Thursday, August 6, 2015


Not as profound a post as the title might indicate.

SO...just something I was working on a bit the other day, and wanted to get it up prior to losing it in all other sorts of mumbo jumbo. I was considering the subject of diversity (*ahem*) with relation to the comic book/superhero genre and...perhaps...a better way of modeling the same.

This idea first began percolating (I think) because my son and I were watching The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes animated cartoon series (available on Netflix). Great, great show, and very true to the comics I know (the stuff from the 70s and 80s) while still updating material for the 21st century. Wholesome (non-cynical) fare that still kicks ass.

[as an aside...I personally tried to watch that Justice League series, previewing them for the boy given our interest in DC heroes these days, and found them pretty terrible. I'm sorry, but after three episodes (a three-part War of the Worlds/Invasion of the Body Snatchers bunch of weirdness) I've got back to favoring Marvel over least as far as things like "story" and "character" are concerned. What a bunch of (*barf*). Still think that Batman: Brave and the Bold is pretty good, however]

Anyway, in one episode a bunch of the Avengers are sitting around a table playing poker without their masks and they're all, like, blonde haired white guys. Which is, sure, true to the original look of the (comic) characters' secret identities but...well, come on now. It is the Avengers in 2010, after all.

One of my superhero RPGs (Wild Talents or DC Adventures, I think, but I don't remember at the moment) had a fairly good section regarding demographics and ways to "seed" superheroes based on real world stats. You know, things like: If the world is full of super-beings and one-fifth the human population is Chinese than 20% of all such beings should, likewise, make their homes in east Asia." The chapter also looks at things like historic populations and whatnot...just good stuff to think about.

I, of course, am not interested in running a supers game set in ancient Rome or Victoria's British Empire any more than I'm interested in running a Beijing Avengers campaign. But it would be nice to have a traditional American-flavored setting that reflects the demographic diversity of its own country. So I spent a few hours pulling census data from the government and compiling stats. For kicks.

'Cause, you see, it's not enough to just go by the percentages of our rainbow folks as listed in wikipedia. For one thing, there's a lot of old white people...and really, how many elderly superheroes are out tottering the streets, fighting crime? So we've got to look at a decent age range for our demographics. I looked at two ranges: 20 to 54 (because...well, 50s not that old if you stay in shape and have a genetically enhanced metabolism...and keep your super-menace battling to a handful of incidents per year, preferably with a team of youngsters to back you), and 15 to 49 (even though those teenagers should really be staying in school and not off fighting alien invasions). If the total number of superheroes in the United States was numbered at 100, here's how they'd break down in terms of visible diversity:

Age 20 to 54:

White Male: 31
Hispanic (White*) Male: 8
Black Male: 6
American Indian Male: 1
Asian-Pacific Islander Male: 3
Male, 2+ Races (self-identified): 1
White Female: 31
Hispanic (White*) Female: 7
Black Female: 7
American Indian Female: 1
Asian-Pacific Islander Female: 3
Female, 2+ Races (self-identified): 1

[*People who identified as being of both Hispanic Ancestry and one of the "non-white" categories numbered less than 0.5% in each category and thus were included with the racial category with which they identified, increasing that respective number. The issue of "Hispanic ancestry" in the USA is problematic one; many American Latinos trace their ancestry to roots within the bordering country of Mexico, but when forced to choose a race feel they have no good alternative as "Mexican" is not a race. Technically, most Mexicans are "Mestizo:" a mix of Spanish immigrant and native Mesoamerican; however, as Mestizo is so dominant (more than 60% of the population) and the exact percentage of Spanish-Native in individuals so skewed, the term has fallen out of general use...especially considering a derogatory (2nd class citizen) origin. As such, most simply identify themselves as "Mexican" and contrast themselves sharply from people of "indigenous" background (what the USA would call "American Indians"). My wife is a non-white Mexican (now Naturalized U.S. citizen) and she marks herself as "white" on census surveys. I have (brown-skinned) Latino friends from both California and Texas whose families have been American since the US "acquired" their states from Mexico, and they likewise identify their race as "Mexican" and use "white, Hispanic" or "other" with regard to surveys. As such, the category "white Hispanic" should be taken with a grain of salt]

[why an American monopoly on super-beings? call it a combination of microwave ovens, food additives, and that somewhat overbearing American arrogance. And it's easier for an American like me to run it]

Finding a list of 100 superheroes in a shared universe (in this case Marvel) is tougher than it least if I'm looking for "classic" superheroes (i.e. ones with which I'm familiar, that have been around 25+ years). That's heroes, mind you, not villains who've had brief stints in heroic roles (like Baron Zemo and Norman Osborne, for example). It's not a bad exercise, and the comparison with the demographics is...well, interesting.

For example, while white male heroes are over-represented (and certainly in the role of "headliners"), they're not completely count was 43, possibly 44 depending on how you count Nightcrawler (there are German "people of color," of course, and who knows how a purplish mutant self-identifies). But if white dudes are over-represented by 38%, black guys are more over-represented by 50% (nine instead of six, though I'm counting both the new Nick Fury and Sunspot, who seems to have gotten lighter and lighter skinned over the years). People of American Indian ancestry are over-represented in both sexes (not hard, given a demographic number of "1"), and both white and API women are right on the money (31 and 3, respectively)...even if most of these are "2nd string" heroes. Many of these B-listers have risen to prominence in recent years (at least as members of hero teams if not headlining their own series), which is good.

[I should note that I'm classifying inhuman-looking folks by their original identity...She-Hulk and Tigra might not be "white" anymore, but they were prior to becoming "powered"]

Why not be from Atlanta?
Even so, women as a whole are under-represented: 40 female heroes to 60 male heroes, when it should be 50-50 based on the demographics. Most of these are lost from the black and "hispanic white" categories. There really aren't any Latina superheroes prior to 1990 (the exception being the little known "Firebird," who appeared in a few West Coast Avengers issues), and only three black women of real prominence: Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau), Misty Knight, and Storm. Certainly Storm is one of the heavy hitters of the Marvel universe, having led the X-Men and been featured in a number of story lines...though interestingly, she's not an American native, but rather an import from Kenya. Considering she was introduced in 1975 (before the great influx of African immigrants towards the end of the 20th century) that's kind of sad. I mean, really sad.

Anyway...sorry, I was going to list the demographics for the younger scope, but it's pretty much the same except you reduce the white folks by one from each sex, and bump up black males and Latinos by one apiece. When I started doing this, I was going to list likely candidates to dump from one ethnicity to bring the "classic" Marvel universe more in-line with real demographics...but now, well...I'm not in the comic book industry. And comic books are certainly featuring more diversity these days then they did in the hay-day of my youth. But...well, I'm done. Like I said, it was something I was researching, but it's not terribly pertinent to what I'm working on at the moment. I just put these numbers here in case anyone's interested.

Later, folks.


  1. I just wanted to mention that while the original Justice League cartoon is kind of lackluster, Justice League Unlimited (which is technically JL seasons 4 and 5) is worth checking out. The "unlimited" part means they recruit a bunch of characters. Gives them an opportunity to tell some stories of heroes other than the big 5. "Double Date" and "The Greatest Story Never Told" are two of my favorites.

    1. @ Jesse:

      Thanks for the recommendation; I'll check it out when I have the chance, but I certainly wasn't impressed with JL.