Yona Harvey is an English professor who teaches poetry at the University of Pittsburgh. Professor Harvey will build a story around Zenzi, a female revolutionary leader who has the ability to sense people's emotions. Zenzi is a villain.
World of Wakanda by Afua Richardson
By Tony Norman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Longtime comic book fans — we’re talking two or three decades or more — are by definition a grumpy and nostalgic lot. They generally like their superheroes if not necessarily white, at least straight and reasonably heroic.
Old fans are bored with the nihilistic superhero trend that began with Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns” and Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” series in the 1980s. They want heroes to start acting like heroes again and not psychopaths working out their “daddy issues.”
Yet the old fans aren’t crazy about what feels like an overnight leap into a diverse new comic book universe either.
The white guys who used to fill the fictional comic book horizon with capes and unitards awash in primary colors are increasingly in the minority as a new generation of heroes waving multicultural identities, genders and sexual identities under their secret identities rise to prominence.
Marvel Entertainment recently re-launched its entire comic book line with some fairly dramatic tweaks to longstanding characters beginning with the straight white males who used to play them.
Remember when Iron Man was an arrogant, alcoholic white billionaire industrialist named Tony Stark? Well, he’s been kicked to the curb and replaced by a 15-year-old black female robotics genius from MIT named RiRi Williams.
The incredible Hulk’s new alter ego is now a young Korean-American genius named Amadeus Cho, one the smartest people on the planet. The Hulk is still green, but he’s an Asian on the inside. He’s also full of angst, which is not a typical attitude for the Hulk.
Thor, the God of Thunder, is no longer the macho deity we remember. His former human paramour Jane Foster now wields the mystic hammer. She may have cancer, but she’s just as powerful as her former boyfriend, now wandering the universe in a quest to reclaim his lost glory.
Then there’s Miles Morales, the half black, half Puerto-Rican Spider-man who in recent years has replaced Peter Parker in the affections of many readers as the only web-spinner who counts. For those who can’t relate to Peter’s white working class roots, Miles’ ghetto grittiness is a nice change of pace.
Over at rival D.C. Comics, the rush to diversify a once staid lineup of white, straight characters is also in full swing. Wonder Woman is officially a lesbian now (sorry Superman), while Catwoman will explore her bi-sexual identity which has been a muted story point for years. Batwoman, a lesbian character, will see new prominence.
There’s even a rumor that Superman will undergo a racial change and become Asian somehow. Meanwhile, old and under utilized characters like the Doom Patrol and Shade the Changing Man have undergone drastic reboots. Shade is now a Changing Girl.
Marvel appears to be the bolder of the two companies when it comes to re-imaging its most iconic characters for modern times.
Other than a possible Asian Superman at some point, D.C. isn’t messing with the essential identities of its core lineup: Bruce Wayne is still a brooding, billionaire white guy with “daddy issues” and the Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom, Aquaman and Cyborg are still the same characters they’ve been for 30, 40 and 50 years. D.C.’s most dramatic changes are on the periphery with minor characters constituting the most interesting part of its comic book base.
Over at Marvel, peripheral characters created to bring diversity to the company’s narratives have slowly built followings sufficient to vault them to the front lines.
This year, Marvel even recruited poet Yona Harvey who teaches at the University of Pittsburgh to write a spin-off Black Panther series called “World of Wakanda” with essayist Roxane Gay. Ms. Harvey and Ms. Gay are the first black female writers in Marvel’s history. They are guaranteed to bring a new sensibility to the company.
Two of the most popular Marvel heroes in this era are Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel, two characters created to enlarge the company’s appeal to young women and girls. Both characters are wildly successful and have introduced a whole new generation of female readers to comic books.
And sales are up for Marvel superhero comics, although they're nowhere near the heights of the late '80s and pre-crash early '90s.
Ms. Marvel is Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teenager from New Jersey who has to deal with the burden of being both a superhero with far larger hands than Donald Trump’s and a Muslim American woman who must deal with societal bullying and prejudice.
Politically, Marvel’s heroes, with the exception of the Punisher, all appear to be die hard liberals, so there isn’t much diversity on that front.
Even Captain America, whom many assumed would be the company’s law and order standard bearer, is a champion of civil liberties more than he is a gung-ho patriot. His latest incarnation as an undercover agent of Hydra, a proto-Nazi group, is the result of reality-warping technology — not free will.
There’s very little acknowledgment of religion at Marvel either, outside of the pages of Daredevil. Marvel’s diversity, for the most part, is limited to race, gender and sexual identity, which may be enough to satisfy its growing fan base for now. Breakout hero Deadpool is the comic industry’s first “pan-sexual” hero — whatever that means.
Everyone agrees that black sidekicks are passé and that tokens are boring, but old school comic book fans were a lot more comfortable when all superheroes, regardless of race, were more like the white superheroes only lightly dipped in new colors.
Now there's a whole new breed of hero that refuses to be a manifestation of the same old spandex.
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