Monday, September 16, 2013

Images of Villains

Yes, this is another comic book post - but I think it has a level of relevance.

Think about the best supervillains in comic book history. Here's my personal off the cuff list...the kind of list a fan would come up with if under the wire:

Lex Luthor
Mr. Sinister
Poison Ivy
Dr. Octopus

I could go on, but that's my preliminary list. Only one character on the list is a woman.

What do the rest all have in common? They're straight white guys! With the exception of Sinestro, who is an alien. Only one is a minority - Magneto, who is Jewish.

Wrack your brains, thinking of mainstream and close to mainstream comics and you'll notice something.

Where are the black villains? The only black "villain" I can think of right now is Amanda Waller, and she's not really that evil - she's ruthless and sociopathic, but she's ultimately dedicated to the survival and future of humanity. I'd call her neutral.

Where are the gay villains? Resounding silence.

Here's the problem.

If somebody writes a villain who is a member of a minority - ANY minority - then they fear, rightly or wrongly, being accused of racism, homophobia, you name it. The one exception on my list, Magneto, was never intended by Stan Lee to be a true villain (and in early drafts he was Xavier's brother).

In short, we are collectively afraid to show minorities as evil - because doing so seems to imply denigration of that minority. Thus, even as comics slowly become more diverse, our villains remain straight white guys.

As weird as it sounds, we won't have equality until we feel we can create bad guys who are gay, bad guys who are black or Asian or Roma or whatever - until we feel safe enough to do that without the allegations, we don't have racial equality. That's not to say there really are no black villains - if you dig around you will find a few. But they aren't fighting the Justice League, they're hovering around on the fringes.

As for the gay villain - on that side the fear makes sense, as homosexuality was once used as evidence of inhumanity, weakness, or cowardice. Gay villains do show up in other genres, but I can't think of or find a single one in comics.

And that is really rather sad.