New 52: DC's Commitment to Diversity

One of the things DC Comics has touted with their New52 was diversity. What they meant by it wasn't necessarily clear. This was a company that had been accused the previous year of "whitewashing" their shared universe, taking out minority characters holding legacy names to return the white bread originals to the fold, so they definitely needed to make a commitment towards racial diversity. (Of course, they now could be accused of "de-chairing" the DCU.) Because the commitment also came with the bold mission statement that they were trying to get new readers into the game, "diversity" should probably also mean a greater variety of styles and genres in their comics, getting to potential readers who don't really care about superheroes. We've seen all the #1s so... did it work? I thought I'd crunch some numbers for you. Mind you, I had to make judgment calls on many categories and the future may prove me wrong on just what characters were "important" or "recurring". In cases where, for example, sexual orientation was unknown, I assumed heterosexuality, but if the character was gay in the previous timeline, I assumed them to still be gay.

The Relaunch
Number of monthly DCU series published by DC in August 2010: 38
Number of monthly DCU series published by DC in August 2011: 33
Number of monthly DCU series published by DC in September 2011: 52
Titles that weren't published before the Relaunch announcement: 36
Titles that have never been published before: 13
Titles reset to #1 that had gone past #100: 5
Titles reset to #1 that had gone past #600: 5

Demographics - Protagonists
Female protagonists with their own book: 6
Female protagonists featured in a team book: 41
Non-white protagonists with their own book: 6
Non-white protagonists featured in a team book: 18
Gay protagonists with their own book: 1
Gay protagonists featured in a team book: 2
Differently abled protagonists with their own book: 1
Differently abled protagonists featured in a team book: 2
Note that having lost an eye or cybernetic replacements count as disabilities for purposes of this list. The number of differently abled protagonists drops to 0 when you remove these from the count.

Demographics - All Characters
Ratio of male/female characters with an important or recurring role: 247/137
Ratio of white/non-white characters with an important or recurring role: 257/94
Total number of gay characters with an important or recurring role: 5
Total number of differently abled characters with an important or recurring role: 5
Total number of important or recurring female characters with a different body type than svelte heroine or buxom heroine: 16
Books with no female characters with an important role in them: 3
Books with no female characters whosoever (Ms. Monitor doesn't count): 1
Books with no non-white characters with an important role in them: 15
Books with no non-white characters whatsoever: 11

Tropes - Why do so many of these comics feel the same?
Books structured around the use first person narration: 30
Number of characters seen to speak in first person narration caption boxes with their logo in them: 26
Number of secret organizations in the new DCU: 10
Books focused on covert missions: 9
Times characters jump out of an aircraft: 12
Books that feature helicopters: 8
Books focused monthly on members of the Batman family: 14
Books that feature a guest star from the Justice League to midwife the book: 10
Number of those books that actually advertise that Justice Leaguer on its cover: 1
Books in which an antagonist is revealed on the last page: 14
Books with no supervillain, only henchmen: 18
Those henchmen are armored: 9
Number of distinct Arkham Asylum break-outs: 2
Books that discuss urban renewal and/or construction: 10
Characters that serve the same function as Oracle did: 7
Number of DC's fictional cities referenced: Only 4
Number of panels showing football (any kind) action: 16
Pencilers who have a Latin-sounding (i.e. Italian or Spanish) name or are actually from Italy, Spain or South America: 23

Questions of art and story, useful to fuel or extinguish existing debates
Pencilers previously known for their Image comics work: 8
Books written by someone also (often, better) known as an artist: 12
Books with more than 2 splash pages (double-splashes count as a single page): 17
Number of panels in Supergirl #1: 58 (shortest read)
Number of panels in Superman #1: 196 (longest read)
Number of team books: 19
Team books where the team is not completely assembled in the first issue: 7
Team books that feature team members on the cover, but not the interior: 6
Number of panels showing characters undressing or in various stages of undress (male/female): 59/109 (60 of those in Voodoo alone)
Number of recurring or important female characters who work or mention having worked in the sex industry: 5
Number of non-recurring, non-important female sex industry workers: 29
Women working as writer, penciler or inker on any of these books: 1
Books where the police are shown to be dumb and/or incompetent: 11
Books where the police aren't: 7
When you take Commissioner Gordon out of the equation, that number drops to: 4
Books that feature particularly gory violence: 19
Number of those books rated less than Teen Plus: 9
Number of married protagonists: 5
Number of protagonists who used to be married: 13 (some marriages have been retconned, but I've counted being widowed or divorced in-continuity as well)

I'm going to let you analyze the data in the comments section. Have we been too harsh on DC's output? Or are we right to complain? You be the judge.

18 comments:

Doc_Loki said...

I think we've probably not been harsh enough. To paraphrase your review of Justice League #1, DC have delivered a bunch of mostly mediocre comics in this relaunch. With a few noble exceptions - Morrison's Action, Fialkov's I, Vampire and Simone's Firestorm spring to mind - hardly any of the writers seem to have regarded the relaunch as anything more than business as usual. Indeed, some of them seem to have thought that the marketing push associated with the relaunch was an excuse to slack off.

Jeff R. said...

If you're willing to count covers as well as the insides of the books, I think that Cyborg should qualify as differently-abled, no?

Siskoid said...

On that basis, so would Wildfire.

Jeff R. said...

I think we can draw a line between "guy who's 80% prosthetic" like Cyborg and "beings of pure energy" like Wildfire and Deadman...

(If having super-related-stuff that overcomes your disability were a disqualifier, Daredevil wouldn't count, and that's clearly an absurd result.)

Siskoid said...

But again, only if covers count.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Now that all 52 are out, I can't see why DC didn't keep the majority of old DCU characters alone (I'd say "fixing" Hawkman and Aquaman help) as they did with GL (yeah, yeah, big seller, John title, I know).

I think the biggest surprises out here by me were the dark books (I, Vampire--which I thought would suck--was not bad)and JLDark, an idea that should have been explored years ago.

I understand why DC committed to an almost total relaunch, I just don't understand the armored costumes, the over-sexed women, and the idea that putting Cyborg in the JLA as a founding member is "unique."

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

And, as with the two breakouts at Arkham, the multiple secret organizations show a complete lack of editorial direction. Of all the tropes, I have to go with being tired of the boxed narratives that are blue letters on grey tones. Or bright red on yellow. There are few books this has ever worked well with, Robinson's Starman gave us a lot of Jack Knight's collectibles-thinking as he fought people, but I really can't think of another that comes close. Narrative should be used to help the reader learn more about the characters by the way the think, not by the same old ennui or vigilantism.

Anonymous said...

It may interest the bigots and racists of the WW forum on CBR that when one of its forum contributors was banned last year, he promptly logged back on as 'Lynda Carter', and is currently engaged in an hilarious 'friendship' wiht the guy who banned him, Aegisbearer!

Delta said...

The ideal thing, if possible, would be to compare those diversity ratios before & after (in decimal form).

Jayunderscorezero said...

Numbers are only half the story, of course. On paper, Voodoo looks fantastic:

- it's a non-superhero title (sci-fi/mystery?)
- it has a predominantly female cast
- including a woman of colour as the protagonist

But yeah, the execution tells a somewhat different story.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

But the thing is a relaunch for new readers, so the decimal points for August really only apply for "old" readers. If DC wants their new 52 to be all about bringing in new readers--and let's say that a Cyborg or a Wildfire are exaggerations to begin with--DC wants its new readers to see NO fat women, NO crippled women, and pretty much the same problems with ethnicities. I see the reviewers at Comics Alliance get ragged repeatedly with many comments leaving out the most important part of the relaunch: New Readers. I wouldn't make a big deal out of it if DC wasn't trying to make the same big deal.

rob! said...

I do wish DC had reached out and hired some more creative types from outside mainstream comics. I think part of the reason so many of these books feel the same is that DC just rearranged a lot of the same personnel that were on the pre-52 books.

And who knows? Maybe they did, and got turned down. But I would have liked to have seen some more "out there" approaches. Jeff Lemire's books can't carry the load all by themselves!

Siskoid said...

Numbers are just that. Context is another thing completely. The Voodoo example is a good one. Mr. Terrific, Blue Beetle and Static Shock also upped the racial diversity count, while Wonder Woman and Batwoman did the same for female characters. Are they in danger of being ghettos? Or does it mean that only certain writers and artists got the message?

I'd say that a good book for diversity across the board is Superman. The large cast features men and women, asians, hispanics and blacks. Justice League International also has a varied cast, more of them "protagonists".

Of course, there's a big difference between a "minority character" and a "minority protagonist". While 137 women to 247 men may seem not that bad, one should consider than only 47 of those women have protagonist status, and only 6 of them have their own book (2 of which have been legitimately criticized as being the writer's sex fantasies).

The real losers in the headcount are gays (especially gay men, currently stuck at 0), handicapped characters and female characters who don't have the typical superheroine body type (of the 16 counted, some where little girls, and most represent very thin women - say, Ellen Baker - and not overweight ones).

Where I think the list is most interesting or relevant is in its study of content diversity. The sheer number of elements repeated through so many books speaks to a lack of editorial forethought and gives the line a sort of regrettable house style.

LiamKav said...

Apparently Gail Simone confirmed to David "Shortpacked!" Willis that Catman is now bisexual. Which, if true, will make him one of a tiny, tiny number of bisexual man in mainstream (ish) media.

Siskoid said...

Sad then that his potential bunk mate Deadshot is off-limits to Simone.

Anonymous said...

So what are the "literate" books amongst the lot? The ones that are about more than just about bashing people? Or having kinky sex?

Buryak said...

I honestly really liked OMAC. I love love love Jack Kirby kookiness, and even though that piece of crap DiDio's names attached to it, I think they really captured the feel of a Kirby book... obviously with big help from Giffen. And the fact that Kevin Kho's Asian is handled well, I think. He just happens to be Asian, it's not his whole identity, like Paco in Blue Beetle or some of the other characters. I just wish DC didn't say anything about the supposed "diversity" sell point and just plainly said they're doing the reboot to make money and no other reason. But I guess honesty doesn't sell comics.

Siskoid said...

Anon: Well, I invite you to read my reviews in the four preceding weeks, but I'd say the DC Dark line is the way to go for literate (Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Justice League Dark, All-Star Western, Wonder Woman, Frankenstein, Stormwatch, Demon Knights, I,Vampire, Resurrection Man, and maybe DCU Presents).

 

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