So, normally on this blog I respond to question posed directly to me or posted around the web. Today’s post is a little different as I’ll be covering, on a point-by-point basis, all the arguments for why changing Wally West’s ethnicity in the New 52. Also, why most of them are ridiculous at best and racist at worst.
I think it’s important to note: I’m not a DC apologist, nor am I, by pointing out why some arguments are wrong, saying that everything DC does is right. Twisting the argument to this, as people often seem to do, is ridiculous and it’s perfectly possible to admit that a company like DC has a long way to go and that people opposing them starting to make those changes are wrong.
Furthermore, Wally West is my Flash. Yes, I’m a Golden Age nerd and love Jay Garrick, along with Barry Allen, Bart Allen and all the rest in the Flash Family Tree. However, I was born in the same year Crisis on Infinite Earths hit the stands and Wally will always be the true scarlet speedster – so this is not coming from a place of someone who doesn’t care, deeply, about the character.
People have claimed I’ve been dismissive of others opinions about this topic, so I wrote the following to better explain my point:
This isn’t about personal preferences but about something more, and I don’t have a lot of patience to debate nuances of if something is racist against the argument of “I don’t think it is” – I made my points in the post and people are free to agree, disagree or whatever.
Yes, I think some people are overreacting with judging the new iteration of the character with the pre-Flashpoint version – especially when people throw around about how we’ll never see Linda return etc etc etc – but there are many reasons to be unhappy.
- I miss Linda and the kids, and I’m disappointed in many ways that Wally was deaged while others got to keep their history.
- I think that the current writing team have been consistently disappointing – the current Future Barry arc has been called a pretty crappy ripoff of the Dark Flash Saga which I agree with wholeheartedly
- As I’ve said in the post and elsewhere, the characterisation of Wally when combined with his new race is cliched and problematic.
The thing is though, these are criticisms of the book, not of him being black.
The entire point of my post and the argument I made in it are about his skin colour and the reactions to it. That’s the thing that drove me to spend the time writing that piece and publishing it on Reddit, knowing the shitstorm it could create.
You can hate the book, you can hate the character. You can say he’s badly written, badly handled, mistreated by the Continuity Gods and more. What is inherently bullshit however is saying that the colour of his skin, and therefore anyone who is black, is a reason to dislike the character or that he’s not, or won’t be, a hero. There’s a lot of “I’m not racist but” style conversations which are just awful and ignore the reality of what those type of arguments mean for people of colour – this is the bullshit and that’s why I wrote that post.
As for the rest of the criticism about the book/character, I don’t take the doom and gloom approach. I know reboots/retcons are always hard – hell, it wasn’t smooth sailing for Wally taking over as the Flash after Crisis even though fans had less technology to complain about it on – but I do think it’s premature to judge a character who’s had a small handful of cameos so far. I do have hopes that (especially with a better writer) we’ll have a long history to look forward to with Wally’s personality and characterisation improving.
The visceral reaction people have had to this did put me on a rather defensive footing, but I do actually dislike the idea that people feel I’ve been condescending to their opinions or tastes. I’m not that kind of person. That said, I don’t have a lot of tolerance for racism – whether the person is overtly racist or doesn’t think of themselves that way but hasn’t realised the implication of their words – and by the time someone’s old enough to sign up for Reddit they shouldn’t need to be handheld through such issues.
There’s plenty to complain about with Wally and The Flash without using Wally’s skin colour in an offensive manner.
In this post I’ll cover each of the arguments below. You can click on each to be taken straight to the response or simply scroll down to read the whole thing:
- “It’s just forced diversity!”
- “Race swapping sucks – why change existing characters?”
- “Why change everything about him? He’s not even the same character anymore!”
- “But Wally’s red hair and freckles are so iconic!”
- “Why not create a wholly new character instead?”
- “Being black is different from being white, though!”
- “Oh, well how would you feel if they made John Stewart/Cyborg/Static etc white?!”
- “Why remove his Korean wife and kids? It’s an net loss so that means it’s completely wrong!”
- “If this was really about diversity wouldn’t they change a main character or Justice Leaguer like Barry instead?”
Finally, here are two arguments and discussions actually worth having:
- “Isn’t it dodgy the way his backstory has been changed along with his race?”
- “How can you say DC is doing this for good reasons when the New 52 reboot removed so many female characters and People of Colour?”
In addition, one of the reasons I’m writing this is so that I don’t have to keep reiterating these points across the internet. Frankly it’s both exhausting and depressing. Now I can just link to this post – and now you can too!
Below I’ve included some ready to go Reddit friendly markdown code that you can use as a copypaste reply. Simply replace the _ between the brackets with X’s for arguments they’ve made that you’re responding to and you’re ready to go! Best of all, a bunch can be used for other silly conversations like “why include Cyborg in the Justice League?? It’s just forced diversity!”
<<BEGIN AUTOMATED REPLY>>
Hi there. It looks like you’ve said something ridiculous about the race of Wally West. Luckily, /u/Warlach has already [created this primer for why this thinking isn’t helping anyone](https://dcmultiversehistorian.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/why-doesnt-it-matter-that-wally-west-is-now-black/). Simply follow the links below:
* **[X]** – [“It’s just forced diversity!”](https://dcmultiversehistorian.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/why-doesnt-it-matter-that-wally-west-is-now-black/#forced)
* **[_]** – [“Race swapping sucks – why change existing characters?”](https://dcmultiversehistorian.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/why-doesnt-it-matter-that-wally-west-is-now-black/#raceswapping)
* **[_]** – [“Why change everything about him? He’s not even the same character anymore!”](https://dcmultiversehistorian.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/why-doesnt-it-matter-that-wally-west-is-now-black/#whychange)
* **[_]** – [“But Wally’s red hair and freckles are so iconic!”](https://dcmultiversehistorian.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/why-doesnt-it-matter-that-wally-west-is-now-black/#ginger)
* **[_]** – [“Why not create a wholly new character instead?”](https://dcmultiversehistorian.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/why-doesnt-it-matter-that-wally-west-is-now-black/#newcharacter)
* **[_]** – [“Being black is different from being white, though!”](https://dcmultiversehistorian.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/why-doesnt-it-matter-that-wally-west-is-now-black/#beingblack)
* **[_]** – [“Oh, well how would you feel if they made John Stewart/Cyborg/Static etc white?!”](https://dcmultiversehistorian.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/why-doesnt-it-matter-that-wally-west-is-now-black/#whitecyborg)
* **[_]** – [“Why remove his Korean wife and kids? It’s an net loss so that means it’s completely wrong!”](https://dcmultiversehistorian.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/why-doesnt-it-matter-that-wally-west-is-now-black/#wifeandkids)
* **[_]** – [“If this was *really* about diversity wouldn’t they change a main character or Justice Leaguer like Barry instead?”](https://dcmultiversehistorian.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/why-doesnt-it-matter-that-wally-west-is-now-black/#diversity)
Finally, here are two arguments and discussions actually worth having:
* **[_]** – [“Isn’t it dodgy the way his backstory has been changed along with his race?”](https://dcmultiversehistorian.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/why-doesnt-it-matter-that-wally-west-is-now-black/#backstory)
* **[_]** – [“How can you say DC is doing this for good reasons when the New 52 reboot removed so many female characters and People of Colour?”](https://dcmultiversehistorian.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/why-doesnt-it-matter-that-wally-west-is-now-black/#femaleandPOC)
<<END AUTOMATED REPLY>>
“It’s just forced diversity!”
What does this even mean? Yes, it’s a company taking a proactive stance at correcting the race imbalance which, along with a gender imbalance, had been a problem since comics first appeared. Clearly all the decades, and all the strides for equality, since haven’t seen the problem self correct so there is nothing wrong with actively trying to correct it.
America is made up of a diverse range of backgrounds – white, black, Latino, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and more – and stories about America should reflect this. Anyone picking up a DC comic book should, in the cast of characters, see the real world reflected there and be able to identify with those who share their backgrounds, experiences and cultures.
People want all their classic characters – and that’s fine and understandable – but that roster is a product of it’s time and predominantly white and male. It’s now the 21st century and we can do a lot better. When Marv Wolfman wrote Crisis on Infinite Earths he wanted to update the Justice League to feature a team showing the ethnic diversity of America – something that was rejected, and revisited when he penned the tie-in story in 2009 that introduced Earth-D (D for Diversity).
We can do better than the Golden Age in the 40s. We can do better than the Silver Age in the 60s. We can do better than the post-Crisis DC Universe.
“Race swapping sucks – why change existing characters?”
When we look at the 75 or so years of DC’s publishing history, and the most prominent heroes that it has featured, what we see is a history of white, male characters. Now it’s understandable to want the characters we grew up with – the nature of comics as an ongoing, ‘rolling’ medium means that unlike films and books we can have them there for us, with new stories every month – but if we leave these characters in the forms they were first introduced in we’re just perpetuating a roster that doesn’t reflect modern America. Hell, it didn’t reflect America when they were first written.
Imagine you have in front of you fifty (hell, it’s DC – let’s say 52) white Mentos laid out on a table. Even if you introduce a few Skittles to the assortment, the overall impression is still going to be of a bunch of white candy – especially if the demands of the audience decree that most of those Mentos retain their original positions.
Now, instead imagine that we swapped some of those races instead of simply adding. Everything else about the characters can stay the same – or not, as comics, and DC comics especially, are the history of evolving and changing characters, whether due to the way different writers write them or cosmic events which change their history – but the landscape changes much more dramatically. With only a little effort we can make a DC Universe that reflects our own.
“Why change everything about him? He’s not even the same character anymore!”
Well, firstly, comics aren’t about static characters and never have been. Yes, we’ve had over 75 years of Bruce Wayne avenging the deaths of his parents but every new writer and decade has brought new approaches to the character. Similarly, we’ve had multiple backgrounds given for heaps of different characters over the years – whether because the cosmic waves of retrocontinuity washed over them in Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis or whatever or simply because a writer/team had a new take on them.
Sometimes these are drastic and not received well by fans – like the changing of Jason Todd from a Dick Grayson clone to an angry, troubled street kid – and sometimes they grow on people over time, with Jason Todd being another good example with his popularity as the Red Hood. Remember when Barry had two loving and supporting parents, and not one found guilty of murdering the other? Hell, even Wally has gone through changes over the decades.
It’s important to remember though that we will always have the stories we loved even if we don’t like the direction characters go in. Nobody can take away your past experiences, even when it’s really frustrating because the new team/version just doesn’t seem to understand what made the character great (see the New 52 versions of Static, Blue Beetle, Green Arrow before Lemire took over and Catwoman.)
Secondly, and specifically to Wally, we have to remember that the New 52 is a heavy reset, and this Wally is a kid who currently has no powers. Regardless of whether you think DC had it in for the character when his continuity wasn’t carried over there are plenty of writers, artists and management who love the character and he’s already been reintroduced. It’s also unreasonable to expect a younger, depowered version to be the same hero you looked up to yet but it also means that you’ll get to experience that journey with him all over again.
Yes, his background has changed – and I discuss that more below – but there’s nothing to say that he is not destined to be every bit the hero the version of him that existed pre-Flashpoint was. He’s only currently appeared in a few scenes, and while yes he’s been angry and troubled, there are scenes like the following that really emphasise the happy Wally we all remember and love is still in there:
“But Wally’s red hair and freckles are so iconic!”
His hair does not define who he is, and nor do his freckles. Yes, it helped you pick him out of a crowd but it is a physical feature rather than something that actually reflects who he is. I am always really surprised when I hear people who supposedly love Wally say things like this direct quote from Reddit:
“What makes him Wally is the way he looks, red hair and freckles has always been tied to Wally.”
What makes him Wally? Really? What absolute arse. That’s offensive – it’s like saying the only thing that separates Wallay from the legacy of Barry’s Flash is the fact his suit is slightly darker red. What makes him Wally is, but is not limited to:
- Curing Bart of his accelerated ageing.
- His relationship with his wife, Linda, and later his kids.
- Creating a new suit out of pure Speed Force when his legs were broken!
- Rescuing half a million people from a nuclear explosion in 100 picoseconds.
- Rebuilding the bridge between Central City and Keystone City by himself in 30 seconds.
- Not to mention all the crazy Speed Force stunts and victories he’s won over the many decades.
Judging a person or a character on their physical qualities is ridiculous. Yes, it can be a little jarring for you but this is no argument for not making him black. If he’d dyed his hair black and cut it like an emo it would reflect on him and his values, possibly, but despite the issues with his new portrayal – and I discuss that more below – genetic qualities have no bearing on your worth as a person or character.
“Why not create a wholly new character instead?”
The simplest answer is because of the very reason we’re having this debate – people love Wally, he has a super long history as Barry’s sidekick and as the Flash himself, and any new character would always be second fiddle to that.
As I mentioned above in the section about “why change existing characters?”, one of the problems is that people don’t want to accept a whole new cast. The DC Universe is filled with characters who have been around and beloved for decades and people, understandably, want to read about them.
The problem is that they’re the product of their time and the vast majority, certainly the ones given the most limelight historically, were white men.
Yes, it is possible to introduce new People/Characters of Colour who work and will be embraced by the community – Marvel’s recent work with Kamala and Miles are great, and often cited examples – but anyone who’s read comics for awhile knows these are the exceptions. Finding love and acceptance for new character takes a long time and is fraught with constant hurdles.
It’s certainly not to say that that shouldn’t also be done but rather that a more effective way is to update characters and worlds to better reflect diversity. Above I used a metaphor but it’s as simple as the fact that we have heroes like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and the Flash celebrating 75 years of stories and their world is still drastically unrepresentative of the diversity of experiences and backgrounds that their readers live in.
It’s not enough to slowly chip away and hope that eventually things will change when it hasn’t dramatically improved in the many decades during which it has had every opportunity to do so. Direct action is needed and sooner rather than later.
“Being black is different from being white, though!”
Yep, your background will shape many experiences you have in life. No shit.
When I mentioned in a recent discussion on this topic that the colour of Wally’s skin had no bearing to me on the kind of person he would be, I was rewarded with this:
“If you don’t think being black is different from being white then you have a really narrow outlook on the world.”
Of course there are differences but these are:
- Based on culture and experience and not at all tied to genetics or anything ridiculous like that, if that is the argument being made
- In no way informative on whether someone is a good person or not, and;
- Opens up heaps of new storylines and experiences for Wally and writers to explore in the many decades to come.
My point is not that being black will be inconsequential to the character – I’d be highly disappointed if it was – but that it is absolutely ridiculous to say that because his race has changed that he will no longer be the hero and lovable character we all remember and love.
Yes, his new race will play a part in shaping the character, and this is crucial to why it’s important to have characters of colour who people can relate to their own experiences – but that doesn’t mean it has be, should be or will be the defining element of his personality or characterisation.
“Oh, well how would you feel if they made John Stewart/Cyborg/Static etc white?!”
Oh man, I love this one.
If you don’t understand the difference between updating one of many white characters to be a different race and changing one of the few black characters to white, then I think you probably need more help than this blog post can give you.
White, and male, privilege involves not experiencing the reality of looking at mass media – books, movies and comic books – and not seeing characters and heroes there that look like you. Not seeing people who share your skin pigment or cultural or ethnic background constantly used as caricatures or antagonists in other people’s stories.
That’s not what it’s like for minorities and because of this we should only ever be helping to correct the problem rather than adding to it.
“Why remove his Korean wife and kids? It’s an net loss so that means it’s completely wrong!”
Well, that’s an interesting point.
Yes, it is unfortunate that some of the casualties of the New 52 reboot were Wally’s family, and, yes, this is unfortunate for a number of reasons:
So yes, that is unfortunate. Who got to keep their histories and continuities with the New 52 reboot was a bit of an omni-shambles, and it can be frustrating when you look at the relatively intact backgrounds of the Bat family and the Green Lanterns.
This is no reason for not making Wally black! Yes, it would have been neat if we could have had an older Wally who still had his family however this is a strawman argument for not changing Wally’s race. It does play into the below section, about representation of women and minorities in the New 52, sure, but it is in no way an argument for not having a black Wally West.
“If this was really about diversity wouldn’t they change a main character or Justice Leaguer like Barry instead?”
Yep, that would be even better! I’d be totally excited about that!
It’s a good time actually to link to another post of mine on this blog which explains the world and history of Earth-D. Go check it out if you want and come back – it’s not long. :)
As it says:
The story goes that Crisis on Infinite Earths writer Marv Wolfman believed that [Earth D] is what the DC Universe should have been after the Crisis, with the heroes becoming much more culturally diverse and multi-racial, but that, as we know, didn’t happen. Flash forward to February 1999, 14 years later, and we get a special called Legends of the DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths #1 written, you guessed it, by Marv Wolfman, set during the original crisis but taking place on Earth-D. From the wiki:
Earth-D was the designation for an Earth, and the Universe it inhabited, that existed prior to the Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Earth-D was very similar to Earth-One and had a Silver Age “feel”. This universe have its own super-hero analogues to Earth-One, only except they are more ethnically diverse. For example an Asian version of the Flash, a black Superman, and an Native American Green Arrow. This universe have its preeminent super-team, the Justice Alliance of America.
I stand completely with Marv Wolfman on this. They had a good moment to change the status quo in 1985 – in a way that, if they had, no one would be, hopefully, even needing this blog post in 2015 – and I wish they had done it.
Yes, for now, Wally is a minor character so it has less impact than if they changed Barry’s background. However, just because this particular change doesn’t go far enough and hasn’t fixed everything doesn’t mean that the change is wrong
“Isn’t it dodgy the way his backstory has been changed along with his race?”
Now, it’s not inherently dodgy that when rebooting the character – hell, they were rebooting the entire universe – that Wally’s background changed. It happens semi-regularly in comics, after all.
However, it has been pointed out by a number of black creators, and commentators online, that the fact that at the same time as Wally becoming black that he’s also become a bit of a delinquent who is caught spray painting and who, seemingly, has a deadbeat dad. This seems supremely lazy at best and actually rather racist characterisation at worst.
There are other problems as well: like the fact that he no longer has a close relationship with Iris, or the troubling structure that it seems that they’re setting it up that the only person who can save a young black boy is a white man like Barry.
However, while the writing may have issues and I really hope it will improve and correct these troubling elements as the books go forward, these aren’t arguments for Wally not being black but rather that he simply should be better written.
“How can you say DC is doing this for good reasons when the New 52 reboot removed so many female characters and People of Colour?”
Because simply because a company like DC still has a long way to go, or makes mistakes, doesn’t mean that steps they do take in the right direction are inherently wrong.
Yes, for a reboot that was advertised as making DC more accessible – especially to women and minorities – there were heaps of women and Characters of Colour who ended up on the cutting room floor.
While we saw Cyborg promoted to the role as a founding member of the Justice League we also lost a history of Leaguers like Vixen et al. While the Batman books introduced a new black hero in Batwing we also lost Stephanie Brown and Cassandra Cain leaving the Batfamily with fewer women and one minority down. I could go on and on.
There were also lots of other troubling moments too – the runs of the New 52 versions of Green Arrow, Catwoman and The Savage Hawkman were almost universally panned when they started in 2011 but given plenty of time to find their feet and only the last one was cancelled. Titles starring minorities, however, seemed to be given much less of a chance: Static Shock only made it to 8 issues, as did Mister Terrific and O.M.A.C. starring the new Cambodian American hero, Kevin Kho. Mexican hero Jaime Reyes lasted a bit longer with his solo series, Blue Beetle, but it too met it’s end with #15. Now, I’m not saying these books were well written – Static Shock and O.M.A.C. were awful, and Blue Beetle had none of the heart of the pre-Flashpoint series. The point is that there were plenty of other badly written series that were given far more of a chance than any starring someone who wasn’t white seemed to get.
This is a very short break down on lots of the problems that the New 52 had in it’s early days, many of which have only just begun to be addressed now.
I started this saying that I’m not a DC apologist and I will repeat it here. As a company they make plenty of mistakes, especially when it comes to diversity. The debacle about Batwoman marrying her girlfriend and all the other issues mentioned above constantly show that they are far from deserving a reward for their efforts in the space.
However the fact that there’s a long road ahead doesn’t mean that taking a good step in the right direction is wrong. Changing Wally West’s race is exactly that step.
So there you have it. Not quite as long as the post on the Flash Family Tree that inspired this post, but there you go! I’ll add, and agree with or refute, any new arguments I come across in my travels but for now I hope this has made sense.
People who find themselves expressing the arguments covered above may not like to think of themselves as racists but they need to at least acknowledge that the language and attitudes they’re using often is racist.
I love Wally West. His original journey from inquisitive kid to sidekick to Flash is one I’ll always treasure. I too am excited for Convergence and getting to see that version of the character, in his full powered glory with his loving wife and kick-arse kids, again. However, the New 52 – and, in fact, any reboot in comics – doesn’t mean that that version is erased but simply that that chapter is closed. Now we get to follow a new version of Wally on his journey all over again – what could be more exciting or awesome to experience than that?