Diversity and the Dark Knight

Batman may be a straight white rich guy, but many of the key people in his life are anything but.

BY Jase Peeples

August 27 2014 7:00 AM ET

Above: Grace Choi, Renee Montoya as The Question, Crispus Allen as The Spectre, Oracle, Katana, Maggie Sawyer, Batwoman, and Lucius Fox are a sample the characters who have colored the extended family of the Dark Knight throughout his history. 

One such member in DC’s league of current creators is out gay writer Marc Andreyko, who took over the reins of the comic company’s highest-profile LGBT superhero, Batwoman, with issue #25 of her ongoing solo title.

“The fact that there is a character like Batwoman, who happens to be gay, under the mantle of Batman is stupendous,” says Andreyko. “As we move toward a more corporatized society and stockholders get involved, things get safer. So for DC to commit to having an openly gay character as a part of their number one franchise, I think that’s a pretty awesome thing.”

It’s an opinion shared by Tom Taylor, the current writer of Injustice: Gods Among Us — a comic series featuring an alternate reality of the DC Universe based on the video game of the same name. “I was absolutely thrilled to be able to show Batwoman and Detective Renee Montoya are married in the pages of Injustice,” he says of DC’s support. “And we may see more of this relationship in the future.”    

Andreyko insists that while civil rights for LGBT people are improving, the existence of characters like Batwoman have never been more important because of the affect they have on young readers living in areas of the world where minorities are not as visible as they are in more progressive cities. “I think living in a big city like New York or L.A. or San Francisco — that’s a bubble in a lot of ways and people forget it’s not like that everywhere,” he says. “Just look at the rash of gay teen suicides and the fact that the highest causes of death among trans people are homicide and suicide.”

Yet as impactful as these characters are in the pages of the comic books they appear, the most powerful ways they help expand the diversity of the genre is their inclusion other media; a practice we are beginning to see intensify with TV and film projects based on Batman and other DC superheroes.

“I remember when I was a kid and they introduced the Lucius Fox character in the comic, who has in the last 10 years become a mainstay of the Batman films.,” Batman: Collected author Chip Kidd says of the character Morgan Freeman played in director Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. “I thought that was a brilliant way to bring an African-American character into an executive level at Wayne Industries, and I love that in the movies he was sort of the Q to Batman’s James Bond.”

Additional minority characters who were introduced through the world of the Caped Crusader’s comic book adventures will be shining brighter than the bat-signal when the TV series Gotham makes its debut September 22 on Fox. Characters like the Latina lesbian detective Renee Montoya, who became a favorite among LGBT comic readers when she was outed in the 2003 comic book series Gotham Central, will be prominently featured alongside other strong women of color such as mob boss Fish Mooney (played by Jada Pinkett Smith).

Katana, the Japanese sword-wielding warrior who first appeared in 1983 as a member of the superhero team Batman and the Outsiders, has also begun reaching a wider audience thanks to her inclusion as one of the lead characters in the 2013 animated series Beware the Batman and she will be a reoccurring character in the upcoming season of Arrow.

“I was recently honored to speak on LGBT and disability representation in the media at the White House and while there was a genuine feeling among attendees that things are getting better, we are still seeing a lot of pushback,” says Simone, who notes being a custodian of these characters isn’t just a job, it’s a responsibility. “I know it gets said a lot, but when people see heroes who are like themselves, it sticks with them. It means something. We just have to do better. It's that simple.”

If many of the creative minds currently crafting the adventures of the Caped Crusader and his super-friends have their way, that’s exactly what fans can expect to see over the next 75 years of Batman stories and beyond.

“I’d like to see diversity grow in the entire comics medium, not just in Gotham,” says Taylor. “I believe everyone needs heroes and everyone deserves to recognize themselves in their heroes.”

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