Tuesday, November 21, 2006

To The Victor Went The Spoils (Checkmate #5, Cover Date October, 2006)

I have been thinking about the (lack of) diversity in the new Birds of Prey #100, but I'm not quite ready to write at length about it yet. Instead, I'm going to approach it obliquely by thinking about another story that was not quite as interesting, but addressed diversity issues much better. Then, I'll get to Birds of Prey a little bit at the end.


Main Heroes: Sasha Bordeaux, Jessica Midnight
Minor Heroes: Mr. Terrific, Alan Scott, Count Vertigo

Major Villain: Amanda Waller


There is a contest to replace Black Queen's Knight Jonah McCarthy, who was killed in a previous issue. Four finalists are chosen. One is eliminated for giving up to Count Vertigo on a mountainside, one is eliminated for giving up under torture, and the last is eliminated during a fist fight among the final two contestants. The winner is Josephine Tautin, who is to be the next Black Queen's Knight.

Meanwhile, Alan Scott has gotten all of the non-U.S. Security Council members to veto anyone other than Mr. Terrific for the job of White King. Also, Amanda Waller threatens Fire regarding some dark secret regarding "Cavalho".


The Checkmate designations are interesting. Under Checkmate's "Rule of 2", every "level" of the organization must be staffed by two individuals -- one human and one metahuman. This is necessary for appropriate oversight and checks and balances. Beyond that, however, there are other "Twos" that are not explicitly in the rules, and it is interesting to see how they are either upheld or not. Specifically there is male/female and white/other dichotomies that are frequent issues in comics.

The organization is headed by the White King and Queen, who are in charge of administrative and organizational issues, and the Black King and Queen, who are in charge of operations. Now, the King and Queen have, to date, been staffed only by gender appropriate individuals (the Kings are all male and the Queens are all female). There has been no explicit requirement, though that the Black Queen, for example, has to be female.

There has been no similar racial or diversity requirement -- a Black Bishop does not have to be Black -- but in this case this does not result in an all-White cast, as one would expect. Quite to the contrary, with the nomination of Michael Holt (Mr. Terrific) to be the White King after Green Lantern Alan Scott was blackballed out of the job, the "White" Royalty (Holt and Amanda Waller) are both Black and the Black King and Queen are both white (if Taleb Beni Khalid, the Black King and an Arab Israeli, qualifies as "White", which I guess is a question of perspective).

Of the 11 active principals however (2 Kings, 2 Queens, 4 Knights, and 3 Bishops), there are currently 5 women and 6 men. There are also 4 or 5 minorities (again, depending on how you count Khalid, plus Waller, Holt, Fire, and Shen Li Po). Put together, with Alan Scott and Jonah McCarthy gone, there are only 3 White Men (King Faraday, Thomas Jagger, and Count Vertigo) among the principals.

This is real diversity. The kind of rare diversity where, when we were faced with the four finalists for Black Queen's Knight -- two men, two women, and a variety of races -- there was never a moment where you thought, "This group would be more representative if they replaced Jonah with a ________ (insert minority group here)." The winner turned out to be a white female, but it could have just as easily been a Hispanic male or a white male or a Laotian hermaphrodite, and diversity would not have suffered. There was just no one I was "rooting for" on diversity grounds.

As I said above, I wrote this analysis to contrast it with my still percolating thoughts on Birds of Prey #100. The analysis on this thread and this thread seem to be that, while more diversity would be nice, how could you complain about Barda, Manhunter, and Judomaster? Well, I have the complete run of Manhunter, so don't question my Kate Spencer cred! And I would have had no problem at all, if they were added to Checkmate, or maybe the JSA or JLA, or some other group that did not begin with a "diversity problem". But when the only three regulars are Caucasian females, I don't think it's a sufficient response to merely point out how awesome Barda is.

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Anonymous Loren said...

Hey, Ragtime! Great entry and I just wrote an entry encouraging people to read this! Thanks for keeping this discussion going. I think it's an important one. And props for calling me out on it! :)

9:39 PM  

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