Sunday, December 19, 2010

Does DC see controversy as more profitable than diversity?

If you've read the DC solicitations for January, then you know there's a Steel one-shot coming up. For all intents and purposes, when it was first announced, this seemed like a somewhat unimportant book, written by DC newcomer Steve Lyons, featuring a character who isn't appearing in any other books these days, and not tying into any bigger event. But it seems now that most of the info in the original solicitation has changed.

Back in November, DC announced an upcoming event called The Reign of Doomsday, which kickstarts with the Steel one-shot and will continue in the pages of Outsiders, JLA, Superboy and beyond. The villain changed from Metallo to Doomsday, and the artist changed from Sean Chen to Ed Benes.

In an interview at Newsarama last week, Lyons explains that he'd originally pitched the story as a stand-alone issue, but that editorial later decided to change the villain and tie it into a larger event. Sean T. Collins at Robot 6 wrote an interesting piece about the interview and the status of the character in the DC Universe.
Steel is one of the most undervalued characters and designs in DC’s pantheon. Iron Man’s powers, Thor’s hammer, Superman’s cape, and an African-American folk hero’s name? That’s pure gold. And seriously, what a great design: The Alex Garner cover to the issue — itself part of DC’s genuinely awesome iconic-cover line-up for the month of January — is practically payoff enough. Plus, in a genre often (and accurately) decried for its lack of strong non-white heroes, John Henry Irons is an armor-clad, hammer-wielding, ‘S’-shield-wearing super-genius whose role in Metropolis’s scientific and business community is basically “the anti-Lex.” Tough to top that.
Okay. But Sean and others have also picked up on the rather ominous way in which Lyons avoids talking about the future of the character after the one-shot. From the interview at Newsarama:
Nrama: Will Steel's role in the story continue into the other issues involved in the story? Or is he pretty much relegated to this one issue?
Lyons: Um. that would be telling, I think.
DC has a long-standing tradition of starting big events by killing off a character, to show how serious they are. (Ugh!) The death of Ted Kord (Blue Beetle) launched Infinite Crisis, the death of Metron launched Final Crisis, and most recently the death of Ryan Choi (Atom) launched the new direction of Titans. So I wouldn't put it past them to pull something like this off again. But considering how much controversy there's been this past year about the whitewashing of the DC Universe and the death of minority characters, could they really be planning to kill yet another one of their increasingly rare non-white heroes?

I realize this is a lot of speculation based on what is essentially a writer refusing to tell us how his story ends. But on the other hand, considering the precedents, it's not entirely crazy to jump to that conclusion. I just find it difficult to believe that after all the criticism DC could still be so stubbornly unwilling to admit that there is in fact a staggering lack of diversity in their books to the point that they would continue to make it worse, instead of doing even the slightest effort to remedy the problem.

At this point, killing off another non-white hero could only be interpreted as a provocation. The cynic in me is even tempted to suggest that the line from the interview may have been deliberately planted to stir up exactly this kind of speculation and discussion about the title, to generate interest and (presumably) drive up sales. I'll confess that I wasn't all that interested in the one-shot when it was first solicited. Not because I dislike the character or don't support books featuring non-white heroes, but mostly because I'm not familiar with the writer's previous work and lately I haven't had much luck with one-shots from DC. But now my curiosity has definitely been piqued. I don't know if it'll be enough to get me to buy the book, but I'm definitely paying more attention than I was before.

We'll have to wait and see, of course. Maybe this time it really is a tempest in a teapot.

The Steel one-shot hits stores January 5.


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