out being through a minefield. See Jamie Reyes; I feel he’s a far superior character to Ted Kord, but the Kord fans would just as soon see him fall off a cliff and their boy back. Again, problems just for a name.

To tell the truth, I would not be in the least bit sorry if DC finally saw fit to stop trying to force the “legacy” concept on their universe to make it unique. It rarely if ever works and it just seems to end up causing problems down the road. All I see it do is cause trouble for very little benefit other than the buzzword of “legacies” being thrown around.

Sattler really just walked into that one. And, if it wasn’t so telling, I almost would have laughed at the irony of, “We get the same thing about how we treat our female characters.” Really? You don’t say.

Crabby Lioness

June 8, 2010 at 6:35 am

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

“We have the Great Ten…”

Wasn’t that a 10 issue series that DC just canceled at issue 9? Not sure that’s the best example.

As a Filipino comics reader who lived in the US, I can honestly say that comics are much bigger here, percentage-wise, than they were in the five years I lived in the US. That having been said, we consume American comics and manga (and movies, TV shows, etc) on a much larger scale than we do our own, so I agree with Kurt that just because it has someone who looks like you, it doesn’t mean that you’re automatically buying the comic.

The default voice in our society is straight white male. Change any of those factors, and you’re all of a sudden “making a statement.” Someone could come out tomorrow with a story that is identical to Batman’s, pretty much perfectly, except make the character gay, black, or a woman, and various activists and detractors would jump on it. Even if it were exactly the same story. It’s baffling, and very telling.

As for that panel, I remember seeing it first when I was eight, and I thought it was very powerful. I just recently reread Hard-Travelling Heroes, and I can get people’s problems with the collection – and I do agree that, yes, when viewed in the larger context of the DC Universe, it pretty much falls apart. But I still think that it holds up when viewed purely on its own and as a product of its times – its times being the kind where you can take a character no one’s doing anything with and do a 180 on his personality pretty much out of nowhere.

That having been said though, I’d really like more diversity in comics. Not that I’d automatically buy a comic about a Filipino superhero, but it would be nice to know one was there.

James from the Block

June 8, 2010 at 5:03 pm

dig that zip-a-tone, baby!

>> I get that most comic book readers are in fact, white, middle to upper class males.>>

I’m not sure that’s as true as people think. It’s probably true on balance, but judging from the half-assed and inconclusive studies Marvel did back in the 1980s, there were more young black and Latino readers and more female readers than would have been guessed — and they were drawn to books about outsider heroes (like X-Men and Spider-Man) and books with large casts with female characters and characters of color (like X-Men and G.I. Joe).

That didn’t seem to be enough to support solo books featuring women of heroes of color, but as has been noted, that’s not a problem unique to those characters — new series starring white male heroes have a disastrous survival rate too.

My POWER COMPANY series had one recognizably-white male hero in it (Bork was also white, but who can tell?). Did it fail because readers didn’t want a book with that many women and people of color? Or because it was new and that makes it harder to catch on? Or because it wasn’t good enough? I think probably all three, but the “not good enough” one is the one that matters most.

Readers of color and female readers aren’t going to automatically buy something just because it has someone who looks like them in it, any more than white male readers will automatically buy GRAVITY. But that doesn’t mean such readers aren’t a market force — I think they’re more of one than most assume, and are a part of the reason books like X-Men enjoy the success they do.

kdb

______________________________________________

I agree with every single thing you said. I’m an African American, and I can tell you (based on my own personal experience as a kid and later as an adult who works at a comic book store) that there are a lot of African American,Latino,and Asian comic book readers out there. Heck, at least half (if not most) of our store’s customers are non white minorities.

@Mike M

I really see the “legacy” concept as nothing but a problem starter. Sure, it sounds good on paper – a lineage of heroes that see’s mantles passed down among users – but eventually, it comes back to bite you in the ass, as DC seems not to have learned over the years. If you change a big hero, you’re going to piss off the old ones fans and it can be limiting; by putting someone elses costume on a new guy, you’re all but putting a time limit on how long they carry it. It’s even WORSE when an established hero takes over another heroes identity; short term it’s okay, but an established hero has his own established things that lay unused in the meantime.

Again, the concept sounds good on paper, but it’s limiting. Most of DC’s biggest heroes and icons were NOT made through the legacy concept. The couple that were made radical changes to the concept and didn’t usurp the old one, but supplemented it (I’m thinking Flash Barry and Jay and Green Lantern Alan Scott and Hal Jordan). With the legacy concept, you basically have new guys riding on the coat-tails of previous heroes; I don’t find it much coincidence that the replacements that have been the most successful have brought radical change to the concept, but at that point, aren’t they just new characters with an old name? Eventually the old heroes will probably make their way back and their fans would be happy; obviously, fans of the new guy wouldn’t, but wouldn’t the fans of the old guy have as much right to hope their character returns? This is where fan arguments start, bitterness takes over and we find the companies painted into a corner with the only way out being through a minefield. See Jamie Reyes; I feel he’s a far superior character to Ted Kord, but the Kord fans would just as soon see him fall off a cliff and their boy back. Again, problems just for a name.

To tell the truth, I would not be in the least bit sorry if DC finally saw fit to stop trying to force the “legacy” concept on their universe to make it unique. It rarely if ever works and it just seems to end up causing problems down the road. All I see it do is cause trouble for very little benefit other than the buzzword of “legacies” being thrown around.

___________________________________

I agree with every single thing you said. It’s pointless and stupid (not to mention tired and played out) to use the whole legacy concept in regards to existing characters that have been running around since the silver age for the exact same reasons you stated. The only way the whole “legacy” concept works is if the old character who is being replaced (a) has not been used for 15 or more years and (b) is not popular and/or well known.

IMO, I rather see these new characters stand on their own rather then take up the names of older existing characters. For example, instead of having Jaimie Reyes become the new Blue Beetle, they should have called him the Blue Scarab.

Glenn Simpson

June 10, 2010 at 9:52 am

Maybe Kurt can answer this – isn’t there a trademark-related need for there always to be a “Supergirl” or a “Robin” or a “Blue Beetle”, etc.? Like if DC goes a certain period of time without publishing something with a character called Blue Beetle in it, there could be a risk of maintaining the trademark? I thought I heard that somewhere, and that would explain why there are so many legacy characters. You can change the secret ID and ethnicity, but you need to keep the name around.

Also, I’m not sure if it’s fair to give DC a hard time about killing off the minority legacy characters to bring back the originals. It’s clear that they want to get rid of the younger guys and bring back the older ones. The younger guys largely happen to be from minorities, as a result of DC’s previous efforts to bring in more diversity. But they can’t bring back the older guys without there being some detriment to the younger guys. So I don’t think it’s “let’s get rid of the minorities”, it’s “let’s get rid of the younger guys, ignoring the fact that they are minorities”. You could argue that keeping the minority characters is more important than bringing back the older guys, but that’s a different issue.

I’m reminded of when Kirkman created that gay super-hero who got killed shortly after becoming a super-hero. He was criticized for suggesting that a gay super-hero wouldn’t last very long. I believe I read an interview where he said he had always wanted to a) create a gay super-hero and b) wanted to show a super-hero getting killed early on, to show the risks; but that it didn’t occur to him not to do this with the same character. I sorta see the same thing here – it’s not an ill intent.

In the quoted Green Lantern story Hal has just rescued a white slumlord from being accosted by the rent witholding tenants he’s trying to evict. The point was that Hal automatically protected the white guy in the situation without even thinking about it. And was wrong. As to what Green Arrow had been doing up to that point- no one has any idea because he hadn’t had a new story published for 4 years at that point.

The fact that Green Lantern saving the Earth accidentally also includes people of color is completely irrelevant. Sort of reminds me of the right wing canard that black slaves in America had better lives than they would have had if they’d stayed in Africa because, after all, they were allowed to live in America.

I’d also like to point out that Superman began his career as a crusader for the poor, downtrodden and minorities and even spent several weeks taking on the Ku Klux Klan on the radio back in the 1940’s. There is nothing inherent in the concept of a superhero which prevents him/her from dealing with social issues, other than the cowardice of the publisher and the lack of imagination of the writers.

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