But Does This Batman Speak African?
DC Comics has gotten its share of flack lately, first with its June announcement of returning its premier disabled character to her able-bodied roots, and more immediately in the fallout of the San Diego Comic-Con, during which some fans confronted the publisher on its drop in women creators and characters. Fanning the flames of criticism has been DC’s unprovoked declaration of prioritized diversity in its coming comics, which seems to be in direct contrast to the publisher’s controversial gender- and ability-biased decisions. Yet among these high-profile blunders lies a much subtler indication of DC’s struggle to fully understand the responsibilities of its attempt at social consciousness: twice recently, the publisher has fumbled regarding its approach to depicting the African continent.
DC’s first mistake regarding Africa, while certainly not malicious, still suffers from an awkwardness that’s raised a few eyebrows among online fandom. The publisher’s misstep came about in the midst of its summer event series, Flashpoint, that explores an alternate reality in which many of DC’s traditional superheroes are either missing or radically darker, rendering the entire planet war-torn and devastated by villains gone unchallenged. To hype the event, DC released a map to readers introducing the Flashpoint version of our world, highlighting which areas have being governed by which baddies. Nazis, for example, now rule over the inhabitants of Brazil. Black Adam, a supervillain, protects what seems to be an ambiguous chunk of the Middle Eastern region. Likewise, the exceptionally intelligent ape Gorilla Grodd has conquered Africa.
All of it.
Aside from the map’s unfortunate wording of Africa as “ape-controlled”–which caused unease among some fans based on blacks being historically compared to lesser primates–the choice to have an entire continent fall prey to the animals it’s stereotypically known for didn’t exactly clear DC from accusations of insensitivity. Clearly, the upset triggered by the map was unintentional, but at the same time, even a minimal effort on DC’s part would have made the controversy avoidable. It’s a no-brainer that Africa is typically portrayed through an American lens as more homogenous than diverse, often depicted in entertainment as a mass of peoples undifferentiated by culture, class, and even country. DC should have known to consider that the continent’s 1,000-plus languages, 50-plus nations, and 1 billion people are commonly perceived as being overrun with jungles, apes, desolation and tribalism.
DC has contributed to that image of Africa, however inadvertently, by failing to establish Grodd’s home of Gorilla City in any particular part of the continent. For the decades the concept of Gorilla City has been a staple of DC Comics, the metropolis for its hyper-intelligent simian villains has been hidden somewhere in “the jungles of Africa,” rather than the jungles of someplace like West or Central Africa, or even better, in an actual or fictional country. While the choice to have Gorilla Grodd dominate every African country in Flashpoint may not have been racist at heart, Africa’s mere 20% jungle geography and correspondingly limited ape population makes DC look plenty silly for associating all its lands with the same done-to-death generalizations.
The upset regarding Gorilla Grodd has since relatively settled, but this fall, DC plans to release a new title named Batwing, which has been described by DC Comics with this solicitation:
“Africa, a land of beauty – and of great horror. A land of creation and conflict. It is in desperate need of a defender, and from the ranks of Batman Incorporated comes a soldier to carry on the legacy on The Dark Knight in the most tumultuous region on Earth. Meet Batwing, the Batman of Africa!”
Batman Incorporated refers to an initiative in the DC universe to place Batman-like heroes in different regions of the globe. Thankfully, this idea opens the door to more racial diversity; Batwing himself is the first black character to join the Bat-family. However, no other Batman Inc. employee has been assigned an entire continent. More often, other “Batmen” have been deemed the representatives or protectors of places like Hong Kong, Tokyo, or Paris. The fact that the new Batwing is somehow responsible for Africa as a whole is yet another indication that DC may be biting off more than it can chew with its declared new consciousness for diversity. As the Gorilla Grodd debacle indicated, DC Comics has very little idea how to handle Africa with an adept respect for its multicultural intricacies, and in the long tradition of United States pop culture, lumps the continent together as a one-dimensional “problem” hardly worth understanding in its complexity.
Photos courtesy of DC Comics.
More Faster Politically Correct Pop:
Follow us on twitter@thefastertimes
- 1 Brooklyn Man Now Living Entirely Off Own Beard Garden
- 2 “Cra Cra” Now Official Diagnosis in New DSM (DSM-5)
- 3 OfficeMax Marketing Director Struggling to Make Staplers ‘Sexy’ and ‘Conversational’
- 4 Area Man Tailors Life To Be More Relevant To His Hulu Advertisements
- 5 Fan Banging Furiously on Glass Could Be the Difference in Hockey Playoffs
- 6 First Openly Straight Figure Skater Comes Forward
- 7 Survey: 88% of Eagles Fans Too Drunk To Spell Nnamdi Asomugha Last Season
- 8 Attorney Actually Starting to Believe Own Bullshit
- 9 Homeless Guy Woos Silicon Valley VCs with Low-Tech Crowdfunding Strartup
- 10 Local Mom Won’t Stop Being First Person to Like Every Goddamn Thing Son Posts to Facebook