People were linking “Fanboys” by Alexander Chee around earlier this morning and praising it for putting superheroes on blast for being so shortsighted. Since I’m a killjoy who hates to see wack things get shine, here’s a rebuttal.
-His basic point, the one that people have latched onto because it confirms whatever biases they have about cape comics, is that superhero comics have gotten whiter since Giant-Size X-Men 1. He hitches this point to the idea that this is cultural backlash because we got a black president. So:
1. Chee simply doesn’t know enough to talk authoritatively on this issue. The story about the white mutant messiah was announced as early as June 2007. Sorta hard to look at it as a reaction to a black president when you know that. It’s a coincidence, and nothing more.
2. Weasel words are great when your point is this thin, so when he says, “Most of [the X-Men] are entirely white,” he’s not incorrect. Uncanny X-Men is pretty white (though Kitty Pryde is Jewish), but Astonishing X-Men has both Storm and Armor. X-Men Legacy has had a rotating cast with a latino dude, Japanese-American girl, Indian girl, and several other races.
He mentions, but then ignores, the New Mutants. New Mutants stars Cannonball, Danielle Moonstar, Sunspot, Karma, Magik, Magma, Warlock, and Cypher. That’s Kentucky hick, Native American, Brazilian, Vietnamese, Russian, fake South American Roman from Brazil, robot, and Generic White. That’s three, maybe four (Magma is questionable), white characters on a team of eight.
Are most of the books entirely white? No. The only one that genuinely is is probably Uncanny X-Men. Precision is key here, because you aren’t just trying to describe a movie you saw yesterweek while falling asleep at 2am. You’re trying to make a point about an intensely personal subject and do so by using facts. If your facts are suspect, your point is suspect, so please stop screwing it up for the rest of us.
3. White isn’t a single monolithic group. There are different types of white, which absolutely counts as diversity. Russian White, Jewish White, Fake South American Brazilian White, Welsh White, and Generic White (Cyclops, Captain America, Batman, blah blah blah). Treating them as a single group makes the argument into “white vs other,” which treats white as both the default and superior to every single other race. That’s stupid. But, this piece does it, and does it repeatedly.
4. If you’re going to make grand, sweeping statements, you don’t get to pick and choose. Comics haven’t gotten “more white.” That’s absurd. The books he picked up are fairly white, yes, but in using those to make his point, he ignores the books that are diverse.
If you want other books that feature a diverse cast, look at Heroes for Hire, Power Man & Iron Fist, Black Panther: Man Without Fear (as wack as that book is), and a fistful of others. Spider-Girl stars a Latina. Thunderbolts has a majority white cast, but never felt “white.” Dark Wolverine stars a Japanese-Canadian. Amadeus Cho is Korean and a major player. Jubilee just came off headlining a miniseries with Wolverine. How is that “more white?”
Look: cape comics are always going to be for white dudes. People who are not white dudes will read and enjoy them, but at this point? Comics can’t even afford to launch new series. They had their chance to branch out in the ’90s and early ’00s and dropped the ball. Certain specific writers and artists will do a good job with what they have, presenting diverse casts and telling good stories, but as a whole? Marvel has one audience, and whoever else they get is just a bonus. It is what it is. It sucks, but to suggest that things have regressed from 1975… that’s laughable.
words by zeb wells, art by leonard kirk
5. One more excerpt:
You could ask of the Captain America comic, “Did we go to war as a result of the comic?” or “Did the comic depict our unconscious desire to go to war?” This is a difficult question. Most of the people who could answer it are dead. Many of them died fighting that war.