Things get better all the time.

Posted by Sigrid.

I take my kids to the comic store every week. We’ve been going together since my partner and I adopted them as infants five years ago. My kids and I show up at The Source Comics and Games on Wednesday mornings. That’s New Comics Wednesday, you understand. We get my pulls, I walk the racks and my kids walk — under strict injunction to not run — up and down the shelves of action figures and toys. They name all the ones they know, they ask me to identify others. I am called upon to explain maquette tableaux and inexplicable poses for characters I know nothing about, to the amusement of the clerks and other customers. My kids can identify a host of comic book characters. They are good little geeks. I’m proud of them. We go home and they tell my partner, their mother, about the characters they saw and the comic book swag the guys at The Source slipped them over the counter.

Many of my kids’ questions revolve around origin stories. I have a little trouble explaining some of these tales. They sound uninteresting to my ears. But comics began as, and still to a large extent are, the wish fulfillment fantasies of working- and middle-class white men. Traditional superhero comics are stories of the hopes and fears men have of power and powerlessness.

In the fall of 1992, six months after I came out as a lesbian, I was sitting in a stairwell window in my college dorm watching the women’s Ultimate Frisbee team practice on the quad. I was trying to list queer comic book characters. Vertigo Comics had just finished publishing the story “A Game of You” in the comic book The Sandman, by Neil Gaiman. The first two names on my list were Hazel and Foxglove, from that story. Wanda — also from that story — was the third. Maggie and Hopey from Love and Rockets were next. Then, Tristan and Isolde from Camelot 3000.

I was looking, in this medium and genre I love with all my heart, for someone like me.

You’ll notice that none of these characters were from traditional superhero comics. I had names with question marks after them. Northstar? Mystique? This was before Irene Adler and Raven Darkholme were an out couple, partnered for decades. I had a list of scenes, of moments. Individual panels where characters were drawn in intimate ways. Panels where the dialog was particularly emotional or caring. Most of my list involved Kitty Pryde, my favorite character at the time. (Excalibur #24, anyone?) But actual out gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual characters were few and far between.

In 1992, I could name all the not-white X-Men-related comic book characters. Storm. Sunspot. Mirage. Karma. Rictor. Riptide. Empath. Gateway. Jubilee. Bishop. Fabian Cortez. . . . There may have been a few others. The black superheroes in the Marvel Universe with serious name recognition were Storm, Black Panther, Luke Cage, and maybe Misty Knight.

If you enter “Black superheroes” or “Hispanic superheroes” into Wikipedia today you get pages of characters. Many of them are minor ones, certainly. But White Tiger, Victor Mancha, Nico Minoru, and Anya Corazon are all non-white characters I can name without thinking too hard. In the Marvel Universe the casts of Runaways and Avengers: The Initiative together just about double the number of non-white characters found in the X-Men comics of 1992. These days, entering “Gay Superheroes” into Google gets you The Gay League as your first result.

A few weeks ago the kids and I bought a set of Minimates figures — Batwoman (Modern) and The Question (Modern).

I picked up the Minimates box off the rack. My daughter, K, looked at Renee Montoya and said, “The girl has dark hair like me!” I agreed, and told K that Renee is Latino, like K is. That she has dark hair and dark eyes and her family is from the Dominican Republic where they speak Spanish. Just as K’s birth mother is from Guatemala, where they have dark hair and dark eyes and speak Spanish. I told my kids that Kate Kane and Renee Montoya had been dating, just like their mother and mom are together. The kids nodded at that. It was no big deal.

To my kids, gay, lesbian, and queer figures are normal. Not the majority, but normal. Non-white characters are in their books, their movies, and the free comics from the guys at The Source — Teen Titans Go! and The Batman Strikes!. Diversity is a part of their everyday life.

Kate Kane and Renee Montoya. Out lesbian superheros, one of whom is Latino, her parents from the Dominican Republic. Packaged together just like regular heroes. I read superhero comics; I always have. And I have spent my share of time criticizing the portrayals of women, gays, and minorities. But last month I bought a toy of a non-white, out, lesbian superhero. And my kids think this is the way of the world. Things get better all the time.

  • lilacsigil

    This is awesome, but the only thing I can think is how amazingly cute the figures are packaged together! I’m glad your kids (and other kids, like my nephews) get to grow up with all of this diversity in the media world as well as in their personal lives. But I’m still waiting for a mainstream Australian superhero who doesn’t make me cringe.

  • It is wonderful that diversity in comic character background has finally settled in. For so long the only people Everyone Knew were in to comics were lower-mid class white boys. Thus, that’s what the heroes reflected. I remember when ‘diversity’ first REALLY made a push into the main-stream back in the early ’90’s. The school committees I was on were all about, “multi-cultural gender fair”. It sounds like comics followed up after a few years.

  • I literally laughed out loud when you started listing naming “minority” characters only because I find it funny that someone can name them all and it barely fills one line of a paragraph. Silly Marvel.

    Still, it’s titles like Runaways and Avengers: The Initiative that are showing today’s readers that the world is made up of people who aren’t straight, white Americans. I’m glad to see Marvel going in that direction.

  • sigrid

    @Mike Rapin

    Seriously, yes. And, when I started reading New Mutants (with the Marvel Team-Up Annual #6, featuring Spiderman, the New Mutants, and Cloak and Dagger) it was the leading edge of diversity in Marvel. Now you can’t turn around without tripping over some new minority character, and I applaud the effort even when it is somewhat flawed.

  • sigrid

    @lilacsigil

    :coughs: Gateway :coughs:

    I feel your pain.

  • What a cool story! It makes me want to lift my current ban on toy-buying :)