Gender and race in comics
Got into a conversation yesterday about race and gender, precipitated in part by the reaction in the US to Marvel introducing a half-black, half-latino version of Spiderman (for the record, it was not universally well received).
Of all the heroes and villains or Marvel or DC comics, which ones have a justifiable story based reason to be the race or gender that they are, and for which ones is the race or gender completely irrelevant to the character.
-Spider man could be any race or gender, there is no connection to the character that would suggest a specific choice is important.
-Conversely, Captain America should be a white male, in that he is the product of elite military program during the second world war, and they simply would not have likely chosen a non-white, or a woman at that time.
The list of characters for which it *is* important, is I think fairly small.
It makes sense for Thor to be white, Black Panther to be black, Shaman to be native american, Magneto to be Jewish, and so forth. There are cases to be made that Black Widow should be white, Luke Cage should be black, but those cases get a bit weaker. There are also cases like the Red Skull which arguably should be white (before his incident), but you could also easily make a story that he wasn’t white, and caused his own incident to hide that.
I actually am having trouble coming up with *any* examples other than Captain America (and maybe Wolverine…for similar reasons) where the gender would matter (and something like She-Hulk doesn’t count, the fact you can make a Hulk archetype in either gender just proves the point it doesn’t matter). You could argue Thor and Ares should be men, and Valkyrie should be a woman, because the legend upon which they are based portrays them as such.
Still, the number of characters for which there is even a weak argument is small. It would be interesting someday to go through the entire roster (urk!) and make a list of all the characters where race or gender is an integral part to their identity or background story.
Despite the relatively modest racial diversity in comics, gay characters are even more rare. I can think of 4 characters in Marvel (Quasar and Moondragon in a relationship, Northstar, and Colossus in the Ultimate Universe), as well as only 2 DC characters (The Midnighter and Apollo). However, like the gender and race, sexual preference is not integral to any of these characters. Heck, the fact they changed Colossus’ preference in the Ultimate Universe shows how irrelevant it is to the character.