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American Comic Books and Diversity: An Industry Revitalized by Change

I begin every day on a typically dull note. I am a junior undergraduate student at a public university. I usually struggle to keep up with other students in my field, despite knowing I am competent in every way, shape, and form. 


 


However, I have always held close-to-heart relationships with Tuesdays and Wednesdays - the days that comic book stores restock their shelves with weekly issues of books primarily delivered by DC and Marvel Entertainment. 


 


Within recent years, the comic book industry’s leading producers, DC and Marvel, have faced editorial changes that have allowed them to branch out to broader audiences, thanks to more extensive and more diverse usage of characters. 


 


This has not been a phenomenon that has been met with little resistance. Several anti-diversity organizations have emerged in recent years, most notably Comicsgate. 


 


Comicsgate, according to, is a “right-wing campaign in opposition to diversity and progressivism in the North American superhero comic book industry. Its proponents target the creators hired, the characters depicted, and the stories told, and maintain that these elements have led to a decline in quality and sales” (Wikipedia). 


 


The New York Post recently published an article by John Stossel, an American libertarian television presenter who has received 19 Emmy Awards. Despite the level of respect Emmy possession holds, it is without a doubt that people like Harvey Weinstein were also awarded Emmys. 


 


There are many inaccurate things about this article, a few of which Bleeding Cool’s Rich Johnston is kind enough to. 


 


John Stossel interviews Eric July, a member of Comicsgate who has been frequently affiliated with Gabe Etlaeb, the ex-colorist of one of the labeled “woke” comic book series that Stossel and July often try dunking on within the published article. 


 


“They become bisexual ‘out of nowhere!’ complains comic creator Eric July to me,” John Stossel writes. “‘They make it seem as if the only way that you can relate to a character is because you’re gay and that character’s gay, which is nonsense!’” 


 


In comic books, many characters have been “turning bisexual” recently. To expand on the list, we have DC’s Catwoman Selina Kyle, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Batman Bruce Wayne, Wonder Woman Diana Prince, Robin Tim Drake, Superman Jonathan Samuel Kent (yes, the middle name matters), Marvel’s Loki, Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Mystique, Kitty Pryde, Iron Man, and more have all been recently revealed to be bisexual. 


 


Yes, in some of these contexts, these characters have become “bisexual out of nowhere.” But perspective, writers, and comic book continuity are constantly changing, and thus the characters are too. Different writers can move their feelings in different directions; for most of the characters above on the list, their bisexuality has little bearing on their stories. Any comic fan can tell you that. 


 


However, the teenage members of this list, the main targets of Stossel’s article, are far different. 


 


Moreover, both Jonathan Samuel Kent and Timothy Drake (Robin), the characters that John Stossel spoke about, are teenagers in their iterations. Exploring sexuality is a stage that many undergo within recent generations during their teenage years; it is normal. 


 


Rich Johnston, in his counter in the comics news site Bleeding Cool, writes, "The characters cited are teenagers, a time when people commonly come to terms with who they are, and Superman's son, Jon Kent, has only been around for a few years.”


 


Stossel later wrote, “July, who is black, says you don’t have to share the same traits as a superhero to enjoy the character. His favorite was Batman. ‘I ain’t got Bruce Wayne money, and I’m not rich! And I’m certainly not white.’” 


 


Rich Johnston counters that in his article, but I have another counter. Superman: Son of Kal-El, starring Jonathan Kent, features Jonathan Samuel Kent, Superman’s son, taking over his father’s duties as his father tries to end slavery in another galaxy. 


 


This book is about the pressure of living up to pressure while also doing things your way. Yes, Jon’s journey in bisexuality is an essential part of the story. But unlike what July claims, bisexuality isn’t the only way one can relate to the character. 


 


In one of the story's final chapters (Superman: Son of Kal-El Issue #17), Jonathan worries about coming out to his father. Tom Taylor writes arguably one of the most critical lines in a comic book for all of 2022. 


 


Jonathan tells Clark that “I wasn’t worried you’d fly away from me at super-speed. But if I saw the wrong look on your face – doubt, disapproval, disappointment – even for a fraction of a second, that would be…distance between us.” 


 


Jonathan is scared of not living up to expectations. Though being a member of the LGBTQ+ community certainly plays a big part in that line, you do not have to be a member of that community to relate to worrying about not earning a parental figure’s approval. 


 


The claim that “they make it seem as if the only way that you can relate to a character is because you’re gay and that character’s gay” is also factually wrong. 


 


Take the way Superman was before - a superpowered being who had to learn to control his near-invulnerable powers. Was this Superman relatable? The answer for most people is “probably not.” Did people still consume media about this character? One thousand fifty issues of Action Comics (Superman’s debut comic) and nine live-action movies say yes. 


 


To those that answered that Superman was relatable then, this Superman was relatable because of the writing of his interactions with others; Clark’s socialization is what counted. Who you love and are romantically interested in is a large part of people’s lives. Thus, there is no difference between portraying Superman’s traditional love life and Superman’s Son’s current love life. 


 


Stossel targets the Superman comic again, saying that “I thought that capitalism would be a break on the silliest of the woke world. But in this case, they’re just sabotaging their projects. The bisexual Superman series was canceled after 18 issues.”


 


Superman: Son of Kal-El was not canceled after 18 issues. The title was rebranded into Adventures of Superman: Jon Kent and will be part of the company’s relaunch “Dawn of DC” in 2023. As for the claim about low sales, Issue #16 of the series earned best seller on Amazon, as well as Issue #5, among some others. 


 


John Stossel continues writing more about diversity in comics, but this time about race. 


 


“But what’s new and dumb,” John Stossel writes, “is that DC and Marvel are changing established characters' identities. A new Batman is black. There’s a new Spider-Man-like character, except she’s a lesbian who uses a wheelchair. Iron Man is now a black teenage girl. Really.” 


 


DC and Marvel, in these instances, are not changing the identity of established characters. The “established characters” that John Stossel refers to are Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, and Tony Stark. These characters have not changed. Someone who wears a Batman costume, Jace Fox, is black. Riri Williams is Ironheart, not Iron Man. They are more than often partners of the mentioned traditional characters, just like how the supporting cast of any continuous story usually is. The form grows as time changes. 


 


If you’re so mad about diverse characters getting a spotlight, maybe you should just not read the comic. 


 


In 2019, my family, including my 8-year-old sister and 12-year-old brother, attended the San Diego Zoo, where an employee repeatedly harassed them. 


 


“Where did the bears go?” My sister asked, disappointed, to which a nearby employee frowned, disgusted. 


 


“The reason we don’t have those bears is because of you and your people.” 


 


I’m a third-generation Taiwanese-American; my parents and I were born in the American South. My parents no longer speak their native tongues - English is the only language they know. 


 


They were speaking the American language. They are American themselves; neither had bothered to visit the birthplace of their parents since before I was born. The only misunderstanding was in the employee’s hubris. 


 


These new stories are full of diverse characters that fill the ranks of fictional worlds. People will argue that they don’t belong, but fiction always reflects the natural world in some capacity. These diverse groups belong; they always did. 


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