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DC Comics, You, and the Diversity Shell Game

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
DC Comics, You, and the Diversity Shell Game

On May 19, DC Comics — the publisher of the trinity of global icons known as Superman, Batman and The Wonder Woman (Yes, I added a “The.” Let’s start a trend.) — revealed a brave and bold campaign called “DC You.”

“DC You,” a take on the phonetic similarity to DCU, the common abbreviation for DC Universe, is the latest initiative by DC Comics to highlight the idea of that thing. You know, that thing.

Diversity.

A number of people have offered their opinion on this campaign, and most of them, from what I’ve observed, have not been positive. In fact, knives were sharpened and thrown with accuracy that would make Deadshot from the Suicide Squad give a nod of admiration.

People have asked for my opinion on Facebook, and I think I’m expected to pull out my knives, too. Do my own Deadshot move like Will Smith in next year’s “Suicide Squad” film. Go for the jugular with that Midnighter-style attack maneuver and a smile. Beat down the legitimacy of the campaign’s claim like Batman with his armored fist.

I’m not going to do any of that.

I’m going to give DC Comics credit for this latest initiative.

In looking at the poster campaign for “DC You”, I see:

  • Female characters
  • Black characters
  • Asian characters
  • Teenage characters
  • Gay characters
  • Writers of color

It’s clear that through this campaign, DC Comics has missed various demographics, missed cracks within its claim, but let’s be honest — that makes this no different from any campaign by DC Comics, or their competitor, Marvel Comics.

What is the last perfect campaign you remember seeing from either of the Big Two American superhero comic book publishers?

That’s not the thing to me.

I didn’t expect this diversity campaign to be the perfect diversity campaign, and I don’t expect a publisher with diversity issues to pull out a time compression device and be able to rectify every lacking area of diversity within their organization and fictional universe in a very short amount of time.

That will take DC Comics years to rectify.

Years.

So I’m cool with the “DC You” campaign…

…because I know it’s not about diversity.

It’s about what lots of people have been saying it’s about, which is the redirection of your attention from the thing in the not-distant past, tickling the back of your fan skull like Peter Parker’s Spider-Sense.

“The New 52.”

DC Comics’ line-wide relaunch in Sept. 2011, the revamp of their entire universe from the beginning of time to the far-future.

A line of 52 comic books cohesively joined by the threads of a revamped mythology.

It worked for a while.

Then it didn’t.

Books were cancelled and replaced with other books. Some of those books were cancelled and replaced with other books.

Reality unravels, for a campaign that was never meant to last. Never meant to be sustained.

No campaign can survive the reaper.

“DC You” is the newest link in a chain that is meant to be stronger, more relevant, longer-lasting than “The New 52”.

So I applaud DC Comics for this latest initiative. Assuming that the campaign is based in sincerity and an improved company ethos, the future can only get better for mainstream comics and creators in the comic book business.

Because DC Comics will hire more writers of color, profile more characters of color, more teenagers who don’t wear costumes but have extraordinary abilities, more characters who are neither heterosexual nor cisgender, more characters representing disabled persons, and more. More.

I applaud DC Comics and the future possibilities.

I also feel sorry for DC Comics.

Because its various initiatives throughout the years, its various crossover events, going back to “Infinite Crisis” and shown through the fabric and expiration of “The New 52,” speaks to a deeper truth about the company. The thing that a bunch of us have said for a number of years.

DC Comics will never be the number one American publisher of superhero comics if they keep trying to out-Marvel Marvel Comics.

Think about their various course corrections with a number of DC’s characters, main characters, secondary characters.

Do you honestly feel DC has a handle on Superman?

A handle on The Wonder Woman?

Yes, DC has Batman down, in part due to “Batman” writer Scott Snyder and Batman Group Editor Mark Doyle.

But things keep changing in style and approach with characters like Green Arrow.

Certainly with Black Canary.

The Black Canary of the new post-“Convergence” DC Universe is someone I don’t recognize, because she seems so divergent from the Black Canary of less than a year ago.

DC Comics bobs and weaves, shifting with the direction of the winds of trends, but somehow, for some reason, it seems to do it a little too late to seem in-step.

A little later than Marvel Comics.

The narratives of the major and secondary characters and teams in Marvel Comics seem to be more about an evolution and less of a redirection.

I have no particular allegiance to Marvel Comics. I have examined and will continue to examine Marvel on a number of its corporate and intellectual property maintenance when it comes to diversity.

This is about the real diversity of DC Comics, the one that does not scream from its universe.

Imagination.

Marvel Comics is much closer to “the world outside your window,” as per its claim, than DC Comics is. Marvel is better with their timing in relation to the cultural zeitgeist.

Its sales dominance proves it. A character like “Spider-Gwen” — a fresh reimagination of a decades-old supporting character — slapping the first published-in-1938 Superman all over the sales charts proves it. Its accomplishments with Kamala Khan, the Pakistani-American star of “Ms. Marvel” proves it.

So if DC Comics isn’t the world outside our windows, then what is it?

Every place else.

I don’t believe for a minute that Superman is relevant, because so many opportunities have been missed to make Superman relevant.

But I do believe a man getting hit with a Zeta-beam and transported to an alien world, where he fights strange creatures, deals with super-science, and becomes embroiled in politics and affairs of the heart, is crazy, a good kind of crazy, the crazy that was the foundation of the DC Universe.

The DC Comics that Darwyn Cooke, whether by intention or result or both, wrote a love letter to with his brilliant graphic novel “The New Frontier.”

The DC Comics being celebrated with its latest event, “Convergence”.

The DC Comics not trying to have gravitas, not trying to be the world outside our windows.

The DC Universe.

The DC Multiverse.

No gravity. No politics. No rape. No dismemberment.

No pretense.

The DC Universe is not relevant.

The DC Universe is, however, at its best, the place where anything could happen.

That is the diversity at the real core of “DC You.” The promise yet to be made real once again, residing on the quantum level beneath the atomic.

“DC You” is not a campaign in my mind.

It’s what DC is supposed to do.

It’s what we should expect DC to do.

It’s good, but not impressive.

Impressive is knowing what is best about you and embracing it.

Impressive is seemingly unlimited imagination month after month.

Impressive is when a group of young people in the 31st century populate a world that looks like the future.

Feels like the future.

Impressive is predicting the world to come, and showing us that better world, providing fiction that leads the charge to the better world.

Having a staff of people who, in all of their diversity, can shepherd the better world.

DC Comics has had such luminaries and trailblazers as Archie Goodwin, Karen Berger, Dennis O’Neil, Jenette Kahn, Neal Pozner, Christopher Priest, Dick Giordano, Paul Levitz, Rich Johnson, Murphy Anderson and more in its ranks.

Those people pushed the medium forward.

Let’s see if DC Comics can do that, be its best, do what is best, every day and always, without a campaign to bring attention to themselves.

A friend of mine made a good point when he sent me this list of people.

Diane Nelson, President

Jim Lee, Co-Publisher

Dan DiDio, Co-Publisher

Geoff Johns, Chief Creative Officer

James Tucker, Supervising Producer of DC Animation

Kevin Tsujihara, WB CEO

This group of people reflect some of the diversity that should be intrinsic to DC Entertainment and DC Comics on all levels.

I don’t, for one minute, expect them to be a Justice League, because their culture should not have any injustice within its ranks, within its ethos.

I would like to see them become a legion of superheroes.


Joseph Phillip Illidge is a public speaker on the subjects of race, comics, and the corporate politics of diversity. In addition to his coverage by the BBC and Publishers Weekly, Joseph has been a speaker at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Digital Book World’s forum, Digitize Your Career: Marketing and Editing 2.0, Skidmore College, Purdue University, on the panel “Diversity in Comics: Race, Ethnicity, Gender and Sexual Orientation in American Comic Books” and at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art in New York City.

Joseph is the Head Writer for Verge Entertainment, a production company co-founded with Shawn Martinbrough, artist for the graphic novel series “Thief of Thieves” by “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman, and video game developer Milo Stone. Verge has developed an extensive library of intellectual properties for live-action and animated television and film, video games, graphic novels, and web-based entertainment.

His graphic novel project, “The Ren,” about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.

Joseph’s newest comic book project is the upcoming Scout Comics miniseries “Solarman,” a revamp of a teenage superhero originally written by Stan Lee.

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dc comics, dc you
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