Since the New 52, DC’s been a mixed bag at best. While most of their big decisions haven’t necessarily garnered a lot of good faith (rampant de-aging of characters, continuity confusions, Wonder Woman and Superman dating), DC continues to try to make steps in the right direction. With the introduction of new characters of color, like the Cree heroine Equinox in Justice League United, there has been a very concerted effort in the past few months to introduce non-white characters, and that’s a huge step in the right direction. However, when DC recently chose to reintroduce some old faces with a new look, fans once again expressed displeasure for a variety of reasons.
Wally West is one of those characters. Returning to DC Comics in Flash Annual #3, Wally is still the nephew of Iris West, but on top of that, he is a troubled young man who meets Barry Allen while tagging a wall with graffiti. But the thing that has caused the most ire is the fact that the new Wally is African-American.
As many bloggers have said, this introduction is one step forward and two steps back; racial diversity in comics, an arena dominated by white men, is huge, but this cliched background of a troubled kid from the streets is hugely disappointing. Some complain that Wally has, like many other characters in the DCU, been de-aged and is a teen again, thus erasing years of character progression and growth.
There are also a fair share of fans who are upset because Wally isn’t white.
Bobby Joseph wrote a great piece about the problems with Wally, like his dialogue, which is riddled with dated slang. He also discusses problematic racial issues in the comics industry as a whole, like the fact that all the current ongoing Marvel/DC titles starring black characters are written by white writers. Representation is so important, but representation does not just stop at the level of the character; it must include writers, artists, editors–people who are involved at every level of the creation of the comic.
Wally wasn’t the only character causing a stir this week. If you recall Worlds’ Finest#1, you’ll remember that Helena Wayne happened to steal and use the identity of a dead girl who looked quite a lot like her:
In the pages of Nightwing#30, Helena Bertinelli made her triumphant return to comics, looking just a little different from how she appeared pre-New 52:
Many fans are outraged that Helena is portrayed as a black woman. Arguments rang from the fact that DC has “taken” a prominent Italian character away from the Italian community, to stating that they should have just created a new character. Those angered by the change suggest that both Marvel and DC need to clean house and stop trying to be so “inclusive,” and that DC has a history of treating the character Helena Bertenelli so poorly that they “aren’t surprised” by this choice. One commenter posted: “They just ruined the third best female superhero of DC with this. THE [frick]DC? IS OBAMA REALLY SO UP UR ASS ABOUT DIVERSITY THAT U JUST COMPLETELY CHANGED (Stereotypically) THE HUNTRESS? ”
The truth of the matter is, Helena is still Italian. Her father, Franco, made an appearance in Forever Evil, and was portrayed as Italian.
Though she’s only appeared in two panels, the ire of some fans is incredibly intense. While some try to make apologist statements, like “this isn’t the Huntress I grew up with,” ultimately, these excuses and statements are racist. Having dark skin should not be regarded as being “treated poorly” or getting the “short end of the stick.” Helena Bertinelli is still Italian, and now she stands often underrepresented Italians of color. All characters have changed in the New 52, but I think this change for Helena Bertinelli is a positive one.
Unlike Wally, whose backstory has already been established, Helena’s story has the potential to avoid racial cliches. Beyond that, this new Helena offers another positive representation of women of color in comics. There are a number of reasons that Helena’s changed skin tone can be a very positive thing for DC Comics, and the pages of Grayson promise to feature Bertinelli as a major player.