Show, Don’t Tell

DC, after recently announcing the cancellation of the Minx line (my thoughts thereon remaining unprintable), has gone on to announce the cancellation of Blue Beetle, Birds of Prey and Manhunter.

Of course, rumours immediately abounded that BoP in particular wasn’t actually going to be cancelled, just relaunched after a spell, and this may well be so. But fuck it. Comics companies continually lie to their fans, and second-guessing them is extremely tiresome. While I never believe a word about upcoming storylines, I save myself some energy when it comes to cancellations, and discuss what they are actually saying.

I am not actually die-hard opposed to the resolution of series, even ones I really adore. I am okay with stories that end – witness Sandman, or better yet, witness Alias, one of the best superhero titles of the last decade, with a definite beginning, middle and end. Jessica Jones went on to other things, some of which are awesome (Young Avengers) and some of which have been pretty pallid (Mighty Avengers), but Alias was no worse off for its ending. Provided Blue Beetle, Birds of Prey and Manhunter hit it out of the park in their conclusions, I won’t mind that they do conclude.

What I, and many other activist fans are worried about, is the fact that removing these titles significantly decreases the diversity of the DCU. These are not just titles where women and people of colour played starring roles; they are titles where women and people of colour were the focus, of the title, and of the storylines. With them gone, the DCU becomes that much more focused on the intriguing adventures of white dudes.

Newsarama asked Dan DiDio about this, thusly:

3: With that news in mind, and to bring in some of the themes of questions that were posted, with the cancellation of Manhunter, Birds of Prey and Blue Beetle, you’re moving back towards virtually all male characters in title roles (Supergirl and Wonder Woman notwithstanding) and they’re all rather WASP-y.

Diversifying the line has been something that you have championed in the past, so is this a situation where you’re buckling down for now, or a rejection of the ideas of a more diverse DCU by the market?

DD: In this particular case, since I know what’s on my schedule, I feel very confident that we are not walking away from any of those issues. Like I said, Birds of Prey goes away, but there’s an Oracle miniseries coming which places a prominent female character front and center. We have Supergirl running and reaching a new level of prominence and success. We have Vixen still running as a miniseries right now. We have Secret Six running, with strong female characters in the lead, we have Power Girl about to premiere, we have Wonder Woman who is the preeminent female character in all of comics.

In terms of diversity, one of the things we did in regards to bringing in the Milestone characters is that we brought in the true ethnic mix that made that line so unique. I have to believe that what the future holds for those characters is that not only will they be appearing in both touchstones books like Justice League and Teen Titans, but also in their own books somewhere in the foreseeable future.

So, realistically, it may seem like we’re shrinking things, but what we’re actually looking to do is to give every opportunity for success, and if these books cannot achieve the level of success and not achieve the goals we set for them, we’ll rest them for the moment, and come up with new ideas and new concepts which will diversify the DC Universe and hopefully attract a larger audience in the process.

This is mildly encouraging, but only mildly. Firstly, awesome as miniseries might be, they are not titles; they do not provide a similar impact upon the common memory of a comics universe. A miniseries starring Vixen does not make the DCU as commendably diverse as an ongoing title would. Secondly, Super Girl, Wonder Woman and Power Girl are all excellent characters, when handled well, but I will point out that they are also all white women. Not since Batgirl (also cancelled) has a non-white woman been a title-carrier in the DCU.

And thirdly, it’s not enough to include women and characters of colour in your team books, though it is an excellent start. How they are presented in those titles is also of vital concern.

If Mr DiDio is really concerned about the promotion of diversity in his books, he might want to take a close look at the team titles he retains, and consider a few changes:

  • He might want to have a word to Ed Benes about his ludicrous female butt shots in the pre-eminent team title. (If he is determined that characters must be sexy sexxors, he could grab Nicola Scott or Dale Eaglesham, both of whom are more than adept at drawing sexy sexxors of any gender, and who rarely sacrifice storytelling for sexxorness.)
  • He might make it a point of editorial concern to prevent colourists bleaching characters of colour or artists from portraying them with Caucasian features.
  • He might want to enact overall editorial policies that actively resist moments of sheer racist stupidity, such as the moment in The Elongated Halloween where Vixen refers to her past self as “Intombi” and a note helpfully reveals that this means “young girl” in African.
  • He could stop referring to “strong female characters”. Unless one is clear as to the specific strengths of the characters, it’s a term that is commonly invoked to describe the mere existence of any female characters in a title, and thus lacks all meaning. (And are there so many weak female characters that we must so distinguish the strong ones? Why is there never reference to strong male characters – perhaps because good male characterisation is automatically assumed to be a strength of a story? “Strong female character” shouldn’t be a description of a title’s outstanding feature. It ought to be a default.)

I’m saddened, but not devastated, by the cancellation of these three excellent titles. I’m pleased that the head of DC editorial avers his awareness of diversity issues and his dedication to maintaining and improving the diversity of the DCU. However, I have a hard time believing him. Until I see better all-around portrayal of diversity, especially in comics that merely feature, rather than star, women and minorities, I don’t think I ever will.

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