Author Topic: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling  (Read 9446 times)

Offline Kristopher

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The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« on: May 07, 2010, 06:34:08 am »
The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling



In this month's comic book solicitations, it's been revealed that Ray Palmer is making a return to comics as the Atom, following in the footsteps of characters like Hal Jordan and Barry Allen in what I like to call "regressive storytelling." These are stories that look to the past instead of the future, setting things back to the way they were rather than progressing them to what they should be next, rendering huge swaths of their fictional universe irrelevant because they didn't star the One True Version of a character.

In a lot of ways, it's an unavoidable aspect of the way comics work, in that most creators started out as (and presumably still are) fans first. And for fans, the One True Version of any given character is the one that made the biggest impact on them when they were growing up, be it Cary Bates' Flash or Adam West's Batman, and by and large, the fan mentality doesn't lend itself to innovation. Instead, it prompts the same desire that leads to fan-fiction: They want to play with their favorite toys, and if the universe they're working with doesn't allow that, then it's the universe that has to change, not them.

"The Good Old Days" have become a driving force in the comics industry in particular and DC Specifically (and Geoff Johns even more specifically, as DC's Creative Director who is personally responsible for regressing Green Lantern, Flash, the Legion of Super-Heroes, Hawkman, Aquaman and others), and it's all built around a desire to recapture a feeling these creators got when they were kids. And that's not necessarily a bad thing -- I'm certainly not an exception to fan culture, and there are stories that push my "Oh hey, I remember that" buttons as hard as anyone else's -- except that the form it takes ignores that much of what made Jack Kirby or Cary Bates or Alan Moore or Frank Miller so exciting wasn't what they were doing, but that they were doing things that hadn't been done before. Instead, we're in an industry right now that wants to constantly reset itself, running on nostalgia rather than innovation, moving backwards instead of moving forwards, and while I complain about it both often and at length, it seems to be what the majority of comics readers want, no matter how wrong-headed I think it is.

But there's an unintentional side-effect to all this regression that often goes ignored: The piece-by-piece white-washing of the DC Universe.

Before I go any further, I want to make it absolutely clear that I'm not suggesting that creators like Geoff Johns are racist, or that their stories are consciously motivated by racism in any way. I don't think that factors into what they're doing at all; the motivation is one of nostalgia and resistance to change, not race. I don't think the racial consequences of what they're doing even cross their minds, which is an entirely different, and in some ways, more insidious problem.  (more here)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Re: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« Reply #1 on: May 07, 2010, 03:15:24 pm »
great story and a perfect critique of DC's racial problems.

Offline jefferson L.O.B. sergeant

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Re: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« Reply #2 on: May 07, 2010, 06:06:52 pm »
I've used Reggie's " Comics are the Deep South of the entertainment industry" quote on several occasions to describe the state of diversity in mainstream storytelling. While it got the usual reactions i.e. (Hudlin is always bringing up race) ( Hudlin is a racist)  it gains validity with each passing moment.

If one juxtaposes the rise of Rap music along with the comicbook industry from 1988 on, the distinction is astounding. While an entire generation of Whites have gravitated to the image of: strong, wealthy, confident Black men in rap, the average White comicbook fan has derided every powerful depiction of a Black superhero during the same period.

Will Smith is the biggest movie star in the world; as well as being the biggest action movie star in the world and yet a Black superhero has never topped the charts during his era of success. That is probably the biggest indictment of the industry as a whole. A Black man is a global action/superhero icon of cinema and yet the fans of the smallest segment of the entertainment industry can't embrace a single Black hero without claims of tokenism.

Offline Afro Samurai

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Re: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« Reply #3 on: May 07, 2010, 06:41:38 pm »
I've used Reggie's " Comics are the Deep South of the entertainment industry" quote on several occasions to describe the state of diversity in mainstream storytelling. While it got the usual reactions i.e. (Hudlin is always bringing up race) ( Hudlin is a racist)  it gains validity with each passing moment.

If one juxtaposes the rise of Rap music along with the comicbook industry from 1988 on, the distinction is astounding. While an entire generation of Whites have gravitated to the image of: strong, wealthy, confident Black men in rap, the average White comicbook fan has derided every powerful depiction of a Black superhero during the same period.

Will Smith is the biggest movie star in the world; as well as being the biggest action movie star in the world and yet a Black superhero has never topped the charts during his era of success. That is probably the biggest indictment of the industry as a whole. A Black man is a global action/superhero icon of cinema and yet the fans of the smallest segment of the entertainment industry can't embrace a single Black hero without claims of tokenism.

Sir, I have to disagreed with that rap part of your statement. Most famous rappers are doing negative stereotypes of themselves (imma drug dealer, pimp, imma named myself after a white man, light skin women in their videos, nigga this & nigga that).

Alot of white ppl view the rappers as animals in the zoo for their amusement. It's not a respect thing, it's more of a jester thing.

But you are right abot black superhero flicks not really selling. Blade & Spawn sales were just all rite........not really huge.
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Offline jefferson L.O.B. sergeant

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Re: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« Reply #4 on: May 07, 2010, 07:35:21 pm »
I've used Reggie's " Comics are the Deep South of the entertainment industry" quote on several occasions to describe the state of diversity in mainstream storytelling. While it got the usual reactions i.e. (Hudlin is always bringing up race) ( Hudlin is a racist)  it gains validity with each passing moment.

If one juxtaposes the rise of Rap music along with the comicbook industry from 1988 on, the distinction is astounding. While an entire generation of Whites have gravitated to the image of: strong, wealthy, confident Black men in rap, the average White comicbook fan has derided every powerful depiction of a Black superhero during the same period.

Will Smith is the biggest movie star in the world; as well as being the biggest action movie star in the world and yet a Black superhero has never topped the charts during his era of success. That is probably the biggest indictment of the industry as a whole. A Black man is a global action/superhero icon of cinema and yet the fans of the smallest segment of the entertainment industry can't embrace a single Black hero without claims of tokenism.

Sir, I have to disagreed with that rap part of your statement. Most famous rappers are doing negative stereotypes of themselves (imma drug dealer, pimp, imma named myself after a white man, light skin women in their videos, nigga this & nigga that).

Alot of white ppl view the rappers as animals in the zoo for their amusement. It's not a respect thing, it's more of a jester thing.

But you are right abot black superhero flicks not really selling. Blade & Spawn sales were just all rite........not really huge.

While your assesment of the personas adopted by several rappers is correct, it does nothing to negate my point.

Crime fiction has always been a hallmark of American entertainment. From the outlaw in the dime novels, to prohibition era gangster, mafia movies etc. The positive nature of the depictions have largely been irrelevant in terms of the success of these projects.

As I stated earlier, the notable change starting from around 88 is that the Black man was now the outlaw, gangster and mob kingpin and White audiences accepted these depictions and purchased them in record numbers.

In more than 2 decades, comics has never experienced anything close to this phenomenon.

Offline jefferson L.O.B. sergeant

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Re: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« Reply #5 on: May 08, 2010, 03:50:58 pm »
http://forums.millarworld.tv/index.php?showtopic=93159

Highlights so far, comic fans are not racist but "Conservative" and I'M racist for pointing out a blatant reality.

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Re: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« Reply #6 on: May 08, 2010, 09:24:29 pm »
Wow, what a boring conversation.

The bigger point is:  we're talking about white characters who failed, replaced by black characters, who are then replaced with white characters. 

The bigger point is these characters failed.

Sometimes a massive rethink can make a concept work (X MEN) but that's mighty rare. 

Truth is, HAWKMAN doesn't sell.  Has never sold.  It's not a commercial concept.

The same is true for THE ATOM. 

Instead of trying to please a tiny fanbase of existing comic book readers, why not reach out to the folks who made the BLADE movies 300 million in ticket sales?

Offline KIP LEWIS

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Re: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« Reply #7 on: May 09, 2010, 08:58:55 pm »
<<Instead of trying to please a tiny fanbase of existing comic book readers, why not reach out to the folks who made the BLADE movies 300 million in ticket sales?>>

That's simple; Blade will NEVER suceed as comic for two reasons--1). Wesley Snipes is the magic of Blade.  No adaption of WS's Blade will ever convey what WS brought to the role, even if Marvel bought WS's likeness.  2). Blade cannot suceed until they write Blade like they wrote the movie--he is a horror movie/comic character, not a super-hero world character.  Until they bring back horror comics, he will always be toned down and that will never attract a large scale audience.

Offline Kristopher

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Re: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« Reply #8 on: May 10, 2010, 07:36:01 am »
Instead of trying to please a tiny fanbase of existing comic book readers, why not reach out to the folks who made the BLADE movies 300 million in ticket sales?

I'm guessing...laziness? Christopher Priest once wrote:
Comics have never successfully penetrated the African American market, so the numbers don't encourage the major companies to pursue what is, statistically, a dead end. I see that as more economics than racism. There's just not a viable enough audience to sustain black-themed comic books, and that is the watery grave that awaits all "black" books until the major companies finally learn how to market to audiences outside of their traditional comic shops. Sean "P Diddy" Combs is about as untalented as they come, and he makes millions if not billions per year. There's SO MUCH MONEY out there in the minority community, but to go after it, Marvel and DC and everybody else is really going to have to reinvent themselves, change the way they do business and operate way, way outside of their traditional orbit. It would help if they'd actually hire some minorities and consultants on distribution channels for minority-focused products. Until they make a real effort with this, "black" books, "minority" books and female books (other than the gross T&A variety) are doomed out of the gate. Comics, as we know them, have, for 65 years, been produced by middle class whites for middle class whites. There's greater potential sales in the Latino community alone than in the entirety of our known distribution channels combined. One real Latino hit would, potentially, outsell everything on the racks if it were *good,* if it didn't insult the intelligence of the community it proposes to entertain, and if the companies could figure out how to get that book into the distribution channels that service that community.

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Re: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« Reply #9 on: May 10, 2010, 07:38:23 am »
Once again, Priest for the win.

Offline Greg

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Re: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« Reply #10 on: May 12, 2010, 12:28:05 pm »
And of course DC kills New Atom. Good going.   ::)

Offline Hypestyle

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Re: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« Reply #11 on: May 13, 2010, 11:34:39 am »


Truth is, HAWKMAN doesn't sell.  Has never sold.  It's not a commercial concept.


Say... I just had a thought.. what with the Hawkman mythos so supposedly steeped in Egyptian mythology, why not have a black or Arab Hawkman?
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Offline Francisco

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Re: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« Reply #12 on: May 13, 2010, 11:38:36 am »


Truth is, HAWKMAN doesn't sell.  Has never sold.  It's not a commercial concept.


Say... I just had a thought.. what with the Hawkman mythos so supposedly steeped in Egyptian mythology, why not have a black or Arab Hawkman?

Didn't you know Egyptians were white Europeans who emigrated south to build the Pyramids?? ::)
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Re: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« Reply #13 on: May 13, 2010, 01:06:05 pm »
And of course DC kills New Atom. Good going.   ::)

the asian dude is dead?


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Offline KIP LEWIS

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Re: The Racial Politics of Regressive Storytelling
« Reply #14 on: May 13, 2010, 02:05:21 pm »
Asian?  I thought he was Hispanic, but I admit, never really bothered with the dude knowing he was nothing but a place holder.  Ray Palmer wasn't even dead; just on a sabbatical.