Looking for Ourselves in our Heroes
Posted August 3, 2011on:
This illuminating post by Jim Hines (as well as a Twitter conversation) got me thinking about a lot of things today.
The post is about the sadly predictable reaction of some people in American “geek” culture to the idea of a half-black, half-Hispanic Spider-Man. I personally love the idea; there are so few nonwhite heroes in the various comic book universes that any new addition feels like an opportunity for fresh and interesting storytelling. I also like the idea that superhero identities don’t have to be tied to a single person; the idea of someone new stepping into the boots and cape of an older hero is compelling. That’s why I liked “Batman Beyond” so much, and why I made Sky Ranger an inherited title instead of something associated with only one individual in the Extrahumans universe.
Some fans don’t feel that way, clearly. The amount of whining and nasty, racist jokes from the geek world is not surprising, though it continues to be disappointing. I used to feel very much at home in geekspace, but these days I feel like I have less and less of a place there. Where are the people like me? And I’m talking just women, not even LGBT folks (though that would be nice, too)!
This isn’t just a comic book problem, but something that SF/Fantasy/etc. in general is just starting to come to grips with. Fantasy was long the domain of Muscled White Guys With Swords doing important things, for example. This is changing, thankfully–I could name you many great books with women as the main characters. Bless urban fantasy with its wealth of strong and interesting female protagonists! I feel like science fiction still lags behind a bit, but there too some strides are being made towards gender equity.
I still haven’t run into a lot of truly racially diverse fantasy or science fiction universes. One notable exception was Zion in the two Matrix sequels, but other than that…? And let’s not even get started on sexuality or ability. Sadly, because we’re trained by our society to assume that characters are white, straight and able-bodied unless told otherwise, diversity can be a bit harder to find in print. I think we want to find pieces of ourselves in our heroes. That’s an awful lot harder when all of the heroes aren’t like you in some fundamental way.
This is something that I struggle with in my own writing. How do I create worlds and characters that really do reflect human diversity? And how do I do that without hitting people over the head with my big Star Trek hammer?
In any event, Marvel is to be commended for letting someone who isn’t a white guy named Peter Parker be Spider-Man. Sort of. This is all happening in the Ultimate Marvel universe, which contains “reimagined” and “updated” versions of familiar characters. Basically, it’s the place where non-canon goes to die. So, Spider-Man can be a half-black, half-Hispanic guy–in a second-class offshoot universe. Yay?