The ComiQuad: State Of Diversity In DC Comics

By Jon Erik Christianson • April 10, 2013 at 1:00 pm


Boom! Wham! Pow! The ComiQuad is a column dedicated to the spandex-laden world of comics and superheroes. It goes up each Wednesday and will alternate between comic book reviews and other comic book news. Reviews shall try to be spoiler-free. And it’s back! Zam!

Over a year ago, I wrote a piece for the ComiQuad forewarning the likely very white (racially) landscape that was going to occur based on the company’s lowest-selling sales. Five of DC’s then six person-of-color (PoC) led titles were well in cancellation range.

A year later, those five titles have since been canceled with the sixth (Batwing) as the lowest-selling non-canceled title in DC’s New 52. In February, DC launched Katana and Justice League of America’s Vibe, two PoC-led titles. March’s sales reveal that both of those series #2 issues are now in the bottom ten of DC’s non-canceled New 52 titles.

With all this talk of diversity, I decided to conduct my own research about exactly how the gender, race, and sexuality demographics break down regarding on-going heroes in the DC universe. How many female heroes are active? How many Asian heroes? How many LGBTQ? Who are they? And exactly how dominated is DC’s universe by straight, white male characters?

The Katana series is in its second issue but is already well within cancellation range. | Cover courtesy of DC Comics.

The Katana series is in its second issue but is already well within cancellation range. | Cover courtesy of DC Comics.

The Purpose

People, on occasion, like to read about characters they can identify with. Race, gender, and sexuality are three different scales by which people can specifically identify with or relate to different characters.

Although no one necessarily needs to be identical to a character to relate to them (otherwise fiction would be awful), there are different life experiences people go through due to their individual gender, race, or sexuality. Not to mention that it would be ridiculous to expect every single human being on Earth to relate the “straight white male,” the largely predominant figure in most media, especially in comics.

Visibility is important. Invisibility is a problem.

The Parameters

“The character has appeared in at least four out of a series’ last six issues, has some interaction with the story outside of an appearance, and is a protagonist within a series.”

    Exceptions to the parameter include:

  • Characters whose series are not yet six issues. In this case, the character must appear in at least 2/3 of the series’ issues.
  • New characters who can be assumed to be in subsequent issues. This deduction can come from interviews, solicitations, and covers.
    Other guidelines include:

  • Characters who exist “in continuity,” but only as guest appearances and not in a recurring role (i.e. Vixen, Renee Montoya, Mister Terrific) do not count. Readers have nowhere to consistently go to find these characters and their stories.
  • Characters whose sexuality is unconfirmed are assumed to be straight, considering straight is the presumed default and a LGBTQ character who is not even “out” to the reader is essentially invisible.

The Research

Across DC Comics’ current 52 “New 52″ titles, 107 characters fit the above criteria.

Of these 107 characters:

Gender
  • 68 are male (64%)
  • 38 are female (35.5%)
  • 1 is (possibly) genderless (0.09%). That would be The Forecaster in Stormwatch.
Race

(Regarding race, DC’s two mixed-race characters, Hawkgirl Kendra Munoz-Saunders and Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, are counted once per applicable category)

  • 73 are white (67%)
  • 8 are black  (7.3%)
    Four men (Cyborg, Green Lantern John Stewart, Firestorm Jason, Batwing) and four women (Hawkgirl, Strix, Amanda Waller, and the Engineer).
  • are Latino/Latina (5.5%)
    Three men (Kyle Rayner, Bunker, and Vibe) and three women (Hawkgirl, the Atom, and Black Orchid).
  • 3 are Asian (2.8%)
    One man (Yo-Yo) and two women (Katana and Element Woman).
  • 2 are Arab (1.8%)
    Two men (Green Lantern Simon Baz and Al Jabr).
  • 1 is Indian (0.9%)
    One woman (Solstice).
  • 14 are non-Earth-race-presenting aliens/demons/sharkmen (13%)
  • 2 are ???**1
Sexuality
  • 96 are straight (90%)
  • 9 are LGBTQ+  (8.5%)
    Four gay men (Apollo, Midnighter, Green Lantern Alan Scott, Bunker), one transgender or intersex man (Sir Ystin), two lesbian women (Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer), one bisexual woman (Starling), and one queer woman (Exoristos)2.
  • 2 are “other”

Conclusion

When looking to compare this data to modern statistics, I opted to compare it to U.S. census data instead of any global data (DC’s canceled Justice League International had 3-4 members from the United States at any given time).

Comparison
  • USA’s population identifies as roughly 51% female and 49% male, whereas DC recurring heroes are 35.5% female and 64% male.
  • 63.4% of the U.S. population identifies as non-Latino white, and (when excluding the alien/demon/shark category since that group has yet to vote in the census in the real world) 79% of DC recurring heroes are white.
  • Conclusive or reliable statistics about people’s sexual orientation, preferences, or histories are still extraordinarily difficult to track down.

There’s a whole different article waiting to be written about the importance in-universe of these characters as well. In this study, Batman and minority characters like Latino, gay Bunker from Teen Titans are treated equally. Batman stars in five on-going series per month whereas Bunker is lucky to get substantial plot development in one issue. When researching the minority characters, it became clear to see that many of them struggle to get the exposure of their straight, white, and usually male contemporaries.

In the swift sweep of a title cancellation or creative team change, these few minority superhero characters face developing a superpower they never wanted to have: invisibility.

If you have any questions or critiques about the research, comment below and I’ll respond. If there’s worry that there’s a mistake made somewhere, let me know and I’ll make sure to fix it. Also, when I really want to hate myself and deal with all of Marvel’s team titles, I intend to do a “State of Diversity in Marvel Comics” as well.

Update: Although she still wouldn’t fit under the recurring or protagonist parameters set above, today’s issue of Batgirl revealed that Barbara’s roommate, Alysia Yeoh, is a trans woman! Yay more diversity.

Footnotes
  1. In my research, I stumbled upon two characters whose races I was unable to discern. These characters are Condor from Birds of Prey and Thunder from Ravagers. If anyone knows a certain answer, let me know and I will adjust data appropriately.?
  2. Both Sir Ystin and Exoristos exist in a medieval time period where modern labels don’t exist. These labels are not used by the characters themselves, but are instead applied based on observation. Regardless of label, both exist outside of the typical sexuality box.?

Jon Christianson (COM/CAS '14) is the zany, misunderstood cousin of The Quad family. His superpowers include talking at the speed of light, tripping over walls, and defying ComiQuad deadlines with the greatest of ease. His lovely copyeditors don't appreciate that last one. If for some reason you hunger for more of his nonsense, follow him at @HonestlyJon on Twitter or contact him at jchristianson@buquad.com!



Responses

  1. Just from looks and the place he was first ecnountered, I would assume Condor is Asian. In the few panels where you can see his face, his eyes appear Asian. Not confirmed though.

    • That was my initial thought too. It’s what gave me pause to not put him under the “white” category. Hopefully he gets a name soon.

      • I read the preview for Birds of Prey this morning, and it turns out he is Native American??? Who saw that coming? Still, don’t hold me to that. It’s been quite awhile since I read it. I migth have become mixed up. Good article by the way.

        A link to Birds of Prey is on the news page of my site, BatWatch.net, or you could just google it, but of course that would screw my shameless self-promotion. (grins)

  2. Ali Kat

    I noticed you didn’t include Rose Wilson in with the Asian heroes, is this because you consider her a villain, or because of the possible whitewashing of her Cambodian heritage?

    • I left her out because, although she’s a major, recurring character in Ravagers, I wouldn’t quite put her under the “protagonist” category (even though her situation is more complicated). With that said, I actually didn’t realize that she had Cambodian heritage.

      Someone’s heritage being whitewashed is definitely something I’ve had to consider. Kyle Rayner kinda fits under this category as well. If that part of the character is so often ignored or looked over, the character’s race is essentially invisible. But I don’t want to completely exclude the character either.

      • Ali Kat

        Rose’s Mother was a Cambodian woman called Sweet Lili, that Slade had had an affair with at some point in time. The most recent issue of Deathstroke had Rose calling Adeline, Slade’s, ex-wife and mother of his sons, Mom. It has unfortunate implications of both making Rose fully white, instead of half Cambodian, and of these woman being seen as interchangeable, something DC has had a problem with considering the reboots of Huntress, and Black Canary. Though later in a twitter statement the writer said Rose “thinks of her as a mom” given what’s on the page, it doesn’t do much

        It’s kinda sad, but Kyle’s ethnicity was mentioned once, and then forgotten from then on. Even worse when you have a character like Connor Hawke, who started out very obviously a person of color only to be depicted increasingly white to the point that even some fans don’t realize he’s black/asian

      • The reply system confuses me, so I’m replying to myself instead of Ali Kat, the person I’m actually replying to.

        That’s super frustrating. It’s an unfortunate trend in comics that, as time passes, each character gets homogenized more and more. Don’t have a barbie-like figure? In a few years you will (Etta Candy, Amanda Waller). Are you mixed race with white? We’ll just never acknowledge that ever. And watch as your skin gets lightened and features get altered. Are you an old character? In a few years, you’ll be young again.

        There’s this awful “thin white young superhero” ideal that every hero is tethered to. If they try to stray for too long outside of that? REWRITE, REDRAW, REBOOT.