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Representation in comics matters

For the past 80 or so years, superheroes have been storytellers for some of the biggest issues that our society has faced; war, racism, LGBTQ repression, alcoholism and depression, to name a few. And this hasn’t changed over the years, just the topics have. Today, superheroes have made a big comeback in the movie industry. Think about any solo (meaning one main character, not groups like “The Avengers”) superhero movies you’ve seen lately. Now, think about if they’re similar to you in terms of gender, sexual orientation, race, etc. Chances are, the only people still thinking of a solo hero that’s still similar to themselves are straight white guys. Before this gets too social-justice sounding, let me just tell you that representation in the superhero universe means so much, and the movies need to start reflecting their comic book counterparts.

Disabilities

There are several superheroes that have different kinds of disabilities. Daredevil has a TV show, finally, and is one of the most prominent superheroes with a disability: he’s blind. His blindness is due to chemical radiation that also enhanced his other senses, but he’s a character that others relate to. People want to relate to him so much, in fact, that Netflix introduced audio descriptions of the episodes on Netflix for those that want to watch and are also blind.
Hawkeye is another character with disabilities. While he is in “The Avengers,” his disabilities are not. At different times, Hawkeye has been mostly (80 percent) deaf and had to have hearing aids, and another time he has been almost blind. Luckily, the blindness didn’t last too long, but the deafness and hearing aids went on for years. This could be an incredible thing to include in the movies because Hawkeye was still able to beat Trickshot despite going blind, and he was still able to be a badass even though he could barely hear.

Gender/Sexual Orientation

Luckily, after years, there is another solo female superhero movie coming out: “Wonder Woman.” While I do usually prefer DC over Marvel, DC movies haven’t exactly been living up to Marvel, so I hope it is actually good.
However, another thing that isn’t shown too much, at least not fully canon, is superheroes on the LGBTQ spectrum. Harley Quinn is bi, but that’s never touched on in “Suicide Squad” (nor would it really be important to be mentioned there, but it’s still not a movie canon yet). While it isn’t necessary to shove LGBTQ characters in a movie just to have them, it also doesn’t make sense to not have them. Basically, I think of it this way: if the gender, race or sexual orientation does not affect essential plot points or how a story is told, you can make them any race, gender or sexual orientation (like how Thor is a woman now). LGBTQ people exist, put them in movies.
There are some specifically not-straight heroes, also. Again, there’s Harley Quinn, but there’s also the first Green Lantern, Alan Scott, who was reimagined as a gay man in 2012 for DC. Deadpool is also pansexual, but talking about anything with Deadpool becomes iffy since he constantly changes his mind on every aspect of his life and isn’t exactly all there. Catwoman is another bisexual female from DC and one of Marvel’s X-Men, Northstar, even had his own wedding with his boyfriend Kyle in 2012. DC’s Batwoman is also a prominently lesbian character.

Race

The big conglomerates have been getting better about race in their movies. Black Panther was featured in “Captain America: Civil War” recently, and he’ll also have his own movie soon. Storm is another ensemble character, but hasn’t been seen in her own film. In the TV universe, Luke Cage is finally getting a spotlight. However, most characters are still very, very white.
The comics have started to move past this and Spider-Man is a great example. Spider-Man is now Miles Morales, the first black Spider-Man for the official Marvel Comics universe. Also, the Green Lantern has been black several times in both comics and on animated TV shows for DC.

Mental Health

A big issue that is in comics and hardly touched at onscreen is mental illness. There are so many characters that go through mental issues and it’s empowering to know that they, the big strong heroes, go through the same things. While Iron Man’s alcoholism and anxiety were touched on (barely) in some movies, it’s way more apparent in the comics. Also, Harley and Joker’s relationship is 100 percent abusive, yet the movie did not portray that well at all.
In comics, Spider-Man deals with depression, Deadpool is actually insane and deals with PTSD, Batman has OCD and Two-Face has dissociate identity disorder—and this is just scratching the surface. To emphasize, there is another handful of heroes that deal with stuff: Phantom Lady (alcoholism), Empathy (depression), Doctor Light (phobia), Mirror Master (addiction) and Heatwave (pyromania). The fact that so many heroes deal with so many mental health issues shows just how prominent mental health issues are, and emphasizes that these heroes do amazing things but are still just people.

Superheroes can have a lot more to them than just superpowers. They’re more than just muscles or suits, they can have weaknesses other than just their families being hurt. People want to see themselves in the superheroes, they want to see someone overcome what they are dealing with. People want to see a black superhero, a gay superhero or a superhero with depression get out of bed and beat the bad guys. The more that superhero movies start to show these facts, the better the characters will be and the more people they can help outside of the screen.

Did I miss anything? Don’t like my opinions? Send me an email at mayscue@kent.edu

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