It’s all rainbow flags and pink unicorn farts at Marvel Comics, these days. Diversity is in full vigor at The House of Ideas. Captain America is a black man. Ms Marvel is a Muslim of Palestinian descent. Gays and lesbians are represented on most of the major super teams. There are no white males on The Ultimates. A-Force looks like it might devolve into a Cinemax soft-focus pillow fight at any moment. Everything is hunky dory. So why am I griping? * I’m griping because things are too perfect. There’s no trouble in paradise.
Any discussion of diversity in comics needs to recognize that the medium has to be inclusive to survive. Comics are escapist fantasy but people still need to see themselves represented if they are going to participate in the fantasy. People of color demand to see heroes of color just as gay and lesbian readers need to see gay and lesbian heroes saving the day. Marvel has recognized this and made a real attempt at diversity. They might have done it for the most commercial of reasons but the outcome is the same. Marvel Comics characters look more like America. And that’s a good thing. But is it enough?
Should readers of color be satisfied just because Sam Wilson is Captain America? Is it enough that T’Challa has his own book again? Are we satisfied seeing POC and LGBT characters jumping around in tights and saving the day? Do we, at some point, need to address the fact that they are people of color or that they are gay? The question is worth asking. Comics are a fantasy medium. Do we want issues of race, gender and sexual orientation being addressed? Comics weren’t afraid to face some of these topics, albeit clumsily, in 1970s. Today, we seem to have jumped right past the ugly part and straight to the happy ending.
Right now, Marvel is leading the way with minority characters but we are not seeing the price that those characters paid to be where they are. We don’t see the struggle, just the reward. Maybe we don’t need to see some meathead call Kamala Khan a “Terrorist” just like we probably don’t need to see some cracker tell America Chavez to “Go make my taco, bitch.” This is real life shit and it might be too much of a buzz kill for the average comics reader. If so, then how do we remind the average reader (i.e. the notorious white male) that other people actually are struggling without rubbing it in their faces and grinding the whole medium to a preachy halt? Two words, Archie Bunker.
If the modern comic book has taught us anything it’s that our heroes can be good without being perfect. With that in mind, what Marvel needs is its own Guy Gardener. Imagine it, a super-powered lunkhead. He means well, he saves the day, but he just doesn’t get the modern world. Like Archie Bunker, he says what he thinks, if “thinks” is the right word. He doesn’t even need to be a hard bigot. He shouldn’t be, really. He should say the sort of things you hear at work, “I don’t want to sound racist, but…” And then the other heroes can explain to him why he is being a racist tool.
After all, it is a rapidly changing world and even well-meaning, thoughtful people can become dizzy at the rate of change. You don’t have to be a villain to be uncomfortable around people who are radically different from you. Guy Gardner gets to say that out loud, and then other characters get to slowly educate him, and the readers, in a (hopefully) entertaining way, about our ever-changing world. It might seem like a crazy idea but think of all the good people you know and then think of how many of those good people, despite their best intentions, still have some backward or fearful attitudes. Maybe I have read too many comics but I still believe that most of us want to be good people. We just don’t always know how to be good. We don’t even always know when we aren’t.
Even if it’s a stupid idea, Guy Gardner was a really funny character back in the day. So, how can you lose? Throw him on The New Avengers and let him hang out with Wiccan and Hulkling. Hilarity ensues. Gods know we need a laugh, these days. Diversity doesn’t mean sterility. Let’s have some fun in the brave new world.
*Well, granted, I gripe. That’s my whole shtick, really. I gripe and drop a few f-bombs and then I redeem myself with a bit of maudlin schmaltz and we call it a day.
He also sings for the Supra-70s band, RIFLE.