Thursday, July 17, 2014

Importance of Having Non-White European Characters in Comics

By Snow Drift

I’ve noticed that DC Comics is introducing or re-introducing European, old post-Crisis universe non-white characters. That is, readers have begun to see European women with darker skin tones appear in the mainstream DC Comics universe. Some of these characters are Helena Bertinelli and Julia Pennyworth.

Many non-European people, when asked, will most likely imagine a European to be a white man or woman. It’s not for lack of knowledge that there are certainly non-white inhabitants in Europe, but some individuals don’t see them as part of the essential demographic of the continent. They are either immigrants or tourists or anything in between. What about European citizens with families that go back generations? Not many will go down that trail of thought, at least not immediately. Thus, the portrayal of such characters in comics is essential in demonstrating and representing those individuals who are barely mentioned or acknowledged as existing or being historically present in Europe.

When I noticed this pattern, I attempted to find other non-white European characters in the Marvel and DC comic books. I did not find many non-white European characters, some of them being Blade, Philippus, and Tracy 13, among others. Even within this small group, some of these characters either were essentially extras or ones that have not made significant appearances as of late. Of course, when I speak of non-white Europeans, I specifically mean, in this particular case, Europeans with physically visible non-white characteristics by the common American racial standards. 

It is thus fascinating that DC Comics, among its various problems within the New 52, has done something right. Characters like Helena Bertinelli, who was known as the Huntress in the old universe, has made an appearance as a black Italian and Julia Pennyworth, Alfred Pennyworth’s daughter, as a dark-skinned English woman that, at the time that this article was written, has not had her maternal ethnicity specified. It is not much, but the presence of these characters should be acknowledged, especially when they seem to have important roles in their respective story lines. 

This is recognition of not only the presence of non-white European characters in the world, but also their significance. Their existence and contribution to life can have an image now, especially when the characters are heroes. The characters I mentioned are spies instead of outright super-powered heroes, but the fact that they are shown with a special set of skills, intelligence and –hopefully- impact on the comic book universe will be important to non-white European readers and beyond. It gives a more realistic view of the European population, not leaving the readers in the fantasy of an entirely white Europe. Representation in any form of media helps people have and confirm a sense of self and identity, for real-life non-white Europeans will get a sense existence in the world. Within this kind of medium, children will have a model to look up and relate to. It proves to boys and girls that these characters’ are important, their abilities are essential and useful, and are not secondary in others’ stories. Representation, at the end of the day, does matter.

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