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Some Thoughts on Minority Comics

For the basics on minority superheroes in mainstream (DC and Marvel) comics in the Silver Age and beyond, see

Hero Deficit:  Comic Books in Decline
Coloring the Comic Books
At DC Comics, Diversity Is No Laughing Matter
Do Superheroes Reflect Society?

Some thoughts on marketing minority-themed comics
>> Seems to me that most (if not all?) the titles with minority-based heroes fail after a relatively short time. <<

You could say that about most comics, period. It doesn't prove much. It definitely doesn't prove that the market won't accept minority-themed comics. I don't think a company has ever pushed a minority title the way it pushed Superman or Batman or the X-Men.

People have no problem dropping $100 million or whatever on Pocahontas, Ricky Martin, or Tiger Woods. But these products are backed by huge marketing machines. Create products for minority audiences and back them with corporate muscle and they're likely to sell.

>> The most recent ones that spring to mind: Cage, Night Thrasher, and the entire Milestone Comics label from DC (Icon, Static, can't remember the other titles). <<

Dwayne McDuffie, founder of Milestone, claims the line did well. He claims it was terminated or whatever for reasons other than its sales or popularity. I asked him about it when I read his claims but never received an answer. These claims obviously merit an explanation.

>> Now, I don't know what makes them fail, but I can see why it may cause comic book companies to be cautious about putting more out there. <<

They should be cautious about all the drek they saturate the market with. Instead they pump out failures like NOVA, QUICKSILVER, and the M2 line while ignoring the huge minority market for products like sports and music and clothing.

>> I picked up Night Thrasher when it came out because I was a fan of the character from his New Warriors book. But, I have to say, the book was crap. <<

Again, that's true of about 90% of all the books on the market. My correspondent Neill B. might blame NIGHT THRASHER's failure on corporate racism, but I won't. Crappy books deserve to fail regardless of the characters' skin color.

The problem with CAGE
>> I didn't pick up Cage, because basically I feel that he and Iron Fist work better together. <<

Yep. As with energy-blasters, super-strong characters are a dime a dozen. Unless they have something distinct about them, they're bound to fail as solo characters.

What do we learn about super-strong heroics from Cage that we didn't learn from the Hulk, the Thing, Wonder Man, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, et al.? Nothing. Off the top of my head, HULK is the only book that's succeeded with a title character who's only super-strong, and it's never been a huge seller. There isn't room in the market for multiple books about guys whose major claim to fame is throwing cars, busting through walls, and bouncing bullets off his chest.

That says nothing about Cage's race, of course. If he had a different power, he might be a viable solo character. As he is, he's a plain-vanilla "power man." In fact, his stint as Power Man shows just how generic a super-hero he was. If he didn't have a slight gimmick—the hero-for-hire thing—he wouldn't have lasted as long as he did.

But partnered with Iron Fist, the two disparate characters provide ironic insights into each other. It's the same with any classic pairing: Holmes/Watson, Batman/Robin, Kirk/Spock, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, Billy/Drew, et al. A lot of characters work better with partners or sidekicks because they're incomplete or two-dimensional by themselves.

>> Do minorities read these titles when they come out? <<

I don't know. I'd guess minorities give minority titles a good try.

>> Are they failing because "white" America doesn't want them around or because "minority" America isn't reading the books, or are they just not being done well enough to stand up in the market? <<

Probably all of the above, depending on which books we're talking about. A publisher can control all these things, so there's no excuse for not trying. Whatever happened in the past, the 30% of Americans who are minorities aren't going away. Publishing books that address their lives should be an ongoing, permanent effort.

The answer may be that white comic book publishers, like white movie producers and other white people, are simply myopic. I've made this claim before, of course. If these white people hang out with and see only white people, their comics are bound to reflect it.

If they produce comics that reflect our children's reality, kids may buy them more, just as they're flocking to multiethnic movies. That doesn't mean publishers can make it with comics about stereotypical minority characters in their own narrow world (e.g., the inner city). Nor with comics about white characters with minority supporting characters, no matter how well-done. Neither of these are reality for many kids today.

What is reality is a multiracial, multicultural America where people mix freely. Where no race or culture dominates and all are equal. Like movies and other media products, comics that reflect this stand a good chance of succeeding.

Substandard comics on purpose?
>> Are they being done substandard on purpose by biased publishers who just want to be able to say "hey, we tried?" <<

Maybe. I'd guess publishers are too inept to intentionally make some books good and others "substandard." Of course, pretty much all their books are substandard by my standard.

These people are blind about how America's changing, so I wouldn't be surprised if they're blind about how to do good comics. Look at all the bad movies and TV shows the studios are producing. The people in command think they're creative geniuses, but they're firing blanks 90% of the time.

People are basically stupid—or shortsighted, biased, or brainwashed by their culture, if you prefer. Look how long it took white Americans to realize women and minorities are as skilled as everyone else. People want to keep on keepin' on in their privileged, sheltered worlds, where whatever they think or do is right by definition.

Is their approach "substandard"? Well, yes, but we can't blame them totally for their ignorance. It's up to those of us who know better to educate them, even if we have to hit them over the heads with 2x4s. <g>

>> What about the Bishop title that's out now? <<

I tried it. Like many, many other "majority" and minority books, it was okay but nothing special.

>> I don't read it (although I like Bishop, I think almost all the other X books stink now). Black Panther and Blade are still hanging around, but who knows how long... <<

BLADE's gone. BLACK PANTHER is hanging in there because it's a quality book and people are responding.

>> I'm not arguing with you on this, I'm genuinely curious about why these titles don't do well. I'd buy minority based comics if they were good. <<

I'll send Neill a copy of this message. Perhaps he can explain why we're both racists for not buying crappy minority (or majority) titles.


Update on minority comics
As of Spring 2005, there's a new BLACK PANTHER series to replace the old series, which was canceled. I believe the new FIRESTORM series features a black version of the hero, but I suspect it'll be canceled soon.

Marvel is publishing a version of Spider-Man in India with an Indian Peter Parker. Since it's available in the US, I guess you could call it a minority-led title.

Still, not much has changed since my contention in the late 1990s that BLACK PANTHER is the only major title starring a nonwhite character.

More on minorities in comics
Strategies in Small Business: Heroic Ambitions
Global Trends: It's a Tough World Out There for Native Comics
Popular Culture: Resources for Critical Analysis—Comix
The Racial Justice Experience: Diversity in the DC Universe: 1961-1979
The Racial Justice Experience: Diversity in the DC Universe: 1979-Today

Related links
Why Spawn isn't black
Religion in superhero comics
Multiculturalism in the X-Men
Why do a comic about Indians?
Culture and Comics Need Multicultural Perspective 2000
The future of comics

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