Comic Book Progression

Comics have seen a lot of movement these past few years, eh? 10 years ago digital comics were… an idea, I guess. There was some ethnic and gender diversity in comics, but until comics approximates the true diversity of the human population, how can there ever be said to be enough? And the most prominent openly gay character was already a member of a hated and feared subclass before ever leaving the closet.

Now most comics are available online the same time they hit store shelves, we’ve seen women and minorities take over important characters that were previously WASPS, and there are even characters of the same sex kissing each other on the page. Yet there are plenty of people who seem furious that any of these three trends are happening. I’ve picked three examples because it’s a nice round number, but there are plenty more examples where comics have made progress, yet the fans seem miffed more than merry. I don’t get it that attitude, but it exists and should probably be discussed in a reasonable and adult way, so here’s my attempt to do that.

I feel like we’ve all seen digital comics coming from a long ways away. We all know that loads of comics are prepared to be printed using digital files, we all know the Internet exists, and we all saw what happened to the music industry. Yet many people seem upset that the digital revolution has finally come and seemed to stick. They lament the small business owners who will be threatened by this new innovation. I feel like the horse and buggy versus cars analogy is a bit played out, so instead I’ll embed this video that I think sums up my feelings quite nicely with a bit of humor to boot.

I’m not trying to stake the heart of retailers, some of my absolute favorite people in comics are retailers, and I will ALWAYS buy books from them, often upon their knowledgeable recommendations, but I also feel that digital comics are a good thing. They add convenience and ease to the process of getting comics anywhere with an Internet connection, which is the kind of access we’ll need to offer if there’s to be much hope of bringing in fresh blood. At the end of the day both forms are still currently available, so just keep that in mind the next time you’re finding yourself piqued over the latest digital innovative.

But then there’s the really sensitive stuff. Race, sex, and sexual identity. To the immense credit of our community in regards to race, I saw none of the vitriolic bile spewed forth on other forums when it was announced that Miles Morales would be the new Ultimate Spider-Man. Kudos to that. Likewise, everyone seems cool with Carol Danvers going from Ms. to Captain Marvel. Obviously, I think these are steps in the right direction. There’s no reason to keep characters male and white. Legacy is not a good enough reason, especially when the outcome is less interesting stories. Michael Holt is a far more interesting character than the original Mr. Terrific ever was, part of that is the increased emphasis on more mature writing, but part of it is also that Holt is just a cool character. The fact that he’s black is just that, a fact, he might be left handed too. But his presence, along with the presence of other minority characters, only adds to the potential for better stories that fit more snuggly into the tableau of the real world.

The better images of Katana all had Batman, not Superman.

Which brings me to the current hot button issue of the moment: homosexual characters. Josh wrote a very good piece on the logic of making Alan Scott (from a different reality, mind you) a gay man instead of his old hetero-normative self. I frankly wouldn’t have been upset if they made Earth-1 Scott gay instead, I understand why they did it this way, but I’ve also expressed that I don’t think keeping things the way they were just because that’s the way they were is a good thing, and I stand by that. Have you seen any of those old WWII era Superman cartoons? They’re quite racist, and I’m happy to have Superman fighting alongside Katana rather than pummeling her as a potential saboteur.

Some of the comments to Josh’s article fell into the “who cares? This shouldn’t even be an issue dealt with in comics.” I’m going to have to disagree. First of all, comics can deal with whatever issues the creators and companies want to deal with, they’re not compulsory to buy, so if you’re not down with what they’re selling don’t spend the money. But more importantly, comics have often served as a cultural barometer in a way few other media can or has. They’re relatively unfiltered and quick to produce, so you can use comics as a lens to see the zeitgeist of our times reflected back at us. It would be foolish not to expect something about this issue in comics when it’s clearly on the minds of so many people around the world already. If you think who or how a person loves is irrelevant to telling the story, that’s just asinine. Comics are often about interpersonal relationships of all kinds, along with all the ensuing drama that entails.

It makes me sad that any of these three issues, or really any issue associated with comics moving forward, upsets so many fans. It does seem to be the way of things though; there are those who strive to progress, and those who push back against it. If you find yourself in the camp of those wishing things would stay the same, I’ve got some bad news: they won’t. Ever. Which is really true for life in general, not just comics. Things change, it can be scary, but resistance only makes the inevitable tide of progress that much more of a shock when it finally hits. Yes, you can avoid the changes; people do still ride horses and buy vinyl, but my advice is, even if you stick to those old things, try the new before dismissing it entirely. It might very well suck, but better to be an informed person with a preference for retro than be seen as an ill-informed luddite curmudgeon. And go the bronze seminar later today, it really is cracking stuff compared to those dull stones.


Ryan Haupt has done the math and figures that within another 10 years every character in comics with be some sort of homosexual ethnic minority with piercings and tattoos. It’s inevitable. Soothe your anxiety with a dose of the informative podcast Science… sort of.


  1. Great article. I wish I had the ability to speak to people that can be so repulsed by change or progress in this manner without losing my mind. I’m not proud of it but my first instinct when I see a homophobe or bigot is to chew them out. It serves my point no good and just lowers the discourse. This writing really puts that into perspective.

    I think telling people that change is inevitable only makes them angrier and more likely to try to hold on to the present condition. No one (almost no one) comments on interracial relationships in comics or minority characters because most of the comic reading audience came of age after those issues had been largely resolved. But because LGBT rights are currently evolving then they are seen as revolutionary and/or threatening. If you take the long view of history, or even 100 or so years, and look at the societal change from then to now it is totally impossible to not see how the arc of history is bending. And that makes a lot people get weird.

  2. Great article –

    I have been finding that many people I know (or know through Facebook) have the opinion that the vast majority of Comics fans, and by extension “Geek Culture”, is made up primarily of angry, immature, misogynistic and homophobic a-holes. This stereotype is so frustrating for me and I cringe every time I see someone in our community prove it correct. I love iFanboy because this type of fan doesn’t seem to permeate here as much as elsewhere.

    • Well said.

    • I have usually found it to be the exact opposite, Jokers. The majority of comic readers I know or encounter on a regular basis are more accepting of different sexual orientations, race, weight, physical challenges, etc. than the general population. Not sure why that is – maybe because, as geekier folk, we’ve been mocked and didn’t like it, so we try to “break the cycle” as it were. Most are intelligent and broadly educated/experienced, which has opened their minds and made them more tolerant. Also, most comic folks I know (and I realize I am making a bit of a generalization here, so apologies in advance) are not conservative or actively religious, so the moral restrictions that come along with those positions do not exist for them. For the record, I am a Christian, but I am not a prick about it and would probably be labeled a heretic on some things!

    • “I am a Christian, but I am not a prick about it and would probably be labeled a heretic on some things!” — Hysterical!!

    • Why is that hysterical?

    • I just thought the way you worded it was funny. I laughed when I read it. “I am a Christian, but I’m nor a prick about it,” Made me laugh out loud. I really meant no offense, I just thought it was a well worded sentence!

    • OK, I wasn’t sure how to take that. I just wanted to point that out, since a lot of self-professed Christians ARE pricks about it, as I’m sure you’re all aware. I guess my point was that in my experience, most comic readers I have met do not devoutly follow traditional religions.

    • Never really thought about it but I guess you’re right. Never been preached to before at the comic shop. While some Christians certainly ARE pricks about it, people get excited about what they love, that’s natural. I don’t mind someone talking about their beliefs, or even trying to convince me their’s are right; it’s when I don’t agree and then someone gets angry and in my face that it gets to be a problem. But you find that in almost any belief system/scene/cultural/whatever, but it does seem that religion is a hot button these days.

  3. I wonder just how many “real” comic fans are put off by these issues. It has always appeared to me that “real” fans are pretty open to any interpretation as long as the story is solid. If the story is weak, then no amount of pop culture or societal reference can save it, it’s still a bad book. When something happens in our hobby like this it always seems that the most vocal or vitriolic commentary comes from those outside the hobby. I’ve seen on facebook that a lot of people I know have had comments about Northstar and Alan Scott, both for and against, but when I pose the simple question: Do you read the books? The answer is overwhelming silent. I would bet that the majority of people who are beefing, don’t read the books at all and are narrow-minded tools in life generally. That said, their opinions don’t reflect these majority of people in this hobby at all and should be ignored.

  4. My response to the “who cares” issue is two fold. First, i think that comics and pop culture in general has a very very rich history of addressing and helping to advance social issues. Music, art, literature, film….so many of the greatest works address the major controversies of their time, whether its war, politics, corruption, civil rights etc, and comics have a rich history of being right there addressing these issues too. I like it when pop culture takes a stand for important things instead of just being fluffy entertainment. It makes it culturally and historically relevant.

    Also with the “who cares” argument, there are lots of things in society we shouldn’t have to be reminded of. We shouldn’t need PSA’s for AIDS awareness, cancer screenings, domestic abuse, drunk driving, child abuse, discrimination, literacy, water conservation, storm drain dumping and recycling, but the numbers show that we need constant reminders. Don’t know why that is, but we need lots of reminders (which is part of the reason why the Vulcans haven’t made first contact yet FYI).

    So i guess i’m glad that the big 2 grew a pair and addressed a major issue that’s dividing society right now, and i’m glad that there will be something in comic book form that future generations can point back to and frame in a historical conversation about this moment in time.

  5. Well said, in both article and talkback. We are all unofficial representatives of our beloved “geek community” and as such have a responsibility to promote it as one composed of intelligent, accepting, forward thinking, and logical individuals. Our comics should reflect this. I won’t bother reiterating what everyone else has already expressed so eloquently, but I too agree that books containing new and diverse characters only help to propel the medium forward. Evolution, not stagnation, is good in all of its forms. Storytelling is no different.

  6. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t agree that becoming a homossexual is a common thing. Even though, I do think we should respect people anyway.
    I do think DC made this just to get advertisement, and sales, after all, even my 7 years students here in São Paulo, Brazil told me this week that “green lantern is gay”. I tried to explain to him that it was another character (not Hal Jordam or Stewart), because for all they know now all green lantern must be gay.
    I’m a christian and people don’t respect my beliefs here where I live. I believe in freedom and I try to respect all people, whoever they are. But lately, I’m not being respected, just because I have a different opinion. It would be funny, if it wasn’t so ironic.
    Love you guys.
    André Bonifácio, São Paulo, Brazil

  7. I would have liked to see Alan Scott’s gay son take over for him instead of them changing the character.

  8. To be honest I have been disappointed with the way super hero comic books handle female characters. I don’t see much progression here at all. Most ‘powered’ female characters I can think of dress like strippers and are highly promiscuous. Even the married and religious ones I can think of have been portrayed as less then honourable in some story line i have read. Now I’m all for sexual liberation but in my reality not every woman is a ho.

    • Very much agree, there is still a very large and very troubling contrast between how male and female character’s are portrayed in superhero comics. Has it gotten better? To be honest, I’m really not sure. Beyond just the obvious over-sexualization, the idea of what an empowered female character is pandering at best and embarrassingly ill-informed at worst.

    • Define promiscuous, because I’ve not been seeing all that much sex in Marvel and DC comics of late, and certainly not with multiple partners in a short time period. Believe me, I’d love to see more sex in these books, ha yeah.

      Most female heroines I would not call promiscuous, unless having a few boyfriends over several decades is considered that.

    • Characters that instantly come to mind are She-Hulk, Black Widow, Stacy X, X23, Cat Woman, Layla Miller, The Wasp, Echo, Susan Storm,Poison Ivy, Electra, Emma Frost…. It just goes on.

      These characters have a history of random hook ups, prostitution, infidelity, and rotating partners

    • First of all, prostitution is a random subject to bring up, but if anything to tackle it is a mature and good thing to do.

      Emma Frost and Scott have been in a solid relationship for many years, and of course Susan Storm has been in one for decades. I would not call either of them promiscuous.

      Catwoman also has had much less sex in her books than you probably think she’d had. I’d appreciate more actually, there’s no reason to shy away from it.

    • Dude you’re welcome to your views as I am to mine. My view is Emma Frost dresses like a hooker and has gone through the entire Hell fire club. And I have read stories where it has been heavily implied that Susan Storm pulled the trigger on her romance with Namor. I think Cat Woman is sexed up enough. If I want look at porn I look at pornography!

  9. God damn. You guys are kiiillling it. Keep up the good work.

  10. What really bothers me is taking straight characters and making them gay just for PR. I read in Avengers Academy 31’s letter page that a man gave his 7 year old daughter some All-Ages Power Pack miniseries and her favorite hero was Julie Power/Lightspeed so one day she Googled Lightspeed and found the word “bisexual” and asked her father what that word meant. I have no problem with diversity in comics, I just don’t like the Northstar wedding and Allan Scott stunt because I feel it was for PR only and nothing else. I also feel that Christos Gage should’ve been more careful with the Julie Power/ Stryker coming out. It really felt forced.

    • Well, how do you think they can go about introducing more diverse characters? Because, as the market has shown repeatedly, most readers will not support new characters. It leaves publishers with little choice but to reinvent pre-existing characters, but then they are accused of just doing something for PR.

    • So bisexual men and women aren’t aloud to be represented in fiction because a father might have to have a discussion with his daughter? Your argument is ignorant at best and horribly bigoted at worst.

    • If a 7 year old can Google anything she’s going to find things a lot worse than the word “bisexual”.

      Parents would be incredibly naive if they think they can restrict any information from a kid if they have access to the internet and it’s awfully selfish of people to advocate censoring things just to protect a kid’s sensibilities.

    • Why is the dad letting a 7-year-old google unsupervised? Does he have safe search enabled? What a moron. A female coworker innocently googled “tebagging” at work (she was unfamiliar with the term) – what a fun day THAT was.

    • Like I said above it doesn’t bother me that Allen Scott is gay but it bothers me that it was done for PR. At least that’s how I feel. Same with Avengers Academy. I feel Christos Gage did it because the whole LGBT thing is front and center today. I understand trying to put more diversity in comics but I feel Marvel and DC have gone too far. Again I am not against diversity in comics.

    • The writing is much more sophisticated today than it was in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Now you can sit back and read a comic from the 50’s and think “Ok, the bad guy isn’t actually a mustache twirling idiot he’s just been repeatedly mind-wiped by the justice league whenever they figured out a hero’s secret identity” or “The reason freaking Stilt-man is using a multimillion dollar suit to rob a bank of $100k is the super villain industry is heavily subsidized by Dr Doom as a form of terrorism against the US.” Is it even realistic to believe that none of your old time favorite superheros were gay or bi? Heck Wonder Woman grew up on an island entirely populated by women! It’s not like the writers would have even had the freedom to be honest about it thanks to the Comics Code Authority.

  11. Wow, you use Mister Terrific as your example? That might have been the WORST book of the Nu52. You know what else, since you want super realism and diversity in your comics, where are the fat people? Where are the sick people? Where are the characters who tragically die for no real reason but the families are just left to cope without a Super Villian behind it (Another idiotic change to Mr Terrigic btw), and while we are at it, where are the married couples?

    • Well the Blob is a pretty fat individual. But then again that’s also part of this power set. Given how many calories an average super hero must burn in a day I think it’s no surprise that none of them are “fat.” I agree that the body image of superheroes, both male and female, is unrealistic but saying “where are the fat people” might not be the most articulate way to make your point.

      In terms of sick people both The Vulture and Captain Marvel (the Marvel one) had cancer and Captain Marvel actually died from it. Also there are at least three separate X-Men storylines involving a plague that effects and kills only mutants. Also, Ultimate Iron Man has a brain tumor that was in remission, is now back, and has begun effecting his abilities. Also Doc Oc is sick but I forget with what. That’s a fair number of sick super heroes and villains and I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting. I’m not that well versed in DC’s history, can someone else help me out with their sick characters?

      In terms of characters that tragically die without a Super villain being responsable I would point to Batman, Spider-man, Superman, and Green Lantern. All three of them lost one or both of their parents tragically withouth a super villain being the cause. Without those deaths it is likely none of those characters would exist as super heroes.

      Married couples: Spider-man and Mary Jane (this has since been retconned), Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, Reed Richards and Sue Storm, Black Bolt and Medusa, Crystal and Ronan the Accuser, Cyclops and Jean Grey (until she was killed), Captain Britain and Meggan, Aunt May and John Jonah Jameson Sr., Hank Pym and Janet Pym. Again, I’m sure there are more I’m missing, particularly DC characters.

      Seems like most of the groups you mentioned ARE in fact well represented in comics.

    • What I find unrealistic is how so many of the heroes who have powers that don’t really require physical exertion are still ripped like fitness models. There is NO reason for it.

    • @kennyg, good god the 90’s X-Men were so jacked, including Xavier and Magneto. One of them is in a damn wheelchair and the other was an old man who could fly and lift heavy things with his power! Cyclops, nicknamed “Slim” mind you, was roughly 325lbs of pure muscle.

    • Yeah I agree. Like why is Magneto ripped? Magnetic powers and he’s pretty old, why is he so cut? This might sound a little weak, but I think part of it has to do with the fact that many of these characters were created decades ago in a very different time. When first created they were meant to be escapist and in many ways grew out of the pulp tradition which was know to glorify the human form in a sexual manner. I think in many ways the over emphasized sexual characteristics of female characters and the muscle bound physique of male characters is due largely to the medium’s roots. Some people are fighting against that. Some recent characters, like Darwin, Quinten Quire, and Professor Pyg, break some of these stereotypes. It’d be nice to se even more.

    • That’s probably when it got so out of control. But think about it – if you had telekinesis, how lazy would you be?! I’d look like Jabba the Hut!

    • Yeah, the whole Liefeld era of X-Men and particularly X-Force has got to be the peak.

    • USPUNX, almost every example you give (if not every example) is Marvel based. I am fairly certain that DC has even played with Batmans origin of late to where it wasn’t the random nobody Joe Cool that killed his parents to a more important villain. Considering the article is really more to do about the most recent GL revelation, it is DC that I have th most issue with in the way they think they are representing society at large. Marvel does a much better job in this regard and handled Northstar in a much mroe natural way (though Rawhide Kid was terrible, another case of changing established character traits). Speaking og GL, how many calories does he burn with that ring? Where are the battle wounds? Heros should be missing limbs left and right, have chronic pain, PTSD, hearing loss, massive scarring etc. My complaint in this regard is really geared more towards DC, as you have noted, Marvel is known for the angst and grittiness to their story lines.

    • Yeah I think all of that is pretty fair. As to the PTSD, chronic pain, and so forth; I think a lot of that begs the question of how much realism do we really want in superhero comics? I like that the big two, particularly Marvel, are trying to diversify their characters and add SOME realism to their storylines, but do we really want heroes missing limbs and waking up at night in a cold sweat because of nightmares? I personally say no. Mainstream superhero comics are still largely entertainment and even escapism; and I enjoy that about them. There are some pretty good indie superhero comics that deal with the “reality” of being a superhero. Personally I don’t want that in the pages of Marvel and DC, I think the balance of realism vs. fantasy they have now works pretty well.

  12. Can I put random art of say Storm and Rogue making out on the side of my articles? Less taboo and whatnot on sex and sexuality is one of my fav things, but Gambit and Wolverine making out is not one of my favorite things, that’s out of character bub. Just sayin’.

    Diversity is important yes, and yes progress towards everything being more liberal and openminded and well I think we should legalize everything while I’m talking. But I don’t think a lot of this is gonna be reflected on the page of oldschool Marvel and DC comics properties.