A 2013 Retrospective: Diversity Assemble!

9 01 2014
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Monet St. Croix

2013 shaped up to be quite an interesting year for diversity in mainstream comic books.  In a medium once ruled by stereotypical alpha male characters of a caucasian and heterosexual persuasion, it’s getting more difficult to shoot an optic blast without hitting at least one female, LGBT, or character of color.

Evidence of the progression that the comic book genre has made is all around. One only has to attend a comic book convention. Not only is a large percentage of visitors comprised of female geeks and LGBT readers, but any number of panels/screenings/talks are centered on numerous diversity issues that more and more fans are finding increasingly important.

Even 2013’s editorial “facepalms”  (re: DC’s Batwoman marriage scandal and the eyebrow raising “Harley Quinn Commits Suicide” art contest) could not stop the rising tide of progress that character diversity made throughout the year.

One of the most blatant examples of said progress is, inarguably, within the pages of Brian Wood’s X-Men.  The idea of an all-female team of X-Men is something that fans have been clamoring for for as long as I can remember. Not only does the current lineup of this squad boast all xx chromosomes, each member (save for Rachel Grey) is also a woman of color. Pre-Battle of the Atom teammates included Storm, Jubilee, and Psylocke… each representing Kenyan, Chinese, and Japanese ethnicities, respectively. They have since been joined by Karima Shapandar, a native of India formerly known as Omega Sentinel. Monet St. Croix, a Muslim of Algerian/Monegasque descent, first introduced in Generation X and most recently featured in Peter David’s run of X-Factor, has also been added to the roster . Each of these ladies on this team is a distinct voice and a powerhouse in her own right. Could any one of them go toe-to-toe with the likes of Captain American or Iron Man? Absolutely!

That’s not all when it comes to Mr. Wood’s book. The current villain in play is the Japanese cyborg, Lady Deathstrike. Yuriko has become a melting pot of her very own with her consciousness being uploaded into the body of Colombian heiress, Ana Cortes.

Bling! puts the moves on Jubilee.

Bling! puts the moves on Jubilee.

Let’s not forget about LGBT representation in X-Men. A secondary story is currently woven into the main plot involving the African-American/bisexual mutant, Bling!, and some Sapphic drama with fellow Jean Grey School classmate, Mercury. This recently culminated in Bling! planting a lip-lock on Jubilee in an attempt to make Mercury jealous.

While the X-books have always served as a metaphor for any number of oppressed minorities, Brian Wood should be given major credit for the fantastic work he has done on this title, thus far.

Female characters scored another success in the twelve issue (thirteen if you count the Age of Ultron tie-in… and you SHOULD) run of Cullen Bunn’s Fearless Defenders. The series was as fun and straightforward as an episode of GLOW (and, let’s face it, that’s pretty damn fun)… the good girls vs. the mean girls. The Defenders included Cheyenne Native American, Danielle Moonstar and African-American bionic badass, Misty Knight. As for the heroines who just happen to be lesbians, Annabelle Riggs and Ren Kimura had that area covered.

Shamrock tells the men where to go.

Shamrock tells the men where to go.

One of the most memorable moments from the series featured several of the Defenders’ significant others, gathering at a pub as a makeshift intervention to show the ladies the err of their ways. The world of masked heroics is just too dangerous for such fragile lasses. Having been involved in her fair share of superhero antics, the pub’s owner, eventually puts the whiny bags of testosterone in their place when it comes to sexism.

Marvel Comics has also proven, time and time again, that the books involving teenage characters both include and address diversity in a blasé manner. It is all very “matter of fact.” There’s no big “Yep, I’m gay.” speech at a news conference (sorry, Northstar). This could easily be chalked up to the fact that younger generations of people have been exposed to different cultures and ethnicities from the moment they are born. Avengers Arena and Young Avengers are two of these titles that ran through 2013 and featured a bevy of kids from all walks of life.

Cullen Bloodstone and Cammi share a moment in Murderworld.

Cullen Bloodstone and Cammi share a moment in Murderworld.

Dennis Hopeless’ Avengers Arena introduced us to Cullen Bloodstone (of the monster-hunting Bloodstones). He was one of the unlucky students from the Braddock Academy to find himself trapped in Arcade’s Murderworld. As if being pitted against fifteen other superpowered teenagers in a Battle Royale/kill-or-be-killed contest for Arcade’s sole entertainment, he also has to deal with his unrequited feelings for his (presumably) heterosexual classmate, Anachronism.

As the body count rises, there’s an interesting moment between Cullen and Cammi. She asks him about the secret feelings that he’s been harboring about one of the other gameplayers. Cammi doesn’t bat an eyelash at the revelation that Cullen has fallen for another man. Instead, she advises him against getting attached to anyone because the only way out of Murderworld is by being the sole survivor at the end of the game. The big “coming out” scene is treated casual as if it’s not a big deal. Honestly, it shouldn’t be a big deal.

Superhero selfie (courtesy of the Young Avengers)

Superhero selfie (courtesy of the Young Avengers)

One really cannot speak of teenage superheroes and diversity without touching on Kieron Gillen’s SUPERB run on Young Avengers. First off, the series features one of Marvel’s longest-running gay couples, Hulkling and Wiccan. The wonderful thing about these characters is that their relationship feels organic. Readers have been able to follow its development since the days of Allen Hienberg’s run in 2005. They aren’t generic plot devices thrown into a story for the sake of having a token gay relationship.

Also joining the team is African-American depowered mutant, Prodigy. Gillen put an interesting spin on David’s previous powerset. Through the course of Young Avengers, we learn that David identifies as bisexual. He attributes this to his previous ability to mimic the knowledge from anyone’s mind that he came into contact with. This knowledge still remains within him despite being depowered on M-Day.

Team bruiser came in the shape of one Miss America Chavez. Introduced during Joe Casey’s Vengeance, the interdimensional Latina heroine proved herself to be an invaluable asset to the team… especially when it came time to putting the Norse trickster god, Loki, in his place. Speaking of Loki, the pansexual, occasionally female-bodied brother of Thor was the perfect thorn in the team’s side.

Batgirl's roommate, Alysia Yeoh

Batgirl’s roommate, Alysia Yeoh

Over on the DC Comics side of the room, champion of diversity, Gail Simone (seriously, she should list that as a “special skill” on her résumé), introduced what may be the first transgender character in mainstream comic books. Barbara Gordon’s (a.k.a. Batgirl) roommate came out as transgender to the titular character following the events of Death of the Family. The great thing about Alysia is that she is not transgender due to a latent superhero ability to shapeshift… it’s just a part of who she is as a person.

Reflecting back on the past year definitely gives one high hopes for the new year. Judging by early solicitations and news media outlets, it doesn’t appear that 2014 will disappoint.

Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel

Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel

Beginning in February, G. Willow Wilson will bring us the adventures of the new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan. The teenager from New Jersey styles herself as Carol Danvers’ number one fan and, after discovering her Inhuman heritage and shapeshifting abilities, takes on the classic mantle. Yes, Kamala is not the first Muslim to appear in a Marvel title. She is, however, the first Muslim to receive a solo title.

February will also see Cullen Bloodstone return as a main character in Dennis Hopeless’ Avengers Undercover while Loki receives own solo series, Loki: Agent of Asgard. Writer Al Ewing promises that the Loki’s book will address the god’s fluid sexuality and gender identity.

Comic books have always been a way to kick back and escape from reality. A way to suspend disbelief and connect with a character that does what needs to be done for the greater good of humanity. Thankfully, today, more people are able to do just that. People from different backrounds or ethnicities. People of different sexual orientations. People both male and female. The truth is, in the end, we all look the same behind a mask and cape.

 

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The Geeks Take Manhattan.

23 10 2012

A little over a week has passed since my first experience at NYCC (New York Comic Con to those of you that are not in the know) and very little has been able to calm the buzz that I still get when I flip through the photographs that document the epic weekend. Not only was it my first NYCC but it was also my first comic con in general. I suppose it was a “go big or go home” type of scenario. A regular sink or swim kind of deal.

An overnight drive from Buffalo to New York City kicked things off. Will behind the wheel and me dozing on and off in the passenger seat. Long car rides (along with short ones and everything in between) bring out my narcoleptic tendencies. Stopping at an unattended gas station in Deliverance-land led to my commenting about how the horror movies of yore always began with the kids from the city getting lost in the sticks and pulling over at the dilapidated gas station for help before finding themselves strung up on meat hooks in a redneck’s basement.

Breakfast was had at the McDonald’s on the corner of W. 34th and 10th Ave. There was a parking lot. It’s seems a rarity to find any place in Manhattan that has its own parking lot. We had a schedule to adhere to so the hotcakes and coffee were devoured promptly before marching down to the Javits Center for Day One of the convention. The time was about 5am.

To say that the first day was an overwhelming whirlwind would be an understatement. Maneuvering through a sea of Adventure Time, Bane, Harley Quinn, and (female) Loki cosplayers would bring us face-to-face with some of the most respected names in comic books from both the present and the past. Chris Claremont’s face with it’s proud and nostalgic smile as he would thumb through an old issue of New Mutants and comment about the scandal that Emma Frost’s less-than-there wardrobe caused. Kieron Gillen drawing a sad-face of Leah on the cover of Journey Into Mystery #641. Posing for a quick photo-op with Clay Mann (he may or may not need to slap us with a restraining order). Halting the queue to catch up with Marjorie Liu (who we previously befriended in Boston) and make tentative coffee date plans for the near future.  “We were worried you were going to be a dick.” is what we said to Rick Remender because we were worried he was going to be a dick. He laughed and wasn’t at all a dick. Cosplayers. So many cosplayers on that first day. Robin and Raven. Kitty Pryde and Lockheed. Emma Frost and Wanda Maximoff. She-Ra.

I suppose it would be criminal to leave out the fact that the day ended with a Carrie Fisher meet-and-greet.

Fatigue, bruised shoulders, aching lower backs, and hunger followed us back to our hostel in Chelsea where we agreed  that we would concentrate moreso on “just having fun” during Day 2 instead of slowly killing ourselves in order to get as many books signed as we possibly could. We would parrot our declaration of “just having fun” over the course of Day 2 whenever frustration would begin to set in. But first, sleep… sweet, sweet, luxurious sleep.

Sleeping through the alarm led to a mad dash back to the Javits Center the next morning. Thankfully Day 2 was about “just having fun.” Chuck Palahniuk was our first stop that morning. Gracious, friendly, and very willing to give advice about the best way to go about reigniting my desire to start writing again. A more creative day for cosplayers, it seemed. Selene. Lady Deathstrike. Marrow. Jubilee, X-23, and Pixie. Even the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and a Little Sister from Bioshock. Northstar was sketched in my Astonishing X-Men trade by current cover artist for Marjorie Liu’s run, Phil Noto. Another visit to Clay Mann (see: restraining order) where he sketched Destiny, Mystique’s deceased lover, on a comic book backing board. Clay’s X-Men Legacy tie-in issues to Necrosha centered on her brief return from the dead. During the “Gay Marriage in Comics” panel, I would be branded the “guy with the beard and hipster glasses” when posing a question regarding the future of gay characters being portrayed as anything but “safe” and the “good guys.” Chuck Palahniuk, during his panel, would read a new short story, Boogeyman, before hurling plastic, severed limbs into the audience (autographed, of course).

“Just having fun” on Day 2 still led to extreme exhaustion. A quiet take-out dinner on the High Line would follow the day’s events. Will and I enjoying eachother’s company and a view of 8th Ave. below.

Day 3. Last Day. No sleeping through alarms. Our big goals for that day were a meet-and-greet with Grant Morrison and sketches by Phil Jimenez… ok, and getting as many of our remaining books signed as possible. The hour-long queue to meet Mr. Morrison was worth the wait. We had the chance to discuss some of the elements omitted from the finished product of Final Crisis. A very friendly man, that Mr. Morrison. Return visits to Chris Claremont, Peter David, and a handful of others would provide opportunities to stretch our legs while we waited 3 hours (give or take a minute or two) for Phil Jimenez. An incredible artist who was providing work at no charge made the wait something I will do again for years to come. As he sketched Tarot of The Hellions for me, Phil mentioned that he loved the character and he originally pitched the idea of a Hellions ongoing to Marvel back in the day. 

Not even a missed flight home could dampen the natural high I was on (and it didn’t) as we ventured back to Boston at the conclusion of the day. It was a weekend of incredible experiences and realized opportunities. These are the memories that will be bagged, boarded, and added to my collection to revisit again and again. Appreciating in value, no doubt.

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