Heroes & Villains of Comic Book Culture

For the better part of my 38 years on this planet, I have loved comic books.  I love everything about them.  I love the art, the writing and the colors.  I love the costumes of even some of the most ridiculous heroes from the 1940s. The early stories were so amazingly cheesy, it’s hard not to love them.  It’s a wonderful artform that can bring so many people together at comic shops and conventions, so they can discuss their love of comics.  It also brings people together on the internet.  Sadly, these people are not sharing thoughts about the things they love, but the things they want to change, regardless of who it hurts, and that makes me ashamed to admit I’m a fan of comics in the first place.

When I was a kid, the stories were a wonderful escape from a bad day at school, long summer road trips, and campgrounds in a world without iPhones.  When I was a teenager, comics were a delightful distraction from my responsibilities.  As an adult, they were a terrific treat to read, as I found I had less time and energy to read anything outside of work emails and user manuals.  As a parent, I am excited to share these stories with my daughter, as she has taken a shine to these heroes and villains as well.  I am also relieved that there is now more diversity in comics, so she can pick up a copy of Squirrel Girl, Miss Marvel or Spider-Gwen and find a female protagonist that doesn’t look like she fell off a stripper pole.

As I get older, I want to read stories that make me think.  I want the murder mysteries of Identity Crisis.  I want the twist ending of Watchmen.  I want the mix of 1940s nostalgia and 1990s fashion and lingo from Starman.  I want to give my daughter a list of titles to read one day and get lost in the story.  I want her to know that there is diversity in comics, and it’s not just a bunch of 20-something straight white men under masks acting like pro-wrestlers.  I want her to go to a bookstore or comic shop (assuming those are still around in a few years) with her friends and see a heroine on the cover of a comic that looks like someone she could see as a role model.

There are a few people out there who feel quite the opposite.  I feel they take comics too seriously.  Assigning the role of Thor to a woman was a “huge mistake.”  Making a black man as Captain America was “destroying the business.”  Giving a Muslim teenager the superhero identity of Ms. Marvel was “a joke and will fail.”  Renaming the previous Ms. Marvel as the new Captain Marvel, and giving her a costume that didn’t look like a swim suit and a shorter hair style, was “clearly a move by Marvel to get in good with the feminist and LGBTQ+ communities.”  Rather than read the stories and see what direction they went in, these readers would use social media to harass female and transgendered editors and creators, as well as anyone else in the industry who spoke up for them.  To these people, the comic industry was being destroyed by what they saw as “forced diversity.”

Comics are all about diversity and inclusivity, they always have been.  Since the 1960s the X-Men comics were about a group of kids that were different and didn’t feel humanity would accept them for who they are.  Spider-Man proved that you didn’t need to wait to be an adult to be a hero or do the right thing.  Daredevil demonstrated that he didn’t let his disability define who he was, but being a blind lawyer made for a fantastic secret identity. Wonder Woman never needed a man to save her.  Starman was all about finding a way to cope with loss while living in your father’s shadow. Black Panther was proof that you could have a successful hero who wasn’t a white man under the mask.  Justice Society of America (JSA) didn’t have an age limit on being a hero.  Justice Leage of America (JLA) had a rotating roster of heroes, so if you didn’t see a character who looked like someone you could envision as yourself, the next month you might.  Comics are a wonderful, beautiful artform filled with diversity, and I can’t imagine why any self-professed ‘comic fan’ would want to take that away from anyone