A/N: Much love to Shea and Kamster for helping me put this together. This post is really, really long and focuses largely on racial inequalities in the US. This is in no-way directed to Scans_Daily or its philosophy. I just need to get this off my chest.
If DC is an entertainment company, why am I not entertained? Why is it that when I read their newest titles, I feel insulted, horrified and dehumanized? I thought I was supposed to be entertained? I thought I was supposed to be having fun?
DC's 2011 reboot has caused a great deal of controversy and pain for some of its readers. It has generated a lot of dialogue, both good and bad, about the treatment of its characters and its customers. I am sure we've all read Laura Hudson's article and Michelle Lee's article. Well, you want to know what makes ME cry and fearful for the future of my children:
As a woman who lives in the cross-section of RACE and GENDER, this actually brought me to tears. DC FINALLY, FINALLY has a Black Woman with her own on-going title and what is she presented as? A freaking monster.
Damn it, DC. It's like you didn't even try.
Please note that I have structured my criticism in response to the most common counter-criticisms I received when trying to address this issue...
1) "This is near to Voodoo's origin. She's a stripper human-monster hybrid anyway."
To give you an idea of exactly why I am so upset about this comic and this argument, allow me to paint you a picture:
You have Voodoo on one side and Jason Blood on the other. Most people look at Jason Blood and alter-ego, Etrigan, and see a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde dynamic. Blood and Etrigan may reside in one body but they are not the same. Jason's demon friend is not inherent. He is from the bowels of Hell and only occupies Blood with his "permission. If you are not familiar with Blood (though if you are reading this, I am pretty sure you are), the same can be said for the Hulk. Bruce Banner only becomes the Hulk because of an accident. While some of Banner's incarnations may have issues with underlining anger, he was usually presented mild, kind, gentle. But nonetheless, The Hulk was a product of gamma-rays. Banner, himself, was NEVER born a monster.
Now, you have Voodoo whose monstrous nature isn't something that is separate from her. IT IS HER. And, she has little to no control over it. She becomes emotional and her nature can't be contained. She will become a violent, raging monster and if you get too close, she'll kill you.
Even if pre-DCnU Priscilla is of Kherubim/Human/Daemonite ancestry, I still have to ask: "Why should I be any less upset?" So, Kherubims are human-looking aliens that are intelligent, have super strength and whatever. OK. Great. But Voodoo still has this "Daemonite" side she can barely control and violently wigs out on people. There are no gamma rays, no magic potions, wicked spells, or lab accidents that manifested this "uncontrollable evil in Priscilla. She was born with it.
"What this says is that Blackness/Brownness is polluted; it's contaminated by "darkness" or an "darkness" or an "evil. It's inherently devious, dangerous and should be avoided. I cannot even begin to tell you some of the comments I have seen on image/message boards about how "this guy had it coming for messing with a [racial slur] woman." These people did not see Voodoo as being an evil alien/monster. They saw her as a BLACK WOMAN giving into her inherent nature as an evil alien/monster. And they saw her murdering the agent as a consequence of engaging in interracial relations.
So clearly, this Jekyll/Hyde dynamic cannot work for People of Color the same way it does for Jason Blood or The Hulk. Why? Because this LONG, LONG narrative on the inherent monstrousness of Blackness/Black Bodies/Black Sexuality continues to live in every form of media from Shakespeare's treatment of Othello, to the Reconstructionist Senator's mulatto paramour in "Birth of A Nation, to the exploitation of Sarah Baartman in the streets of Paris, to the "Fat, Sassy Black Lady TV trope (WATCH OUT! SHE'LL FALL IN LOVE WITH YOU!), to the fan vote crushing Savage Dragon and Rapture's chance at a loving, stable relationship. Black Bodies and Black Love are seen as disgusting, deviant and dangerous. They are alien; they are to be hated; they are a pollutant; the are sinful. This narrative is pervasive, gross and ingrained in our minds, whether we like it or not.
The pattern of dehumanization of Women of Color doesn't stop at Voodoo: Pantha and Mari, aka Vixen, to a lesser extent, also have this problem. Pantha's power is obvious. She's a cat-woman with cat-powers. Mari channels the powers of animals and can even borrow the powers of others.
But these women, like Voodoo, are not in totally control of their bodies or their powers. Pantha has been depicted as giving into her animal rage, which has lead her to die at least twice (Superboy Prime and a Boostle Story by Johns). If Mari channels an aggressive animal or channels someone else's powers for too long, she'll go nuts. Mari will bite you or spray ink in your face or kick-punch you like a kangaroo. For goodness sake, Animal Man can tap into the power of ANY ANIMAL, ALIVE OR DEAD, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. At the least, if he spends too much time "bonding with any one animal, it hampers his ability to bond with another. And at the worst, he just gets a re-enactment of Pet Cemetery. But the point is that Buddy's family do not have to fear him trying to rip their throats out. And yikes, Mari and Buddy got their powers from the same source (Ananzi/Tantu). It was like those aliens were being racists doling out powers too.
To some, there is no need for concern. It seems rather innocent. It's just the cost of being the user of mystic/alien power. And there have been all-sorts of human-animal hybrid characters with short tempers, so what's the problem? Pantha was "transformed by the Wildebeest Society, right (Actually, we never know if Pantha was born like that or if they mutated her. Never resolved.)? What these characters tell us is that Women of Color are still susceptible to their animal natures. Black women cannot help but attack you, hurt you, kill you. Like their dark skin, it's innate; it's their inherent destiny. They can't help it. They won't help it.
And DC continues to add to it with Voodoo.
2) "The bigger problem is that she's presented as a stripper."
I agree that it is a problem, but both issues are different but EQUALLY offensive. I refuse to play the "parade of suffering game. Stop pitting prejudices against each other. And stop pitting the people/groups that perpetuate these prejudices against each other. Claiming that Black Men mistreat Black Women just as badly as others doesn't make the fact that Black Women are being mistreated badly any better. It makes no sense.
My main problems with Voodoo being a stripper is that it 1) lacks imagination and 2) presents her in a way that DC's main demographic group is not threatened. In other words, this is an image of a Black Woman that would "appeal to them. Amanda Waller, Onyx and Mari are threatening because they are a) strong, b) capable of fighting back, and c) not readily sexually accessible (Do not read this as "not sexual. Amanda had children and a husband/Lex Luthor wanted her babies in that S/B movie. Mari has had boyfriends and kissed Superman, who gossiped about it.).
I have no problem with Black Women (or anyone) exercising their sexuality as long as they are the ones doing it. But Voodoo's body and sex is for male consumption. They can buy her. She must do what they say (We all know about the unspoken arrangements made in those "private booths.). The music plays and she dances. She's on her hands and knees for you to mount. I mean, the sexual/racial connotations of her pose alone are insane. She is literally (and I regret saying this) a "Black bitch.
3) "J'onn often disguises himself as a Black Man and as a Woman!"
J'onn the Green Martian's default setting is J'onn the Green Martian. He has many human skins that he likes to wear from time to time. But for Voodoo (though the reboot version is up for debate), she was born as a PoC. Trying to compare the two is ineffective.
But what bothers me is that J'onn never took off his clothes and shook it as hard as he could for dollars in order to "understand men." He was never sexualized in the same ways and for the same duration as his female counterparts were when he did take female form. J'onn traveled the world, using multiple guises to interact with the people around him in a number of ways. He did not reduce his entire experience with men to the ones acting like sexually-charged animals inside and outside of the strip-club as in Voodoo. So, why is it that Priscilla has to? She can have a world of experience, but she chooses to be a stripper? Go back and read Point #2, again. Priscilla's "Blackness is presented in a way that would appeal to DC's main demographic: She is a sexually available and compliant Black Woman. She is a "fantasy. And if Priscilla really wanted to, I am sure experience the general "ugliness and "predatory nature of some men as a woman without having to be a sex worker. This is just poor writing.
Another issue I have with aliens like J'onn parading around in Black and Brown skin is that deludes the deeper implications of institutionalized racism and allows their creators to "get off the hook about addressing such a serious issue in a lazy way. Not getting it? Then look at it this way: Do you know why Lobdell turned Starfire into a "goldfish-brained, sex slave?" Because she's not human. No, I am not being facetious. Starfire's "not of this world factor made it easier for Lobdell to characterize her as we see her now. And it worked. About half of the counter arguments/comments to the humanist/feminist critique on Starfire are: 1) she was always like this, 2) she is an alien and 3) because she is an alien, she has completely different ethics/standards/morals, therefore she can behave as he pleases. Go to any board that is currently talking about this topic. Read those comments. It's insanity.
And the exact same thing happened with Priscilla. It's easy for her creators, (I am aware that Lee and Choi are her original creators and are both East-Asian/Korean-American. But that they are not absolved.) to make her into another sexualized monster masquerading as a Black Woman because she's not like them. Priscilla is not like the men and women that have shaped her at all. Her Blackness makes her alien. It's "foreign, "mysterious" and places her as far from Whiteness (or their own racial/ethnic groups) as possible. This racial paradigm has a long and sordid history of how it has shaped the U.S's de jure and de facto attitudes towards Black and Brown bodies (If this is hard for you to understand, for whatever reason, and you really want to learn more, please read "Suspect Relations by Kirsten Fischer. A great beginners book.).
Even a beloved Character of Color like Cassie Cain isn't safe from this alienation. When she was first introduced, Cassandra couldn't speak and couldn't read. She suffered from severe dyslexia and emotional traumas. We even learn that she's a child of rape (There is no fault with the child or its victimized mother. It is the act of rape that is horrifying. And remember, even though Shiva seemingly consented and was promised power, she was propositioned under the threat of death. Literally, "have my baby or die.). Not to mention that her mother was selected because she was an inherent "Dragon Lady. Cain thought a child with Shiva would survive his crazy regiment. So, then Cassie is born and has suffered unimaginable abuse from her own father, so she could be Ra's Al Ghul's ultimate bodyguard because of her breeding.
From the start, Cassie was so terrifically "othered by her Browness, that she was literally a mute, chinadoll, bred-and-born dragon lady, punching-bag whose physical body and mental agency was and is largely shaped and controlled by white men.
And then when she finally gains control over her own mind and proves herself to be a capable leader/detective, what happened? Drugged, turned into a villain, tried to assault Tim, cured but then exiled to Hong-Kong, comes back only to be partnered with Tim who largely treats her like a Kung-Fu accessory (and made a terribly off-colored joke comparing Cassandra to a condom) and, finally, rebooted. Though some may argue that Beechen's work was just "one bad run, the point remains that DC allowed it to happen. Beechen wrote this. Editorial staff approved it. What this says to me is that DC was ok with this nonsense and DC continues to be ok with this nonsense.
Am I saying you must be a PoC to write about CoCs (or vise-versa)? Absolutely not. Ostrander made two wonderful characters - Waller and Oracle - that live on today. And Dwayne McDuffie gave us Milestone and many contributions to DCU animation. He created a number of characters that weren't African/Black American as well. Making a character that people can resonate with and can challenge readers' comfort zones in a positive way takes times and much care. And it takes a diverse staff.
4) "But Pris turns into a white guy at the end! It's not about race!/Race doesn't matter."
Yes, it does. Like J'onn, the skin that Pris choose to wear carries connotations (for both the characters in the story and its readers) with it. Plain and simple.
5) "But the lesson is all the same, right? Racism is bad, no matter who you are or what you look like!
Using aliens/demons/monsters that parade around as Characters of Color is a bad strategy because it alleviates DC chief demographic from doing any sort of "mental legwork. Seeing J'onn fight off clansmen is awesome! But then most readers put the book down and forget the real lesson, because, and I must be frank, DC's desired market (cisgender, Christian white men between the age of 18-34) rarely have to think about how their gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity shape their thoughts, actions and words and how it impacts others. Most readers will go: "It's terrible to treat Black people like that because they are Black. J'onn showed me that when he had his run in with the Smallville KKK. These KKK dudes are are bad. Racism is bad." Then, these sort of readers put the book down and still do not understand why (or care) racism and other prejudices are still "a problem. They don't understand why Troy Davis was a hot-button issue or why there was another Affirmative Action Bake Sale. This sort of approach to addressing racism is too elementary.
If DC is going to talk about social issues, then they must do better. No excuses. Racism isn't something that exists in individuals' hearts and minds; it isn't hating a person simply because they look different from you; it is not something that lives in a vacuum; it's not benign. And it most certainly cannot be understood in 20 pages of muscle-bound dudes and buxom ladies (including ads).
Racism is institutionalized. It is a part of our culture, which shapes our attitudes and perception about the VALUE of ourselves and the VALUE of people around us. We are bombarded by racist images everyday in advertisements, in the video games we play, in the television shows we watch, in the "private conversions" with our family and friends, in the off-handed comments from strangers, it's who your friends are and who you choose to associate with. It's as small as being followed in a store or being asked to check your bag BEFORE you even enter. It can be as big as being denied housing, jobs and health care. Racism is a cause of poverty, a cause of a culture of fear, a cause violence, a cause of constant injustice and, worst of all, a cause of indifference. Using Human Characters of Color to explore ideas of human prejudice makes the stories more relevant. We don't have to have Superman standing on soapbox or Batman giving his rogues a 3-hour Ethnic Studies lecture.
DC characters, like any other character, are mouthpieces of their creative directors. That's a fact. Batman hates punk music because someone made him hate punk music. Golden-aged Superman slapped a Fu-Manchu mustache on and hopped a fence into a Japanese-American concentration camp to search for "spies because someone made him do it. Oh my goodness, let's not forget Tyroc - Murray Boltinoff's most racist legacy. Whether you like it or not, the characters never truly stand on their own. Even the most careful development can be undone by someone else's privileged nature (intentional or not.).
If Dan Didio ( and DC by extension) claim to hire and work with the "best, then their "best should be able to come up with interesting and innovative plot lines that entertain but, when they intend to, educate. No harm can come from having diversity in their company. Seriously. It cannot hurt. The comic industry is constantly on its deathbed, right? I am assuming they want more money? It's their job to hire the best and produce the best work, right? They want to attract new readers too, right? Part of getting those new readers is to show them that people like them are present in the company in meaningful and real ways and that they care about the product too. Read "The Real Pepsi Challenge by Capparell, DC. Just don't use any of its dated terminology.
6) "The story just got started! They are using controversy to draw you in. I'm sure they didn't mean it! Ron Marz is amazing!
There is an adage about first impressions and there is another about intentions. If DC was serious about pulling in a new market, then they would have written stories and used their characters to do so.
Playing the Devil's Advocate doesn't undo the harm already inflicted. That's like Derailing for Dummies 101. DC could have drawn in new readers with innovative plots and characters. Instead, all I saw was the same racist, sexist, hateful nonsense that has been going on at DC since its inception. Yelling, "SURPRISE! WE WERE JUST KIDDING! doesn't help. It pisses people off. It makes people shut their wallets. And it makes people not want to pass your legacy onto their children.
I haven't read Witchblade and I hear nice thing about its author, Ron Marz. I heard he took great pains to flesh out the titular character. And Basri's artwork was very lovely as usual. But, I am sad to say that I cannot be bothered to continue with this story.
7) "If not Voodoo, then who?
DC has a "plethora" of Black/African Female protagonists/antagonists that all could have held (and deserved) their own title. Let me just name a few that would be PERFECT:
Mari McCabe/Vixen: Mari, the ORIGINAL Animal Woman, gained her animal inspired powers from an ancient necklace handed down to her by Ananzi, the ORIGINAL Spiderman/African-trickster god. It annoys me that Mari "retains" animalistic tendencies after using her powers for some time. She should be able to do what Buddy does and vise-versa. Also, it would make me ten times happier if we made Ananzi an Earthly being. I am also really tired of this "Third-World Cultures Are Alien because that's just a reiteration of Point #3 and #4. Get rid of all that foolishness and we're good. And newer, potential readers may remember her from the JLU show.
Karen Beecher/Bubblebee: A highly intelligent S.T.A.R. Labs scientist and wife to Jericho. We could have a crime-fighting husband/wife comic. I choose Bubblebee because she's also still fresh in the minds of CN's Teen Titan show-generation. Doesn't have to be the same characterization but it's a drawing-in point for new reader. Karen is a scientist and an inventor with a brilliant mind I'd like to see put to solving crime. She could even hang out with Steel and invent cool stuff.
Amanda "the Wall" Waller: Suicide Squad/Checkmate. While her "make-over" upset many, you cannot deny that Waller is a dynamic, powerful African-American woman with fierce determination that has big name heroes like Batman, quaking in their boots. Also, she was a great departure from the "mammy" Black Women of Size caricature. Amanda answered to no one but herself. If there was someone above her, she knew how to manipulate them. She worked the system. She upheld her own sense of justice. She's may not have been a good-guy, but she a good character.
Nu'bia/Nubia: Seriously! I'd read the heck out of a comic of Nu'bia and, let's say, Artemis traveling the world, trying to gather their Amazon sisters together and learn about the "World of Men." And then Diana can show up and they can have cake and fight criminals together. They could do a silly-buddy-Amazon theme. ...But a small part of me wishes her name wasn't Nu'bia.
Onyx Adams: YES! YES! MANY TIMES, YES! Onyx is amazing (Even though her name is Onyx. DC, we know your characters are Black by looking at them.). Not only is she an awesome assassin who can hold her own, she's a good friend and mentor to my other fav Batgirl: Cassie Cain. For my sake, can we have an issue where Jason apologizes to her for stabbing her in the shoulder and using her as damsel-in-distress bait for Batman? I love you Jaybird but that wasn't cool.
8) "Well, then don't read them if they offend you! Don't buy them!
I'll read what I want and I'll be offended by it if I want to. What you are asking me to do, when you use this criticism, is ignore, not only what is happening around me, but also ME. You are asking me not to think about my life as a Woman of Color. You're asking me not to question my existence and my place in they very world I live in. Guess what? Not happening. I'm going to ask questions, I'm going to challenge you and your perceptions and I'm going to do it without apology.
But you know what I can do? I don't have to give Detective Comics anymore of my money. I'll just read trades from the library and borrow them from friends. I'll sneak-peaks in my LCS when I go in there to buy OTHER COMICS. I will read my friend's legal digital downloads and catch snippets from Tumblr and message boards. I'll read plot summaries (which I do BEFORE selecting a "run to read.) on the millions of Wikias that are out there. Let me just keep doing what I have always done AND not give DC any of my money.
And in my opinion, DC fandom is more often than not, better than what DC actually publishes. What fans put out there is beautiful and amazing (but sometimes really scary). I'd rather surf image boards, Tumblrs, fanfiction archives, LJ communities, Deviant Art/Pixiv, etc. What the hell am I putting money in their pockets, when The Black Cat does it better (and for free.).
9) "Well, all of your ‘bitching' is giving them free publicity! You're making them a success!
My main concern was voicing my displeasure. What other people do with their money is rarely my business. Maybe sales for the first month are good but let's see how next six month's sales go. People paying attention to you is one thing, but buying your "faulty product is another. And even if they are: meh. I will use all of extra income on ASOS sales, art supplies, partying and travel.