Animated and Cinematic adaptations of comics are nothing new. However African-American comic book characters seem to find much more popularity with television audiences today than they do in between the pages of a comic book.
In today’s children’s programming where multi-culturalism is celebrated, Producers can replace traditional characters with minorities on traditional comic book superhero teams like Justice League, The Avengers and Young Justice.
Since television shows are adaptations and not straight translations, producers have a lot more flexibility in working with source material. Because adaptations are inspired by a source, they can change characters or change storylines when they present them to audiences who watch them in other forms of media like film and televison.
And television audiences seem to be accepting of these changes. African-American characters like Aqualad, John Stewart and Black Panther seem to be very popular with younger viewers.
However, this same popularity doesn’t translate into the pages of comics. In that print medium, many of the popular Black television characters aren’t that well-received.
For example, John Stewart became a favorite of many young viewers during his run on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. In that show he was a shown as a confident, capable leader and one of the strongest heroes on the team. His interracial romance with fellow teammate Hawkgirl was one of the defining moments of the series.
But in the comics John Stewart is a fifth wheel behind Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, and even some alien Green Lanterns. He rarely gets any stories. He rarely gets any character development. Most times he’s in space, out of sight and out of mind.
I know The John Stewart written in the style of the JL/JLU Television series could easily carry a comic on his own.
But He’d never get a chance.
Why? Because comic fans would throw a fit. In most White Males’ eyes the only Green Lantern is Hal Jordan. And they only want to buy comics with Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. (Well except for that ten-year period where Kyle Rayner was Green Lantern. But it took years before people even accepted him in the Green Lantern role.)
Aqualad on the Young Justice television series is another capable strong African-American character. Again, in the television show he’s shown as a capable leader and a complex multidimensional character. People who watch the show love the character and his water -based weapons.
But in the comics he’s just an ancilliary character in the larger part of the Aquaman mythos.
However, the potential to write Aqualad as the type of character he is on Young Justice is there. But again, comic fans are traditionalists. They would resist any change that would take the spotlight away from the blond blue-eyed Aquaman they knew for over 75 years.
Black Panther on Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes is one of the most complex characters on television. He’s a king, a diplomat, a master of hand to hand combat, and a brilliant engineer and scientist. The cartoon explored the depths of his character beautifully.
While Black Panther is one the most fascinating and complex characters in the comics, his books are never the best-sellers. Critically acclaimed runs by writers like Christopher Priest and Reginald Hudlin didn’t exactly sell in the six figures.
Recently in the comics he was stuck in a poorly written to X-Man Storm. A marriage that ended in one of the worst written divorces in comic book history.
All these African-American characters have so much potential.
But that potential is never actualized until they were taken off the page of a comic book and adapted in another form of media like animated series.
I’m wondering why is it that film and TV producers can find the strengths of an African-American comic book character and comic book writers can’t? Why is it that television writers can write African-American comic book characters with depth and complexity that they don’t have in their comic book source material? Why is it that they can take African-American characters to another level but comic book writers can’t? Why are their works featuring African-American characters fresher than their comic book counterparts?
Are they operating from a different set of parameters? Is it because screenwriters don’t have to follow a rigid continuity of storytelling? I know screenwriters aren’t forced to use all the details of the source material in an adaptation and they can modify things here and there.
But I really don’t think continuity is an issue. Like film producers and screenwriters, Comic book writers have picked and chose whatever stories they wanted to follow. Some have ignored entire runs or part of runs to tell their stories.
I’m thinking it’s more out of tradition.
The comic book world has always been a world of White male heroes. And again, the core audience of White Male comic fans are notoriously resistant to change.
So that popular African-American character on television and gets next to no push from the White Males in editorial.
But this disparity in diversity in between the comic book world and the television world is costing the comic book industry money.
In a world that’s becoming blacker, browner, yellower, and more female, Millions of youngsters are watching these African-American heroes on their TV screens and playing with action figures made in their images.
But when those who watch these shows go to a comic shop or to a movie they don’t find the characters they see on TV on the comic rack. In most cases they wind up disappointed when they find out their favorite TV character is a white dude in the comics or a virtually forgotten character.
This publication discrimination is costing the comic book industry new readers. Those viewers represent millions of new readers that could pull the industry out of its nearly two-decade long slump.
Television has exposed a whole new generation of young people of color to comic book characters. But if those customers can’t find their favorite characters featured prominently in today’s comic books they don’t buy them. Compound this with the distribution issues comic books have had over the past two decades getting books in retail outlets such as drugstores and supermarkets and it’s clear why the industry is having a serious problem reaching a whole new generation of young brothers and sisters.
With the comic book industry in a time of crisis, it’s time to start making serious efforts to reach out to new audiences of color instead of maintaining traditions to preserve a White Male status quo that keeps it stagnant.