Columns, Opinion

What Grinds My Gears: Lack of representation in superheroes

I work at a bookstore, and recently, I tried to make a display of superhero graphic novels that feature people of color. The Black Panther display had been up for a while, and I wanted to replace it with something that had a message equally as important and powerful.

I naïvely believed that finding nine different comics featuring superheroes of color would be an easy task. But I was mistaken. There were the obvious choices like the new Ms. Marvel, the first Muslim superhero, and Miles Morales, the Afro-Latino teenager as Spider-Man. And of course, there was the Black Panther and the world of Wakanda.

After that, it took me over an hour to find and collect the rest of the comics. And it wasn’t from lack of selection in the store either — there just aren’t superhero comics that feature people of color.

When I was done, the display had two “Black Panther” books because I couldn’t find nine books that featured different superheroes of color, and only two of the books are women of color.

Recent superhero movies like “Wonder Woman” and “Black Panther” make it seem like there has been a significant surge in diversity among superheroes, but that is simply not the case. Marvel and DC are making finally making movies about superheroes that have existed for awhile, while their comics stay stagnant.

Don’t get me wrong. These movies are certainly progress, but it’s not the only progress we should be witnessing. I know comics are more niche than a blockbuster film, but they are just as important. Entire groups of people are being left out of the comics community.

I don’t know how many times it has to be said, but representation matters. Whether it’s through superhero comics or movies on the big screen, when someone sees a character that looks like them them, they not only feel included and validated, but they also feel powerful. They can be whoever that character is.

“Black Panther” allowed children of color to see themselves as superheroes for the first time. “Wonder Woman” did the same thing for young girls. Even though these movies and comics are fictional and oftentimes otherworldly, they are raising children to value themselves, their abilities and their strengths. Theses movies are teaching children they are important members of society.

In addition, positive and realistic representation further educate people by eliminating the fear and taboo that surrounds any under- or misrepresented group. This creates a culture that’s more accepting, more welcoming and most importantly, more equal.

Now this progress needs to continue into the world of comics. I am proudly part of the nerd community, but it has a serious diversity problem that needs to be addressed. Without the comics to back the movies, we’re going to continue to get same boring Superman and Spider-Man movies.

I want the Muslim Ms. Marvel to be a movie. I want Miles Morales to be the next Spider-Man. I want a Native American playing the role of Captain America and an Indian woman as the next Thor. I want an Avengers team of entirely females and a Batman that’s Latino.

There’s no reason why this isn’t possible. Someone’s race, ethnicity or gender doesn’t affect their ability to be super. Outrageous events take place all the time in the superhero world, but changing the race of the Hulk isn’t one of them.

I don’t understand logically how a guy can be exposed to so much gamma radiation that he turns into a giant green monster, but he can’t be Mexican or female.

I have never liked superhero comics, but these are the stories I would read. And I guarantee a lot of others would as well.

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