Are comics racist?

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Methos

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#1  Edited By Methos
 Ryan Choi's unnecessary death
 Ryan Choi's unnecessary death
Well, it's time to cut the strings and actually launch this debate I think... it's a tough one, but I feel it's one that's been overlooked for quite some time now and needs to come to a strong discussion.  
 
Lately more and more ethnic characters have received poor treatment in comics, some, like  Ryan Choi  lately, getting killed off pointlessly for no apparent reason. So I thought it was time to actually ask the tough question, are the comics of today racist?  

Let's start with the obvious. I am a white male in England. I have not had to struggle in any capacity against any preconceived notions because of my gender or ethnic background. Do I know what it's like to be discriminated against? No. I can sympathize with those who have, but I will never be able to truly empathize with them. It's easy to say, "Yeah, it's an industry largely built by and for white men, so it's not surprising there's maybe not as much diversity as there should be." But if you actually really try to look for good ethnic characters in comics, with good writing, you'll find   REALLY  quickly just how slim the pickings are!   
 
It just seems to me that  e thnicity is rarely seen as more than a gimmick to most writers. Very few delve into the different cultures enough to add life to understandings that produce such unique works, as say... The Invisibles.


It's hardly any wonder comics have difficulty selling female and minority lead comics. There are so few instances where the people who might respond to those books are catered to, that they never bother setting foot in a comic shop in the first place! It's that extremely low bar of white guys being so uncomfortable even TRYING to speak towards someone other than another white guy that turns a lot of potential readers away.  I don't know that the direct market CAN change enough at this point to make a welcoming overture towards blacks. Or Latinos. Or Asians. Or everybody else that isn't white. I think that's one of the reasons webcomics do as well as they do, they can reflect a different ethnography than what the direct market seems capable of. Whether those webcomic creators can (or even want!) to push their audience into a comic shop for additional purchases is going to help determine, I think, the future of the direct market.  

I'm not advocating the demise of the direct market or that mainstream comic publishers shouldn't even bother addressing non-white ethnicities. I'm just saying that it shouldn't come as a surprise when pamphlet comics that feature non-white leads don't sell well. The industry has spent   decades   catering to one audience almost to the exclusion of all others, and it would take a MAJOR change in the industry  over an extended period   (I'm easily talking years here) for that to impact sales to someone other than Caucasian males. Consider this. It has taken years for anything resembling a kids/young adult/all-ages comics market to re-emerge. It's still a vastly under-tapped market. And it's almost entirely OUTSIDE the confines of the direct market, and thanks in large part to publishers that aren't DC or Marvel. 


So why don’t comic books regularly have ethic characters with strong storylines?

 

 Is racism still prevalent?
 Is racism still prevalent?

A tough but necessary question. Is it because most comic book writers are white males, often 'write what they know', and so they choose to make their protagonists white males like themselves? Is it because the characters that are popular today and star in the most books (i.e. the superheroes that have been around since the 50s and 60s) just happen to be great characters, no matter what the skin color is beneath their masks? Obviously, companies would love to publish series with minority main protagonists (i.e. DC's Steel or John Stewart and Milestone line, Marvel's Black Panther and The Crew), but time and again, readership hasn't been enough to keep them going. 


Basically, I don't have an easy answer…

 

 But while thinking about this, it came to my thoughts that most comic heroes are minority characters. Batman is in a minority of guys whose parents were murdered before their eyes. Superman is in a minority of babies saved from exploding planets. Lobo is in a minority of maniacs who destroyed their own world. Judge Dredd is in a minority of people dedicated to justice. The problem sometimes appears to be what kind of characters have been presented in the past. If people of a particular race or ethnicity are all represented as one-dimensional stereotypes, that's a real problem. If all women are represented as brainless, helpless victims, all white men as kind-hearted and benevolent heroes and all black people as jive talking evil minded criminals, those are problems.    


But in the various worlds created by comic creators where there are is a wide diversity of characters representing both positive and negative points of view, the numbers become less important. If there is only one black character in a comic book and he is a cowardly clown, I am quite naturally upset by that representation. But in a world where there are any number of characters presenting points of view pro and con, good and bad, intelligent and stupid, I don't have a problem. And let's get real for a minute. Comic books aren't immune to the taint of institutional racism or prejudice any more than any other segment of society. We want everyone to feel that we are treating everyone the same, when we know that we don't treat everyone the same. It is the cache 22 of racial politics.

Most of the time when an ethnic character (The Falcon, Storm, Green Lantern, Agent J, Captain Marvel, Cyborg, Pete on Smallsville, etc.) emerges in the world of mainstream comic books he or she are simply a watered down side kick or a modern day slave to the White characters in the comic book. The characters have no agenda of their own. Storm in the X-MEN movies might as well had been a maid with the few lines she received. The characters that stand on their own are normally super stereotypes like Power Man (Cage) the ex-con or the monster heroes like Blade & Spawn. Most White comic book creators & collectors like monsters more than people of colour. Comic Books are filled with monsters and barely people of colour.

This question has made me examine several things in my life. I hadn’t considered just how white comicbooks are. I didn’t have a clue which creators were black, white or whatever. Not being racist is not enough. Complacency is a terrible sin. The current situation in the comicbook industry is wrong and definitely racist in my view.

M

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.Mistress Redhead.

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You didn;t want to add sexist? 

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Methos

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#3  Edited By Methos

I've done an article on sexist comics before... and Ms Invisible has done many on her own for that area... 
 
i think this one needs to actually be addressed fully  
 
M

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Magian

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#4  Edited By Magian

Valid questions and I am sure you are not the first one with these questions.

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.Mistress Redhead.

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@Methos said:
" I've done an article on sexist comics before... and Ms Invisible has done many on her own for that area...  i think this one needs to actually be addressed fully   M "
True, but its been awhile ;) 
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FadeToBlackBolt

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#6  Edited By FadeToBlackBolt

I think we need more Black characters in comics. Most of the ones we have now are either named Black something or terrible stereotypes (cough, Luke cage, cough).

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Methos

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#7  Edited By Methos

i'm just pissed off lately with how much flack ethnic characters are getting... 
 
I mean, it was abysmal how The Atom was written before he died... abysmal, basically written as a coward as he shrunk down to sub atomic levels to try and hide from Deathstroke... 
 
Over the past several years, DC Comics have made it a habit to brutally kill off C-list characters for no good reason other than pure shock value (see Cry for Justice or any Geoff Johns-written crossover for other examples of this trend). It’s an annoying and creatively lazy trend, and it’s just one more thing that’s turned me off to most of their comics.     

 
Not to mention Deathstroke presented Ryan’s body to Dwarfstar in a motherf***ng shoebox. What, a Ted Grant Grease Grabbin’ Grill would have been too dignified?!?

I feel rage. I can’t give up DC. I mean, yeah, that’s a weak move, but isn’t there enough room for two Atoms? Ryan was created by Grant Morrison, developed by Gail Simone. Surely, there must have been some other character that could’ve gotten a Ted Kord bitch death whom no one would miss.

 
M
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Magian

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#8  Edited By Magian

Apparently we can have three Flashes but not two Atoms.

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Methos

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#9  Edited By Methos

exactly ComicMan 
 
Choi's death was pointless, badly written and just a pathetic waste of a good character... all the show that Deathstroke is a baddass... 
 
well, sorry, but screw this... it seems like Ethnic characters are seriously getting shafted every few months now, it's beyond a joke i think 
 
M

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#10  Edited By Methos

i think it's more telling that Choi as The Atom was killed off back in May... but there hasn't been one comment about it on the forums... 
 
no comment on his death in the Atom forums, or the Titans forums... nothing... 
 
Was he really that much of an unloved character that in 5 months not one person has something to say about how he was killed off? 
 
M

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mavfan626

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#11  Edited By mavfan626

I think that alot of it is taken out context but sometime (mostly in classic comics) their pretty blunt, I wouldn't think that I'd happen so much now even though it should be treated like a movie if a black actor said the N word in a movie why could a black character in a comic do the same? and if racist things are happen around us why can't a comicbook writer write about it? are they racist for trying to write about things that every day people go though and/or have to deal with?
 

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Methos

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#12  Edited By Methos
@mavfan626: Read the issue, it's seriously a bad joke... 
 

1. Cheshire (Eurasian character) the page where she is introduced, she is drawn to look like a Thai fantasy dragon lady hooker. Yawn, another sexualized Asian female character.

2. She refers to Ryan as “Little Man.” Was this a double entendre?

Although Wallace doesn’t want to admit it, I’m sure some of these things were in his head when writing.

Also those talking about DC whacking minorities and the only one Asian “Male” superhero in this Universe. I’m a little surprised Jim Lee (Korean American) had no say in this? 

I find it kind of interesting, many of the top artists in comic books are Asian Males yet there are almost no Asian Superheroes in comic books.

  M   
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VenomMagus

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#13  Edited By VenomMagus

I think its a really touchy subject.  More than anything, though, I don't its black v. white, but religious racism that is rampant in comics.  Whenever you get a character to announce/denounce their faith, its always met with some outcry from the fanbase.  Characters have even gone out of their way, above and beyond to avoid being pegged into a faith.  Its much more than a simple, "this guy hates blacks, this girl hates lains, that thing eats whites" of an issue. 
 
...also, now Disney is involved...
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Methos

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#14  Edited By Methos

Just pisses me off how ethnic characters are treated... Ryan Choi was just the major example that really pissed me off... 
 
I mean come on, Deathstroke’s team killed Ryan Choi to prove how tough they were? I like the Atom (Especially Choi, he kicked ass), but when your team has a kid with the powers of several gods, a consummate martial artist who can fight the Justice League to a standstill, and a bunch of other people I can’t even remember (but I assume have formidable abilities), ganging up on the Atom is just weak.


Not trying to diss the Atom, just pointing out yet another level on which this was a dumb move. “I must prove to Galactus I am mighty enough to be his next herald … by pushing Aunt May down the stairs!” 
 
M
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#15  Edited By Methos

Taken from Gail Simone's blog 
 

Quite a few Asian readers came up to my table at NYCC with copies of the All-New Atom for signing. They were bummed Ryan Choi was killed so pointlessly. It made me sad.  I have no idea if the deaths in comics lately are weighted oddly by gender or race, I haven't kept up at all. I just am reporting what I experienced. One adorable guy brought every Atom tpb and was totally bummed and I had nothing useful to say because I am bummed, too.  


M
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ForbushBug

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#16  Edited By ForbushBug

I don't know if it's racist to kill a character. If they decided the character was redundant and not catching on but chose to keep him in limbo because of his ethnicity, then its pandering. Besides, I don't think Choi's dead. He was full sized when stabbed by Deathstroke yet shrunken when delivered to Dwarfstar. Also, his belt was missing. I think Choi shows up again with it being revealed his death was faked.

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#17  Edited By Methos
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speedlgt

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#18  Edited By speedlgt

for methos 
 
you bring up some great points however I really cant say that comics are racist overall........i just dont feel that way they are not senstive to race use stereotypes that can and most likely do offend. 
 
I think I have 2 points to add one of which you already point out and that is that basically the heroes that sell well the icons of superhero comics are very old characters and are yes white. But the problem lay not it that they are white but we regardless of race loves those characters to the point that they have become timeless classics that transcend race.   I dont think anyone wants to see superman batman nor spiderman go through an ethnic change hell I dont even want to see an elseworlds where they are different. WHY well it ruins the foundation of the character and like I have said these heroes are classics. I for one was offended by Grant Morrision creating a black Obama style superman in Final Crisis. Not cause hes was black but that he changed the race at all! superman is not even human! also I saw it as a cheap act to state HIS support of obama for president which is fine....but what did that have to do with the story or superman or comics? Nothing. it was token stunt and a perfect example of racism. 
 
the 2nd point is based on the first do we even have a new characters that fans love to the point of our comic icons? I think the answer is no. If you look are DC BIG 7 titans and JSA then look are marvels avengers xmen and FF there is not a single "new" character that has that type of fandom. 
 and just look what happens when you do change a character like Blue Bettle hes now a latino teen and while he seems to be well liked ted korg still has his fans that claim he was better. is that racist? no way  its just one character was around first and well recived. Its the same reason fans Love optimus prime and hate Rodimus prime its racist aginst blue and red robots.
 
  
I am latino and thus moreso than other races have  even more reason to be offend by race in comics and in general due to lack of representation. I will agree that Blacks have been treated poorly and that is awful, however in the US that race is very very very united and have lobby and fought in such a way that they are AT least represented in just about every aspect on media. Granted a black man may say its a "token" representation as U stated M in a movie like xmen but STILL it is representation in contrast to latinos who are basically ignored! I wish I had a luke cage sterotype latino character to be upset about! however the best I have is speedy gonzales!  
and lets look are the administration for a min. 
 
Joe Q is the big man at marvel hes latino! if in his time he had a surge of latino heroes and villans created as well as maybe change some hereos to latinos would we not say that is racist!? and self serving i would think so kinda despite him being a miniorty and one with tons of power hes done nothing of the kind  
based on that alone I cant honestly say that comics are racist in general
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Methos

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#19  Edited By Methos
@ForbushBug said:

" I don't know if it's racist to kill a character. If they decided the character was redundant and not catching on but chose to keep him in limbo because of his ethnicity, then its pandering. Besides, I don't think Choi's dead. He was full sized when stabbed by Deathstroke yet shrunken when delivered to Dwarfstar. Also, his belt was missing. I think Choi shows up again with it being revealed his death was faked. "

 
Well Ryan doesn't need to use the Atom’s belt anymore he have is own power he can shrink by himself this was written in the latter The All-New Atom that’s I why I found strange but didn't point it out, I personally believe  Ryan die because Gehenna (Firestorm matrix) has already died during the Blackest Night storyline. 
 
M
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#20  Edited By Darkchild
@Methos: hahahahahahahaha
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Methos

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#21  Edited By Methos
@speedlgt:  
 
Thank you for actually making valid points here... i understand what you're saying about how comics aren't overall typically racist, it just feels like ethnic characters are always getting the short end of the stick... 
 
Nice that there are actually some thoughts going on here to back up arguments on both sides of this 
 
M
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mavfan626

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#22  Edited By mavfan626
@Methos: oh real racistim. I agree with everything you've write, I think it's just a few bad apples that will lose more reads then gain and will simply lose their job. Dont hate on the whole industry. I'd think about the changes that have happen since the 50-60 not only in comic but in life.  
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Decoy Elite

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#23  Edited By Decoy Elite

Here's the logic that the comic companies/writers seem to be working under. "If we aren't using them then why not kill them?" So basically they kill off any really underused characters, which is a bunch bull crap because there's plenty of great underused characters that shouldn't die. 
 
Choi is one example but there's also, Mattie Franklin, Bushido, Pantha, Duela Dent, Scott Lang, and of course Stilt-Man. 
Racist or not, this is a trend that I curse daily.

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#24  Edited By ForbushBug
@Methos said:
" @ForbushBug said:

" I don't know if it's racist to kill a character. If they decided the character was redundant and not catching on but chose to keep him in limbo because of his ethnicity, then its pandering. Besides, I don't think Choi's dead. He was full sized when stabbed by Deathstroke yet shrunken when delivered to Dwarfstar. Also, his belt was missing. I think Choi shows up again with it being revealed his death was faked. "

 Well Ryan doesn't need to use the Atom’s belt anymore he have is own power he can shrink by himself this was written in the latter The All-New Atom that’s I why I found strange but didn't point it out, I personally believe  Ryan die because Gehenna (Firestorm matrix) has already died during the Blackest Night storyline.  M "
So you think one character is dead because an unrelated character in another comic is dead? That makes no sense at all. 
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Methos

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#25  Edited By Methos
@ForbushBug said:
"So you think one character is dead because an unrelated character in another comic is dead? That makes no sense at all.  "  
 
I was using it as an example as to how DC is killing off loads of C-list characters at the moment for no particular reason 
 
M
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#26  Edited By Magian
@Decoy Elite said:
" Here's the logic that the comic companies/writers seem to be working under. "If we aren't using them then why not kill them?" So basically they kill off any really underused characters, which is a bunch bull crap because there's plenty of great underused characters that shouldn't die.   Choi is one example but there's also, Mattie Franklin, Bushido, Pantha, Duela Dent, Scott Lang, and of course Stilt-Man.  Racist or not, this is a trend that I curse daily. "
I don't like this trend at all.
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Decoy Elite

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#27  Edited By Decoy Elite
@ComicMan24 said:
" @Decoy Elite said:
" Here's the logic that the comic companies/writers seem to be working under. "If we aren't using them then why not kill them?" So basically they kill off any really underused characters, which is a bunch bull crap because there's plenty of great underused characters that shouldn't die.   Choi is one example but there's also, Mattie Franklin, Bushido, Pantha, Duela Dent, Scott Lang, and of course Stilt-Man.  Racist or not, this is a trend that I curse daily. "
I don't like this trend at all. "
Indeed, you know things are bad when they're killing off Stilt-Man(only to replace him with a new guy making the whole thing pointless)
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#28  Edited By Jotham
@Methos: I think you give the answer in your post why there aren't more minorities starring in comics. They don't sell well. 
Here's an interesting article that explores some of the same themes:
http://www.comicsalliance.com/2010/05/06/the-racial-politics-of-regressive-storytelling/
 
As for fans of the Atom complaining, I thought it was pretty crappy, but I'd lost interest in the series long before he died.
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Magian

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#29  Edited By Magian
@Decoy Elite: Did you see Lady Stilt-Man?
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#30  Edited By Decoy Elite

On the subject of racism in comics. Blackest Night/Brightest day saw the killing off of Gehenna and the return of the while Firestorm.
Why? Who the heck knows!
Then again Blackest Night pointlessly killed off a crap ton of characters why only bringing back 11(it was 11 right?) so the whole thing doesn't sit well with me.

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#31  Edited By Decoy Elite
@ComicMan24 said:
" @Decoy Elite: Did you see Lady Stilt-Man? "
Yeah, was she killed off?
Hopefully not, she was literally a joke.
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Magian

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#32  Edited By Magian
@Decoy Elite: No she wasn't killed.
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#33  Edited By Magian
@Decoy Elite: As for Blackest Night, 12 came back and with the exceptions of MM and Osiris the rest were white.
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#34  Edited By Detektor

I think the main reason for these issues is that most major comics began between the forties and sixties, and have been retconned into the nineties via sliding timescale. The cultural norms aren't contiguous.

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#35  Edited By ForbushBug

 So does the fact that Eric Wallace, the writer that killed Ryan Choi, is black mean he's some sort of Uncle Tom aiding in the white-washing of comics? Does it make it somehow "better" if a minority writes something bad happening to a minority instead of a white writer doing it? Or does it just point out the reading public's own underlying racism in assuming that a writer is white (which I've seen in rants on this topic elsewhere) unless he's working on "Static" or "Black Panther?"

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#36  Edited By AMS

 Bill Foster buried in CHAINS = wtf.  
 
I've never heard anything said about that.

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#37  Edited By G Bird

There's more white people that die in comics than any other race. I don't think comics are racist, otherwise why would they even have anything but white people in them?

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#39  Edited By emptytomb

honestly it depends on the creators artist and writers and company. If people stop spending too much time on the internet and pratice writing and drawing or putting more time into their talents than maybe we might have more minorities working in comic books or in comic books and other medias. It depends on how good the story and art is presented not on what type of race the character is. Now in the present everyone wants to be a follower or controlled not a leader. Another thing to blame is customers who only want to buy things that are popular. But, I agree they probably are racist.

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#40  Edited By roadbuster

I wouldn't go so far as to use the  epithet of racism but I do see some of the moves as a potential step backwards... which, DC more or less acknowledges it is.  They want the traditional legacy characters and those characters are white. 
 
If I look at the big seven JLA, the Trinity will always be Caucasian.  GL could be represented by Kyle, who while largely Caucasian has some references to an ethnic background, and John Stewart is obviously black... but they went with Hal.  Flash has the recessive red-hair and green eyes, organically met and married a first generation Korean American, and had fraternal twins with one gaining his racial traits and the other gaining Linda's racial traits... but they decided to go with blue-eyed blond-haired Barry, to put Wally (and thus his supporting cast, including his diverse family) on ice, and depower the twin who shows any non-Caucasian features on his face while exalting the twin who, for all intents and purposes, looks white.  The Asian American Atom never really got a chance in the League proper.  Aqualad is a step in the right direction but he's still not Aquaman in stature and who's to say how long before he's cut for a traditional or "original" Aqualad.  That said, Firestorm and Blue Beetle have been allowed to stay (albeit with Jason's whole world being invaded by the traditional hero's Caucasian invasion and Blue Beetle no longer with an ongoing series). 
 
It's strange... obviously DC isn't afraid of change given how many sacred cows they've been kicking over of late... but at the same time they've rather aggressively went backwards in undoing years of organic racial progress on the gambit that the older heroes are more popular or more creatively interesting (with respect to Hal or Barry).  If it pays off you can, in theory, have both the old heroes running around with the new, but if it doesn't it'll take a while to rebuild the same progressiveness in the DCU organically and without it being seen as a stunt which is distracting (and can detract from the stories, characterization, or critical acclaim)... for example, the preoccupation with Bat-Woman's sexual orientation or relentlessly considering Jaime Reyes a "diversity hire". 
 
I'm not terribly happy with what they've done, but I get the theory behind it and hope it pays off because it was a pretty heavy price to pay.

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Emperor Gonzo Noir

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@Methos said:
" i think it's more telling that Choi as The Atom was killed off back in May... but there hasn't been one comment about it on the forums...  no comment on his death in the Atom forums, or the Titans forums... nothing...  Was he really that much of an unloved character that in 5 months not one person has something to say about how he was killed off?  M "
I know that I was royally pissed, I may not have gone to the Atom forums to complain but I was definitely pissed, still am now that I think about it
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multiverse

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#42  Edited By multiverse
@Detektor said:

" I think the main reason for these issues is that most major comics began between the forties and sixties, and have been retconned into the nineties via sliding timescale. The cultural norms aren't contiguous. "

One of my favorite stories was one based on DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths. The story was about a multiracial version of the JLA. I mention the story because writers have choices about how they bring characters back and how much effort they put into new versions of a character.  Below are some prominent and not so prominent minority characters. They are intended as an illustration of what comic books could be like if most titles consistently had multiple minority characters. Incidentally, I am curious how many white characters are replacements for minority characters.
 
        
 
@ForbushBug
said:

"  So does the fact that Eric Wallace, the writer that killed Ryan Choi, is black mean he's some sort of Uncle Tom aiding in the white-washing of comics? Does it make it somehow "better" if a minority writes something bad happening to a minority instead of a white writer doing it? Or does it just point out the reading public's own underlying racism in assuming that a writer is white (which I've seen in rants on this topic elsewhere) unless he's working on "Static" or "Black Panther?" "

I would distinguish between individual racism and institutional racism. Individual racism would be disliking or killing a character simply because of his or her race. In my mind, the comic book industry would be institutionally racist if it disproportionately catered to the interests of white readers and if white characters were consistently more prominent: e.g., were more powerful, more likely to be on major teams such as they JLA or Avengers, appeared more often. In order to prove or disprove institutional racism one would need to do a more detailed study or the comic book industry than anyone on the forum seems to have done. That said I suspect that Ryan was killed because he was a less established character. His death would be racist if minority characters are disproportionately more likely to die than nonminority characters. An individual does not need to be racist to have a racist effect on a character.
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#43  Edited By The Mango
@Methos said:
"or a modern day slave to the White characters in the comic book. "
What does this even mean?
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N7_Normandy

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#44  Edited By N7_Normandy

 
Are people racist?  There's your answer

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@Multiverse: what version of spider-man is that?
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#46  Edited By vance_astro  Moderator

Comics aren't racist..comic readers are racist.Comic cater to them so it's them who make comics what they are as far as themes....

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#47  Edited By multiverse
@Augustus Freeman VI said:
" @Multiverse: what version of spider-man is that? "
Marvel did a four issue series about an Indian version of Spider-Man named Paviitr Prabhakar. I haven't read it so I don't know how good it is.
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#48  Edited By Magian
@Multiverse: Although I recognise most of them, I don't know four. The woman in Black Canary's suit (Lady Shiva?), the man in Iron Man's suit (James Rhodes?) and the last two women. Who are they?
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#49  Edited By geraldthesloth

This thread -_-

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#50  Edited By multiverse

The woman in Black Canary's suit is Lady Shiva and the man in the Iron Man suit is James Rhodes. The last two women are a black version of the Invisible Woman and a black version of Heather Hudson from the Exiles series.