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The Avengers, Superhero Team Diversity, and the United Struggle

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
The Avengers, Superhero Team Diversity, and the United Struggle

I hate spoilers, and spoilers who transmit spoilers, so please consider this advance notice that I’m about to discuss the end of Marvel Studios’ “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” so if you haven’t seen it, check it out and then circle back.

I’m a member of an interracial relationship. I’m Black, and my fiancee is a Caucasian feminist Buddhist.

In 2012, when we watched “The Avengers,” my fiancee really liked the movie, but she noted that lack of color amidst the team.

She’s cool like that.

Now sure, one could argue Samuel L. Jackson was so cool as Nick Fury that he was the equivalent of two people of color. Then again, that’s a ridiculous argument.

Many of us loved “The Avengers,” but we really could have called that film “A Bunch of Good-Looking White (Mostly Male) People (and one Black Guy) Saved The World.”

Since 2012, the matter of diversity has spiked numerous times in mainstream entertainment circles.

While no one outside of Marvel Studios can know the truth, it was great to see the new team of Avengers assembled at the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

Captain America, Black Widow, War Machine, Scarlet Witch, The Falcon, and The Vision make a well-rounded team with two women, two people of color, two White people, and an artificial life-form with red skin, so as far as I’m concerned, Vision’s a member of the POC crew.

A more diverse team of Avengers to dive into the high-stakes political and cosmic stories to come from the Marvel Cinematic Universe opens the door to many story, character, and world possibilities.

“Avengers: Age of Ultron” was released on Friday, May 1st in the States, and on Saturday, May 2nd, the nationwide phenomenon called “Free Comic Book Day” happened.

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For those people who stood on lines in the early part of the morning, a likely find was Marvel Comics’ “All-New, All-Different Avengers” #0, revealing what may be the team’s most diverse line-up by percentage.

The new Captain America, and a Black man.

The new Thor, now a woman.

The new Nova, a Latino.

The new Ms. Marvel, a Pakistani-American girl.

Iron Man (or Woman)

The newest Spider-Man, Miles Morales, a Black/Latino boy.

The Vision.

So with a well-executed strategy, Disney and their very-own comic book publisher, Marvel Comics, delivered the one-two punch of showing the world-at-large and the inner circle of early-riser comic book consumers the future of the Avengers franchise as being one with more color, more flavor.

More.

While the future will reveal how these Avengers teams will be handled, considering the track record of both corporate parent and publisher when it comes to superheroes, it’ll be interesting, to say the least.

In the same way that Marvel Studios introduced heroes over a period of years and sprinkled throughout a handful of films to create the new cinematic Avengers that you have faith in to get the job done, almost all of the characters from the “All-New, All-Different Avengers” comic book have come from their own successful monthly titles.

It makes me think about the legend that used to appear on the first page of the old “Avengers” comic books.

“There came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were born — to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand.”

Those are the words many fans such as myself grew up with, to understand why this group of people came together, and why they always will.

Seeing “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and remembering those words made me think about the comic book industry of the 21st Century.

The 20th Century of the comic book industry and medium was dominated by heterosexual White men, with the women, people of color, and LGBT persons along the way who chipped away at the wall of monolithic art and mindset to pave the way for change. That list is too long to mention everyone here, and that’s a good thing.

This century, all of fifteen years old, the Mainstream American Superhero Comic Book Machine is at an all-time high in terms of the presence of women, people of color, LGBT people and disabled persons.

And yet, the struggles continue. We fight, every week, with our actions and stories, in the physical world and online, in creative, business, and journalistic circles.

Because the disturbing paradox is that the all-time high I just mentioned happens within an industry that harbors people who perform and promote actions of sexual harassment, prejudice against transsexuals, marginalization of certain categories of people of color, disrespectful treatment of disabled persons and a lot more.

These actions are done in various ways. Covert and overt, subtle and blunt, from the mildly offensive to the horrifying, with aggression and passive-aggressive behavior, and from people who, in some cases, consider themselves quite progressive.

You know. The people “with Black friends,” “who know gay people,” who say “live and let live,” and are still clueless to any reality beyond the rhetoric fed them by the media.

Additionally, some of the blows come from people who represent the community being marginalized and not given a fair shot. Women of power treating other women unfairly, people of color navigating in and out of their heritage when it’s strategically sound… it’s happened, and is still happening to some degree.

So people fight. Women fight. People of color fight. LGBT persons fight. Disabled people fight.

Fighting separate battles, with determination and tenacity, to varying degrees of strategy and success.

Some years back, I read “Life Out of Context” by Walter Mosley, and at the end of the book, he put forth the understanding that various people fighting singular battles will find their paths converge with others doing the same, and therein will lie the potential for unity and a greater level of strength.

With all that is being accomplished in this era by different people in the comic book industry to expand diversity and fair inclusion and involvement of persons from different groups, I know that we’re not at the apex, by a long shot.

I wonder what would happen if the various groups joined forces, in unified effort for change in this industry and medium we work in and love, as it continues to indelibly impact the greater entertainment ecosystem.

If we’re accomplishing enough now to see more female creators, more female characters, more characters of color, more disabled creators, more LGBT characters and creators in comics and, through comics, in more television shows, movies, video games, and licensing, and this is happening by remaining on our parallel tracks.

What happens when we look to our left, to our right, join hands, join minds, combine resources.

To fight the systemic mindset no single person or movement could withstand.

I think that’s going to happen.

I think it’s slowly happening now.

And I’m looking forward to it.

To the day when we do it, when we…

Assemble.


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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