In John Ridley’s upcoming DC Black Label series The Other History of the DC Universe, a number of key moments from throughout DC’s comics canon are set to be reexamined from the perspectives of the non-white characters who, traditionally, have taken the back seat to white characters that the publisher’s spent decades elevating to iconic status.
When you look at the flagship books set in DC’s core continuity from the past few years—your Batman, Wonder Woman, and Justice League series come to mind—it’s often been blindingly obvious how those series have only done but so much to make DC’s larger universe feel like a place where superheroes and supervillains of color alike are an integral part of the stories being told. Odd developments like Cyborg becoming a new member of the League while John Stewart’s largely nowhere to be found have made it appear as if, when thinking about character lineups, DC’s fallen into the trap of checking off boxes in pursuit of corporate-approved diversity that really only reads well on paper.
In the ongoing conversations about what work needs to be done to make comics as a whole more inclusive, one of the more important things that tends to get lost in the sauce is people’s understanding of how important it is for publishers to take the time to properly cultivate non-white characters and then put them positions of narrative prominence within books that are actively promoted. All of this similarly applies to the creative teams of artists, writers, and editors bringing these stories, and while the comics space has gotten marginally better at hiring creators from marginalized backgrounds, to say that comics have become properly open and accessible to all people would be a gross overstatement. DC Comics’ newly-minted senior vice president Daniel Cherry III seems to understand all of this, and he would like to do something about it.
In a recent LinkedIn post, Cherry took a moment to express his excitement over coming to DC amid the publisher’s recent upheaval and share a bit about his past as a lifelong lover of comics. But he also took a moment to very diplomatically touch on a number of points that have been the subject of many a heated conversation about the industry.
“While always respecting the past, I also think it’s our responsibility to leverage the cultural power of DC Comics and our characters to entertain and inspire an increasingly diverse global fan base,” Cherry says. “Comics have the unique power to create resonant imagery and narratives that can move the world toward a better, more inclusive version of itself.”
In mentioning respecting the past, Cherry touches on the oft-used argument made against the creation and inclusion of new versions of characters (often people of color) by people who insist that comics and characters can only change but so much lest the publisher somehow “tarnish” their legacy. But it’s Cherry’s point about how the readership for comics is continuously growing and changing that’s important to focus on, because it touches on the future of the larger comics landscape beyond just DC. For years now, it’s been clear that while people’s ideas about the average comic book reader (white, male, young-to-middle aged) have remain somewhat fixed, the reality is that more and more women and young people represent substantial readership growth areas.
Putting more energy into all-age, middle grade, and YA series that feature a diverse array of characters is something DC’s been bullish about in recent years, and the company’s consistently bolstered the presences of its big name women characters like Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn. But on the comics front in particular, it’s been very curious to watch new, Black characters like Naomi and Duke Thomas pop up and then gradually fade into the background of other series in a way that doesn’t exactly engender all that much excitement around them. This is the sort of issue that’s a bit more complicated than it seems, as the common thought here is that a character’s prominence is determined purely by their popularity. But in reality, a character’s resonance with an audience is also the product of how a company handles them in terms of presentation, promotion, and attention.
On the other side of the aisle over at Marvel, characters like Kamala Khan and Miles Morales didn’t become immediate hits overnight; it took the sort of time and resources that a comics publisher has access to, but has to make decisions as to how it wants to dole out those resources out from brand to brand. With the revival of the Dakotaverse finally on the horizon, DC’s actually in an excellent position to follow through on Cherry’s ideas about how the company can push itself into a new era of storytelling that better reflects the lives and experiences of a larger pool of potential readers. The question now is whether DC will properly seize the opportunity and capitalize on its potential in a meaningful way beyond hopeful ideaton and lip service.
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