What a Politically Correct Justice League Would Look LikeS

I’m delighted to discuss at length the four topics in today’s “Postal Apocalypse,” but I must say I’d be happy to answer any shorter questions you might have. I also wouldn’t mind answering sillier, dumber or dirtier queries. It seems forever since I’ve had to think about a fictional character’s genitals, and I miss it so. Now on with your letters!


A League of Their Own

Harrison G.:

So, I was binge watching Tropes vs. Women and the Smurfette Principle got me thinking about the lack of diversity in the original Justice League lineup. I love that lineup, don't get me wrong, but I can totally see how problematic it would be to attempt a Justice League in, say, a movie using an all white, mostly male cast. My question is, if you're attempting to diversify a superhero teamup, how do you go about doing that with the Justice League?

I figure the basics are as follows: the Justice League ought to be a Big Seven lineup of characters who more or less qualify for "the ultimate team up". An 8th, tactical help (ala Martian Manhunter or Mr. Teriffic in the Justice League animated series) is optional, though not fundamental. Representation should be roughly equivalent to real life demographics, at least based on the population of America where the team is likely based (essentially this means more ethnicities present than one black guy, and preferably a minimum of three female characters). Without inventing new characters, gender bending existing characters, or altering the race of characters where it doesn't make sense ("old money" Batman makes sense to remain white and red headed Wally West kind of has to be white, but Aquaman, being Atlantean, doesn't have to appear caucasian), how best do you fill the ranks of a diversified Justice League?

Okay, using Wikipedia (god help us all) to discover the most recent census results, here’s the details. Males 44%, Women 56%. Racially, it breaks down to 70% Caucasian, 12% African-America, 16% Hispanic/Latino, 5% Asian-America, and everybody else Other.

Obviously that’s not going to break down to a seven-member Justice League very easily, but let’s give it try. So I’m shooting for four female members overall, as well as four Caucasian superheroes, and one African-American, one Asian American, and one Hispanic/Latino hero each. Again, I am under-representing all groups for the sake of simplicity, with the exception of Asian-Americans, in the interests of overall diversity.

So here are our core Justice Leaguers:

• Batman

• Superman

• Wonder Woman

• Green Lantern

• The Flash

• Aquaman

• Cyborg

Wonder Woman is indeed a woman, and Cyborg is African-American, and that’s as easy as our job gets. We need three more female characters as well as one Asian-American and one Latino, so let’s go through them one by one.

• Batman: We’ve previously discussed how Bruce Wayne’s insane riches and old money origin would make him more likely to be Caucasian than anything else, because Caucausians has the monopoly on getting super-rich in the 19th and early 20th centuries. As for gender, I feel like Batman’s quest for vengeance — which borders on mania — is more masculine than feminine. Women can certainly want and get revenge, but I think it takes a male mindset to achieve Batman’s tunnel-vision regarding his goal, to the point where he ignores and/ior hurts those closest to him on a regular basis.

• Superman: I obviously have deep thoughts about Superman, but my feeling is Superman represents a classic golden age of America that never really existed. In this idealized version of the U.S., while growing up in Smallville, Superman saw America at its best — it’s what instills in him his belief in the country, its people, and its justice, and its what makes him want to fight against any oppression or tyranny. This — not origin, per se — but for this sense of how modern decency, compassion and tolerance can be pulled out of some 1950s-esque vision of America, he probably needs to be a white male in order to have the hope and optimism that he does. On the other hand, there’s absolutely no reason why a modern reinvention of Superman’s origin couldn’t have him land in Texas, to be picked up by Jonathan and Maria Gonzales, two hard-working farmers who love America and all that it stands for — well, besides the reason that a lot of people including everyone at DC and Warner Bros would completely lose their minds. Meanwhile, turning Superman into Superwoman just makes him another Wonder Woman, and WW is too special for that.

• Wonder Woman: Based on her Greek/Amazonian origin, Diana is Mediterranean, which counts as Caucasian for these purposes. Also turning Wonder Woman into a man is dumb.

All right, here’s where we shake things up. Remember, we still need three more female characters as well as one Asian-American and one Latino.

• Green Lantern: The Power Ring picks those who have the ability to overcome great fear, and chooses those who also have great willpower. The fact that these power rings have not picked a woman yet is bullshit. I think women on average do have more willpower than guys, and I don’t see why women would be any more fearful than men. Here’s my idea: A single Hispanic mom with the early stages of breast cancer. She’s working three jobs, trying to keep her kids fed and safe, but also hoping to somehow pull enough money for her treatment. She should be terrified, for herself and her kids, but there’s no fear in her heart, only determination. Can you think of anyone with more willpower than that? Hal Jordan has never faced anything so tough.

• The Flash: An Asian-American woman. Am I buying into the Asian scientist stereotype, since the Flash is a police scientists who gets his(/her) powers when lightning hits a bunch of chemical in his(/her) lab? Maybe, but there is literally nothing about The Flash’s origin as a forensic scientist that necessitates the character being a white male. Sure, this is more about which characters are left than The Flash being intrinsically better as a woman or an Asian-American, but I also see zero problems with the change.

• Aquaman: Given that Atlantis attacks the surface world on a pretty regular basis, I feel like it’s probably a patriarchy, which means Aquaman should probably stay a man. Since Aquaman is already half-Atlantean, he already has his own race issues, which another would only complicate, to no benefit. Basically, changing genders or races here adds nothing to the character in this case.

• Cyborg: Still African-American, but now a woman. Cyborg’s deal is that he was a world-class athelete who got in an accident at his scientists father’s lab, requiring him to be cyborg-ized. There’s no reason in the world Vic couldn’t be Victoria and suffer the same fate. And I always like Cyborg being African-American, because the stereotype is that black superheroes are pure muscle, like Steel and Luke Cage — I love that Cyborg is the scientist/computer hacker/intelligence agent of the Justice League.

So that takes care of all the criteria, but in order to showcase the Justice League’s support of diversity, they should add Martian Manhunter to the roster, and I think he should also be super, super androgynous. I think that the Green Martians in the DC universe have two different genders, but when their species can shape-shift into pretty much anyone they want, I doubt they’re worried about traditional sex characteristics. It makes the character a little more science fiction-y, and a thus little more interesting and unique. And who’s to say the two genders of Martians are the same as the two genders of Earth? I’d love for Martian Manhunter to get an Ursula K. Le Guin-style makeover, where his idea of sex has nothing to do with males of females. And then MM could change between male characteristics and female characteristics as he/she sees fit, even per panel — s/he could be attracted to any human character at any time. Martian Manhunter could effectively be the first LGBT superhero! Now, it admittedly sucks that the first LBGT superhero would be a non-human, but since DC won’t let two human women marry in 2013, I think this is about as much progress as we could hope for at the moment.


What a Politically Correct Justice League Would Look LikeS

Blue Shield

Jonah B.:

Why is there so much nerd hate being directed at Agents of Shield? I'm enjoying the show, and it has gotten better each episode, yet the nerdernets are proclaiming it a horrible POS hour of television. As far as I can tell, it just isn't living up to firefly so people are reviling it. If it was called ABC's Airplane Agents, would everyone just be like, "hey, this is an okay show. I'll watch it!" Or would they still be spouting the hate? Am I missing something?

You aren’t missing something. Agents of SHIELD is a pretty good show right now — not great, but it is steadily getting better. I think people have been disappointed by a few things: 1) it’s taking a while to find its bearings, which isn’t usual with a Joss Whedon show. 2) Some of the characters are taking a long while to switch from annoying to interesting (cough Skye and Ward cough). 3) We all thought it was going to be an Easter Egg-laden jaunt throughout the Marvel universe, filling in all the cracks that the movies couldn’t.

Agents of SHIELD is not doing that, because it doesn’t want to overload mass audiences with a ton of Marvel minutiae they couldn’t possibly understand or enjoy, so that’s reasonable if a bit of a bummer. And virtually any show takes time to find its footing (with the exception of Firefly, which was weirdly pretty much great from the beginning). And while this is a Joss Whedon-produced show, he isn’t writing and directing episodes like he did with his other works. Basically he’s helping guide it, but expecting SHIELD to be Firefly, especially right out of the gate, is craziness.

That said, I must admit I enjoy the complete insanity of Sleepy Hollow as compared to the more traditional Agents of SHIELD right now, although I do like SHIELD a lot. I have little doubt that as time goes on, and we get more information on the characters, they interact more with each other and build a history together, and bigger plots are revealed… well, I still think Agents of SHIELD will be great at some point.

As to your point about it being called “Airplane Agents”… sure, people wouldn’t have had such high expectations, but it also wouldn’t have any kind of draw. Agents of SHIELD is totally coasting on its ties to the Marvel movie-verse right now, as well as the delight that is Clark Gregg, until it finds its own footing. Without the tie-in and the intrinsic interest, it’s very possible Airline Agents would be grounded before the end of the first season.


What a Politically Correct Justice League Would Look LikeS

Prime Mortgage

David:

Midway through the new Star Trek movie, and I wanted to pose a question to you: the Prime Directive in Star Trek is obviously immoral, by anyone's meter. Do you reconcile it as simply a political reality of the setting? Do you see some real value in it, morally? If so, can you explain the moral gymnastics one would have to go through to justify such an egotistical policy?

Okay, the Prime Directive is “There can be no interference with the internal development of alien civilizations.” In Star Trek Into Darkness, Kirk breaks it by revealing the Enterprise to a planet’s inhabitants in order to save Spock. I assume you’re upset that preventing a pre-everything alien society from seeing a spaceship somehow trumps the life of a Starfleet officer.

Yeah, that’s kind of weird. I mean, I understand in theory the desire to not interfere in alien civilizations — revealing that big-ass spaceships exist is the sort of thing a planet’s inhabitants might take notice of — but an industrialized society might take it as proof that they too can reach the stars and spur them towards spaceflight, or a pre-industrial society may just be scared shitless, and deem all science to be evil. Letting alien civilizations get to the stars on their own schedule may nor be as morally perfect as Starfleet wants to believe, but it is easier — and if Starfleet doesn’t interfere, it doesn’t have to feel guilty if something goes wrong and the interfered-with’s planet’s inhabitants turn into jerks who want to kill everyone out in space. Basically, the Prime Directive absolves them of all guilt for how newly discovered alien civilizations turn out.

That said, letting Spock die just so a prehistoric alien race doesn’t see a big silver disc in the sky that they can’t possibly comprehend is pretty ridiculous. Worst case scenario, the few aliens from the beginning of Into Darkness make a few temple paintings of the Enterprise, which is barely a blip in their journey through civilization, and one that will almost indubitably be forgotten and/or lost. At any rate, it should have no effect on whether these aliens turn out to be assholes or not.

On the other hand, if you don’t try to institute a “leave everybody alone all the time” policy, then things would quickly get out of hand in the Trek universe. Who’s to say when a civilization is ready for interstellar travel? When should they be contacted, if not after they make their first warp drive? If we do help/interfere or whatever, how much should we help, and how? Are we allowed to get anything out of it? And most of all, can everybody agree to play by the same rules?

Probably not, so a zero tolerance policy is probably the safest thing here, and punishing Kirk for saving Spock’s life is less about Kirk and more about warning other people from pulling the same stunt for less noble reasons.

Two other things: 1) If Starfleet was so interested in not revealing themselves to other planets, perhaps they ought to be handing out cloaking devices, and 2) maybe Kirk should have stayed out in orbit as opposed to parking in the goddamn ocean.


What a Politically Correct Justice League Would Look LikeS

Beware the Dark Knight

Christopher I.:

I saw the news about Beware of the Batman being taking off for a while due to low ratings. How on earth can kids not be watching a Batman cartoon, even a bad one?

That is the biggest mystery to me. I assume Cartoon Network’s lack of promotion for it has something do with it — as I mentioned yesterday, I assume they put their resources into their own shows, the ones that make them the most money — but even then, it’s Batman. Kids love Batman. They should be watching Batman cartoons even if they were Super Friends reruns.

One thing I thought of after I wrote that: Could the movies be involved? Hear me out. Cartoons used to drive the popularity of kids’ pop culture, but now its movies. Movies generate the cartoons and the toys and the general awareness; although they all feed into each other, it’s the movie that make the biggest impact on kids nowadays.

So I’ve talked (almost constantly) about how I think Marvel’s movies are better than DC movies, mostly through sheer volume. But is Marvel doing something else right?

Virtually every superhero movie is rated PG-13. But when I think about it, I’d have no problem letting an 8-year-old watch Captain America, or Thor, or the Avengers. These movies have plenty of action and par for the course American violence, but they’re also bright and fun and the action is fantastic enough that I think they’d have a good time without any emotional scarring.

And then I think about The Dark Knight Trilogy… I can’t say the same thing. I like the movies, but they are dark, literally and figuratively. Innocent people die horribly. Good guys are scarred and turned into bad guys. These movies aren’t bad at all, but they’re definitely targeting an older audience. I wouldn’t let an 8-year-old see any of Chris Nolan’s Batman movies, and I have to wonder how many actual parents feel the same. Heck, with all the violence in Man of Steel and the way the Superman kills Zod at the end — regardless of how I feel about the decision storywise— I think that’s way worse than anything in Marvel’s movies, or the X-Men movies, or the Spider-Man movies. Nolan’s Batman movies seem to be targeting teens and adults, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the Marvel movies seem to be going for actually family entertainment,

I can’t say for sure that kids aren’t watching Beware the Batman because they’re not seeing the Dark Knight movies, obviously, but I wonder. Nolan’s gained a great deal by making superhero movies for adults, but has he lost the kids? Hmm….


Do you have questions about anything scifi, fantasy, superhero, or nerd-related? Email the postman@io9.com! No question too difficult, no question too dumb! Obviously!