When DC Comics released its map of the World of Flashpoint this morning, fans began talking about it right away. What DC likely didn’t expect was the tone of that discussion. One of the largest complaints was readers’ quickly and strongly objecting to Africa’s being labeled as “Ape-controlled.”
The first comment on our post about the map, for example, was “‘Ape controlled’? Racist much?” And though other commenters were just as quick to point out that Africa is the home of Grodd’s Gorilla City, the expansion of which will be the subject of one of the Flashpoint mini-series, the wording of the label is undeniably unfortunate. Commenters also point out the mention of the “Asian Capital” that suggests to them a lack of awareness of the diversity that exists on that continent.
It’s not only Robot 6 commenters who are discussing the issue. The conversation is also being had at the Comic Book Resources forums, Comics Alliance, and undoubtedly other places I haven’t discovered yet. Comments range from the relatively benign (“It’s almost as if DC wants to start racial controversy”) to outright accusations of racism and misogyny.
Others have noted that even if no intentional offense was meant (and honestly, does anyone really believe that it was?), in addition to a lack of sensitivity, the map also betrays a lack of imagination. Gorillas in Africa, Nazis in South America, and pirates in the Atlantic — for example — are standard tropes in adventure stories. Even Alaska as “Land of the Undead” has me wondering if we’re going to see a 30 Days of Night crossover. I’m guessing that familiar clichés are exactly what DC’s going for, but I understand the complaint that some of these stereotypes could use a second thought and another look.
On the other hand, it strikes me that the Amazons’ taking over Britain and declaring it New Themyscira is a pretty original idea. And I certainly wouldn’t suggest that a world full of talking gorillas, Nazis, pirates, merfolk and Amazons is a bad place to tell a whole mess of stories. It’s just too bad that it’s been overshadowed by another mess altogether. Especially since this isn’t the first time DC’s been accused of this kind of thing.
[Reader question:] Tom, why are people so concerned with a lack of diversity in a comic? “The Flash Family has become too white with the absence of Wally’s family”, and so on and so forth.I don’t understand this kind of logic. How do you place value of story on race?
[Tom Brevoort:] I don’t know who you are, obviously, but just based on your question I would posit that you’re a white male. I think you cannot overestimate the power that readers, especially younger readers, seeing a heroic character that resembles themselves, can have. For white guys like me, that’s easy–there are hundreds of them. Not so for almost any other demographic you might choose to name. That’s why, I think, people are supportive and even delicate with any character of a particular race or orientation or background. It’s a diverse world out there, and any time we can reflect that diversity in a meaningful way, it’s worth doing.
–Marvel Senior Vice President – Publishing Tom Brevoort, responding to a reader’s scratched-head incredulity on the issue of diversity in comics, and doing so a lot more calmly than I probably would have.
“I’ve always wanted to diversify the DCU, but usually when I do it, James Robinson comes along and kills them all. [Laughs] But certainly we try. To me, I look out the window and see all kinds of people walking down the street, and I want to see that reflected in the superhero community. I’m sure a lot of readers would like to see themselves represented as well. It’s always been a focus of mine to widen the scope of DC’s characters internationally and ethnically.”
Meanwhile, you’ve already made CBR’s Bat Signal column regular reading, right?
DC Entertainment Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee’s lengthy interview with CBR’s Kiel Phegley tackles many subjects, from the pair’s transition into their new jobs to the future of Vertigo and WildStorm to the company’s 75th anniversary. But I’m guessing DiDio’s exchange with Phegley on the death of Ryan “The Atom” Choi and diversity among DC’s characters is the bit that will provide the most grist for the comment-thread mill, as DiDio says the focus on Choi’s death as opposed to the breadth of DC’s line-up of non-white characters is “inappropriate”: